History & Culture

This Week in History: The Legalising of Sunday Trading
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Monday 25th August 2014

There is something tangibly different about so much of the Shabbat experience, that even in an age where all publications ‘go paperless’, we will still probably find ourselves reading hard copies of Daf Hashavua on Shabbat. As Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks once quipped, in the future Jewish homes may be the only place you will find actual books rather than electronic ones because “thou shalt not Kindle on Shabbat” (based on the prohibition in Shemot 35:3 of kindling fire on Shabbat.)

The importance of Shabbat is central to Judaism. It is much more than just a day of ‘rest’, but it is also exactly that – a day of rest. It is a message we have shared with the world, and many societies have also embraced this idea, albeit on different days of the week; Sunday of course is traditionally the day of rest in the UK.

Yet, the ‘Sunday atmosphere’ in the UK has changed. Twenty years ago, when the Sunday Trading Act passed by Parliament came into force, certain restrictions on Sunday trading were lifted. On Sunday 28 August, the first Sunday after that Act had come into effect, thousands of shops in the UK opened legally for the first time. Their ‘day of rest’ has never really been the same since, as many people have swapped the social and relaxation benefits of a Sabbath for a day like every other.

Although having shops open on a Sunday may be very convenient, particularly for the Jewish community (I personally have benefitted from this change in legislation many times), it can still be upsetting to see how Sunday has now become just like any other day.

In contrast, thankfully Shabbat in the UK is still alive and well. Despite the diminished nature of a day of rest in British culture, the Jewish community is still fortunate to be able to observe and celebrate Shabbat each week. It gives us a chance to step back from the world which we have shaped and dominated during the week, to take stock, to catch up with others, to remember that G-d is the Creator and Sovereign of the world. Shabbat is to be celebrated later this year with the special Shabbat UK on 24th/ 25th October, a project of the Office of the Chief Rabbi encouraging us to celebrate Shabbat together. Look out for more details at your local Synagogue (or at www.shabbatuk.org).