I have a confession to make.
During Shavuot, I was imagining what life would have been like if, while the Children of Israel were wandering through the Wilderness, we’d been producing newspapers.
In between moaning about how there was no press seating arranged for the Revelation at Sinai, badgering architects about how they were going to bring in the Tabernacle on time and under budget, and commissioning polling in the wake of Korach announcing his leadership challenge, I think we would have done reasonably well (although dealing with the occasional bout of leprosy as Divine punishment for publishing awkward but accurate information would have been a regrettable occupational hazard).
But one area we might have had some trouble with would have been Shabbat and Yom Tov. And that is something that hasn’t changed much in the last few millennia.
This year, Shavuot fell right in the middle of the week, on a Wednesday and Thursday. For religious journalists, these days, as with every Shabbat and Yom Tov, served as a media blackout period. No phones. No internet. No TV. If there is any news — as there was, for example, seven weeks ago, when Theresa May called the election on the eighth day Pesach, a Yom Tov — then we find out about it only after three stars have appeared in the sky, signalling the return to normality. We can then check what we’ve missed.
And if it turns out that we have missed something, we then feel like the guy who turns up really late to the party, expecting it to be buzzing when it’s just quietening down. Or the person who just started watching Game of Thrones and can’t stop talking about how amazing it is. We know, new GoT enthusiast. That’s why we’ve been watching it for the past seven years.
This is not exactly a rare occurrence. In the Jewish outreach movement, Shabbat is billed as a time to relax, de-stress and take a break from the outside world. It can and often does fulfil all of those functions. US Senator Joe Lieberman, the former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, who observes Shabbat, wrote a book called The Day of Rest which centres on that theme.
But, occasionally, Shabbat and Yom Tov can also feel like being in a cell, in which you are prevented from interacting with the outside world even when you want to.
I am a journalist because I love news and want to report the news. Every morning when I wake up, one of the first things I do is check what has been going on while I’ve been asleep. The 24, 48 or even 72-hour break (we have yet another three-day Yom Tov cycle coming around this Succot) is therefore extremely difficult. And I know I’m not the only journalist who has a tough time with this disconnect.
There are no easy answers to this. “Be less religious” or “try not to care as much” cannot be categorised as “easy”. However, one thing I will say is that having to wait — week in, week out — is a wonderful way of working on ones’ patience.
Did I really need to know, all those weeks ago, that an election had been called? Of course not. At the end of the day (quite literally) finding out slightly later was going to have no effect on me or the event in question.
There is a strong case to be made that my frustration is indicative of the instant gratification expected by today’s generation, where letters have been superseded by e-mails and when events happening halfway across the world reach us in seconds.
Taking that into account, is it really so bad to have a day (or two, or even three) to practise patience and delayed gratification?
To which my answer at the moment is yes. But I’ll keep trying, anyway. And maybe, at some point in the future, my answer will be different.