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. Reality

    The solution: Declare Moses a myth just like 1.5 million Conservative Jews and their rabbis have done!!! No Moses therefore no fourth commandment (as per the Jewish version of the mythical Moses' list)!!

    October 18, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  2. Walter Sobchak

    I don't roll on shabbos!

    October 18, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Nivek

    I've never posted on CNN before. What am I doing wrong by my posts of opinions which have to do with open conversation about a Jewish museum? I thought I was topical and provided my opinion and now my last three posts are "awaiting moderation". When do they "moderate"? Or is it me that needs to "moderate"?

    October 18, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
    • Raison


      The moderation filter is nothing but a simple and badly-engineered word filter that catches certain letter and word combinations.

      Words like const-itution need a dash to keep it from forming the word t-it.
      Go back a ways to where I posted a small list with directions and tips to help people post their words...
      check it out at...


      p.s. the word filter also examines you email address for these ridiculous letter combinations.

      October 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  4. GunnerGA

    While it may seem a bit odd that the most important Jewish holy day – the Sabbath – is treated lower than Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. But Jewish law is not much different than secular laws we have here. There are loopholes and exceptions. One might conclude that the Museum's purpose alone might exempt it employees from those rules. I do agree that it is silly to take credit cards on Saturday and run them on Sunday as if there is a difference.... there is not. This is no different that accepting an IOU on Saturday and collecting on Sunday... it is remuneration clear and simple.

    I personally would want the museum open 7 days a week and if needed, hiring non-Jewish staff to fill voids. But if Chick-fil-A can close on Sundays due to Christian beliefs, then I would understand and respect those running the museum if they chose to close on Saturday. But as a Jew, I think it is more important to integrate with our neighbors and educate them as to our experience. Understanding only helps to improve the Jewish experience in America. That is worth doing whatever is necessary to get people in the door. So take cash if possible, make it free if necessary but keep it open!

    October 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Gentile Gent

    Umm... hire non-Jews to work the ticket sale and gift shop Saturdays.

    October 18, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  6. wondering

    Why don't they just hire non-jews to work on sabbath days. That way they can keep their establishment open and not feel guilty about it.

    October 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  7. Nivek

    Well I posted my comments twice and both are awaiting moderation. My oil filter works better.

    October 18, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • Raison


      I forgot to add that the word filter also examines you email address for these ridiculous letter combinations. Sorry.

      October 18, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  8. David Lapidos

    Why, need I moderate?

    October 18, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Raison

      @David Lapidos

      Having problems with the word filter? If you need some tips, I made a list of letter and word combinations that set off the filter and stop a person's post – with a few tips on how to fix it....
      check it out at...


      and good luck. We all need to fight the filters here. My horrible favorite is "extrav-agant" which the filter catches because of the "v-ag" letter combination in the middle. It took almost a dozen separate tries before I found it.
      Just put in a dash or space or something to break up the "bad" letter combo and your post will go right through. 😛

      October 18, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  9. yonathan



    Simply because the rent of gentiles in that precise day is only permitted in a matter of " life and death" in very, very, observant jewish communities from Eastern Europe who use a "goy shabbath" as a patrol in orthodox quarters to prevent fire or robbery and to call an ambulance in case of hard injuries or pregnant women....in other orthodox communities (mostly oriental ones) they use the service of a "goy shabbath" provided by the community next to them and if there is no they SHOULD call for help in a matter of life and death.

    So the rent of gentiles in a matter of business is prohibited....that's it !

    October 18, 2010 at 9:24 am |
    • Wzrd1

      Thank you for answering my earlier question. Your answer was enlightening, as I had forgotten that historical practice.
      Thanks again for the answer.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  10. Nivek

    My conception of GOD is I believe there may be a spiritual force we can not define, yet exisits. I don't understand it so well, I have a human mind, yet at the end of every day, I lay in bed thinking: Did I make an effort to make someone elses life better and if not, why not. I pray – weird prayers, but I do believe in a spiritual force and whether it is there or not, it gives me peace and comfort.

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

      I like your answer, Nivek. In that much, at least, you have made my life a little better. Thanks. 😀

      October 18, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Pagan John

      I say, be the best person you can to as many people as you can, and if you can help somebody, try to help somebody.

      If you want to throw in whatever religious trappings you want to throw in, go right ahead. Sing your hymns, pray five times a day, have Shabbat dinner, leave a saucer of milk out for the Wee Folk, meditate on a koan, whatever you want to do. If you focus on how you treat other people instead of focusing on what other people believe, then you can't go wrong with any deity worth worshiping.

      October 18, 2010 at 7:52 am |
  11. bobby

    Why don't they hire some gentiles to run the place on the sabbath?

    October 18, 2010 at 7:27 am |
    • Wzrd1

      I asked that a while earlier. No response yet.

      October 18, 2010 at 9:01 am |
  12. Nivek

    After thought – to the museum – do you really think that because folk get their tickets "on line" or you process your credit cards later in the week, you will have a better place in heaven? Come on, GOD really doesn't care and if you think GOD really cares, you have a misperception of GOD and life in general.

