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Wrestling with Rest

Shabbat, ideally a source of joy, rest and renewal, can also pose some interesting community dilemmas. Many congregations face questions about Sabbath “rules” such as:

  • Can we take photographs or video for simkhas?
  • Can we participate in interfaith tikkun olam projects involving work or writing?
  • Are instruments allowed during worship services or as part of celebrations??

When Rabbi Jen Feldman (RRC 2000) became uncomfortable with her congregation’s patchwork of ad hoc decisions on Shabbat observance, she turned to the community for answers driven by tradition and shared values.

Rabbi Jen Feldman speaking with congregation members

A three-part process

1.  Rabbi Feldman led intensive text study: a five-part series on the evolution of Shabbat in Jewish thought and law from biblical, Rabbinic, medieval and modern sources, including texts on mysticism and kabbalah.

2. Congregants worked to distill the aspects of the Sabbath that resonated most powerfully for them.

Member Roger Schwarz, an organizational psychologist, offered his experience in framing key questions as a set of “dilemmas” about Shabbat.  According to Schwarz: “The dilemma process asks: What’s important about your position? What underlying issues drive your stance or concerns? Can you be open enough to share your reasoning and test your underlying assumptions?” This helped individuals avoid “stuck positions” and opened the way for the kind of values-based decision making that the community is committed to.

Member Andrew M. Sachs, a professional mediator, structured and ran many of the meetings to ensure that the small Shabbat working group and the full-congregation gatherings employed “three meeting pillars”:

  • an understanding of tangible desired outcomes
  • an agenda
  • ground rules accepted by all

3. Member Lester Levine, a consultant in change management, led the Shabbat Process Working Group. This committee:

  • took all the feedback from study sessions and discussions
  • shaped it into a draft policy presented to the community, and
  • revised it using congregational feedback to create the final policies.

For more details, see these pages on the synagogue website.

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