(In reverse order of appearance)
HADASSAH MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2011
While Shulevitz writes about the powers of the Sabbath, Jewish or Christian, healing or sickening, she offers digressions that delight, such as letter exchanges between the psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, or depictions of Austro-Hungarian childhoods. Meditations on time, on clocks, on advertising, on drinking are all done with a merry spirit that can darken suddenly into a bone-chilling summary of a contemporary Holocaust context for Lamentations.
Because the movement of the author’s mind is eager, skeptical and meditative, there is hardly a dogmatic statement anywhere; instead, serious thought and counter thought. She is at times a one-woman talmudic discussion: The gentile world may have embraced Sunday Sabbath as an act of aggression against Jews, she understands, but maybe we ought to respect it anyway because it was venerated. Or—thinking again—maybe not.
Ambivalence may allow for greater richness than dogma. What The Sabbath World recommends above all is mindfulness about the Sabbath, even (or especially) when not observing it. This elegantly ambivalent work fascinates while it teaches how modernity’s clutch on Jewish observance has burdened us—with heady relief at so much freedom and bitter pangs at the loss of so much splendor.
What could be more Jewish? Yehuda Halevi famously lamented his exile from the Holy Land in a poem that begins: “My heart is in the East/ and I am at the ends of the West….” Nine centuries later, Shulevitz, too, is full of passionate longing, in exile from Shabbat. It is as if she were bringing the fervor of “Next year in Jerusalem!” to the heartfelt cry implicit in her elegiac book: “Some day the Sabbath!” —Norma Rosen
THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE, NOVEMBER 12, 2010:
In 1929, the Soviet Union set in motion the nepreryvka, or the continuous work week, and struck Saturday and Sunday from the record. At first, that historical relic, relayed in Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, sounds preposterous – those kooky Communists, with their fitter-happier-more-productive Five-Year Plans – but think longer on it, and the parallels are discomfiting. Families on staggered time frames? The line between work and home blurred? No institutionalized, communitywide day of rest? Sounds an awful lot like America, circa now.
Shulevitz’s book – a fascinating, invigorating jumble of history, philosophy, and memoir – traces the beginnings of the Fourth Commandment-decreed day of rest from Hebrew texts to its many Christian incarnations and the more secular version embraced by Americans in the mid-20th century, back when Sunday closing laws (or “blue laws”) were still in effect. She also makes a strong, if controversial, case for the re-emergence of a nationally recognized Sabbath. (Surprise: She thinks it should be Sunday.)–Kimberly Jones
COMMONWEAL, “RESTLESS,” OCT. 8, 2010:
Have we lost anything by freeing ourselves from all these Sunday (or Saturday) Sabbath ideals? And if we have, what are our chances of recovering it? Those are the questions Judith Shulevitz wants to answer in The Sabbath World, a beautifully written, consistently engaging reflection on what she calls “the social morality of time.” Written from a Jewish perspective, this extended essay on commitment and discipline in our use of time will reward readers from any religious tradition.–Thomas Baker
CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S BOOKS & CULTURE REVIEW, JULY/AUGUST 2010:
You might think we’ve had enough books on this topic in recent years, but you’d be wrong, as evidenced by Judith Shulevitz’s The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, every chapter of which is a wise and winsome meditation on yet another aspect of this inexhaustible topic.–Karl E. Johnson
THE JEWISH REVIEW OF BOOKS, SUMMER 2010:
On the surface, the book mixes two kinds of nonfiction writing: the spiritual memoir and the light-footed synthesis of scholarship on a religious topic. Even the beauty of Shulevitz’s prose cannot prevent the reader from being occasionally disoriented by the oscillation between the two. One page narrates the sudden end of a relationship with an Orthodox man when she was in college, while the next treats the role of the Sabbath in the Gospel of Mark. But the true genre of the book is that of apologetics, and both Shulevitz’s history of the Sabbath and the more meandering story of her observance of (and failure to observe) it have roles to play in her argument for the importance of the Sabbath—or at least a Sabbath, whether it is that of traditional observance, something more eclectic, or even the development of what she calls “neo-Sabbatarian” social policy. Such policies would, like the traditional Sabbath, set aside time “for family, for community, for one another,” as she told a somewhat incredulous Stephen Colbert.–Martin Kavka
THE JEWISH WEEK, MAY 21, 2010:
In her new book, Judith Shulevitz captures the poetry, power and necessity of Shabbat. In the spirit of the day, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time” (Random House) is a contemplative book, and readers will enjoy slowing down to take in her beautiful prose. Impressively, she interprets the vast literature on the Sabbath, including Jewish and Christian sources, and she shifts from Kierkegaard to the prophet Nehemiah to the Gospel of Mark with ease. Into the narrative of history, religion and philosophy, she tucks in her own memories of Sabbaths past, and explores her own religious path. This is a book about modern Jewish life in the thicket of ever-beeping technology.
For many years, I’ve recommended Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic work, “The Sabbath,” as an introduction to Judaism and to concepts of time. Shulevitz’s book is very different, more intimate and more wide-ranging. Those approaching Judaism for the first time or re-encountering a religion they lost interest with will find much to engage them, as will those who are well-versed in the laws and practice of Shabbat.–Sandee Brawarsky
MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE, MAY 16, 2010:
“At some point we all look for a Sabbath, whether or not that’s what we call it,” writes Judith Shulevitz. “Organized religion need not be involved.” Rest assured, religious readers, that does not mean that Shulevitz treats the idea of a Sabbath in a New Age or lightweight way. Her book, which comprises history, memoir and intellectual contemplation, is a thing of beauty, learned and wise in many traditions, a light shone on our deep, human need for spiritual rest and contemplation, our need to stop and think, whether we call it Shabbat, Sunday at church, a retreat under another name, or no name at all. “Seen from the outside, the quest for religious solace looks preposterous. Soren Kierkegaard said that religion has a truth so purely interior that it approaches madness,” she writes in her introduction, and suddenly, many of us who might not have otherwise considered this book are in like Flynn. I was constantly charmed and surprised by “The Sabbath World,” and came away a little changed in my thinking. I can’t think of a greater compliment to pay a book. Highly recommended, especially in this frenzied, over-opinionated, and yes, sometimes overreligious age.–Pamela Miller
THE ATLANTIC, MAY 14, 2010:
Judith Shulevitz’s wonderful new book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, is part of a small set of books that have helped me situate myself as a Jew and as a person (Leon Wieseltier’s Kaddish and David Wolpe’s Healer of Shattered Hearts are two others). Judith’s book is many things: A brilliant memoir; a fascinating history of the way humans understand time; an authoritative guide for those of us who are perplexed and troubled by the rapid encroachment of technology, that heartless thief of time, and who are looking for ways to restore meaning and balance to our lives (and who isn’t?); and an adept translation of some very complicated Jewish ideas into language that non-Orthodox Jews, and seekers of other faiths, can readily understand. This is not a book merely for practitioners of Judaism — it is for anyone who is looking for transcendence within the confines of the time and the space that we have been granted. Also, as a bonus, The Sabbath World is gorgeously-written; Judith is one of those writers who is fighting against the technology-driven movement that, in the words of Hanna Rosin, turns words into widgets. –Jeffrey Goldberg
“THE SALON,” THE JEWISH CHANNEL, MAY 13, 2010:
Guests Judith Shulevitz, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, and Elise Bernhardt and hosts Jane Eisner and Rachel Sklar on talk show about Jewish women. Watch clips here or order on demand from your local cable provider.
THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD, MAY 12, 2010:
The millennial institution of the Sabbath is currently experiencing something of a renaissance–or, at the very least, it’s the object of heightened attention–and not just within traditional Jewish circles. Judith Shulevitz’s recent book, The Sabbath World (Random House), a richly textured interrogation of its meaning and history, has made the rounds of the right media outlets, all of which have loudly sung its praises… –Jenna Weissman Joselit
“BOOKS AND BEATS WITH STU LEVITAN,” WXXM, MADISON, WISCONSIN, MAY 9, 2010:
“THE BOB EDWARDS SHOW,” MAY 7, 2010:
Radio host Bob Edwards interviews Shulevitz. Get the audio file from Audible.com.
