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Shabbat (Hebrew: שבת, shabbāt, "rest/inactivity"; the Sabbath, often Shabbos using Ashkenazi pronunciation), is the weekly day of rest in Judaism, symbolizing the Seventh Day in the Book of Genesis, after six days of creation. It is observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles. Candlelighting time changes from week to week and from place to place, depending on when the sun sets.


The Hebrew word Shabbat comes from the Hebrew verb shavat, which literally means "to cease." Although Shabbat (or its anglicized version, "Sabbath") is almost universally translated as "rest" or a "period of rest," a more literal translation would be "ceasing", with the implication of "ceasing from work."



  Thus, Shabbat is the day of ceasing from work; while resting is implied, it is not a necessary denotation of the word itself. For example, the Hebrew word for "strike" (as in work stoppage) is shevita, which comes from the same Hebrew root as Shabbat, and has the same implication, namely that striking workers actively abstain from work, rather than passively.

Some people ask why God needed to "rest" on the seventh day of Creation according to Genesis. If the meaning of the word is understood as "ceasing from labor" rather than "rested," this is more consistent with the biblical view of an omnipotent God.

Shabbat is the source for the English term Sabbath, and for the word denoting this day of the week in many languages.

The word "sabbatical" - referring to the sabbatical year in the Bible, or a year that one takes off from work, mainly in the academic world, also comes from this root.

Shabbat in the Hebrew Bible

The observance of Shabbat is mentioned many times in the Tanakh, most notably as the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Other instances are Exodus 31:12-17 and 35:2-3, Leviticus 19:3 and 30, 23:3 and Numbers 28:9-10 (the sacrifices). It is referred to directly by the prophets Isaiah (56:4,6) and Ezekiel (ch. 20, 22, 23) and Nehemiah 9:14.

Status as a holy day

The Tanakh and the Siddur describe Shabbat as having three purposes:

1. A commemoration of the Israelites' redemption from slavery in Ancient Egypt;
2. A commemoration of God's creations of the universe; on the seventh day God rested from (or ceased) his work;
3. A taste of the world in Messianic times.

Judaism accords Shabbat the status of a joyous holy day. In many ways, Jewish law gives Shabbat the status of being the most important holy day in the Jewish calendar:

* It is the first holy day mentioned in the Bible, and God was the first to observe it with the cessation of Creation (Genesis 2:1-3).
* Jewish liturgy treats the Sabbath as a "bride" and "queen".
* The Sefer Torah is read during the Torah reading which is part of the Saturday morning services, with a longer reading than during the week. The Torah is read over a yearly cycle of 54 parshiot, one for each Shabbat (sometimes they are doubled). On Shabbat the reading is divided into seven sections, more than on any other holy day, including Yom Kippur. Then, the Haftarah reading from the Hebrew prophets is read.
* A tradition states that the Jewish Messiah will come if every Jew properly observes two consecutive Sabbaths (Talmud, tractate Shabbat 118).
* The punishment in ancient times for desecrating Shabbat (stoning) is the most severe punishment in Jewish law.[1]

Shabbat rituals

Shabbat is a day of celebration as well as one of prayer. It is customary to eat three festive meals on Shabbat. These include dinner on Friday night, lunch on Saturday and another meal before the conclusion of Shabbat later in the afternoon.
Table set for Friday night meal
Table set for Friday night meal

Many Jews attend synagogue services on Shabbat even if they do not do so during the week. Services are held on Friday night and Saturday morning. With the exception of Yom Kippur, which is referred to in the Torah as the "Sabbath of the Sabbaths," days of public fasting are postponed or advanced if they coincide with Shabbat. Mourners sitting shivah (week of mourning subsequent to the death of a spouse or first-degree relative) outwardly conduct themselves normally for the duration of the day and are forbidden to express public signs of mourning.
An example of a bronze Shabbat candlestick holder made in Israel in the 1940s.
An example of a bronze Shabbat candlestick holder made in Israel in the 1940s.

