OzTorah: Ask the Rabbi. “Christianity & the Sabbath”


Submitted by Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple..


Q. Why did Christianity abandon Shabbat and focus on Sunday?

A. The short answer is that the early Christians maintained Jewish practices for a lengthy period including the 7th-day Sabbath. In time they marked their separateness from Judaism by requiring their adherents to celebrate the 1st day of the week as the Lord’s Day, i.e. the day when Jesus was said to have risen from the dead. Sunday thus became the touchstone of Christian faith and identity.

Various Church edicts defined the way in which Sunday was to be observed. Paradoxically, Judaism was criticised for Sabbath strictness while Christianity introduced its own strictures and produced a day that was often heavy and humourless, lacking the Jewish concept of “Oneg Shabbat”.

It is interesting that Jewish communities in many Diaspora countries, careful not to offend their Christian neighbours, avoided weddings and other celebrations on Sundays.


Q. Why has the Messiah not come yet?

A. Everything happens in God’s good time (Isa. 60:22). The prophet Isaiah says, “hama’amin lo yachish”, “The believer must not be in a hurry” (Isa. 28:16).

According to the Chassidim, the Rimanover Rabbi assured his disciples before his death that he would refuse to enter Gan Eden unless God agreed to send Mashi’ach. But it was not time for the redemption, so King David was told to play his harp at the gateway to Paradise, and the music was so entrancing that despite himself the rabbi moved into Paradise… and the Messiah did not come.

Realising what had happened, the Oheler Rabbi said, “When I die, they won’t trick me with David’s harp!” But the messianic era had still not arrived and they did a deal with the rabbi. He was told, “Just give us one d’rashah, one discourse, and when it is over Mashi’ach will be sent onto the earth.”

Of course it took a little time to assemble the heavenly audience, but when he began speaking the rabbi was so inspired that… he is still speaking, and the Messiah has not come (“The Hasidic Anthology”, ed. LI Newman, 1963, p. 249).

What does the story tell us about why the Messiah has not yet come? Perhaps that we are so entranced by the melody of the happier times in life that we forget the thought of redemption. Or that when we do remember we are so taken up with talk that we neglect the practical work of paving the way for the messianic future.


Q. Should modern nations have laws against blasphemy?

A. The offence of blasphemy should have no place on the statute book. My reasons are as follows:

1. A law against blasphemy gives religion an official status which appears to contravene the principle of separation of church and state.

2. If blasphemy were to be retained as an offence, it would need to provide protection for all religious groups and every religion. This would raise impossible questions as to what constitutes a religion, and would require unmanageable administrative machinery.

3. Whilst every religious believer has the right to maintain their cherished beliefs and practices without suffering offence, insult or discrimination, such rights are better protected by anti-discrimination legislation and by the laws which safeguard public order.

4. In a democratic society believing in free speech, every ideology, philosophy and belief must be capable of tolerating questioning, debate and criticism, so long as the decencies of controversy are observed in a way consonant with the mores of society.

From the Jewish point of view, blasphemy has a very specific and limited definition, i.e. cursing the name of God (Lev. 24:10-23; Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5). Making negative comments about religious people or practices is not blasphemy in this sense. English law came to regard uttering an insult to Christianity as blasphemy, but this is an unjustified extension of the original concept.


Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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One comment

  1. If I could comment on the first question about the Sabbath as it’s one that I have often pondered . Christians who do as Jesus commanded and worship in ‘spirit and in truth’ (John 4:23-24) see their rest not in a ‘day’ but in a ‘person’. Although official ‘Christendom’ does indeed generally hold services on Sunday, there are many Christians who meet other days who do not see any significance in ‘the day’ at all – but rather in the ‘rest’. Entering this rest is holy rather than the day. Many Christians understand that Israel kept physical laws and the prophesied New Covenant was to be spiritual. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) The Promised land was a physical land whereas the Kingdom of God Jesus talked about is a spiritual land. The idea is that there is a journey to undertake to enter either. The writer of the Book of Hebrews noted we should ‘struggle to enter our rest’. (Heb 4:11). Personally, I have been a member of Sabbath keeping churches, Sunday congregations and groups that meet on other days. I believe the teachings of Jesus tend to highlight entering a holy ‘rest in God’ which is consistent with the idea of worshipping ‘in spirit and in truth’. I tend to think the strict Sabbath keepers that Rabbi rightly says many criticised, are replicated by strict church goers. For me the Sabbath is all about finding peace with God and less about the day; it’s a (spiritual) place we should try and live in rather than visit.