Friday, January 18, 2013

Old Wine, New Flask: Shabbat Dinner Online

In Pirqei Avot / Teachings of the Fathers, we read the following (5:27):
Rabbi Meir used to say: Do not look at the flask but at what is in it; there may be a new flask that is full of old wine and an old flask that does not even have new wine in it.
A piquant piece from the Huffington Post crossed my desk late Friday afternoon on January 18. I wouldn’t necessarily call this news, but it is Jewishly relevant. Posted on Craigslist, this ad received replies from all over the world:
Shalom! We are five handsome and two not so handsome single men. And, yes, we are Jewish. Bound by tradition and emboldened by wit, we are hosting an epic Shabbat dinner -- a little challah, a little wine, and a lot of gefilte fish -- in downtown Washington, DC on Friday, January 18, 2013. In a nod to our orgiastic traditions, we are inviting seven lucky ladies to feast with us. Echoing the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence, we will consider you, "irrespective of religion or race," as long as you "bring your own lactaid pills." 

To be considered, please submit a picture of yourself. We'd also like to hear more about you!

Please answer two of the following questions with another question: What's your favorite Shabbos activity? Which biblical forefather do you admire most and why? What would you establish as the 11th Commandment? What's your favorite episode of Seinfeld? Curb Your Enthusiasm? Which character from Girls speaks most to your personality? What is your favorite double mitzvah? Why would you answer a Craigslist ad about a Shabbat dinner?

You must also answer two of the following, not in question form. Where do you go to get your hair straightened? Are you a self-hating Jew? Have you read Portnoy's Complaint? Explain why a two-state solution would or would not work? How do you feel about the Shoah? What is your favorite yiddish word and farvus? Zach Braff: Dreamy, or in your dreams? Do you appreciate hairy backs?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, what year did you go on Birthright?
If you are one of the seven chosen people, you will receive additional information regarding the time and location. We look forward to reading your reply and gawking at your picture.
If I were grading this as a school project, I would give it a B for effort (how hard is it to post an ad on Craigslist, after all?) and a B+ for creativity. I'm a tough grader.

But for finding a new way to honor Shabbat, a fundamental feature of Jewish life? A+ all the way.

As our 24/7 culture sails forward into infinite connectedness, never powering down, it’s good to see enterprising Jews using technology to find ways to reconnect for Shabbat; that is what Shabbat is all about: restoring the 24/6 week and rejoicing on the seventh day. The flask may be new, but the wine is properly aged. 

Shabbat shalom!

UPDATE (2/7/2013): One of the female participants was interviewed anonymously by the website Click here to read about her Shabbat dinner experience.

Rabbi Seth Adelson


  1. This was an ad to actually get together. what a bout a step further. What if everyone turned on their webcams and had Shabbat dinner in their own homes but all conferenced together. Shabbat Dinner virtually together for thouseands! And then On Shabbat, Virtual Shabbat services. Everyone could pray in front eh the virtual wailing wall. Very useful for Jews traveling in the mountains of Tibet at the time or stuck on a space station.
    Ron G

  2. Not sure if Jews traveling in the mountains of Tibet would have WiFi connections, but not a bad idea. Of course, you can't eat virtual gefilte fish!

    Halakhically speaking, some of us who are more traditional won't be able to get past the idea of using electronics on Shabbat. However, given that classifying the use of electricity under one of the 39 avot melakhah (categories of work that are traditionally prohibited on Shabbat) is sketchy at best, one might be able to make a case that honoring the Shabbat, even remotely, is a mitzvah that outweighs the potential halakhic issue.

    One of these days, when I write my new teshuvah (responsum) on the use of electronics on Shabbat, I will surely address this. But that's a subject for another post.