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Jewish museum makes novel decision on whether to close for Sabbath
October 18th, 2010
12:30 AM ET

Jewish museum makes novel decision on whether to close for Sabbath

CNN's Dan Gilgoff filed this report:

Before it could open its doors in Philadelphia next month, the new National Museum of American Jewish History had to resolve a classic Jewish American predicament: how to treat Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.

If the museum remained open for the Sabbath - called Shabbat - the institution would be violating Jewish law, which forbids work and financial transactions on that day.

But if the museum closed for Shabbat, it would prevent the institution from carrying out its mission of sharing the story of American Judaism with visitors on what's likely to be the highest traffic day of the week.

It's the kind of quandary that museum president Michael Rosenzweig says is familiar to American Jews, caught between the dictates of Jewish law and American freedoms, along with the temptations and pressures of a mostly gentile nation.

And on Sunday, Rosenzweig said the museum's board had reached a distinctly American resolution on the matter: to stay open on Shabbat but to do its best to avoid financial transactions - including ticket sales.

"We chose to embrace this as a teachable moment that reflects not only the tradition itself but also the tensions that are at the core of the American Jewish experience," Rosenzweig told CNN Sunday night.

"We're a Jewish institution, but we're not a religious institution," Rosenzweig said. "We want to be sensitive to Jewish tradition but we also recognized that a significant number of visitors will be non-Jewish."

Though the museum will open on Saturdays, tickets will be available only online and at sites outside the museum, which are yet to be determined, Rosenzweig said.

He said that the museum's gift shop would be open on Saturdays but that it would only accept credit cards, so that the museum could process the transactions the next day.

The museum will be closed for major Jewish holidays - Yom Kippur, Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

The new museum will be the nation's only one dedicated solely to telling the story of Jews in America, according to press materials for the institution.

Though the museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, opened in 1976, it is moving next month to a new $150 million, 100,000 square foot building on Philadelphia's Independence Mall, a much larger and more central location.

The museum's board of directors appointed a committee to examine the Shabbat issue this summer, with the board adopting its recommendations earlier this month, Rosenzweig said.

"There are some board members who felt we should be closed on Shabbat and on Jewish holidays and some who thought we should never be closed," he said.

Though he said the financial pressure to remain open was one factor in the choice, "the board was determined to make this decision on a principled basis that didn't involve the revenue we would lose if we closed."

Various American Jewish museums treat Shabbat differently. The Jewish Museum in New York is open on Saturday but does not charge admission on that day, while New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage is closed.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Judaism • Pennsylvania • United States

soundoff (106 Responses)
  1. delphin

    ...and this happens to be on cnn's priority list?! i guess if the twin tower mosque got so much publicity why not this?! another sad day for journalism and a let down for those who depend on it.

    October 18, 2010 at 4:23 am |
    • Pagan John

      Oh good, I was worried that this CNN wouldn't have a commenter for this article saying "What, that this should be the news?" that every single other article has.

      LOL YOUR ORIGINAL!

      October 18, 2010 at 7:46 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Well, *I* found it interesting. I was unaware of the museum moving to new digs on the mall. As I live near Philadelphia, I find that QUITE interesting.
      I also found their solution to a religious dilemma interesting as well.
      And I TRULY found your "twin towers mosque" enlightening, as you apparently fail to respect the sovereignty of the borough of Manhattan. And as I can claim injury of blood through the death of my cousin in those towers, MY preference trumps yours. It's approved by Manhattan zoning, permits issued, it'll get built and if you attempt to use violence, an insurrection will be declared and the Army sent into NYC. Again.
      Sorry, but I'm not a diplomat. It's that simple.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  2. ROCKWOOD

    My word.....the solution is totally obvious.....hire gentiles to work the Saturdays.......Oy......

    October 18, 2010 at 3:47 am |
  3. Jim Johansen

    Tricking God is part of Jewish history. And this ain't a novel American solution as Israel's museums open on Saturdays. Who is fooling who?

    October 18, 2010 at 3:24 am |
    • A.

      Tricking God is Jewish history...like when?

      October 18, 2010 at 3:41 am |
    • Pagan John

      Nothing like a glaring reminder that Christianity and Islam both hate Judaism as well as each other. All three of you Abrahamic religions fight with each other constantly, it's like you're siblings. Sibling rivalry that has left a trail of millions dead over the last 2000 years.

      Look, you only hate each other because of how similar you are. All three religions are basically the same thing.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:42 am |
    • Wzrd1

      The children of Abraham are still fighting after thousands of years, all because Abraham couldn't keep his harpy wife in line.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:12 am |
    • Raison

      @Wzrd1
      And now who's being disrespectful??? Good grief, can't you keep it in your pants?

