I have often said that Judaism is a religion for the obsessive-compulsive, with rule after rule, hundreds of them, interpreted and extrapolated to the finest nuance by generations of rabbis. It could easily keep you busy most or all of your waking hours.
Nowhere is Jewish OCD on more florid display than in the 24 hours called Shabbat, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. (NOTE: The following is about truly observant Jews; practitioners of Judaism Lite, like my family, pretty much ignore Sabbath prohibitions.)
In Exodus 23:12, we read "Six days shall you do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor in order that your ox and your ass may rest, and that your bondman and the stranger may be refreshed."
That's it. There are several more passages, with about the same information. one about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8-11); another about God resting on the seventh day (Exodus 31:12-17). Deuteronomy 5:12-15 goes into detail about who is refreshed and adds another reason to observe -- because God brought you out of Egypt (I know -- it makes no sense to me either).
Don't work. Refresh yourself. Primitive wisdom that's still valid.
And yet Jews have taken a good idea and, with typical obsessiveness, made it a grotesque parody of the original. They couldn't leave well enough alone. They had to festoon it with a million trivial prohibitions.
Somehow the idea of employing power or energy got stuck in there by rabbis with too much time on their hands. So...you obviously cannot drive or operate any modern technology. Visit a sick relative on the Sabbath? No can do, if it involves driving. Piety trumps morality, which is one of the things I most hate about religion..
See, Jews are sharp, crafty people, and they will find ways around the rule. Early in my life, I learned about the Sabbath elevators, which stop at every floor, so you don't have to operate them. In his movie Religulous, Bill Maher visited a shop in Israel that sells bizarre Sabbath gadgets -- a phone which you dial by interrupting circuits instead of connecting them; an air-powered wheelchair (Maher: "You're going to a lot of effort to obey the God who put you in the wheelchair").
In my wife's family, when her mother was dying, her observant sister once got news by pretending to overhear a contrived phone conversation so she wouldn't be guilty of picking up the phone and thus doing work.
I have barely scratched the surface of Sabbath nuttiness. My favorite was, till now, the Sabbath toilet paper -- sheets in a box on the toilet. My wife couldn't tell what they were, so -- in a scene reminiscent of Stallone in Demolition Man -- she has to come out of the bathroom and have the hygiene technology explained to her by her sister: it's pre-torn on Friday, Tearing paper is work, you see.
But this is a new high (or low).
That's right, folks, Jews are trying to bend the laws of physics to placate an ancient volcano god whose simple commandment has, in the hands of rabbis and entrepreneurs, spawned a whole new industry. Even the site, Jewniverse, calls it "crazy." Another demonstration of why religion involves, in the words of Richard Sosis (American Scientist, 2004) "behavior too costly to fake."