Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. – Exodus 31:16
If you ask a typical Mormon which Jewish practices she most admires, chances are she’ll mention Sabbath observance. We have enormous respect for the Jews’ honoring of the Sabbath day throughout centuries of persecution, and Mormons who have sat at their Jewish friends’ Sabbath tables do not soon forget the glowing candles, childrens’ blessings, challah, and warmth on display. The setting aside of one day a week for worship and rest is an opportunity for members of both faiths to recharge their spiritual batteries and give thanks to G-d. In addition, it is such an important commandment that Sabbath observance serves as an informal indicator of dedication and devotion in both traditions: just as a Jew who drives on Friday nights would not be considered Torah-observant, a Mormon who chooses to work, shop and attend sporting events on Sundays is generally viewed as less devout than Mormons who do not.
Unlike Judaism, Mormonism allows some flexibility on Sabbath scheduling where it is necessary in order to align members’ worship schedules with the local workweek. While Sunday is the Sabbath for Mormons in the United States and in most countries throughout the world, members of the three LDS congregations in Israel go to church on Saturdays, and those in Muslim countries observe the Sabbath on Fridays.
Like observant Jews, Mormons spend the Sabbath day attending worship services (ours last three hours), visiting family and friends, and engaging in scripture study and personal reflection and prayer. In addition, Mormons participate in a 24-hour fast (no food or water) on the first Sunday of each month, and give a donation representing the cost of the meals that they would have consumed – and sometimes much more—to a fund to help the poor.
Unlike most other Christian churches, we do not hold worship services to celebrate Christmas unless it falls on the Sabbath, our day for worship. When Christmas falls on any other day, I usually attend a religious service at another church, usually a traditional Catholic mass or Episcopal service. I must confess to being somewhat jealous of both my Christian friends who can attend services on Christmas every year and my Jewish friends who have many other religious holidays to celebrate throughout the year. For Mormons in the U.S., worship services for holidays are limited to Easter (which always falls on a Sunday) and Christmas when it is on a Sunday. We do not celebrate other Christian feasts like Palm Sunday and Ash Wednesday.
Observant Jews set an exemplary model of respect for the Sabbath. In preparation for Friday evening, they change into clean, pressed clothes, clean the house, prepare a special meal, light candles, gather their families together, and bless their children. Although our Sabbath is not as structured as the Jewish one, most Mormon families I know go to church as a family and have a family meal on Sundays. It is an axiom in my mind that respect for the Sabbath has protected and preserved both faiths, and I pray that we will all continue to promote this perpetual covenant as a way to draw closer to our G-d and our families. Shabbat shalom.
I will be delivering pro-Jewish speeches in Europe September 10-24, and would like to publish the essays of at least a couple of guest bloggers during that time. If you are a Jew or Mormon and have a short essay with a topic of interest to both communities, please submit it by September 8 with a jpg picture (if desired). I will notify you on September 9 if your submission will be published. Thank you.