      October 18, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  4. Dave H.

    This sounds as ridiculous as another well know religion's ban on owning modern devices with the work-around being that if your neighbor owns one of these devices, you may borrow it. Religious groups seem to be especially ingenious about finding loopholes in the very spiritual laws that they would all to gladly point out that the non-believers don't follow.

    October 18, 2010 at 3:19 am |
    • A.

      Out of curiosity, what is this other well known religion?

      October 18, 2010 at 3:21 am |
    • daaaave

      He means the Amish

      October 18, 2010 at 3:27 am |
    • Pagan John

      They're well known?

      October 18, 2010 at 7:36 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Funny, as I don't recall the Amish being permitted to borrow modern devices. I DO recall they can use a car only if someone were to offer them a ride, which came in handy when a bunch of kids got shot up in their school house.
      That's not borrowing the car though.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:14 am |
    • Dave H.

      In Mid-west U.S. communities with Amish populations, it is common for the younger generations to use their neighbor's phones, watch their TV's, listen to their radios, use their computers for internet access, borrow their tractors and pickup trucks, etc. Nothing wrong with doing that except for it being a rediculous, dishonest way of getting around their own rules. That was the initial point I was trying to make about the Jewish work-arounds for dealing with the Sabbath. Either these are rules that come from their god and are meant to be obeyed or they should admit that they are outdated rules of men that can simply be discarded.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  5. Raison

    I think the museum should be open everday, but who am I? Just a silly goyim.
    Since it is a Smithsonian affiliate, one would think that the religious beliefs of all concerned would not matter, since it is only a museum run with donations and such. It's not a synagogue.

    If going there on a particular day would be against an individual's beliefs, then that individual should stay away at that time. It should not be built into the operations of the museum itself. Unless they were unable to find someone willing to work on a Saturday......? How orthodox does one have to be to cross this line, anyway?

    And they made the decision without checking with us first? What? LOL

    October 18, 2010 at 3:08 am |
    • Wzrd1

      It's called being respectful of the beliefs of those represented in that museum.
      You've heard of respect, haven't you? It's obvious you are incapable of exercising it.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Raison

      @Wzrd1
      You must not have read my post, or perhaps you misunderstand what I wrote – I don't always write things very clearly.
      I meant no disrespect. I made a joke at the end- is that what you're going on about????

      I like you Wzrd1, you've done a lot for the USA, but respect has to be earned. You've earned yours and thus have my respect, but this is just a museum we're talking about here. And I am convinced that most of religion is delusion, yet I try to respect some boundaries nonetheless out of common courtesy.....the question is secular anyway, with the usual problems for the HR departments and Administrative personnell.
      So what do you say is disrespectful? Or were you just enjoying a bit of ad hominem attack at my expense???

      October 18, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  6. daaaave

    It would be best if the museum is closed on the Sabbath. But if they must keep it open, admission should be FREE on Saturdays. Just like the Vatican which is open for free on Sundays.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:59 am |
    • A.

      I didn't know there was an entry fee for the Vatican. I find that quite unsettling.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:04 am |
    • Wzrd1

      daaaave, what am I going to do with you?
      A FAR better example was in the article, the museum in NYC.
      But instead, you claim an entry fee for the vatican.
      ROFLMAO!
      I thought the IDF has IQ tests as part of their draft...

      October 18, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  7. A.

    It's not lame, it's clever and pragmatic. Brilliant, in my opinion. Halachic rabbis are great at finding loopholes in their own laws.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:52 am |
  8. Ahmed Al Ghamdi

    Completing the credit card transaction the following day is not a novel solution. It is an example of playing around with jewish law, an example of trying to 'trick' their God by having it both ways. This is no different than a jewish story told in the Koran (so that muslims would be be aware and not try to replicate similar practices) and it goes like: God prohibited the Jews from catching fish on Sabt (Sabbath in Arabic), and tested the Jews by reducing their catch on all other days except for Sabt. The Jews then tried to go around the ruling by placing their nets the night before, and God punished them for disobeying Him.

    Jews today continue to change the fundamentals of their law according to their own needs and wishes, which strips current day Judaism of its divinity.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:48 am |
    • A.

      That's quite a hefty claim there. Don't forget that the Qur'an is rife with criticism of the Jews' errant ways – to use that as a means of criticizing Halacha wouldn't exactly be fair. Besides, are madhabs not also in the business of interpreting Qur'anic texts and finding loopholes? It doesn't strip away divinity at all, or else Jews would completely disregard the laws (if they cared so little for them).

