Techum tecum

Catholics are prohibited from doing menial work on Sundays, our Christian observance of the Sabbath in the New Covenant.  We should observe Sunday’s as the Lord’s Day, to give him due worship and give ourselves rest, in honor of God’s own rest on the seventh day of creation.  We do this partly because of our Jewish roots.  Jews are prohibited on the sabbath from doing all sorts of things involving work.  For example, they are not to make a spark for starting a fire.  I remember an old priest telling me that, when he was a kid, he was occasionally hired by a Jewish families in the neighborhood to come to start their fires and stoves.

Other prohibited works involved most agricultural and cooking/household activities but also writing and erasing.  By the way, if lighting a fire was “work”, then so was extinguishing a fire!  Think about the implications.  Anyway, there were 39 forbidden actions or melachot which were work you could not do on the sabbath.

Another sabbath prohibition was traveling beyond a certain distance.  The limit is called techum.  The rules for the distance are a bit fluid, as I understand things.  The techum applied mainly to walking.  Now there is the problem of driving, trains or flying.

Here is a fascinating story on the Jerusalem Post which I picked up via chantblog.

Shabbat boundary rock with Hebrew etching discovered
07/12/2011 05:42

Inscription, discovered by chance by visitor in Lower Galilee, appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.

An ancient rock inscription of the word “Shabbat” was uncovered near Lake Kinneret this week – the first and only discovery of a stone Shabbat boundary in Hebrew.

The etching in the Lower Galilee community of Timrat appears to date from the Roman or Byzantine period.

News of the inscription, discovered by chance Sunday by a visitor strolling the community grounds, quickly reached Mordechai Aviam, head of the Institute for Galilean Archeology at Kinneret College.

This is the first time we’ve found a Shabbat boundary inscription in Hebrew,” he said. “The letters are so clear that there is no doubt that the word is ‘Shabbat.’”

Aviam said Jews living in the area in the Roman or Byzantine era (1st-7th centuries CE) likely used the stone to denote bounds within which Jews could travel on Shabbat. The Lower Galilee of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages had a Jewish majority – many of the Talmudic sages bore toponyms indicative of Galilee communities.

The engraving uncovered in Timrat is the first and only Shabbat boundary marker yet discovered in Hebrew – a similar inscription was found in the vicinity of the ancient Western Galilee village of Usha, but its text was written in Greek.

Aviam and his colleagues plan to enlist local help in scouring neighboring areas to locate additional inscriptions, and eventually to publish their findings in an academic journal.

“This represents a beautiful, fascinating link between our modern world and antiquity, both emotional and archeological,” Aviam said. “Certainly for those of us who are religiously observant, but also for the secular among us who enjoy a stroll on Shabbat to know that we’re walking in places where Jewish history lived two thousand years ago.”

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  1. Tom in NY says:

    Now there’s a monument.
    Modern eruvim – boundary strings-wires delineate the zone where observant community members have more convenience and traveling space than they would have otherwise.
    Don’t forget that enforcing a day of rest would need observance by all community members. Otherwise they would compete away their day of rest, especially important in a world where most folks worked six days per week.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  2. RichR says:

    Are we required to abstain from work on Holy Days of Obligation? I’ve never gotten a clear answer from a priest on this.

  3. APX says:

    This doesn’t make me feel any better about having to go to work today. It really bugs me that every other practicing Christian at work gets Sundays off, but my Catholic manager says Catholics can work Sundays if they don’t make up their own schedule. I know what he’s talking about because we went to the same high school and had the same Christian Ethics teacher who taught us this. He gives himself Sundays off, though. Grrr!!

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you for this post. However, I am having guilt feelings, as I am working in a bed and breakfast in Walsingham and did cleaning and laundry today. I am trying to figure how to do this lovely volunteer job for the pilgrims to the shrine and still honor the Sabbath. God bless you.

  5. KAS says:

    Uh Oh, menial labor would probably include laundry– which I did this morning in order to have a clean skirt for Mass…….

    Sometimes, I am guilty of not thinking ahead. If I had I would have checked to see if the pink shirt was still clean– it wasn’t, and then the burgundy skirt turned out to have what looked like the residue of the insides of an egg roll– likely the result of a certain toddler. But if I HAD checked my clothing supply on Saturday, I could have done laundry the day before… LOL!

    Is writing on the computer menial work? I do a lot of that on Sunday.

    Ah well, some things to remember for my next confession.

  6. Banjo pickin girl says:

    There is some work that is considered necessary, like yours supertradmum. I break the Sabbath all the time or things just wouldn’t get done. I pray as I do it though. Praying the rosary is great for anything involving waiting. It’s just important to stay centered on God if you have to do something. My disability limits my time available but this is part of the Cross and is helpful to holiness. Realizing you have to break the Sabbath and why is helpful to holiness? Did I just say that? Yes, I did. Oh well, we do what we can. We are not superhuman. At least I’m not.

  7. Mike says:

    I’m wondering how the monks of the early middle ages and subsequent dealt with this issue. If no work was permitted, who cooked the meals, served the meals, cleaned in the kitchen on Sundays? The monks would need to eat, and presumably, fasting would be relaxed on that day as well. I know that when I do menial work on Sunday–not back-breaking, hard work–I try to do it with a more prayerful, recollected spirit. That’s the goal, anyway.

  8. AnAmericanMother says:

    There’s an eruv in Toco Hills, near where I used to go to school.
    I’ve always found it amusing (in a nice way) that the authorities have put up a .pdf map of the eruv on the internet:
    I don’t think that Catholic sabbath-keeping is anywhere near as strict as Orthodox Jews, or for that matter Wee Free Presbyterians. At least I haven’t seen it so. Pushing light switches and turning the oven on, taking more than two stitches or writing two letters — most of the matters forbidden in the 39 melakhot — have never been mentioned to me as “servile labor”. Since the Orthodox prohibition extends not only to servile labor but to any kind of craftsmanship or skilled work, it is well beyond Catholic practice.
    Since I work at a desk job all week long and garden for pleasure, my priest says it’s o.k. to garden on Sunday, so long as I don’t do any heavy manual jobs like moving railroad ties or cutting brush. As for laundry, since it amounts to tossing the stuff in the washer and pushing a button (ironing? never do it!), it never occurred to me to think that it was servile labor.
    Didn’t Somebody say that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?

  9. avecrux says:

    I wouldn’t paint the living room on a Sunday or decide to weed the garden or wash all the windows – but cooking, dishes, and laundry? With 8 people living in this house? Gotta do it. I consider it “necessary” work.

  10. APX says:

    What really is considered menial labour these days? It takes me more work to get ready in the morning for mass than it does for me to do my one load of laundry.

  11. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Mopping floors is definitely servile labor, cleaning the bath, washing/waxing the car (and proud too!). Helping your neighbor with groceries isn’t though, it’s charity.

  12. AnAmericanMother says:

    The Presbyterians (my maternal grandparents were of the rock-ribbed Scotch variety) make an exception for “works of necessity and mercy.” Light housekeeping, especially in a large family, and matters necessary for the coming work week, would seem to me to qualify as works of necessity. Any charity for neighbors and the needy obviously qualifies as works of mercy.

  13. Papabile says:

    Question: Is it menial, or servile work which is prohibited? I had always been told it was servile.

    So here’s my basic problem… I work in a job that often literally requires between 70-80 hours a week of work. I take Saturdays and Sundays off. Saturdays are always a family day, and Sundays are for Mass, relaxation, and catching up on chores around the house. This could mean rehabbing a bathroom from the sub floor up, etc.

    Ironically, this IS relaxing for me, and blows off a lot of stress…

    It’s menial, but NOT servile. What’s my obligation here? [I don’t see a problem, so long as you do not neglect your obligations under religion to worship God and then also duty to family. Lots of people find yard work or other heavy chores to be a refreshing contrast to the labor of their professions during the week. Hard work can be a way to rest, or at least refresh or recharge, as it were.]

