“[T]he Jewish Sabbath […] is a kind of suspension of time, a kind of transcendence of the world.” (“On Edmund Husserl,” in Review of the Society for the History of Czechoslovak Jews, vol. 1, 1987, p. 100).
The Sabbath contains God’s promise to grant a foretaste of the messianic era. Consequently the Sabbath itself is a sacred atmosphere which humans enter into; it is not a normal day (Susannah Heschel, “Introduction,” in: Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, 1951, p. xv). Vilém Flusser aptly defines it as a “method of emerging out of oneself and surfacing into what was, is, and will be” (Briefe an Alex Bloch, 2000, p. 200; translated from the German); what especially caught his interest here was the possibility of a setting-in-relation.
Flusser had a superficial interest in the Sabbath rituals and had learned from Romy Fink, a Talmudist he knew, that their lack of a practical motive is the condition of their solemnity. Liberated from social purpose, the rules thus fulfil their nonmotive of giving us an intimation of a sacred order and chronology that are alien to us. Therein lies the enrichment that a practicing Jew such as Fink finds in the Sabbath. The pragmatic sacrifices are transformed into cheerful gestures that honor the other and so are addressed indirectly to God. “This, then, is the Sabbath: to feel the meaning of life concretely, above oneself and in oneself, in living together with others and opening oneself to that entirely other one with whom one is face to face.” (Bodenlos, 1992, p. 181; translated from the German)The Sabbath breaks not only with the secular calendar, but also with its practicality; it is the rupturing of linearity par excellence.
In coming to terms with this, Flusser holds fast to his Greek philosophical inheritance, unable to unconditionally accept these rituals alienated from purpose. His unease pertains to Jewish practice. He cannot relate to the masking of all individuals as a collective person in the community, because to him this seems social and not religious. What Flusser defends, more than respect for the community is the freedom to choose one’s other. For him, the Sabbath remains an interesting but theoretical concept (ibid., p. 183).
Original article by Eugenia Stamboliev