      October 18, 2010 at 3:18 am |
    • Nonimus

      I'm less worried about Jews finding loopholes, or for that matter Muslims 'canonizing' (Koranizing?) stories about the failings of other religions, than I am about a supposed God being so petty as to test His followers by limiting their food source on non-sabbath days.

      No fish for you!!

      October 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  9. think

    People still believe these fairy tales?

    October 18, 2010 at 2:31 am |
    • Raison

      @think

      Did you just pop up out of the ground or something? Yes, people still believe this nonsense. Been going on for some time now...!

      October 18, 2010 at 2:55 am |
    • A.

      Unfortunately.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:42 am |
  10. Alberto

    I'm tired of people calling the Sabbath, the Jewish Sabbath... No where in the Scriptures does it designated it as the Jewish Sabbath... only the Sabbath... Genesis Chapters 1 & 2 state that God rested on the 7th day and made it holy. Adam & Eve were not Jewish... We should all be observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy as stated in the 4th commandment, which applies to everyone, not just the Jewish people... Take time to study God's Word, not just read it...

    October 18, 2010 at 2:27 am |
    • Raison

      @Alberto

      "Adam and Eve were not Jewish" Whaaat? Next you'll be telling us they didn't have belly-buttons....!

      October 18, 2010 at 2:53 am |
    • Tamara

      You are 100% correct. There is NOT A SINGLE SCRIPTURE where the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. If you read history, you will find that the change came after most of the apostles were dead. The Sabbath/Sunday change oringinally came when the church was trying to reach the pagans. They chose Sunday as a day of worship because so many pagans worshiped the Sun God on that day. The church figured that they could combine sun worship with Jesus' resurrection. This is a historical fact.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:02 am |
    • Raison

      @Tamara

      I often had the susp-icion that the Church changed it to Sunday to purposely separate themselves from Jews, and did this sort of thing in other areas, such as baring the head as opposed to covering it, etc.

      And since they were in the business of pogroms and such, it always seemed to fit as far as I was concerned.
      There are too many things in Christian traditions that are in stark contrast to Orthodox Judaism.

      If the Sabbath is on Saturday, then it's on Saturday.
      You can't change that by Popish fiat just because you don't want to appear Jewish while you are persecuting them.
      What nonsense!

      Either they had it right or they didn't. If they didn't, then you lose. If they did, then you lose.

      HEADLINE: "Catholic Church loses, Judaism wins on keeping Sabbath holy – film at 11". 😀

      October 18, 2010 at 3:18 am |
    • Eli

      The Sabbath was sanctified by G-d at creation but not given to mankind then. All humanity was given the 7 Noachid Laws – not the Sabbath.
      Adam and Eve didn't keep Shabbat – neither did Abraham. Only when the children of Israel were chosen by G-d when he saved them from Egypt was the Shabbat given to his people. The Sabbath was given to the children of Israel as part of their covenant with G-d and as their affirmation that G-d created the Universe.
      Early Christians and Moslems saw themselves as continuers of this Jewish covenant – they also be rested on the Seventh Day – but they purposely moved their Sabbath to other days to distinguish themselves from the Jews who refused to accept their new "relevations" – and remained true to the Torah and the Holy Sabbath.

      October 18, 2010 at 6:24 am |
    • ICEMAN

      @ Tamara i like yo style chic

      October 18, 2010 at 6:36 am |
    • ICEMAN

      @ Raison UM, you must not know the power of the RCC of that time lol, it is said that their church "the RCC" was above the bible and that they "the Pope" can change the times and laws, all of as i may say the Anti-christ would be able to do.

      October 18, 2010 at 6:40 am |
    • ICEMAN

      Oh and their Popes said that

      October 18, 2010 at 6:42 am |
    • jim

      Raison

      @Alberto

      "Adam and Eve were not Jewish" Whaaat? Next you'll be telling us they didn't have belly-buttons....!

      RAISON
      where does it say adam and eve were Jewish....let me guess in the "ansestry for dummies" volume 1

      October 18, 2010 at 6:45 am |
    • Raison

      @ICEMAN
      lol

      @jim
      lol...whaaat? No explanation? Just hand me that book and I'll read it to you...lol...ancestry is ancestry...is there some kind of special designation for those who came before Israel? Or Abraham? I have never heard of one. Educate me please, I love a good bit of religious nonsense.... 😛

      October 18, 2010 at 6:56 am |
    • Pagan John

      "The Sabbath/Sunday change oringinally came when the church was trying to reach the pagans. They chose Sunday as a day of worship because so many pagans worshiped the Sun God on that day."

