Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Frugality in the 10 commandments

Quite often one of the frugality sites will do a "frugality for dummies" kind of post, which will list the 5 or so easiest things to do to get on the road to frugality. There was one today. Most of these are fairly well known to anyone who has read these kind of blogs for a while, or who has read Tightwad Gazette - make meal plans and shopping lists and stick to them, leave your credit card at home, wait a few days before making a major purchase.

I haven't done one because I'm trying to present this material from a particular angle, even though a lot of my daily posts, the ones that describe my daily struggles, don't differ from most other frugality bloggers.

But there is one thing I can add to the list of frugality basics that I think is unique to my perspective. And that is: Do Shabbes. That is: Observe Shabbat - the Sabbath.

As you will remember from your Bible studies, the 10 commandments contains this directive: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. This has been developed through the rabbinic process to today, when Orthodox Jews don't spend money, don't turn lights on and off, don't travel in cars, and spend most of the day in community and in prayer.

I'm a Reconstructionist, and my process is to try to discern the values behind the original prescription, then decide whether the way tradition suggests we observe today is in keeping with those values, and if not, to adjust the practice so that observance comes closer in alignment with principle. So I don't necessarily observe according to halakhah (Jewish law), but I do try to observe in a way that respects the underlying values and brings me closer to them.

So the value that I think underlies Shabbat from a frugal-Jewish perspective is this: spend no money. Buy no stuff. Leave commerce and acquisition alone for a day.

Now, I don't observe this perfectly. If we are out somewhere and there's some sort of incidental money involved, like paying to get into the botanical gardens, then we'll pay it and won't feel like we're violating Shabbat. But we don't "go shopping" (not that we do so much of that anyway) or go anywhere where the main activity is likely to involve the spending of money.

I think I mentioned that I was having trouble keeping track of my spending so I put some of my tax refund money into a basic version of Quicken. It has a page that shows your spending on a monthly calendar, and it's such a pleasure, after seeing all the spending on every other day of the week, to look at Saturdays and see no ATM withdrawals, no food shopping, none of that everyday detritus of homo consumerus, the American buyer. Just think: one-seventh of your life can be like that! That's a significant chunk of one's life! And there's the extra added benefit of being convinced that I'm taking what God said seriously.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a hero to so many in so many ways, as usual said it best:

To set apart one day a week for freedom, a day on which we would not use the instruments which have been so easily turned into weapons of destruction, a day for being with ourselves, a day of detachment from the vulgar, of independence of external obligations...-is there any institution that holds out a greater hope for [human] progress than the Sabbath?

Shabbat can be for us what it was always intended to be: to be a day of freedom from technology and commerce. By observing it (either Sunday or Saturday, depending on your predelictions) you too can have a day - many days - on which you can follow what God actually said with that commandment: "Let there be frugality!"


Mary T said...

I enjoyed this post. I'm not Jewish, but as a Christian the concept of Sabbath means something to me as well. Personally I have found that a day of restful enjoyment is something truly to be treasured.Another thing I really believe is that how we live ought to be connected to what we believe.

Cordelia said...

I've been reading through and really enjoying these postings. Sorry about the house (ouch). This entry really got me thinking, as, in a funny way, the post about bananas did, of the WWII generation. You mention your grandmother always having at least half a banana, and my mother, who is, uh, well over 75, also says that. But it also struck me that she and that generation have more than one day a week when they do not spend money. The insidious thing about consumerism is that it has become a leisure activity: the weekend comes, the stores fill up with people looking for the newest, latest, whatever. My mother gets all her bills, then pays them before the fifth of each month. Food shopping ? Usually once a week, or planned by the week. Otherwise, she shops when something breaks, or when she needs something (big issue there). I try to emulate this, but am a child of my time: I pay bills on line as they come in; I don't always have a week's meals planned out. Yet I think there is a real lesson in what you say and from that generation: one shouldn't be spending/paying every day. Get it done; let what's left sit.