August 24th, 2010


interesting religious dilemma

So, Shabbat at Philly Folk Fest! And a fun dilemma thereon.

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So this year at Fest, I worked morning volunteer shifts Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. My Saturday shift was again for a few hours starting at 8:00pm, about 35 minutes before Shabbat ended, but I again got clearance to arrive late. (I'd said 45 minutes to an hour late.) But the concerts weren't timed as well as last year. The second act started just before Shabbat ended, and ran for almost an hour. I said havdalah about 20 minutes in (having forgotten the exact time), enjoyed about 7 more minutes of the concert, and then got a call saying that I should hurry to my shift. I got to my shift at 9:02, and missed the havdalah that BC and I had organized. It was made clear to me that, in spite of my Jewish practices, it would be better for me to arrive at that shift slightly less late next year if I do the same sort of arrangement. This seemed like a fair request to me; I did take nearly a half hour this year between the end of Shabbat and showing up at work, and had considered taking more.

Now, my work on this crew mostly involves opening boxes and lifting things off of trucks. It takes place outside of the secure tickets-only area of Fest, which I usually consider an eruv, even though it probably doesn't technically count as one. But aside from the no-carrying rule (one I occasionally break when not at home anyway), I don't think there's any particular task I do as part of this job that involves breaking Shabbat.

So maybe I'd be better off working on Shabbat and not missing havdalah next year? I've always found havdalah at Fest (along with candlelighting at the start of Shabbat at Fest) to be a particularly powerful moment. I love the juxtaposition of doing public and fun Jewish ritual at an event that doesn't readily accommodate it and that is in many ways the opposite of a spiritual or religious space. And havdalah there has gotten a lot better in the past two years. And it's in some sense an event that I planned myself.

On the other hand, there's no requirement, as I understand it, to actually do havdalah with a candle and spices and stuff. (And if there is, it's certainly something I could do by myself either quickly or later.) And my job certainly violates one of the rules I've always liked keeping on Shabbat, even if it's not part of the letter of the rule of Shabbat: Not doing my "work of the week". (I never liked doing homework on Shabbat when I was in school, even if it was just reading. When I was on my road trip in 2004, even though it was during a point in my life when I drove on Shabbat, I refused to drive that Shabbat.) This volunteer job is certainly my work of Fest week. Plus, it's hard work. I usually break a sweat. And I can't guarantee that I could do it without violating other Shabbat practices I keep; what if the person who was supposed to plug in the lights for the truck forgot to do it, and then I have to? Or something else comes up that I can't foresee? I don't want to be the guy who says "no" to random requests that I'm supposed to fulfill; I'm not that kind of employee.

It's an interesting dilemma. Which is more important to me? The letter or spirit of the prohibitions of Jewish law, or the ritual and community associated with the positive commandments?