Shabbat is one of the hallmarks of Judaism, and can be seen as perhaps the central institution of Jewish life and symbol of Jewish identity. From ancient times until today the sanctifying of the Sabbath has set Jews apart from the other nations and afforded them a holy “space” in time. Although different streams of Judaism observe Shabbat differently, all are united in viewing it as a precious and unique day. From the beginning of the Zionist revolt against the Jewish religious tradition, Shabbat has provided the focus of many unresolved questions pertaining to the role of Jewish religion in the State. What makes it a “Jewish” state? How is that Jewishness to be reflected in the public realm? Can a democratic state legislate “Jewishness”? The issue of Shabbat and the ongoing debates, tensions and disputes it has caused in Israel make it a relevant and salient case study for exploring these issues and dilemmas.
Compared to all the other holidays we have considered, Shabbat is the most universal, the least tied directly to Eretz Yisrael and its landscape. The study of Shabbat in Israel focuses not on our historical memories of Israel, but on our struggle to find the place of “Jewish values” in a real-life Jewish state.