The Sabbath World
Glimpses of a Different Order of Time
Judith Shulevitz
Random House, $26, 246 pp.

Which of the Ten Commandments is, in practice, the most neglected? For sheer volume of violations, anyone with an iPad (or without one) could help make a convincing case for the coveting of goods. On the other hand, at least people still recognize, in theory, that following that tenth commandment is an admirable idea. For a rule that has almost completely dropped from believers’ collective sense of obligation, it would be hard to beat No. 3: Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.

For those of us who go to church, Sunday is still the day we do it. Aside from that, our Sabbath has become, in practice, just a slightly lower-key Saturday. Both are days for whatever we prefer as relaxed enjoyment and recovery—sports, home projects, friends—plus, all that shopping that doesn’t get done during the week. The commandment says we are to keep the day “holy.” But, with the exception of fifty minutes in church, there is nothing particularly holy about our Sundays. The NFL, youth soccer, and a weekly nap on the couch place more ritual demands on us than any summons to higher pursuits. Aside from some timeworn liquor-sales laws, and the fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A (still closed Sundays), few people or businesses do (or refrain from doing) anything out of a sense that Sunday is fundamentally different.

It is only recently that this has been so; Sunday was loaded with many other expectations in our not-so-distant past. In the early 1900s, the civic-minded promoted it as a day...

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About the Author

Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal