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The Shabbat Primer

Practicalities

Organization And Creativity

Introduction

A deeply satisfying Shabbat never just happens. It is always a careful construction made up of devotion, forethought, and attention to details. Devotion, of course, is your most personal contribution. But it need not be the only creative one. As we hope to show in this chapter and the next, the forethought and attention to details required by the halachot of Shabbat also provide opportunities for your own special contribution.

This claim may be hard to believe; in fact, just the reverse seems true. A major obstacle for Jews considering traditional Shabbat observance for the first time is that the admittedly complex halachic framework is perceived as both overwhelming and stultifying. Of these two perceptions, the first, that "it's just too much," is relatively easy to counter. Fortunately, the sense of being overwhelmed is almost always conquered by practice. As in learning to drive a standard-shift car or play a piano well, the many little motions you once had to concentrate upon so carefully finally merge smoothly and become automatic. The action comes under your control; you just "do it." In the same way, with experience, the many little Shabbat motions also come under your control. You learn to light your home, pour your tea, and even tie your shoelaces naturally in a Shabbat way. Then, at last, you are in accord with the true intent of the halachot. You find yourself aware, not of the overwhelming complexity, but of the specialness of everything about this day.

The second common reaction to the halachot is that they stultify originality. As we said before, we hope to convince you by examples that this is anything but the truth. There is a kind of creativity which lies at the point where allegiance and individuality conflict. Whenever important problems arise, such as an apparent clash between the demands of halacha and the basic desires of a particular human being, a chance exists for creative solutions.

In this chapter and those following we will discuss some of the ingenious answers that Jewish law offers to such problems. In addition, we will share with you several practical tricks that our resource women and other Jewish homemakers, working within the halacha, have implemented to smooth the busy period before, during, and after Shabbat.

Being Organized

In the face of all the organizational genius we encountered interviewing for this chapter, it was tempting to write a complete guide to Jewish housekeeping. That, however, is beyond the scope of this book. For general housekeeping organization there are a number of fine guides available.[1] We will focus on just what applies directly to the preparations for and observance of Shabbat itself.

The top priorities, the "musts" of Shabbat preparation, are in most cases determined by the requirements of halacha. For example, your cooking must be completed, your makeup applied, and your appliances switched off by candlelighting time, because these activities are forbidden on Shabbat by Jewish law. Then, in addition, you will have your personal priorities to consider, such as reading over the parshah or phoning your family to wish them "good Shabbat" before candlelighting. Time must be budgeted for these activities, too. Obviously, with different personal priorities, different family sizes, and different financial circumstances, no two Jewish homemakers will have exactly the same schedule for pre-Shabbat tasks.

Generally speaking, though, the basic required ones fall into three categories: preparing your home or physical surroundings, preparing the Shabbat meals, and preparing yourself and your family, Although the division is definitely artificial, we concentrate on the home and the physical aspects of personal preparations in this chapter, leaving "spiritual" preparations for a separate one. Food preparations we discuss in the next chapter.

Many readers will argue - and we agree with them - that every "physical" or "practical" activity done "lichvod Shabbat," for the honor of Shabbat, entails spiritual involvement as well. So every "practical" preparation is also in fact a spiritual one.

Four Women's Schedules

What follows is an overview of how certain experienced Shabbat-observing women organize all those pre-Shabbat activities necessitated by halacha.

Naturally, women who have large families and/or work outside the home usually have the tightest schedules. Shaina, for example, a mother of eight and an active volunteer must make good use of every minute, especially in the latter half of the week. While cautioning that her routine constantly changes with circumstances and the seasons, she sketched out for us her typical pre-Shabbat days.

"Any baking I do early in the week - Sunday or Monday - and freeze it. If the cake isn't baked by Wednesday, forget it. I'll buy something for dessert. I have the shopping done by Wednesday, except for odds and ends, dairy products, and the challot. My cleaning woman comes on Wednesday to do the overall cleaning; before I had her, I cleaned on Thursday. On Friday I just do a touch-up anywhere it's needed in the hall, kitchen, and bathrooms.

I don't do the actual cooking before Friday for a number of reasons. We often eat the soup and other dishes on Sunday and Monday, too, and it tastes too old if it was cooked on Thursday. Also, I don't like to have to take up so much room in my refrigerator with all those dishes for Shabbat. And finally, though the cooking does take time, the kids take even more on Friday. Caring for them and getting them ready is the real time-consumer.

What I try to do is to finish all the preparations for cooking on Thursday - the peeling, chopping, parboiling, mixing, flavoring, and so forth - so that I only have to put the food on the fire or do the finishing touches on Friday. With potato salad, for example, on Thursday, I'll peel and cook the potatoes and add all the ingredients except the mayonnaise which I add at the last moment before serving. Early Friday morning, I start cooking things that don't require my attention while I give my family breakfast and get them off to school and work. I do volunteering work on Friday, too, so when I come home, I just have time to turn on the burners to finish the cooking, get showered, and dressed.

