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Graduated Observance

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Topic: Conservative Jew, Partial Observance

Mike Epstein from Greenville, SC wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I belong to a Conservative shul, the most traditional shul within a hundred miles. I have kept kosher for the past year and try to observe the mitzvot. I drive to shul on Shabbos and holidays but do not work. This is my question. I am supposed to work this coming Saturday (the last day of school for teachers) and then attend graduation. I have explained to the school why I can't work and this is no problem. I am wondering if I can justify going to graduation? If I were fully observant, I know that the answer would be "no" because I would have to drive. But since I drive to shul anyway, would attending the graduation be wrong in itself? Thank you for any advice you can give.

Dear Mike Epstein,

First, I'd like to tell you that I admire your efforts to observe the mitzvot in Greenville, and I think you should be applauded and encouraged. I bet it's not always easy to keep up your level of observance.

Your question is an interesting one. The truth is that the actual ceremony might not involve any Shabbat violation, but sitting through such a ceremony isn't really in the Shabbat spirit.

And, as you know, Jewish law forbids driving to synagogue, or anywhere else, on Shabbat. Going to synagogue is certainly a good thing, but not at the expense of one of the Ten Commandments!

Each time you refrain from driving on Shabbat is a meritorious act in itself. The fact that you do sometimes drive to shul doesn't take away from the the merit of the other times when you don't drive.

Also, it seems to me that you've gone to lengths to explain to your teachers and colleagues why you don't work on Shabbat. Now, even if technically the graduation won't be problematic, you might get some very dubious looks from your fellow teachers. They might not understand whatever subtle differences there may be here, and they may view you as a hypocrite.

A story: Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky and a friend were walking one Shabbat morning when a car pulled up to ask for directions. "Good Shabbos," said the driver, thus identifying himself as Jewish. "Good Shabbos to you," they answered. The driver then asked for help finding his destination, to which Rabbi Kaminetsky gave very clear and detailed directions. The driver said thank you and drove off.

Rabbi Kaminetsky's friend was a bit surprised: "Surely we must help others whenever we can," he said. "But are we allowed to help a fellow Jew to violate Shabbat?"

"On the contrary, I helped him avoid violating Shabbat. If he gets lost, he will drive around looking for his destination, thus violating Shabbat much more. By giving clear directions, not only did I help him get straight to his destination, but I helped him do so with less Shabbat desecration."

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