No Chicken Sandwich for Sabbath

Dear Sabbath Seekers,

I was home from college on winter break many decades ago when I stopped by the Fishkins' for a visit. Art and Jane Fishkin were the parents of my high school classmate Charlie, and I had been a guest at their Passover table for many years. Charlie was my former debate partner; we both left for the University of Chicago and were sharing an apartment on Ellis Avenue in Hyde Park with a third roommate, Jim Smither (Hinsdale Central, '78). Art and Jane rushed to greet me. Hellos at the Fishkin household were not for the faint at heart; they involved hugs and backslaps that left the greeted gasping for air.

Art and Jane were excited and proud that I was considering a career in pastoral ministry, occasionally calling me a future ‘Protestant rabbi,’ and followed my progress from college through graduate school and ordination as if I were their adopted son. They were Orthodox Jews but decidedly not Zionist; these were the days when that was not considered an oxymoron. Jane was constantly sharing books and articles with me on positive Christian-Jewish dialogue, and they were both extremely delighted to discover my choice to be ordained Presbyterian as it was (and is) the only major denomination to require Hebrew language study for ordination. 

On this particular visit, Jane had another book to gift me. It was an autographed copy of Dennis Prager’s Nine Questions People Ask about Judaism(with Joseph Telushkin, Holiday House, 1981). It was a good read, and I finished it before driving back to Hyde Park with Charlie and his brother Jim, who we dropped off in Iowa City where he was working on a degree in Political Science.

This whole musing flashed into my head this morning when I was reading an article about Chick-fil-A’s corporate choice to remain closed on Sunday. Truett Cathy, Chick-fil-A’s founder (d. 2014), was a conservative Baptist who wanted to ‘honor the Lord’ by not conducting commerce on Sundays, and his sons maintain the corporate policy as a requirement for franchise ownership. The article, from Business Insider, suggested that the practice of Sunday closing, established for moral reasons, was also part of the formula for Chick-fil-A’s success. Offering a stable day-off for franchise owners and employees made scheduling easier and strengthened staff loyalty. Additionally, the article said, creating a weekly scarcity for the product built customer enthusiasm for the brand.

I thought back to Jane’s gift to me, Prager’s book, because question nine was, “How do I Start Practicing Judaism?” and the second answer to that question started with Sabbath observance. For Prager, keeping the Sabbath day holy (commandment #4) was only partially about commerce; it was more about mindset. One day a week we refrained from creating in order to be blessed by creation. Prager suggested Sabbath observance was more about shifting spiritual energy than restricting behaviors. So, on the Sabbath we should enjoy great meals prepared the day before and dishes done after sunset to dine undistracted by cleaning and cooking. We should walk through nature and celebrate the garden rather than arriving to pull weeds. Sabbath observance is setting aside creative activity in order to receive the benefits of creation. Read but don’t write, sing but don’t rehearse, converse with your family but don’t teach, beand not do.

It saddens me that the corporate families of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby have led us to associate Sunday closing with an anti-woman, anti-gay social agenda, perhaps because for them it is an expression of prohibition rather than liberation. Freed from the tyranny of seven-day-a-week productivity, the fourth commandment invites us to unite with creation rather than assert our dominion over it. It is a model set for us by the Holy One (Exodus 20.11).

Seeking Sabbath rest from a busy week, I remain, 

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor