Keeping Shabbat the Progressive Way

Once a year, usually mid-November, a special Shabbat is announced. The so called Shabbat Project should inspire Jews around the globe to keep Shabbat. But what does it mean “to keep Shabbat“?

Technically, the laws of Shabbat can seem draconian. There are thirty-nine official “dont‘s,” and they each have subcategories that add hundreds more. One cannot mow the lawn, hunt for food, light a fire, plant a seed, cook food, boil water, sew on a button, erect a tent, use a hammer, bake a cake, or gather kindling.

Derived from these ancient laws, a host of modern restrictions has been added by scholars, so now it is forbidden [according to Orthodox interpretation of the law] to turn on a computer, drive a car, flick on a light switch, talk on the phone, replace a battery, or watch television. The list is a long one. Conservative rabbis [in the US] prohibit many of these same activities, but the level of observance among the Conservative Jews is not as widespread as it is among the Orthodox.

Progressive rabbis, for the most part, say that these ancient restrictions are no longer binding or enjoy the same priority as ethical laws that may stand in conflict with the traditional Shabbat restrictions (such as visiting or calling family members or friends). However, Progressive Judaism doesn‘t deny that one can find meaning in the restrictions and should try to incorporate them into one‘s religious lives.

But how? And which? And why?

Join Brett Steingo for a conversation
this Shabbat after the brocha @ 11.45 for 12.00

How can I help?

Our Torah Portion “Noach” reports twice on the downfall of humanity in the eyes of God. In the response to the first, God sends the waters of the flood, which erases all life on earth and God’s answer to the second, the building of the Tower of Bavel, is the dispersion of all humanity to all corners of the earth and the diffusion of language. Both are radical answers to human weakness.

Only with Abraham and later with Moses and the Israelites God opens a different path, away from destruction and punishment, towards a process of learning and self-improvement. God offers help and guidance in form of the Torah and all subsequent teachings of our tradition. Moreover, God becomes a role model for us when looking at each other. Instead of searching for flaws and shortcomings and how we can castigate our neighbour, we should ask the question:

How can I help? How can we make things better?

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Schell


A first thought for 5780 – Shabbat Shuvah

This Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah, the Shabbat that falls between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Our tradition teaches that the gates of repentance are always open, and we are constantly reminded that it is never too late to change one’s ways and start anew. The haftarah for this Shabbat begins, „Shuvah Yisrael…“ (Return, O Israel…). (Hosea 14:2)

That idea of returning, or turning to a different path, permeates the season. What’s significant, perhaps, is not that we are repeatedly given  opportunities to change, but that we need them. None of us is perfect,  there’s always room for improvement. What this Shabbat and Yom Kippur reminds us is that not only can we always return, but also forces us to ask ourselves why we aren’t starting right now. If it’s never too late to begin, it’s also never too early to start.

In my sermon on Rosh HaShanah, I shared with you my thoughts on having hope and feeling gratitude, especially in moments that are difficult for us. Yom Kippur with its laws and regulations to fast and “atone“ is too often understood as a burden, but actually, Yom Kippur is a happy day, reassuring us that the above mentioned change is possible and that God is with us every single moment of our lives. God is stretching out God‘s hand on Yom Kippur, awaiting us at the open gates.

May you all be sealed in the book of life, rewarded for your honesty towards yourself and God. May you gain strength from Yom Kippur to master the tasks that await you in the coming year. May you feel God’s Presence within you always, and never lose faith and trust in God and God‘s people.

Gmar chatima tova!

—Rabbi Adrian M Schell


Rabbi’s greetings for the New Year

My dear friends,
dear congregants,
guests and visitors,

Chayim and I send you heartfelt greetings for a blessed Shanah Tovah u’Metukah, a year of goodness and sweet experiences!

How deeply embedded in our hearts are the many fine memories of the services we observed together, the simches we celebrated, the joys and sorrows we shared, the hospitality you provided us, the personal stories you entrusted to us and the hopes and dreams we prayed would be realised in the past year!

Bet David enshrines kedushah, something very holy, in the way everyone is welcomed, and is embraced. The feeling of kehilah (community) permeates every gathering. The values of Torah are found in the many ways you and your families live as Jews and contribute to our shared aim to repair the world (Tikkun Olam).

May 5780 bring more of those simches and less sorrow, more beauty and more fullfilled dreams.

May you go from strength to strength with blessing!

L‘shanah tovah tikatevu—

For a good New Year
Rabbi Adrian and Chayim Schell


A final thought for 5779

For the last Shabbat in 5779, our Torah comes with one of the readings I love most in the entire year. In parashat Nitzavim we find the following directive: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life.”

But, what does it mean to choose life? It’s not as if we need to be told to live.  Rather, God is telling us that by choosing to follow God’s ways, we are choosing a good life. A blessed life. But this brings us to the age-old question “Why do the wicked prosper?” Why do we see evil people enjoying success in this world while good people struggle?

One of the classic answers is that while evil people may seem to be living it up in this world, they will suffer in the next, while the righteous will receive their reward in the world to come. Earthly pleasures are finite, but spiritual pleasures are infinite. The problem with this answer is that many of us haven’t got the patience to wait for the world to come and see if this is really true. Our struggles are now, and we want relief now.

But maybe the answer isn’t some logical discourse, but a shift in perspective.  A wonderful teaching by our sages says: “Good life is defined not by what you get, but by what you give.” When you look at life this way, the question disappears. It becomes almost irrelevant. No matter how little I have, there is always something I can do—some way I can reach out. By the same token, a life defined by how much you get can never satisfy. No matter how much you have, you always want more and more.

In order to be able to “choose life,” we need to be able to see it—to recognise it as life. This is what the Torah’s command gives us. It’s not really a directive. The point isn’t to tell us what to do, but to show us—to help us hold on to the perspective, to help us see how much more there is to life than we often see at the first moment.

For this Shabbat and these High Holy Days, it is my hope that we will find ways to see so that we can choose the right path for us, our families and society.

Shabbat Shalom and a good start into the New Year

Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Shuchat)