Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.
Sabbath-observing Jews who came to America found themselves at odds with the general society within which they resided. For example,
The pressure of conformity to the customs of the majority affected the Sabbath observance by Richmond Jews. The pressure of business and the attendance of Jews at private schools on Saturday were formidable obstacles to religious orthodoxy. Joseph Marx complained: “Nothing has so seriously caused us to reject our religion as the Christian policy of adopting a different Sabbath, the force of example at least, would carry Jews to the Synagogue, when Christians mass to the Churches, nay there would not be the same clashing of interests, nor a day of labour lost.” 2
The observance of Shabbos meant that Jews could not do business on Saturdays. The institution in many localities of so-called Sabbath Laws (laws forbidding certain activities on Sundays) meant that they were also forced to refrain from doing business on Sunday. “From the earliest times, American legislation has favored regulations of Sabbath observance. The courts have invariably traced the origin of Sunday laws to the Jews’ legislation for the Sabbath, but have calmly transferred the “holy time” from the seventh day of the week to the first.”
The first Sabbath Laws were instituted in 1650 in Connecticut. Other colonies followed suit. The goal was to preserve the sanctity of the day of rest. The Blue Laws (as these laws were referred to) in Connecticut included the following: “No one shall run on the Sabbath day, or walk in his garden or elsewhere, except reverently to and from meeting; No one shall travel, cook victuals, make beds, sweep house, cut hair, or shave on the Sabbath day; No woman shall kiss her child on the Sabbath; The Sabbath shall begin at sunset on Saturday.”3
Some Jews felt no need to observe the Christian day of rest, and they opened their businesses on Sundays. As a result, they often found themselves in court.
The earliest cases arising under Sunday laws, where Jews were litigants, date from 1816. In Pennsylvania the defendant’s contention that, as a Jew who scrupulously observed his own Sabbath, he was excepted from the operation of a statute which prohibited worldly employment on Sunday, was not approved.
In 1833 Alexander Marks and another [man] were prosecuted by the Town Council of Columbia, S. C., for having kept their shop doors open on Sunday, thus violating a local statute which regulated Sunday observance. Marks contended that this statute conflicted with the United States Constitution, which guaranteed the free exercise of conscience to all, and that, being a Jew, this local ordinance was unconstitutional. The court, however, did not adopt this view of the situation and upheld Marks’ conviction on the ground that the ordinance in question was proper, for the good of society and in aid of law and order, not of religion.
Over the years, many Jews ran afoul of Sunday Laws; some for relatively minor “offenses.” In 1846, S. A. Benjamin made the mistake of selling a pair of gloves on Sunday in Charleston, South Carolina.
“A city ordinance of 1801 made it a penal offense for any person publicly to expose for sale or sell in any shop, goods, etc., on the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday. Benjamin was found guilty and fined. He admitted that he had sold the gloves, but declared that the law could not compel him to observe the Christian Sabbath as he was a conscientious Israelite who observed the seventh day of the week as his Sabbath. It was held, however, by the appellate court that the ordinance was constitutional, being a police regulation, and that it did not operate in such a way as to cause Benjamin to desecrate his own Sabbath.”
The problem of keeping Shabbos and working on Sunday continued well into the twentieth century. In 1943 Rabbi Dr. Bernard Drachman wrote:
Of the forty-eight states of the Union twenty-four, or exactly half, prohibit all work or business on Sunday. Of the remaining twenty-four, the majority grant partial exemption from Sunday laws to the observer of the seventh-day Sabbath. Three of the far Western states, California, Oregon, and Washington, and the District of Columbia, it may be incidentally remarked, have no Sunday laws. The State of New York, in which the bulk of the Jewish population of this country dwells, has a partial and very limited exemption law. It recognizes habitual observance of another day of the week as “holy time” as a valid defense against prosecution for work or labor done on Sunday. It does not protect against arrest for such labor nor does it permit traffic or business on Sunday at all.4
In recent years, some state legislatures have passed legislation guaranteeing a person the right not to have to work on his or her Sabbath. For example, Connecticut, the state that instituted the first Sunday Laws, has the following statute on its book: “No person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee’s refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal.“5
Even today some Jews encounter difficulties in the workplace because of their observance of Shabbos. Nonetheless, these obstacles, particularly in metropolitan areas with large Jewish populations, are nowhere near as formidable as those that presented themselves in the eighteenth, nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries.
2 Richmond’s Jewry, 1769-1976: Shabbat in Shockoe, by Myron Berman, University of Virginia Press, 1979, pages 101-102.
4 The Unfailing Light, by Bernard Drachman, The Rabbinical Council of America, New York, 1948, page 231.
5 Connecticut General Statute § 53-303e (b) (1985).
Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at email@example.com
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
This past summer was a powerful one for the Jewish people. I will always remember where I was on June 12th when I found out that Gilad, Eyal and Naftali were kidnapped. I will always remember the look on my sister’s face on June 30th when she told me that they were found. I will […]
Avromi often put other people’s interests before his own: he would not defend people whom he believed were guilty (even if they were willing to pay him a lot of money).
How can I help my wife learn to say “no,” and understand that her first priority must be her husband and family?
My eyes skimmed an article on page 1A. I was flabbergasted. I read the title again. Could it be? It had good news for the Miami Jewish community.
Students in early childhood, elementary, and middle school were treated to an array of hands-on projects to create sukkah decorations such as wind chimes, velvet posters, sand art, paper chains, and more.
Each student received a brachah and a handshake.
It is important for a therapist to focus on a person’s strengths as a way of overcoming his or her difficulties.
Sadly, there are mothers who, due to severe depression are unable or unwilling to prepare nourishing food for their children.
Michal had never been away from home. And now, she was going so far away, for so long – an entire year!
Practically to his last days the patriarchal founder was at his office almost daily and took an active interest in all matters connected with the business.
Like many of his contemporaries, he went through some hard years, but eventually he earned the rewards of his perseverance and integrity.
These letters give us the privilege of knowing him in his old age when he is mellow, tempered in his judgments, and sagacious from long experience of dealing with people.
The British evacuated New York on November 25, 1783, and Congress demobilized the American army shortly thereafter.
“Simple, modest, altogether unassuming, Gershom spent his happiest hours with his ever-growing family who were never far from his thoughts.
“Attuned to the ideal of establishing a new Zion in free America, they named their new colony Palestine.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/jews-and-the-sunday-laws/2007/12/05/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: