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A Version of Israel's Secular Shabbat -- Via a Song


The song below, Shabbat Ba’boker can be found on Arik Einstein and Yoni Richter’s CD , “When I Was a Kid.” It is a Shabbat song with no reference to ritual or practice. In a way that only an Israeli song can express, it communicates a deep sense of how joyous Sabbath can be. It is upbeat and jazzy.

Shabbat Morning
words by Tirtzah Atar

שבת בבוקר 
מילים: תרצה אתר

Shabbat (Saturday) morning, it’s a beautiful day.

Mom drinks a lot of coffee.

Dad reads a lot of newspaper.

And for me, they buy a lot of balloons.


We can go to the Yarkon river and sail there on a sail boat,

Or walk to the end of our street and come back.

Maybe we can pick flowers, at least the ones that we are allowed to.

And we can walk

to my pre-school,

and see

that it is closed!


(Translated by Shai Gluskin.)

שבת בבוקר! יום יפה, 
אמא שותה המון קפה, 
אבא קורא המון עיתון (המון עיתון) 
ולי יקנו המון בלון. 

אפשר ללכת לירקון, לשוט שם בסירה, 
או לטייל עד סוף הרחוב ולשוב בחזרה, 
אפשר לקטוף פרחים, כאלה שלא אסור, 
ואפשר ללכת עד הגן ולראות שהוא סגור. 

Rabbi Shai’s Comments


This short song communicates the simplicity and joy of Shabbat. Whether it is a lot of coffee, newspaper or balloons, each member in the family gets to be pampered. And as for what to do, the child ponders something grand like sailing down the Yarkon river in a sail boat. But then he retreats to more simple and achievable visions that are probably just as fun.


If it weren’t for its total lack of religious content, this song would fit nicely into a classic sub-genre of Shabbat zemirot, Sabbath hymns. Many of those zemirot describe in detail what people actually do on Shabbat. “Ma Yedidut” and “Menucha v’Simcha” fit that mold. In this secular Israeli “hymn”, life itself sustains the feeling of Shabbat, without the need for religious ritual or observance.


Discussion Questions, Activity:

  1. Discuss whether you think the song describes a Shabbat observance at all. Might the word “Shabbat” be simply translated as “Saturday” with no Jewish significance?
  2. Is it possible to live Jewishly in Israel without religious ritual?
  3. Note there are several activities in the poem which describe activities that would be against traditional Jewish practice according to Jewish law; picking flowers and buying balloons are two of them. Imagine a new Jewish legal code for Shabbat that would allow these activities. Write a sample of that new code.
  4. “Maybe we can pick flowers, at least the ones we are allowed to.” Appreciation of wildflowers is a national pastime in Israel. Children and adults are trained to distinguish between common and rare wildflowers. Note that while the author doesn’t seem concerned about Jewish law regarding prohibitions against picking flowers on Shabbat, she is attuned to environmental concerns which bring about their own rules. Can one consider environmental laws in Israel “Jewish laws” since Israel is a “Jewish State”?

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