When’s the Sabbath? Sen. Hyde-Smith will tell Jew

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks about election reform proposals at a press conference on March 24. Photo courtesy Sen. Hyde-Smith’s office.

By Larry Brook

At a Senate hearing on state-level election reform bills on March 24, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi informed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer that the Sabbath is on Sunday.

As Senate majority leader, Schumer is the highest ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history.

The remark came as Senate Democrats were questioning an effort by Georgia Republicans to ban voting and other election activities on Sundays.

Speaking directly to Schumer, Hyde-Smith said “Georgia’s a Southern state just like Mississippi. I cannot speak for Georgia but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never do that on a Sunday, or hold an election on a Sunday.”

Pulling out a dollar bill, she said it references “In God We Trust,” and “etched in stone in the Senate chamber is ‘In God We Trust’.”

She then quoted Exodus 20:18 as “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” though in the Hebrew it reads “to keep it holy.”

She concluded with “That is my response to Sen. Schumer.”

On March 25, Schumer responded on Fox News, saying “I don’t know where to begin other than reminding my colleagues of the separation of church and state,” and that for him and other Jews, the Sabbath is Saturday.

“She totally disregards the sabbath of Jews, Muslims and some Christians. I hope she will walk back these comments,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

Hyde-Smith’s office has not responded to this publication’s requests for comment.

Sunday voting is seen as popular among Black voters, who traditionally go vote after leaving church in what is referred to as “Souls to the Polls.” Democrats charge that the effort to ban Sunday voting is aimed at suppressing constituencies that traditionally vote for Democrats, while Republicans explain that not all counties can hold early voting on Sundays due to budgetary concerns, making the practice inequitable.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that the Sunday ban was being dropped by Republicans, in favor of a bill restricting ballot drop boxes to places where they could be supervised, but increasing weekend voting hours, requiring two voting days on Saturdays and making two Sundays optional during the three-week early voting period.

In some states, including Louisiana, election day is usually on Saturday.

Mississippi has a Jewish population of around 1,600.

Sabbath Changes

The verse in Exodus cited by Hyde-Smith, part of the Ten Commandments, speak of the Sabbath as the seventh day, which in Judaism has always been from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

As Jews, Jesus and his early followers kept the Sabbath on Saturday. It was not until 321 C.E. when Constantine decreed that all people in the Roman Empire would observe a day of rest on Sunday, and prohibited abstaining from work on Saturday. Under Constantine, many pagan practices were reinterpreted and brought under the Christian umbrella to make it easier to convert pagans, and one of them was adopting their day of rest, the “Venerable Day of the Sun.”

The switch to Sunday was also justified for Christians as Sunday was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. With rising anti-Jewish feelings in the church, there was also a prevailing sentiment to purge the church of anything that smacked of Jewish practice, including having the day of rest on Saturday.

The Catholic Church decided that the solemnity of Saturday should be transferred to Sunday, and the Protestant churches that otherwise profess fealty to Biblical texts as written maintained that out of tradition, rather than switching back to Saturday, though some “Hebrew Roots” groups seeking to better understand Jesus in the Jewish context of the time are increasingly observing Saturday.

While Islam started out with observing Saturday as the Sabbath, it was soon changed to Friday, to commemorate the creation of human beings, and to distinguish Islam as different from Judaism and Christianity.

In Jewish circles, those changes have been historically seen as symbols of the everlasting validity of God’s covenant with the Jews, even when the other faiths considered themselves to have replaced the Jews in God’s covenant. The “Veshamru” prayer, Exodus 31:16-17, cites the observance of Shabbat as “an eternal sign of the covenant between Me and the people of Israel.”

As for “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency, the first instance was on the two-cent piece in 1864, the height of the Civil War. In 1873 Congress passed a law allowing but not mandating its use on coins. It did not appear on paper currency until 1957, after Congress mandated it during the Cold War as a statement against the atheist Soviet Union.