BELIEFNET.ORG, MAY 7, 2010:
Every now and then a new book presses home, usually from a bewilderingly new angle, an old theme in such a way it gets me to thinking. And I was reading such a book when Nancy Beach, a teaching pastor at Willow Creek, gave her inspiring and insightful talk last weekend on Sabbath. Judith Shulevitz, in her new book The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time , is the book I’m reading and pondering and wondering. She’s not really an observant Jew, but the whole idea of Sabbath fascinates her and she probes and probes and finds all kinds of ideas. A good book. –Scot McKnight
“UP TO DATE,” KCUR, KANSAS CITY, MAY 3, 2010:
Judith Shulevitz interviewed by host of radio show “Up To Date,” Steve Kraske, along with guests Rev. Brian Ellison of Parkville Presbyterian Church and Rabbi Vered Harris of Congregation Beth Torah. Listen to the podcast.
THE JEWISH WEEK, APRIL 30, 2010:
Interview by Sara Ivry in Jewish Week‘s literary supplement, Text/Context.
THE JEWISH WEEK, APRIL 19, 2010:
Judith Shulevitz’s new book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, is attracting a good bit of attention, as well it should. Blending personal experience with history, theology and philosophy, the book is both an emotionally and intellectually rewarding encounter for the reader, and the product of a highly intelligent and thoughtful writer willing to probe every angle of what the Sabbath has meant to the world. (From a report on Templeton Book Forum discussion between Judith Shulevitz and James Carroll.) –by Gary Rosenblatt
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, APRIL 6, 2010:
This is a book about longing — for home, holiness, ritual, love, food, drink, socializing, contemplating, above all longing for time to experience this fullness. It is writing at once wonderfully generous and yet somehow also withholding. Its emotions are sublimated into quixotic digressions about time, sociology, Biblical translations and interpretations, Jewish Diaspora episodes, Christian tracts. It’s an intense book and intensely engaging, one that as a reader I didn’t want to end.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, APRIL 4, 2010:
The Sabbath World listed as Editors’ Choice.
HA’ARETZ, APRIL 2010:
How does the Sabbath light appear in the eyes of a contemporary American Jew, estranged from her tradition, who lives in a dominantly Christian “Sunday world,” a world that has substituted the leisures of “the weekend” for the precise rituals of the Sabbath?
To this question Judith Shulevitz … now gives an exceptionally illuminating book-length reply.
CNN, APRIL 3, 2010:
Judith Shulevitz and CNN correspondent Don Lemon talk about the non-religious uses of the Sabbath.
THE COLBERT REPORT, APRIL 1, 2010:
Judith Shulevitz talks to Stephen Colbert about The Sabbath World.
FRESH AIR, MARCH 31, 2010:
Terry Gross interviews Judith Shulevitz about The Sabbath World.
THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, MARCH 28, 2010:
Shulevitz is nothing if not ambivalent, and ambivalence is a sign of an interesting mind. Yes, she romanticizes the religious life, especially when it is Jewish, but a robust intellect keeps her from too much schmaltz. I enjoyed watching her critical intelligence charging in at crucial moments. …
Shulevitz “remembers the Sabbath” not by obeying its laws but by drawing on her autobiography to explain why the subject engages her. Harnessing her personal ambivalences and quirks, she has written a book of richness and depth. I suspect that I am not the only reader who will find her enlarged vision of the Sabbath as an idyll “wherein my spirit could safely wander” to be both riveting and moving. —Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
THE DAILY BEAST, MARCH 28, 2010:
The Sabbath World selected as one of the week’s “Hot Reads.”
BLOGGINGHEADS TV, MARCH 28, 2010:
Watch Judith Shulevitz and Hanna Rosin discuss The Sabbath World.
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, MARCH 28, 2010:
Shulevitz … has done her homework: Among the rewards the book offers is a capsule history of the Lord’s Day, beginning with Genesis and Exodus and expanding to encompass everything from blue laws to the quintessentially (post)modern concept of a technological Sabbath, in which we turn off our electronic devices for 24 hours. The challenge is in keeping these lines of thought balanced, in reflecting on the Sabbath as both ritual and idea. “Can we do nothing more than turn the Sabbath over in our minds, the way we would a poem, and extract from it anything worth having?” Shulevitz asks late in the book. “The answer is obvious: obviously yes, and obviously no.”
