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Going by the Book : Religion: The Sabbath is a time to go to temple, read, relax--and little else. Orthodox Jews say they enjoy the tranquility and family togetherness.


During the week, Minda and Eli Mafouda are the typical contemporary, two-career couple. They work long hours while a live-in housekeeper baby-sits their two children. Thank goodness for the microwave.

But, from sundown Friday to a little after sundown Saturday, they turn their backs on most of their conveniences. For 25 hours, they "keep the Sabbath," following a complex set of rules dating back to an era when their ancestors were nomads in the Sinai Desert, waiting for the Promised Land. They can't turn on the stereo, play piano or watch television. They can't sew, cook, clean house of shop. They can't pick up a pen or even tear toilet paper.

The Mafoudas are among an estimated 10,000 San Fernando Valley Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath.

"Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy," God instructed Moses on Mt. Sinai an estimated 3,303 years ago in the Ten Commandments. "In six days God created the heavens and the Earth and on the seventh day He rested."

And the Mafoudas and other Orthodox Jews rest as well. The Sabbath--or Shabbos, as it is called in Yiddish--is a day to eat leisurely meals with the whole family, pray in the synagogue, visit with friends, study the Torah, read and relax. Some Jews say it's also considered a good thing for husbands and wives to have sex on the Sabbath, thereby fulfilling dual divine commandments to be fruitful and multiply, and to celebrate the sanctity of sexuality in life.

"Some great scholars have claimed that the Sabbath has done more than anything else to preserve the Jewish identity, survival and sanctity," said Rabbi Zvi Block of Aish HaTorah, an Orthodox synagogue in North Hollywood.

Some might think Orthodox Jews such as the Mafoudas make great sacrifices and go to ridiculous extremes to observe ancient rules that have little meaning or relevance today.

But the Mafoudas and other Orthodox Jews say keeping the Sabbath helps them establish a special connection to God and their ancestors. It revives them spiritually and physically, unifies their families and brings serenity to their often-harried lives, they say.

"We don't see keeping the Sabbath as a sacrifice. We see it as something that's added to our lives," said Minda, a 35-year-old teacher and administrator of an Orthodox Jewish preschool. "There's a tranquility and a quietness about the Sabbath that's just wonderful. During the week, I look at the kids, but I don't really see them. I hardly speak five words to Eli the whole week and most of the words are about the kids, or 'Have you bought the milk? Have you paid this bill?' But once a week on the Sabbath we really see and talk to each other. We have the ability to relax and be together.

"For 25 hours, you have a respite from life, from the hectic crazy things you have to go through the rest of the week. You might have a lot of problems--your boss is on your neck, you can't pay your bills--but all your worrying comes to a complete stop on Shabbos . I think it's because you can't do anything about it. You can't discuss business, you can't discuss work, you can't discuss money, and that protects you."

The Sabbath is equally precious to Richard Macales of Northridge, who does publicity for UCLA Extension.

"I believe so much in what I'm doing that, if you offered me a million dollars and said, 'Turn on the television set on the Sabbath,' I wouldn't do it. . . ." he said. "God commanded the Jews to rest on the Sabbath day."

The Valley has a thriving Orthodox Jewish population, "particularly in the North Hollywood corridor" that fans out along Chandler Boulevard, said Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, of the Los Angeles-based Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. The area has nearly a dozen synagogues. The oldest and largest, Shaarey Zedek, was built more than 40 years ago; the newest include tiny, nondescript storefront synagogues shoehorned full of worshipers in folding chairs. There are growing Orthodox populations in Northridge, Encino, Woodland Hills and Canoga Park as well, said Rabbi Marvin J. Sugarman of Shaarey Zedek.

For many, the transition to Orthodoxy is gradual. Irving Jacob, 43, of Northridge, an analyst with an Anaheim computer company, started attending Sabbath services while he was a Cal State Northridge student because he was needed for a minyan , a quorum of 10 adult Jewish men required to recite certain communal prayers. (Women do not count toward the 10.)

Intrigued, Jacob started going to Saturday Sabbath services, but then spent the rest of the day running errands. Then he decided he would drive the car only to and from services. Now he faithfully observes the Sabbath and is so devout that he studies the Torah on his lunch hour every day at work with an Orthodox Jewish colleague.

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