September 11, 2012

Is Half-Shabbos Really No Shabbos?

As an Orthodox rabbi who works closely with teenagers and their parents, I am pleased that your magazine confronts important issues in our community. In general, the articles not only point out problems that exist within the Orthodox population but describe possible solutions to these challenges. However, the spring issue contained an article that is more harmful than helpful and reflects a growing trend in the Orthodox community to broadly categorize and degrade teenagers who may be struggling with aspects of their religious observance.
I found Jonathan Rosenblum’s article “Half Shabbos Is No Shabbos” to be problematic, on both halachic and educational grounds.
We obviously put serious weight on Shabbat observance. Beyond the specific mitzvot associated with the day, Shabbat serves an essential role as a theological and historical anchor for our community. But is “half Shabbos no Shabbos”? Even if this was not the intent of the article, the extreme formulation sends a message to teenagers who are not perfect in their observance that their positive engagement with Shabbat has no merit. Ironically, we would never say this to a public school teenager in NCSY, but we are willing to denigrate a struggling yeshivah student as being a “half-Shabbos” or even a “no-Shabbos” observer.

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