This, I think, is a classically Jewish form of introspection, the back-and-forth, the pro and con. And Shulevitz seeds it into “The Sabbath World” by integrating her experience, from childhood to the present day. —David L. Ulin
THE NEW REPUBLIC, MARCH 26, 2010:
Shulevitz’s history of conflicts around the Sabbath is fascinating and adroitly told…
Shulevitz, a gifted essayist, is the kind of writer who wears her erudition lightly, referring as easily to Talmudic rabbis as she does to Freud, Kafka, and Kierkegaard. And did I mention the army of sociologists she cites for their opinions on time, labor, and society? This is also a book that cannily advertises its tendentiousness, its personal complications … —Esther Schor
SLATE, MARCH 23 AND FOLLOWING:
Book club about The Sabbath World.
THE NEW YORKER, MARCH 29, 2010:
When Edmund Wilson set out on his various intellectual spelunking adventures, he would say that he was “working up” Hungarian poetry or Russian revolutionaries, the literature of the Civil War or Iroquois culture. Judith Shulevitz, a deeply intelligent journalist in her forties dissatisfied with the frenzied quality of modern life, decided to work up the tradition and practice of the Sabbath, the day of rest. It is an intellectual quest fired by a fierce desire to know, to change her life. Shulevitz displays her learning not to show off but to bring the news to an audience that she suspects has, like her, lost touch with the great tradition. In personal terms, and without sanctimony, she explores the history of the Sabbath, its philosophical foundations, its consolations, its purposes, and, in doing so, writes a swift, penetrating book intent on shattering the habits of mindless workaholism and the inability to recognize the blessings of rest, reflection, spirit, and family.
THE ATLANTIC.COM, MARCH 2010:
Why—and how—would one keep the Sabbath if God has nothing to do with it? Without a well-formed rationale, efforts to have a day of rest would be invariably tepid and toothless. Nostalgia alone isn’t nearly robust enough to sustain a weekly retreat from modernity.
Enter Judith Shulevitz’s new book, The Sabbath World. The book is really two texts: a comprehensive historical, sociological, literary, anthropological, and even mystical examination of the Sabbath; and Shulevitz’s chronicle of her own, often turbulent, path to Sabbath semi-observance. In this second part of the book, she offers an answer—or at least the material to assemble an answer—to the question, “Why celebrate and promote the Sabbath, even in secular form?”—Menachem Kaiser
TABLET MAGAZINE, MARCH 15, 2010:
Listen to this interview with Tablet‘s Sara Ivry.
DOUBLE X, FEBRUARY 26, 2010:
BOOK OF THE WEEK, “THE SABBATH WORLD”
In her new book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, Judith Shulevitz begins with ambivalence about the Sabbath and ends in that same place. As a child, she is profoundly alienated by her mother’s version of enacting Jewish rituals and as a grown-up, she enforces the rules only halfway for her own children. But in the meantime, Shulevitz goes on a fascinating intellectual journey to discover why the Sabbath has an enduring pull not only for Jews, but for Christians and for any of us who are looking for some holy respite from mundane workaday time.
Shulevitz’s book explores the Biblical and also mythical origins of the Sabbath. She explores how Jews, Christians, and secular philosophers have embraced and reacted against it. Most importantly, though, she explains the urgency of a Sabbath in our own age, when mobile time makes it near impossible for us to carve out any discreet space to connect with family and community, or even just the concrete world. She makes you conscious of time and its moral implications in an entirely new way.—Hanna Rosin
MOMENT, MARCH/APRIL 2010:
Judith Shulevitz has achieved something nearly impossible. She has written a book about the Sabbath that is truly singular. In fact, The Sabbath World could well become the Heschel-equivalent for a postmodern generation straining to hold onto the Sabbath against the allures of 24-7 technology and ecumenical politesse.
Insider and outsider, Shulevitz reckons with the Sabbath as both an unapologetically observant Jew (of the Conservadox sort) and a passionate student of history and literature. She roots the Sabbath in all its irreducible Judaism while at the same time showing how this practice, and even more this idea, affected the outer world by producing both imitation and backlash.
In her introduction alone, Shulevitz traverses from Kierkegaard to Akiva to Dickens, and the intellectual range never narrows. She parses Max Weber along with the Talmud, Saint Paul along with George Eliot, blue laws along the Babylonian exile. In its depth and rigor, and in its confident handling of Judaic texts, The Sabbath World reminds me even more of Leon Wieseltier’s Kaddishthan Heschel’s The Sabbath, but with one very significant difference.
