Welcome back to Isaiah 56. Yesterday, I found plenty to say about the first verse alone (and, for that matter, the exigencies of drafting a blog post in the Chicago O’Hare Airport without a laptop). Today we’re digging into the meat of the chapter, which concerns foreigners and eunuchs and how they relate to Israel, God’s chosen people. The Sabbath, as we’ve seen, is also an important element, so let’s check it out.
This past weekend, while my dad was back in town, he told me about the Greek city of Salonika. More commonly known as Thessaloniki, Salonika today is home to around 4,500 Jews, some 1.5% of its total population. But before the German invasion of Greece in 1941, Salonika boasted population of 55,200 Jews, a two-thirds majority of its total citizens (“Traces of History: The Jewish Community in Salonika,” Yad Vashem). Remarkably, the Jews of Salonika were so committed to keeping Sabbath that on Saturdays, port activity came to a virtual standstill. As most of the dock workers were Sabbath-keeping Jews, any ship that pulled into port on Saturday would be hard-pressed to find anyone to unload its cargo, no matter how much profit stood to be gained. Clearly, the Jews of Salonika considered freight handling and transport to be work. Perhaps they had in mind the words of the prophet Jeremiah.