What are the differences in how they observe the Sabbath?
As someone who was raised a Seventh-Day Adventist but converted to Judaism in 1993, I have some ideas.
The most obvious difference is that Jews have hundreds of laws about how to observe the Sabbath. Christians rely on a few principles.
Adventism’s founder and prophet, Ellen G. White, laid out that Christians should observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday by abstaining from work and from doing their own pleasure. They should instead devote the day to God. She told them how.
Ellen G. White functions as the Talmud of Adventism.
When you say the word “law” to a Christian audience, it is usually understood as a dirty word. Jesus freed them from bondage to the law.
Well, here are some advantages to law that Christians may not have thought of.
* Jewish law helps with moral clarity.
When I was growing up Adventist, the sixth commandment was always translated as “Do not kill.” It actually means “Do not murder.” There’s moral killing and immoral killing. Immoral killing is murder.
Seventh-Day Adventism is pacifistic. Judaism holds pacifism to be immoral. As the Torah says, “You may not stand by while the blood of your neighbor is shed.”
Killing in self-defense and necessary war is permitted to the Jew. Those Jews who refused to defend themselves on the Sabbath (in the Maccabean conflict 2200 years ago) were wiped out.
The Seventh-Day Adventist church in Germany during the 1930s supported the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Like Hitler, Adventists opposed the use of nicotine, alcohol, and meat and therefore thought Adolf was a good guy. (Seeking A Sanctuary, pg. 193-194)
I remember Adventists in the 1970s discussing whether ethics were situational or absolute. Jewish law makes clear that ethics are both — the situation determines the absolute. Not only is there moral killing and immoral killing, there’s moral sex (monogamous marital sex) and immoral sex (rape, incest, adultery, homosexuality).
All acts break down into the permitted and the forbidden.
* A religion of law sends out a powerful message — you can do it.
Yes, the Torah in the Noah story says that the will of man’s heart is nothing but evil from his youth. The Torah is skeptical about the natural man’s inclination, but it is optimistic with regard to man’s potential.
If people were inherently wonderful, they wouldn’t need hundreds of laws. Judaism does not believe people are naturally good. Therefore, it has a system to morally educate us.
How do you make good people? In the Jewish view, you give them laws and you tell them to study them and to live them. In Christianity, you tell them that God loves them and that they should accept His love and reflect it to others.
Judaism trusts the law. Christianity trusts the heart. (Dennis Prager)
Because you earn your way in Judaism, you are much more likely to be successful in this world. By contrast, converts to Seventh-Day Adventism are more likely to come from society’s lowest stratas rather than its highest. Adventism by definition looks to the soon coming of Jesus. Thus Adventists have little impact on this world while Jews, who focus on this life, have enormous impact.
Seventh-Day Adventism is based on conspiracy theory — that the United States of America in cooperation with the Papacy will pass laws mandating the worship of God on Sunday and that all Sabbath-keeper will have to flee to the hills to escape persecution.
Living in the freest country in the world, the most religiously tolerant, Adventists choose to believe something for which all evidence points in the opposite direction. This is not a recipe for a fulfilling and influential life in this world.
Instead, it is a recipe for converting the disenfranchised by giving them a theology that justifies their lack of worldly success and tells them this world is a wicked place incapable of human redemption.
When I was growing up Adventist, I was surrounded by nutters who were absorbed in various conspiracy theories about how the world would end.
Conspiracy theories are for losers. Earning your own way is a recipe for winning.
Losers depend on hand-outs. Christian salvation is a hand-out, it is given freely to anyone who accepts the gift. In other words, Christianity is theological welfare.
* All groups need regulation. A religion of law such as Judaism accords those who know the law the most influence. Judaism is not hierarchical. It is a meritocracy. Every synagogue is independently operated. Rabbis gain influence according to their knowledge of the law and the wisdom of how they apply the law to changing circumstances.
Seventh-Day Adventism is a hierarchy presided over by bureaucrats. It is run by non-intellectual colorless types, similar to those who run the DMV and the Post Office. These bureaucrats create and enforce the rules for Adventists.
Orthodox Jewish kids often collect rabbi cards. No Adventist kid will ever collect General Conference president cards.
* Judaism induces guilt over deeds, not thoughts. Christianity induces guilt over thoughts and deeds. In my experience, guilt is much more of a problem for Christians than for Jews. I’ve never known a Jew who was troubled by guilt over his thoughts and desires.
Jesus says that when you look at another woman with lust, you are committing adultery with your heart. According to Judaism, you can commit adultery with only one organ of your body and it is not your heart (Dennis Prager).
* A religion of laws allows people to be more real. A religion of the heart constrains people to act like they’re born again. Thus, Jews are much more verbal and more emotional than Protestants, who are deeply controlled, even stiff by comparison. Jews are much more free to admit that they have bad thoughts. Thus Jews pioneered psychology and therapy (“Tell me all your nasty thoughts”).
* Jewish law keeps you busy. One does not depend on making converts to feel fulfilled as a Jew. I suspect that one key reason that evangelical Christians spend so much time seeking converts is that their religion lacks enough rituals to keep them busy.
The Jewish Sabbath is like the TV show “24” — you are at the center of the world even while you take time off from the world — while the Seventh-Day Adventist Sabbath is like the TV show “It Is Written” — an escape from this world with a focus on individual salvation to the next world.
* Jewish law gives you more sex. While historical Adventism regarded sex on the Sabbath as a sin, Judaism enjoins marital sex on the Sabbath (providing the wife is not unclean (a niddah) at the time).
* Jewish law gives you profound guidance on how to lead your life. As one Protestant minister put it, God is interested in more than just religion. Jewish law guides you as to when to work and when to rest, when to socialize and when to be alone, when to study and when to play. Jewish law gives every day, every week, every month and every year a distinct and dramatic rhythm.
Christians have two major holidays (Christmas and Easter) while Jews have many (the festivals of Passover, Shuvuot, and Succot as well as the minor holidays of Purim and Hanukkah as well as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, etc).
Jewish law makes everything good in life more important. When you make out with a Jewish girl, you’re not just locking lips, you’re bringing redemption. You’re not just observing the Sabbath, you’re healing the world.
If you’ve ever spent time in Jerusalem, then you have a taste of the meaning of Jewish life anywhere in the world. You have an inkling of what it is like to walk in the steps of the Bible and of God.
The higher quality of Jewish life corresponds with observance of Jewish law. As Jews abandon Jewish law, they start acting like goyim. (Why The Jews? The Reason For Antisemitism, chapter four)
Jewish life is competitive while Adventist life frowns on competition. One of these modes produces excellence and another mode produces mediocrity.
* Jewish law commands you to do cool things with your body. Dancing is a big deal in Judaism, it is forbidden in Adventism. As a Jew, you have lots of things you can wear (tzitzit, tallit, yarmulke) and tie on (tefillin) and smell (havdalah) and eat (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine are permitted in Judaism but not Adventism).
The foundation to the Adventist health message is that it reduces sexual desire. Ellen G. White (along with the previous pope) was a big proponent of wives doing nothing in word or deed to arouse their husband’s lust (Seeking A Sanctuary, pg. 167-171). This type of teaching is absent from every rabbinical sex talk I’ve heard.
While masturbation is equally forbidden in Judaism and in historic Adventism, this commandment receives about 1% of the attention in Jewish life that it received in my Adventist upbringing.
For conservative Christians, sexual sins are the biggest sins. For observant Jews, sexual sins are not necessarily any more serious than other sins. I’ve never encountered a rabbi who was fixated on sexual sin and devoted countless sermons to the topic.
* The abundance of Jewish law provides an abundance of opportunities for sin and excitement. A world without prohibitions is a dull place.
The desire to sin and to be dirty is an essential part of sexual excitement (see the work of psychiatrist Robert J. Stoller).
By separating the sexes at prayer and mandating modest clothing, Orthodox Judaism makes homely women seem alluring when you’re glancing at them from across the mechitza (partition).
* Jewish law develops concern for your own people. Christians were persecuted more harshly in the former Soviet Union than Jews were, but Christians in the free world did almost nothing to help their co-religionists behind the Iron Curtain. By contrast, synagogues around America had up signs reading “Free Soviet Jews”. Jews marched and wrote letters for the freedom of Soviet Jews.
* Jewish law encourages study of Jewish law. By contrast, Christianity enjoins that one comes to God as a little child. There’s nothing in 4,000 years of Judaism that encourages one to come to God as a little child (Dennis Prager). Judaism asks that you come to God with your adult mind. An ignorant Jew can not be a good Jew.
This is why Jews are intellectually dominant and Adventists are a footnote to intellectual history. This is why prestigious addresses such as Beverly Hills and Manhattan are dominated by Jews and Adventists are virtually unknown in the corridors of power.
* Though observing the Sabbath according to Jewish law is more difficult than observing the Sabbath according to Seventh-Day Adventist mores, there are some small solaces as we slave away under the lash of the law, climbing the shaking sides of Mount Sinai towards Heaven wondering when the Messiah will come.
– Jews don’t argue the finer points of theology. For instance, they never argue about the movements of Christ in the Heavenly Sanctuary in 1844. They never argue about whether Christ’s righteousness is imputed or imparted. They don’t tell the adherents of other religions what their religious texts really mean. For instance, Jews don’t berate Christians about the true meaning of the New Testament nor do they instruct Muslims that “jihad” really means inner spiritual struggle.
– Jews never excuse boneheaded behavior by saying, “You did what was in your heart.”
– Jews never tell each other, “You need closer walk with the Lord, my friend.”
– Jews never talk about God’s unconditional love and about how He wants you to be in Heaven with Him.
– Jews aren’t concerned about whether or not they’ll be in Heaven and whether or not you’ll be there with them.
– Jews aren’t prone to conspiracy theories.
– Jews don’t argue about the Time of the End.
– Jews don’t wear polyester.
– Jews don’t tell you to have a nice day.
– Jews don’t ask you if you are saved.
– Jews don’t try to convert non-Jews to Judaism.
– Jewish self-worth is independent of what non-Jews think of their religion.
– Jews don’t forgive murderers on behalf of their victims.
– Jews don’t ask Jews if they’re ready to forgive the Germans for the Holocaust.
– Jews don’t hand out tracts.
– Jews don’t collect offerings on the Sabbath.
– Jews don’t repeat the same spontaneous prayer before eating. Jews don’t say, “Thank you for this food and may it nourish us to do Your will.”
– Jews don’t waste time before leveling stinging criticisms by the use of such incantations as, “He’s a fine Jewish gentleman, but…”
– Jews don’t say, “If I weren’t a Jew, I’d say XYZ about so-and-so…”
– Jews don’t fundraise so the world can know who Moses really is.
– Jews don’t tell you, “God has a plan for your life.”
– Jews don’t blame things on the devil.