    October 18, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  13. Mark Silvers

    A very good and "Solomon" type approach of handling a problem.

    October 18, 2010 at 7:24 am |
  14. Nivek

    If GOD exists as many define GOD, as all knowing, as eternal, do you really think GOD gives a hoot about these things? Saturday or Sunday? Let's face some facts. There is no writing by GOD or JESUS in the bible, the bible was assembled around 200 years after the crucifician, Consantine and Trent formed the bible, based on stories told and made the stories into fact. Further, if GOD was so universal, why was there no word of this in China, Tibet, Africa??? Why only this bible exists/founded/made/whatever in Isreal? (Spelling on purpous). If GOD is so universal, why only on little tiny area on earth that "HE" revealed "HIMSELF". I love GOD, pray directly to him, it gives me peace. I do not like the man made scriptures and man made rules. It distracts me from my faith. Treat others as you would like to be treated. That's enough for me.

    October 18, 2010 at 7:17 am |
    • Raison

      So how do YOU define GOD? What does he do? Where is he? And more importantly, will he help us against what humans have made of him?

      October 18, 2010 at 7:24 am |
    • Nonimus

      "I love GOD, pray directly to him, it gives me peace. I do not like the man made scriptures and man made rules. It distracts me from my faith."
      What God do you pray to if not the one mentioned in the Bible, Torah, etc., i.e. man made scriptures?

      October 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Nevermind... I your postings further down.

      October 18, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  15. Jarrod

    A Jew that keeps the Sabbath isn't going to be in a museum on Shabbos anyways or working in the museum. They'll be studying Torah.

    October 18, 2010 at 6:59 am |
    • Raison


      ...And arguing over interpretations while standing on one foot.

      Seriously, could there be any reasons for reason? Did G-d give us brains that cannot perceive him as a joke? But I am just throwing these out to see if you'd like to answer them. Feel free to ignore me, as I am an agnostic and just looking to argue... 😀

      October 18, 2010 at 7:08 am |
  16. yonathan


    you're are probably right.....the problem is that about me you're wrong....why?
    Because I'm Israeli, I served in an elite comando too, I pay taxes in Israel beacause part of my job is there, I live in both countries for business purposes, i serve as a reserve officer twice a year, and being jewish is not where you live but what you are.....yeah....you're definitly wrong about everything.....

    October 18, 2010 at 6:59 am |
  17. Itzbak

    Jewish history is full of Jews allowing small violations of the Sabbath day in that escalated into major transgressions. History repeating itself.

    October 18, 2010 at 6:33 am |
    • Jarrod

      Yeah it's called non-orthodox Judaism (or secular Judaism if that's even a correct term).

      October 18, 2010 at 7:01 am |
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    October 18, 2010 at 5:37 am |
  19. Fortuen

    Observe the Sabbath full stop, the financial issue is out of question. It does not make sense to have transactions done on Friday or whatever. The people should realise its a Jewish insitution and come on Sunday or Friday. Many people who keep sabbath know that this is how God would want to have it

    October 18, 2010 at 5:31 am |
  20. yonathan

    Unfortunatly, there are always reluctant jews thinking they are helping the world in teaching about jewish history and judaism by infringing their own jewish laws...the only ones they're fooling are themselves. Thanks G... our religion or I must say our way of life is preserved with real and honest jews respecting laws according to their faith and not their financial needs.
    Unfortunalty the problem is the same in Israel where the politic class care only about what the international opinion will think about them. How could it be possible to be free in OUR land if M. Netanyahou is eating pork in a french restaurant....so the arab population can inevitably turn the argument of Torah's legacy of the land of Israel against us ! They just can say " you pretend to have a right on that land because its written in the Torah...but its also written...don't eat pork...so why should we respect your historic's legacy while you don't even respect it yourself !!!! " same thing on shabbath ......
    May G...help us and help the one who are lost.....

    Yonathan, Monaco, France

    October 18, 2010 at 5:30 am |
    • daaaave

      Yonathan, you say 'OUR land' but yet you reside in Monaco. How does that make you a better Jew than Mr. Netanyahu, who served in an elite Israeli Commando unit and whose brother was killed in defense of OUR country? The pork-eating Jew who lives in Israel, pays taxes and serves in the military is a MUCH BETTER Jew than the Hassid in New York and the Jew who remains in France because he is unwilling to part with a fistfull of dollars. You would be smart to keep quiet on these matters as long as you yourself are not living a true Torah life. The person who is lost is yourself and you are also a hypocrite by criticizing people who live in Israel. First make Aliya and then you can talk.

      October 18, 2010 at 5:58 am |
    • Raison

      Ah, the "no true Scotsman" argument. lol

      October 18, 2010 at 7:00 am |
    • Pagan John

      You know, I thought Judaism was the older and saner one.

      Turns out they're just quieter about it than the Christians or the Muslims

      October 18, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Wzrd1

      I'll go with daaaave on this one. A lesson for the diaspora, don't send your money to Israel. They find you and your money disgusting, per daaaave's words.

      And yes, daaaave, I've had people tell me my parents were never married before. Perhaps that's why I don't work for State...

      October 18, 2010 at 9:07 am |
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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.