  14. PostCatholic says:

    Jews are prohibited on the sabbath from doing all sorts of things involving work. For example, they are not to make a spark for starting a fire.

    A statement which is true, depending upon the type of Judaism one observes. I do have an Orthodox friend who won’t turn a lightbulb after sundown on Friday on for just this reason. Yet, Conservative and Reform Jews (the dominant forms of observant Judaism in the US) would have a wide range of disputing arguments to this statement, and it would be insulting to consider them any less Jewish.

  15. Banjo pickin girl says:

    papabile, it is servile labor that is prohibited, not menial labor.

  16. David2 says:

    PostCatholic, IIRC Orthodox Judaism does consider Conservative and Reform Jews to be somewhat less Jewish – in a manner somewhat analagous to the Church’s teaching on the ecclesial communities of the reformation. As I understand it, they are not considered to have the fullness of the faith.

    This has significant practical consequences – for example converts to Conservative or Reform Judaism are not recognised as Jews for mariage purposes by the Rabinate in the State of Israel.

  17. Do Orthodox Jews permit themselves to surf the web on the Sabbath? If so, do they refrain from commenting?

  18. Augustin57 says:

    I recall an elderly couple with whom I was friends. They were Catholics, but traveled to the Holy Land after they retired on pilgrimage. They said they saw many things, but were confused (at first) when, on Friday afternoon, they Israeli police began putting up barricades on the street and all the elevators on their floor were programmed to stop on every floor going up and going down. When they asked why, they were told when the sun goes down, it’s Sabbath and no one was allowed to “work,” which would include driving cars or punching elevator buttons. They were quite amused.

  19. Torpedo1 says:

    So here’s my question. I have never known what we as Catholics can and can’t do on Sunday. I know we can’t do any hard labor, but I’m really confused about what work we can do, such as cooking meals, doing lite cleaning like loading dishes from said meals or laundry, is that ok? It’s confusing. Is there a list out there somewhere? If so where can I find it? I also suffer from scrupulosity so I’d like something concrete if it’s possible.

  20. Melody says:

    Is this still in effect for all Catholics? That troubles me.
    When I worked in a department store my hours were often on Sunday. I told them to always schedule me after 10 am so I would have time for mass, but if serving customers isn’t “servile labor” I don’t know what is. Was this a sin?
    A Mormon friend was telling me recently that his leadership forbids shopping and purchasing of any kind on Sunday, because doing so creates the necessity of others doing servile labor. After giving it some thought, I’m forced to see some merit in this argument. What do you think?

  21. Dr. Eric says:

    My wife and I went through the good ol’ St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism that we teach our son with over the 2nd and 3rd Commandments last night and through the little purple examination of conscience that Fr. Altier put out.

    Mortal Sins against the 3rd Commandment include (and I’m paraphrasing):

    Skipping Mass on Sundays and HDoO, doing UNNECESSARY (my emphasis) work on Sunday for a LONG PERIOD OF TIME (for several hours), intentionally not fasting or abstaining on appointed days, making employees work on Sundays in non-essential occupations.

    Venial Sins against the 3rd Commandment include (paraphrasing again):

    Unnecessary work on Sunday, failing to keep Sunday as a family day for recreation, failing to spend extra time on Sunday in prayer and study of the Catholic Faith, spending too much time watching sports on TV, allowing sports or other activities to dictate Sunday scheduling, being irreverent in church, not paying attention or not participating in Mass (this could open a can of worms here), coming late to Mass or leaving early without a good reason, participating in sinful amusements or hanging out with bad company (not the band).

  22. Torpedo1 says:

    Thanks. This does help. I know someone in the house has one of the little EOCs with them. I’ll go find one.

  23. Biblewalks says:

    In your quoted article of July 12 titled “Shabbat boundary rock with Hebrew etching discovered” you failed to credit our web site [Take it up with the Jerusalem Post.] for the discovery and identification of this marking. Please note that the discovery story is detailed in our blog .
    God bless,
    Rotem, Webmaster

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