      Whoa whoa whoa, don't go blaming us for this.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:35 am |
    • Nonimus

      What's the reasoning behind it being on Saturday in the first place? As far as we know the sabbath might have fallen on Tuesday by today's calendar.

      October 18, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  11. Sarah

    Keith, "Sabbath mode" is actually just an override of the 12 hour safety shutoff and is intended for holiday use, not Sabbath use. But someone who cares enough to use it isn't going to set foot in a museum on the Sabbath OR a holiday. Sad that this is even an issue.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  12. MIKI

    CHARLES BRAUN,......... YOU ARE RIGHT, BUT WE LIVE IN A CHANGING WORLD. EVEN IN ISRAEL, BUSINESSES ARE OPEN ON SHABBOS, LIKE ALL THE HOTLES. THEY TAKE THE MNEY BEFORE SHABBAT, AN SERVE OU ON SHABBAT. EVEN HAVE NONJEWISH EMPLOEEES WRITE DOWN BILLINGS AND CHARGES. THIS OCCURS IN THE FRUMEST OF HOTELS ALL OVER ISRAEL. THE RABONIM SAW THE NEED FOR CHANGE YEARS AGO, AND WHAT WAS CONSIDERED MAJOR CHILLUL SHABOS LIKE RIDING AN ELEVATOR HAS NOW BEEN MADE POISSIBLE THROUGH TECHNOLOG AND HECHSHERIM. SO WE NEED TO LIVE THE TIMES, ABUT STILL KEEP OUR FAITH STRONG.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:23 am |
    • Pagan John

      WHY ARE YOU YELLING? IF THE TEXT IS HARD TO READ, INCREASE TEXT SIZE IN YOUR BROWSER. NOT HARD.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  13. דוד זאב

    It's hardly a "distinctly American resolution", museums in Israel are open on Shabbat, and one can certainly obtain tickets ahead of time.

    October 18, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  14. Keith B

    Have none of you ever read the instruction manual on your stove and wondered what the Sabbath/Shabbat setting was for?.. any "games" of those sort have been played for quite a long time. They'll use Shabbat goys like always..

    October 18, 2010 at 2:14 am |
    • Nonimus

      Keith B,
      Sabbath/Shabbat setting on the stove? never heard of that. what's it do?

      October 18, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  15. Charles Brum

    If I would have the strenght, I would scream in the streets: Shabbos, heilige Shabbos!!! Close for Shabbos and teach the would that Shabbos is our day of rest!!

    October 18, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  16. Dassie S

    YOU WILL CLOSE FOR OTHER TRADITIONAL HOLIDAYS ,BUT NOT FOR THE SABBATH. YOU ARE COMPROMISING. CLOSE THE GIFT SHOP ON SABBATH. HAVE VOLUTEERS BE THERE IF THE MUSEUM IS OPEN . MATTHEW 15:3

    October 18, 2010 at 2:00 am |
    • Jarrod

      Why are you citing a Christian verses in a matter of Jewish Law? Jesus violated a billion Jewish Laws and Christianity knows zip about Halakhah.

      October 18, 2010 at 6:56 am |
    • Daniel G. N.

      Jarrod: "Jesus violated a billion Jewish Laws" and was crucified for his heresy. Finish your thought, please.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • Pagan John

      Oh geez, are we really doing this? Are we really gonna do this?

      "You JEWS killed our Lord!"
      "Your Lord broke our Laws!"

      You people sound like a Reeses commercial

      Hail Veles!

      October 18, 2010 at 7:32 am |
    • Raison

      @Pagan John

      We could toss it around...? I've never liked the passage where Jesus is on trial and the Jews are reported to have said some totally crazy things that no one would ever say....it's all a bunch of BS, anyway...! To hate people who did nothing because a few did something? Religion is insane stuff when you crank the handle...tunes don't come out, nor does a clown...just delusion...
      Ok, your turn. 😀

      October 18, 2010 at 7:39 am |
    • Pagan John

      ok...

      So what's with Theodosius I making Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire? When Jesus says in the Bible that Christians should be in the world and not of the world, wouldn't that make a state religion something inherently able to be suborned by "Satan"? And what's with wrecking the Temple of Apollo at Delphi? He put the Oracle of Delphi out of business! Not cool!

      October 18, 2010 at 8:01 am |
    • Raison

      @Pagan John
      Well, since religion is based in delusional thinking, it becomes second-nature for otherwise rational people to commit irrational acts...like the ones you talk about. Rome was in decline, the new religion pulled the guy in and away they go...!