Brilliant and icy, Kaddish was “a stone loner’s book,” to reapply a phrase I first heard being used to describe Brent Staples’ memoir Parallel Time. Though set into motion by his father’s death—the whole reason, after all, he was saying Kaddish thrice daily—Wieseltier restricted personal and family history to a frustrating and remote minimum, as if motivation could be peeled away from action.
Whether that choice reflected principle or anxiety, Shulevitz does not suffer from a similar affliction. The Sabbath World wears its erudition lightly. By which I mean that it never dumbs down material, but it does wrestle with complex substance in a disarmingly conversational tone. Shulevitz also utilizes her own story as a through-line, providing senses of forward motion and continuity in a book that might otherwise have read more like a collection of discrete essays.—Samuel Freedman
THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, “FACES TO WATCH 2010”:
JUDITH SHULEVITZ, CULTURE CRITIC What a brilliant idea. In her March book The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time (Random House: 288 pp., $26), culture critic Judith Shulevitz (Slate, the New York Times) addresses the philosophical idea of the Sabbath from both a personal and a collective point of view. Part history, part meditation, the book delves into the Sabbath in Judaism and Christianity while invoking a wealth of nonreligious sources, from William Wordsworth to Sigmund Freud. Ultimately, The Sabbath World suggests, the Sabbath offers a way to live outside of time, even for a day a week—an act not just of renewal but of resistance in an obsessively over-scheduled and over-networked world.— David L. Ulin
THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD:
As a swim back against the river of time, The Sabbath World is a wonderfully unusual, engaging trip. The straight-edged Puritans make an obvious appearance, but so do other, more obscure groups. I had never heard of the crypto-Jewish Sabbatarians who lived in Transylvania from the 17th century until Ceausescu’s Romanian army flooded their village in 1989, nor of the Subbotniki, Saturday Sabbatarians in 19th-century Russia whose descendants consider themselves Jewish. Such historical curios share space in Shulevitz’s admittedly loose, associative world, with theologians and authors and poets: legendary rabbis from the Talmud, Reformation heretics, William Wordsworth, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Shulevitz is at her most authoritative when selecting and surveying dead people.
And she is also terribly persuasive in marshaling sociology to suggest that we revisit the virtues of a day of rest. Drawing on scholars like sociologists Arlie Hochschild and Juliet Schor, Shulevitz restates the case that Americans are overworked. She shows how everything from the first public clocks in the 14th century to new management techniques in the 20th has conspired to rob us of leisure. She avoids pastoral sentimentalizing of the days of yore, but she is always clear-eyed about what we have given up, we who depend on our CrackBerrys.— Mark Oppenheimer
Other advance praise:
“The Sabbath World is not merely riveting, wise and at times breathtakingly beautiful, it just might change your life.” —Jonathan Safran Foer
“Many times while reading this book, I wished I had written it myself. It is enlightening and comforting to see that someone else has struggled with the Sabbath as I have—with the impossibility of removing oneself from the current of modern life, and with the equal impossibility of being forever caught in that current. Shulevitz’s history of the Sabbath in Jewish and Christian traditions is thorough and honest, recalling the social and moral force that underlies our understanding of time, no matter how secular we consider ourselves to be. This is a story of impossibilities—and of why, in our hyper productive world, the impossible is exactly what we need.”—Dara Horn, author of All Other Nights
“Someone once told me that Judith Shulevitz is the smartest writer in New York today. The Sabbath World contains all her formidable intelligence: It’s learned, thoughtful, and elegant. But it’s also much, much more. The writing is compassionate, revealing, and deeply personal. The Sabbath World is destined to become a classic.”—Bruce Feiler, author of Walking the Bible and America’s Prophet
“This is a book that speaks to us all as we struggle to secure time in a frantic world. Melding history, religion, and culture with illuminating personal insights, Judith Shulevitz provides a path to a more balanced and fulfilling type of life.”—Jerome Groopman, M.D., Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School, Author of Anatomy of Hope and How Doctors Think
“One of the many wonders of this beautiful and necessary book is that it manages to explore the meaning of the Sabbath with clarity and erudition, and simultaneously to awaken in the reader a deep longing for something that lives beyond words. What a pleasure to find a book written with the head and the heart.”—Jonathan Rosen, author of The Talmud and the Internet
“This book will make you think differently about time, religion and your job. Read it on a Saturday or a Sunday or a weekday, but do read it.”—AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically