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All About Shabbat

Holy Day Of Rest

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8)

“More than the Jews kept Shabbat, Shabbat kept the Jews.” – Ahad Ha’am

Shabbat is the incandescent jewel in the crown of a Jewish life. It is an island in time that separates the work week from the day of rest. On Shabbat, we leave the earthly world behind and ascend to a heavenly domain where we refrain from the mundane tasks of everyday life.

Shabbat, also known as Shabbos or the Sabbath, is the fourth of the Ten Commandments, and according to the sages of the Talmud it is equal to all the other commandments. Shabbat begins before sunset every Friday and ends after nightfall on Saturday evening. Just as God rested on the seventh day after creating the world, so we too rest on the seventh day after working and creating all week.

Our Sages characterize Shabbat as a “queen.” She is an honored guest in our home for 25 hours each week. We clean our bodies and our homes and dress up to welcome the Shabbat bride. It says in the Talmud that we receive a special additional soul every Shabbat!

“Friday Evening” by Isadore Kaufman (detail), c. 1920

CANDLELIGHTING

We do not light or kindle flame on Shabbat, so the sages decreed that we should light candles before Shabbat begins to set a peaceful and joyous tone in the home. Traditionally, Shabbat candles are lit by Jewish women and girls, but if there is no woman in the house, a man should light. Candles should be lit at least 18 minutes before sunset. Find Shabbat candlelighting times near you.

Announcing the Approach of Sabbath, Haifa 1920

KABBALAT SHABBAT

Kabbalat Shabbat is the Friday evening synagogue service when we welcome the Shabbat Queen with joyous prayer and song. The service features the beautiful Lecha Dodi (“Come, my beloved”) prayer. During the singing of the last verse, the entire congregation rises and turns to the back of the synagogue (west) to bow and greet the holy Shabbat bride.

KIDDUSH

On Friday night, we say kiddush (sanctification) a special blessing before drinking wine. The one making kiddush raises a special cup filled to the brim and recites the kiddush prayer, after which he drinks from the cup and shares the wine with others at the table. Usually kiddush is recited by a male, but women can say kiddush if there is no man present.

Making kiddush at Yeminite Shabbat 

HANDWASHING

Before eating bread, on Shabbat or any time, we perform a ritual hand washing that begins by reciting a special blessing, then pouring water on each hand, alternating, either two or three times, depending on one’s custom.

CHALLAH

We place two whole loaves of fresh bread on the Shabbat table to remind us of the double portion of manna that fell from the sky every Friday during the Jews’ years in the desert before entering the Promised Land. Traditional Shabbat bread is braided challah.

Homemade Challah.

EAT DRINK & BE MERRY

Shabbat features at least two, preferably three festive meals: Friday night, Saturday mid-day, and Saturday afternoon. These meals feature delicious food, discussion about the parsha or other Torah topics, storytelling and singing. At the first two meals, kiddush is made over wine.

A Friday night meal often features four courses: soup, fish, meat, dessert. Saturday lunch is also a multi-course meal, but without soup because we can’t cook or heat up food. The traditional Shabbat lunch dish is cholent, a stew that’s been in the oven, crockpot or stovetop since before Shabbat. Cholent is commonly made with meat, beans, barley and potatoes, though there are many different recipes including Sephardic and vegetarian.

Emissary from the land of Israel is a Shabbat guest in Nehardea, from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv

SATURDAY PRAYER

Shabbat morning prayers include a Torah reading service that is longer than the weekday Torah service on Monday and Thursday. Traditionally, the entire weekly parsha is chanted on Saturday morning. There is also a reading from the weekly Haftarah, which is a passage from one of the Prophets, and often a sermon by the Rabbi. The Shabbat morning service also features an additional prayer service known as Musaf.

“Der Samstug (Saturday)” by Freidrich Campe, c. 1800

KIDDUSH/LUNCH

After Shabbat morning services many synagogues host a kiddush. This is a light lunch or an elaborate feast that starts with saying kiddush (the blessing over wine). Synagogue kiddush is often sponsored by a congregant in honor of a life cycle event or on the yahrtzeit (anniversary of death) of a loved one.

GUARDING THE SABBATH

There are 39 categories of “work” that are prohibited on Shabbat, including kindling a fire and carrying. Someone who properly observes Shabbat is called “Shomer Shabbat” (“Guardian of Sabbath”)

YES: Pray, eat, walk, rest, learn, board games

NO: work, kindling fire, operating electrical appliances, turning on or off lights, cooking, carrying in the public domain

“Sabbath Rest” by Samuel Hirszenberg, 1894

HAVDALAH

On Saturday after nightfall, we perform the havdalah ceremony to mark the separation between the holy day and the mundane rest of the week. During havdalah, we say special prayers and make blessings over wine, spices, and fire. 

Visit Chabad for more info about Shabbat and how to observe it.

Header image: “Blessing Shabbat candles” by Geskel Saloman (1821-1902)

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