      Delusional thinking and irrational acts...not cool, no. Or did you mean that in a different way?? (shrugs)

      October 18, 2010 at 8:14 am |
    • Raison

      @Pagan John
      Whoops! Gotta take off. See you later – I like your jokes, btw...have a good one.. 😛

      October 18, 2010 at 8:16 am |
    • billybobob

      @PaganJohn I know you're probably not looking for an actual answer to your question, but you're actually correct. Christians were commanded to be no part of the world (human government). By becoming the chosen religion of state, they compromised, corrupting the purity of the religion. This is much the same as this organization is proposing here.

      Christendom was able to gain widespread awareness and become the dominant world religion as a result, but they did so by compromising a whole lot, pulling in practices from all religions they encountered, allowing philosophy and tradition to become doctrine, becoming hopelessly enmeshed with government, etc.

      Not that this organization would do the same, but the goals are remarkably similar. They are willing to compromise one of their long held commandments in order to spread information about the religion. Those for and against both have to weigh what is it worth to them to compromise.

      October 18, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  17. AnneSD

    Get serious. Accepting a credit card transaction but holding it until the next day is a really lame attempt to do an end run around the law. Whether the bank processes the transaction on a Saturday or a Wednesday, the business transaction, i.e. the agreement to give goods or services in exchange for money, was done on the day of the agreement.

    October 18, 2010 at 1:53 am |
    • CousinApe

      They are only fooling themselves. Kind of like the rest of their religious views.

      October 18, 2010 at 4:04 am |
    • Wzrd1

      But is it lawful if a gentile were working in the museum shop on the Sabbath?

      October 18, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • GunnerGA

      Most American Jews are Reform and do not abide by these restrictions. HOWEVER, unlike Christianity, we are one faith with one set of rules. The Reform, Conservative and Orthodox use the same books and prayers and have the same rule. How we choose to interpret their meaning and importance varies. Jewish organizations, despite their more modern membership's views, tend to run "Jewish" organizations with the more Orthodox view. While most Jews don't keep Kosher, most Jewish organizations do. They have Kosher Kitchens and only allow Kosher food in their buildings. This is so that ALL Jews can feel welcome.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  18. John

    Isn't it like getting around your own religious views by holding the credit card processing until Sunday? If you are going to believe in something that shapes your entire life playing games isn't an option.

    October 18, 2010 at 1:50 am |
    • MIKI

      JOHN, OU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, BUT THE RABBIS AND SAGES OF OUR TIME HAVE RUKLED TOWARDS LENIENCE AND CHANGED IN THE INTERPRETATION OF THE LAWS IN ODER TO ACCOMMODATE THE PUBLIC AT LARGE. FOR EXAMPLE, RIDING AN ELEVATOR ON SHABBAT UNTILL SOME 20 YEARS AGO WAS A NONO. NOW ALL ELEVATORS ARE FIXED TO WORK AUTOMATIVALLY AND ARE "KOSHER" FOR USE ON SHABBAT. CREDIT CARDS HAVE NOT ET BEEN APPROVD,D THOUGH ALTERNATES LIKE TICKET SALES IN ADVANCE, ARE OK.

      October 18, 2010 at 2:29 am |
    • Buddy Kowalsk

      As long as they aren't gathering sticks on the Sabbath, what is the problem?

      October 18, 2010 at 6:23 am |
  19. Rebecca

    Are Jewish employees expected to work on Saturday? That would certainly pose a problem.

    October 18, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • MIKI

      REBECCA......... THERE ARE WAYS TO DEAL WITH THAT TOO. IN ISRAEL AND IN ISRAELI HOTELS MANY JEWS WORK ON SHABBAT AND ARE PAID FOR THEIR WORK. HALACHA HAS SOLUTIONS FOR ALL SUCH CASES.

      October 18, 2010 at 2:25 am |
    • GunnerGA

      Observant Jews are certainly not forced to work on the Sabbath.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  20. Brian

    Yes, if you do a financial transaction on a saturday you will surely be paying for that, for eternity, in the afterlife.

    October 18, 2010 at 1:44 am |
    • John

      From what I understand of Judaism, it's not the afterlife they're concerned about. Jews live the way they live in this life because they're God's Chosen People and this is how God wants them to live.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:30 am |
    • GunnerGA

      Jews are not obsessed with the afterlife as Christians are. We are focused on living good lives and loving our neighbors while we are here. What happens after is discussed very little in our faith.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.