Whenever I cook, I like to start several dishes at once. You get more done that way and finish quicker. Start several things, and you'll complete them. Keep the fires going constantly and all the burners in use at the same time.

I have three other common-sense bits of advice for Shabbat planning. First, try to get everything possible out of the way. Do on Wednesday what you can do on Thursday, and do on Tuesday what you can do on Wednesday. Second, unless it's something pressing, try not to make appointments for yourself or the kids on Thursday or Friday. Routine dental check-ups, etc., can wait. Finally, have a good husband. Mine does whatever has to be done to get the house and family ready. It's just too much for one person. In our home everybody over the age of three knows that for us all to enjoy Shabbat, we all have to pitch in."


This, then, is Shaina's pre-Shabbat schedule. As we said earlier, however, each woman's circumstances, abilities, and personal preferences are different. Nechoma, for example, likes to complete all her major cooking and washing up on Thursday. "I'm not as efficient about cleaning up as Shaina, and also my husband isn't home Friday to help me. If I have all those pots to wash on Friday afternoon, it's a real job, so I do most of my cleaning on Thursday mornings. I start cooking in the afternoon while a baby-sitter takes my little kids out. Thursday night is bath time for all the kids and more cooking for me. On Friday I finish the cooking and the last odds and ends of cleaning."

Chana, with only one child, is less pressured to make good use of every minute. "Still, because I get nervous when time is tight, I try to get an early jump on Shabbat. I like to come to the table as fresh and calm as I can. So on Thursday I do my baking and all dishes that can be cooked ahead of time and just reheated. Friday morning is my time for cleaning the apartment. In the afternoon I make salads, noodles or rice, and any vegetables that require only quick frying or boiling. My husband bathes our son, and the two of them set the table and prepare the candles for lighting. Somehow, especially in winter when Shabbat comes in early, it's still a rush for everyone to shower and do all the last-minute things that have to be done. But I'm finding that with experience I'm less and less driven to brinkmanship tactics and I find, to my astonishment, that I'm actually calm and ready for candlelighting."


Devorah, too, has a more-or-less standard schedule. "Thursday morning, I take a chicken out of the freezer (two if we have company) and by the evening it's ready to be cleaned and marinated overnight. Thursday night, I clean the chicken and make the cholent. I sort out red beans, garbanzo beans, wheat berries (everybody likes this the best), and one or two other kinds of beans. I put them in the pot after making sure they're clean and boil water. I let them soak in that boiled water all night and then pour out the old water Friday morning. Supposedly, this is supposed to de-gas the beans so that they don't upset the stomach. Seems to work! I put in fresh water on Friday morning along with lots of spices (cumin, curry, pepper, soy sauce, salt) and sauteed onions and garlic. Later on I start to cook the chicken.

I try to clean everything on Friday morning and set the table. I try to do as much as possible ahead of time since there's always a mad rush no matter what. The less of a rush the better. I tell myself that Shabbat starts half an hour earlier than it really does, and that helps me get everything together."

Filling Your Week With Shabbat

The pre-Shabbat schedules of these four women may seem to you very crowded. It's only fair to "warn" you that yours may become just the same. As you grow more and more involved in making Shabbat, you may well find that your preparations begin earlier and earlier in the week. This is not only a practical organizing measure, it is a sign that, more and more, Shabbat is permeating your week days - and your life. Your existence is no longer split between six-sevenths weekday-secular and one-seventh Shabbat-kodesh.

Torah sources in fact commend the person who fills his week with Shabbat. "Remember the day of Shabbat: you should remember the Shabbat on Sunday so that if you happen upon a delicacy, prepare it for the sake of Shabbat."[2] The great Shammai, we are told, would thus "eat all his days 'lichvod Shabbat.' "[3]

In the same way you can dedicate every preparatory job you do, no matter how early in the week, to Shabbat. You can begin even on Saturday night by washing the special tablecloth, saying, "lichvod Shabbat." On Sunday you might do your baking "lichvod Shabbat." On Monday you can invite guests "lichvod Shabbat," and so forth. Then some of the Shabbat spirit has entered into every day of your life.

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) Some examples: Hints from Heloise; The I Hate to Housekeep Book by Peg Bracken; How to Get Control of Your Time and Your life by Alan Lakein; Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones; The Jewish Home by Evelyn Rose, which is an excellent guide to general home organization. See The Nechoma Greisman Anthology, Section 4: The Jewish Home.
  2. (Back to text) The Code of Jewish Law, chap. 72:45; Mechilta Yitro, p. 20.
  3. (Back to text) Talmud, Beitza, p. 16a.

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