Living Room Shabbat and The Tradition of Change

Friday, June 22, 2018 / 9 Tammuz 5778

This week’s Mishnah Berurah class concludes our year of study. Sunday, 10am-11:15am in Room 102

Summary: Rabbi Kosak looks at Living Room Shabbat from three different perspectives to explain the goals of our new fourth Friday service.


Tonight is the launch of Living Room Shabbat! Can you tell that I am excited? As the name suggests, Stampfer chapel has been set up with plush sofas and tables (a hint to the wise–if you want a couch, come early). We’ll make kiddush together at the beginning of the service, and then people will be free to enjoy light snacks or a beverage during the service. Let me also invite you to wear comfortable and relaxing clothes.

So what’s the purpose of Living Room Shabbat? 

The answer I want to offer has a philosophical, a sociological and a spiritual component.

On the philosophical level, Judaism (or the many Judaisms), has always adopted to changing times. Indeed, one of the taglines of the Conservative movement has been “Tradition and Change.” Jewish history is nothing if not dynamic. Among world religions, Judaism has been remarkably forthright about how we have changed over time. Some religions attempt to ground their authority on the fact that they are unchanging and therefore eternally true.

Judaism understands that although our Torah is eternal and continues to throw off enduring truths, it does so in a manner that addresses real needs and changing conditions. We celebrate that fact. Legal decisors are urged to “Puk Hazei”–go out and see how Jews observe the Torah in the real world before issuing a legal decision. Law, tradition and culture must change if we are to find our way to a life guided by God, Torah and community. This flexibility is baked into our Jewish culture, and is a powerful corrective to forces of fundamentalism that threaten all true religious expressions.

Put differently, Ray Kroc of MacDonald’s fame once noted, “when you are green, you are growing, when you’re ripe, you rot.” To stand in the same place is to go backwards. Our faithful task as Jews is to carry with us the “portable tabernacle” of the Torah no matter where we go, for the Torah is a living document. It is written for all times and all places. Because Jews “choose life” (L’Hayim!), we reject the static as a distortion. Any movement that purports to take us back to some golden era is a movement of death and reaction. We are the tradition of change. We can only go forward.

On a sociological level, we live in a tremendously casual age. We see that as top chefs eschew the “white cloth” conventions of earlier dining rooms for more informal decor. Modern urban dwelling presents us with enough rules and restrictions. When we are “off-duty,” we want to be able to relax.

Howard Schultz, who built Starbucks into a global brand, understood this when he talked about creating a “third space” that was neither work nor home. After traveling to Italy and observing how community was formed around the cafes there, he wanted to provide a similar opportunity for Americans. Clearly he picked up on something.

In a connected vein, synagogue architecture has always adapted to trends in the larger society. We used to build these grand and imposing sanctuaries that instilled a sense of awe in those who came to pray. Those spaces communicated something very effective to the people of the time and helped them to pray. That same architectural language now feels a bit dated, and sometimes imposing and off-putting. It gets in the way.

Additionally, many of us can’t leave work early on Friday. After a full day, it is hard to get home, eat something and still make it to a 6:15 service, let alone with kids in tow. Our once a month Living Room Shabbat service provides a more leisurely opportunity to unwind before joining friends and community at 8 pm.

On a spiritual level, these philosophical and sociological perspectives are very important. Connecting to prayer, to God and to community aren’t easy for many modern people. We may not be familiar with the Hebrew, and sitting in fixed pews can feel constraining. Our goal with Living Room Shabbat is to encourage a communal sense and to enhance our relational Judaism. If we can feel comfortable in our clothes and our surrounding, the hope is that we will feel a bit freer to sing, to connect and to let our spirits soar upward.

I look forward to seeing you at Living Room Shabbat tonight (or on another 4th Friday). As this will be a year-long program, please let me know any constructive feedback you may have. We undoubtedly will make tweaks and adjustments along the way. After all, the synagogue has been the third place of Jews for 2000 years. We want to make sure it is also a holy space of connection.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. What is the point of relaxation when there is so much to accomplish?
  2. Think about the different sorts of vacations you have taken. What stands out as memorable? How did you balance R&R with sightseeing?
  3. What changes have been hard for you to negotiate? What might have happened if you didn’t adapt to those new facts?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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