If you're under a certain age, then you don't remember a time when stores were closed on Sundays. Imagine running out of milk. Sorry, you're out of luck. You'd have to borrow it from a neighbor until the grocery store reopened on Monday. There was no such thing as department stores advertising early openings and special Sunday sales in the morning paper - they simply weren't open for business. The practice of keeping businesses closed on Sundays was known here in the States as the "blue laws." Although I am unsure about the color choice, sources say the rule goes back to Puritan times, when a day of rest was mandated on Sundays so that people would be able to attend religious services. Because of their close association with religion, they were slowly considered more and more unconstitutional towards the end of the 20th century, and today pretty much every state in America no longer enforces them.
I'm all for bringing them back. I realize this may inconvenience a lot of people, but hear me out. I believe the benefits of reinstating "closed on Sundays" would be beneficial to us all. I know of at least one person who would agree with me - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. He wrote a book called The Blessing of Enough where he discusses how obsessed our current society has become with acquiring material wealth, while we're missing out on what really matters in life. In a related blog post that he wrote for The Huffington Post, the good rabbi remembers when all stores were closed on Sundays - not only to provide a day off for retail workers, but to give people time to reconnect with their family and friends. Today, he says, even on the most glorious of days, most people it seems would rather spend time filling their eyeballs with the flourescent lights of the mall or the local Home Depot on a Sunday, instead of doing something that matters. He also believes having such unlimited access to being able to shop and spend at any time has definitely contributed to our materialism and economic state, and it has created a nation of dull people who no longer have any hobbies.
The way the rabbi and I see it, here's what the benefits of reinstating the blue laws would be:
1. Reduced Sunday Traffic
How peaceful it would be if stores were closed on Sunday again. No one hitting the roads early for those early morning specials. There might also be less obnoxious advertising in the Sunday papers.
2. More Time to Spend With, Not Spend On
Before the repeal of the blue laws, people would attend religious services, then share a meal with family and/or friends. Without a place to go to needlessly spend their money, people might actually rekindle more productive activities and get a life towards the end of the weekend.
3. A Break for Service People
Take it from someone who worked in the hotel industry for over five years - anyone working a service job deserves a guaranteed day off each week. OK, hotels are open 24/7 but retail workers should get a break like the rest of us. Even most banks are now open on Sundays - which proves just how little anything is sacred anymore.
A New Jersey mayor tried to argue with Boteach that keeping stores closed for even one day hurts the economy. Boteach explained that when 9/11 happened, Bush instructed the American people to "go to Disney World" and essentially spend their money. We know how well that advice turned out. Our enormous spending has not only put us in tremendous debt but has led to a spiritual deficit as well. Americans don't seem to have many hobbies these days or appreciate how it feels to spend time with other humans.
Of course the downside to bringing back the blue laws is that the stores and roads will suddenly be flooded with even more people during the work week and on Saturdays. But in my opinion, that's a small price to pay for one day of mandatory sanity every seven days.