Sabbatical? More Like Shabbatical.

One of the darkest moments of my life fell on a Wednesday morning sometime in October of 2023. I was meeting with one of my professors during office hours to ask a few questions about course material and the future direction of the class. In true lighthearted and genuine conversation, we began talking briefly about our personal lives. We laughed, smiled, and even nodded at each other’s words. However, one sentence he said caught me off guard. One word, in particular, struck me as foreign, otherworldly, and even, in this case, threatening. 

“I’m going on sabbatical next semester, which I’m super excited about, but I’ll definitely miss being on campus.”

As soon as I heard that word – that “s” word – I began to sweat. The smile I had plastered on my face transformed into quivering lips. I felt my face turn red and my knees began to bob up and down in nervousness. Yes, I’m a senior at Swarthmore College. And yes, I don’t know what sabbatical means. When that word was uttered from my professor’s mouth, I felt the world in front of me go dark. It was a reminder of the knowledge I had failed to accumulate throughout my time at college – a core concept that I had failed to grasp despite years of research and studying. What is sabbatical? And why is my professor – and even the president of the college – on it? I took to the streets to find an answer. 

“Sabbatical? Isn’t that the Jewish Day of Rest?” one member of the Swarthmore community answered. Is it? I reached out to more Swarthmore students, ranging from first years to seniors. They all seemed to have one answer in mind.

“Oh yeah, isn’t Sabbatical from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday every week according to the Jewish tradition?” a sophomore religion major answered. This response concerned me – the sabbatical my professor was engaging in was semester-long. Could he have been fooling me? Was I misunderstanding something? Or, perhaps, was a sabbatical more nuanced than I initially thought? Speaking with various religious scholars across the globe, I was perplexed at their answers.

One religious academic from Eastern Europe assured me that sabbatical is “like a 21st century spin on Shabbat.” Another professor from Australia explained to me, “The question isn’t, ‘What is sabbatical?’ Rather, the question is, ‘Why is sabbatical?”’ As I sit at my desk typing this article, I have goosebumps up and down my body. “Why is sabbatical?” I ask myself. I’ve asked myself this question every day since I spoke to that Australian man. 

Scholars of religion, priests, imams, rabbi, gurus – they all go by the philosophy that no matter how close you try to get to God, you just can never reach Him. Many people engaging in religion for their livelihood also believe that it’s impossible to ever truly know the full truth of the universe – God’s identity, what the “true” religion is, and even how many versions of God exist. After my time on the streets of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, I’ve reached a similar conclusion regarding sabbatical theory. Is it a semester-long extended practice of the Jewish Shabbat? Is it an alternative method of practicing Shabbat, in which one takes rest from academic work? The people of Swarthmore cannot seem to provide me with a precise definition. So, I ask you, members of the college community, what is sabbatical to you? And how can we spread campus-wide awareness about it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The Phoenix

Discover more from The Phoenix

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading