“Shabbat Shalom” vs. “Sofash Na’im”
For Israel’s first half-century, there was one standard way to mark the end of the work week: “Shabbat Shalom.” Over the past two decades, for some secular Israelis, especially those in the Tel Aviv area, a different phrase has replaced the traditional one: “sofash na’im,” have a pleasant weekend.
The Zionist thinker Ahad Ha’am (the pen name for Asher Ginsberg, 1856-1927) once said: “More than the Jewish People has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” I always liked thinking, therefore, that all Israelis have a Shabbat, though what they do with it differs greatly. Sofash (an abbreviation of “sof shavu’a”) na’im suggests that some Israelis just have a weekend. Of course, the two phrases are not mutually exclusive. A person could have a Shabbat within their sofash (Israel’s weekend is actually a bit longer than America’s, as it begins on Thursday night and extends right through Saturday night—yes, come Sunday morning the State of Israel is kind of sleepy). However, other linguistic evidence suggests a distinct reluctance to use “Shabbat” for any portion of one’s weekend. For example, the big family meal that is a national custom on Friday night is a Shabbat meal, since the Jewish day begins at sundown; yet many secular Israelis refer to this as “the Friday meal.” Another example has to do with the fact that there is no “Saturday” in Hebrew. When they need to refer to the day-after-Friday, many secular people link it to the profane “day,” as in: “I’ll see you at the beach on Shabbat day and we can snack on bacon and shrimps” (I’ve waited more than two decades for an opportunity to mention this maddening Israeli tendency to use the grammatically incorrect plural here).
There is no gainsaying that some secular Israelis want to avoid “Shabbat” as much as possible, as it connotes a religious worldview (the word after all does harken back to G-d’s “resting” from the work of creation; see Genesis 2.1-3). And yet, from its very inception secularists have populated Israel; so what changed in Israeli culture? One explanation is to note that “sofash na’im” has grown apace with the influence of American culture upon Israel. In this view “sofash na’im” is fairly harmless and just reflects the importance of the “weekend” for contemporary life. A different explanation for the rise of “sofash na’im” ties it to the increasing tensions between the secular and the ultra-orthodox (haredim). The growing political clout of the haredim has encouraged them to try to impose their religious way of life in the public sphere, and thus “religious coercion” has become a bugaboo for the secular. In a certain way, therefore, “sofash na’im” is a profanation of Shabbat and an expression against religious coercion: I’m not going to imply anything about the kind of weekend you should have, and I don’t want you implying anything about mine.
My daughter-in-law Avia has a practical approach to this whole issue. She grew up in a Sephardic (Yemenite) family with Shabbat traditions, and so while neither she nor her extended family is religiously observant, she wishes them all a “Shabbat Shalom.” Concerning her friends and colleagues, it depends: for the religious, Avia uses “Shabbat Shalom”; for the secular, she uses “sofash na’im,” as she feels that the traditional greeting “does not speak to them.” I, on the other hand, always use “Shabbat Shalom,” even for a person whom I know prefers “sofash na’im,” such as Nir, the man who delivers my newspaper. On a recent Friday morning, Nir gave me my paper and I wished him a “Shabbat Shalom,” but quick as a flash the son-of-a-gun responded: “Shabbat Shalom, sof shavu’a na’im.” Ah, well. May this difference be our biggest problem for many years to come.
Teddy Weinberger is a contributing writer to Jlife Magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.