What is Permitted on Sabbath?

Observing Sabbath Part 2
What is Permitted on Sabbath?
James Scott Trimm

The Essene Halacha concerning Shabbat was the strictest of any sect of Judaism. Josephus writes of the Essenes:

“…they [Essenes] are stricter than any other of the Jews in resting
from their labors on the seventh day; for they not only get their food
ready the day before, that they not be obliged to kindle a fire on
that day, but they will not remove any vessel out of its place, nor go
to stool thereon.”
(Wars 2:8:9)

There is a lengthy discussion of the Sabbath in the Damascus Document, I will include here only some key points:

“No man shall eat on the Sabbath day aught save that which is prepared
or perishing (in the field). Nor shall one eat or drink unless in the
camp. (If he was) on the way and went down to wash he may drink where
he stands, but he shall not draw into any vessel. … No man shall walk
after the animal to pasture it outside his city more than two thousand
cubits. None shall lift his hand to smite it with (his) fist. If it
be stubborn he shall not remove it out of his house. No man shall
carry anything from the house to the outside or from the outside into
the house, and if he be in the vestibule he shall not carry anything
out of it or bring in anything into it. … Let not the nursing father
take the sucking child to go out or to come in on the Sabbath. … No
man shall help an animal in its delivery on the Sabbath day. And if
it falls into a pit or ditch, he shall not raise it on the Sabbath. …
And if any person falls into a place of water or into a place of… he
shall not bring him up by a ladder or a cord or instrument. No man
shall offer anything on the altar on the Sabbath, save the
burnt-offering of the Sabbath, for so it is written `Excepting your
(Damascus Document 10:14-11:18)

Note that the Essene Halacha was so strict as to place Sabbath observance above human life.

On the other hand, Pharisaic Halacha placed human life above the Sabbath. As we read in the Mishna:

Rabbi Mattiah ben Harash said, “He who has a pain in his throat, they
drop medicine into his mouth on the Sabbath, because it is a matter of
doubt as to danger to life. Any matter of doubt as to danger to life
overrides the prohibitions of the Sabbath.”
(m.Yoma 8:6)

Yeshua’s halacha on this matter was very similar to that of the Pharisees, and very different from that of the Essenes.

For example the Talmud says:

R. Jonathan b. Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands.
(b.Yoma 85b)

While Yeshua says:

“The Sabbath was created for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
(Mk. 2:27)

The Talmud days:

“R. Eleazar answered and said: If circumcision, which attaches to one only of the two hundred and forty-eight members of the human body, suspends the Sabbath, how much more shall [the saving of] the whole body suspend the Sabbath!”
(b.Yoma 85b)

While Yeshua said:

“If a man is circumcised on the day of the Sabbath that the Torah
of Moshe be not loosed, do you murmur against me because I have healed
a whole man on the Sabbath day?”
(John 7:23)

So in general terms, Yeshua and the Talmud are singing the same song concerning the Sabbath.  However there is a difference.

The Talmud looses the Sabbath only when there is a “matter of doubt as to danger to life” but Yeshua’s halacha takes the matter a bit further.  Yeshua’s halacha concerning Sabbath is based upon the following verse from Hosea:

For I desire mercy (Hebrew: CHESED), and not sacrifice:
and the knowledge of Elohim, rather than burntofferings.
(Hosea 6:6)

“CHESED” is a Hebrew word meaning “mercy, grace, undue favor, loving kindness.”

From this verse we learn that any matter of CHESED overrides the sacrifices.  This is important, because we know that the sacrificial offerings override the Sabbath, because they are performed on the Sabbath despite the fact that they involve acts normally prohibited on the Sabbath.  This is what Yeshua means when he says:

7 But if you had known what it means, For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,(Hosea 6:6) you would not have condemned the guiltless.
8 For the Son of Man is Adonai; even of the Sabbath.
9 And when He had passed over from there, He entered into their synagogue.
10 And behold, a man which had his hand withered. And they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to heal the sick? And all this was, that they might accuse Him <before the beit din. >
11 And He said to them: What man among you, having one sheep that shall fall into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
12 And is not a man better than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
13 Then said He to the man: Stretch out your hand. And he stretched it out, and it was restored to health, like as the other.
(Matt. 12:7-13)

This was not a “matter of doubt as to danger to life” but only a man with a withered hand.  So our halacha on what is permitted on Sabbath is broader than that of Rabbinic Judaism.  Rabbinic Judaism looses the Sabbath only when there is a “matter of doubt as to danger to life” however Nazarene Judaism looses the Sabbath whenever a matter of CHESED is at stake, this includes (but is not limited to) healing the sick, even when there is no question as to danger to life.

However if we allow Yeshua to teach us, we can go back to the second phrase of Hosea 6:6 and learn something new.

For I desire mercy (Hebrew: CHESED), and not sacrifice:
and the knowledge of Elohim, rather than burntofferings.
(Hosea 6:6)

Therefore, just as the Sabbath is loosed for a matter of CHESED, for the same reason, it is also loosed for a matter where “the knowledge of Elohim” is at stake.  For example carrying Scriptures to a Torah study, or taking notes in a Torah study, or driving to Synagogue would be permitted on Sabbath.

Therefore acts normally prohibited on Sabbath, are permitted when there is either a matter of CHESED or a matter of “the knowledge of Elohim” at stake.


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