A new documentary takes a deep dive into the ancient and modern practice of Sabbath

by | May 22, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — In his book “The Sabbath,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that Jews did not build great cathedrals into space. Their great accomplishment was a cathedral in time — the Shabbat, or 24-hour period of rest.“Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time,” Heschel wrote.
That cathedral in time is part of filmmaker Martin Doblmeier’s latest two-part documentary called “Sabbath.” The two-hour film begins airing on PBS stations June 1 but is already available to stream on his journeyfilms.com website.
Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier. Photo courtesy Journey Films
As in his previous documentaries, Doblmeier has recruited an A-list of theologians, scholars and clergy to offer their insights, historical, theological and sociological.
The Sabbath first appears in the biblical story of creation where God “rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Observance of the Sabbath is also one of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy.”
But the documentary is not overly concerned with theology. The film consists of travels to various religious communities to illustrate their Sabbath practices — from the headquarters of Chabad, the Hasidic sect in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to a Seventh-day Adventist church in Loma Linda, California, to the predominantly African American Eastern Star Church led by Indianapolis Pastor Jeffrey A. Johnson.
Doblmeier may be best known for his public television specials on Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day and Abraham Joshua Heschel, part of the “Prophetic Voices” series. In addressing religious subjects, Doblmeier is both ecumenical and interfaith, bringing a respectful and deferential lens to his subjects. He includes a segment on Islam’s Friday noontime jumah prayer, so central to the faith and in some ways similar to a Sabbath.

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RNS spoke to Doblmeier about the making of “Sabbath” and how he tried to explore religious as well as secular benefits to the biblical day of rest. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Why did you want to do a two-part series on the Sabbath?
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Photo © Susannah Heschel
Rereading “The Sabbath” in preparation for doing the fil …

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