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Policy: Writing on Shabbat

The KI policy on writing on Shabbat is as follows:

Writing will be allowed at KI on Shabbat for the purposes of educational programs that take place outside the sanctuary.

The review that resulted in this policy change was set into motion because of dissatisfaction with the quality of some Shabbat adult educational experiences, when instructors were not allowed to write as part of the presentation of ideas, and participants were prohibited from taking notes. The prohibition has also limited the educational activities available to religious school students when school is combined in part with a Shabbat service ("writing" in this case would primarily take the form of drawing).

Background

We may set standards for Shabbat observance in the synagogue that may be different from what many of us observe at home. This shows respect for the diversity of our membership, a portion of whom follow stricter practices, while at the same time honoring the fact that as Jews we come from a rules-bound tradition. KI has never taken an "anything goes" approach, but has tried to take seriously the voice of the past as we attempt to accommodate tradition within our contemporary lives. We also see a value in the idea that operating within the strictures of Jewish rules (even or especially when that is difficult) can be a profound and meaningful way to structure an individual life or the life of a community.

We also note that Judaism in general and KI in particular place a high value on and hold a deep commitment to education. The values-based decision-making group that looked into the history of the writing prohibition found a number of examples from Jewish tradition in which rules were relaxed for the sake of study and education. And aspirations for the highest quality education were in fact central to KI's founding. While recognizing that the tradition has a voice, we also recognize that it does not have a veto, and that reconstructing our rules to affirm a value like education is also part of KI's custom.

There are other Shabbat rules that are broken or bent in order to enhance the community's Shabbat experience: turning on lights and reheating food for kiddush — and in the view of the majority of committee members, making the experience of Shabbat study fuller and more effective by allowing writing fits under that rubric. It was important to us that a change like this not be made willy-nilly, but with study and thoughtful reflection. We believe that by carefully defining this policy on writing — allowing it for the purpose of education, and outside the sanctuary — we have shown due deference to all the values involved.

Dan Mishkin,
Chair, Ritual Committee

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