According to Rabbinic literature, God via the Torah commands Jews to observe (refrain from forbidden activity) and remember (with words, thoughts, and actions) the Shabbat, and these two actions are symbolized by lighting candles late Friday afternoon (in most communities, eighteen minutes before sunset is customary) by Jewish women, usually the mother/wife, though men who live alone are required to do so themselves. It is customary to light two candles, although some families light more, sometimes in accordance with the number of children.[2]

Although most Shabbat laws are restrictive (see below), the fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus is taken by the Talmud to allude to the positive commandments of the Shabbat. These include:

* Recitation of kiddush, or "sanctification," over a cup of wine at the beginning of Shabbat before the first meal and after the conclusion of morning prayers (see List of Hebrew Prayers)
* Eating three festive meals (shalosh seudot). Meals begin with a blessing over two loaves of bread (lechem mishneh), usually a braided challah. It is customary to serve meat or fish, and sometimes both, for Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch. The third meal, eaten late Saturday afternoon, is called Seudah Shlishit (literally, "third meal"). This is generally a light meal and may be parve or dairy.
* Recitation of Havdalah, or "separation," at the conclusion on Saturday night (over a cup of wine, and with the use of fragrant spices and a candle)
* Enjoying Shabbat (Oneg Shabbat). Engaging in pleasurable activities such as eating, singing, spending time with the family and marital relations.
* Honoring Shabbat (Kavod Shabbat) Preparing for the upcoming Shabbat by bathing, having a haircut, and cleaning and beautifying the home (with flowers, for example), or on Shabbat itself, wearing festive clothing and refraining from unpleasant conversation.

It is customary to avoid talk about money or business matters on Shabbat.[3]

Prohibited activities

Main article: 39 categories of activity prohibited on Shabbat

Jewish law prohibits doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melachah does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work", nor does it correspond to the definition of the term as used in physics.

Different denominations view the prohibition on work in different ways. Observant Orthodox and Conservative Jews do not perform the 39 categories of activity prohibited by Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2 in the Talmud. These categories are exegetically derived - based on juxtaposition of corresponding Biblical passages - from the kinds of work that were necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. Many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have in common activity that is "creative," or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment. The 39 categories are:

1. Sowing
2. Plowing
3. Reaping
4. Binding sheaves
5. Threshing
6. Winnowing
7. Selecting
8. Grinding
9. Sifting
10. Kneading
11. Baking
12. Shearing wool
13. Washing wool
14. Beating wool
15. Dyeing wool
16. Spinning
17. Weaving
18. Making two loops
19. Weaving two threads
20. Separating two threads
21. Tying
22. Untying
23. Sewing stitches
24. Tearing
25. Trapping
26. Slaughtering
27. Flaying
28. Tanning
29. Scraping hide
30. Marking hides
31. Cutting hide to shape
32. Writing two or more letters
33. Erasing two or more letters
34. Building
35. Demolishing
36. Extinguishing a fire
37. Kindling a fire
38. Putting the finishing touch on an object
39. Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain

Each melachah has derived prohibitions of various kinds. There are, therefore, many more forbidden activities on the Shabbat; all are traced back to one of the 39 above principal melachot. Direct derivatives (toledoth) have the same legal severity as the original melachah (although there are marginal differences); examples are the related activities of cooking, baking, roasting and poaching, all of which fall under "baking." Indirect derivatives instituted by the rabbis are termed shevuth and are much less severe in legal terms (e.g. they were not punished with stoning when this punishment was still in force).

Given the above, the 39 melachot are not so much activities as "categories of activity." For example, while "winnowing" (category 6, above) usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, and "selecting" (category 7, above) refers exclusively to the separation of debris from grain, they refer in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.)

Another example is the prohibition (according to Orthodox and some Conservative rabbinic authorities) against turning electric devices on or off, which is derived from one of the "39 categories of work (melachot)". However, the authorities are not in agreement about exactly which category (or categories) this would fall under. One view is that tiny sparks are created in a switch when the circuit is closed, and this would constitute "lighting a fire" (category 37). If the appliance is one whose purpose is for light or heat (such as an incandescent lightbulb or electric oven) then the lighting or heating elements may be considered as a type of fire; if so, then turning them on constitutes both "lighting a fire" (category 37) and "cooking" (a form of baking, category 11), and turning them off would be "extinguishing a fire" (category 36). Another view is that a device which is plugged into an electrical outlet of a wall becomes part of the building, but is nonfunctional while the switch is off; turning it on would then constitute "building" and turning it off would be "demolishing" (categories 35 and 34). Some schools of thought consider the use of electricity to be forbidden only by rabbinic injunction, rather than because it violates of one of the original categories. A common solution to the problem of electricity involves pre-set timers for electric appliances, to turn them on and off automatically, with no human intervention on Shabbat itself, while some Conservative authorities[4][5][6] reject altogether the arguments for prohibiting the use of electricity.

Extenuating circumstances

In the event that a human life is in danger (pikuach nefesh), a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any Shabbat law that stands in the way of saving that person. (In fact, any law in all of Judaism - excluding certain prohibited actions: murder, idolatry, and various sexual relations and acts such as incest and rape - is to be broken if doing so is necessary to help someone who is in grave danger.) Lesser, rabbinic restrictions are often violated under much less urgent circumstances, e.g. a patient who is ill but not critically so.

Various other legal principles closely delineate which activities constitute desecration of the Shabbat. Examples of these include the principle of shinui ("change" or "deviation") - a severe violation becomes a non-severe one if the prohibited act was performed in a way that would be considered abnormal on a weekday. Examples include writing with one's non-dominant hand (according to many rabbinic authorities). This legal principle operates bedi'avad (ex post facto) and does not cause a forbidden activity to be permitted barring extenuating circumstances.

Technology in the service of Shabbat

When there is an urgent human or medical need which is not life-threatening, it is possible to perform seemingly "forbidden" acts by modifying the relevant technology to such an extent that no law is actually violated. An example is the "Sabbath elevator". In this mode, an elevator will stop automatically at every floor, allowing people to step on and off without anyone having to press any buttons, which would normally be needed to work. (Regenerative braking is also disabled if it is normally used, shunting energy collected from downward travel, and thus the gravitational potential energy of passengers, into a resistor network.) This prevents "violation" of the Sabbath prohibition against doing "useful work." Many rabbinical authorities consider the use of such elevators by those who are otherwise capable as a "violation" of the Sabbath, with such workarounds being for the benefit of the frail and handicapped and not being in the spirit of the day.

Many observant Jews avoid the prohibition of "carrying" in the absence of an eruv by making their keys into a tie bar, or part of a belt buckle or brooch. The key thereby becomes a legitimate article of clothing or jewelry, which may be worn, rather than carried.

Reform and Reconstructionist views

Adherents of Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, generally speaking, believe that it is up to the individual Jew to determine whether to follow those prohibitions on Shabbat or not. For example, some Jews might find writing or other activities (such as cooking) for leisure and enjoyment purposes to be an enjoyable activity that "enhances" Shabbat and its holiness, and therefore encourage such practices. Many Reform Jews believe that what constitutes "work" is different for each person; thus only what the person considers "work" is forbidden ([1]).

On the more rabbinically traditional side of Reform and Reconstructionism, it is believed that these halakhot in general may be valid, but it is up to each individual to decide how and when to apply said laws. Thus one can find a small fraction of Jews in the Progressive Jewish community who accept these laws in much the same way that Orthodox Jews do.

Permitted activities

The following activities are encouraged on Shabbat:

* Spending Shabbat together with one's immediate family;
* Synagogue attendance for prayers;
* Visiting family and friends (within walking distance);
* Hosting guests (hachnasat orchim, "hospitality");
* Singing zemirot, special songs for the Shabbat meal (commonly sung during or after a meal).
* Reading, studying and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, learning some Halakha and Midrash.
* Marital relations, particularly on Friday night. (The Shulkhan Arukh describes this as a "double mitzvah," as it combines procreation with enjoyment of Shabbat, both of which are considered to be mandated by the Torah.)

Special Sabbaths

Main article: Special Sabbaths

The Special Sabbaths are associated with important Jewish holidays that they precede: For example, Shabbat Hagadol, which is the Shabbat before Passover, Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat before Purim, and Shabbat Teshuva is the Shabbat before Yom Kippur.

Adaptation by other religions

The principle of a weekly day of prayer and rest, derived from Shabbat, was eventually adopted and instituted by other religions as well. Christianity moved observance of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday in the process of its theological and historical split from Judaism. The Seventh-day Adventist Church and the True Jesus Church observe the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset as mentioned in Bible. None of these religions currently keep Shabbat in the Jewish way.[citation needed]Muslims (according to the ninth century Chinese text, the Tongdian of Du Huan, volume 192 and 193, as well as other contemporary non-Muslim sources) also kept the Sabbath in a manner which closely approximated the Jewish manner, for at least the first two centuries after Muhammad.

See also

* Jewish holidays
* Jewish services
* Moed
* Sabbath breaking
* Sabbath mode
* Baqashot
* Shabbos goy


1. ^ See e.g. Numbers 15:32-36.
2. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim chapter 261.
3. ^ Derived from Isaiah 48:13
4. ^ Neulander, Arthur. "The Use of Electricity on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950) 165-171
5. ^ Adler, Morris; Agus, Jacob; and Friedman, Theodore. "Responsum on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950), 112-137
6. ^ Klein, Isaac. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America: New York, 1979.

Recommended reading
  • The Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat" Meredith Jacobs,HarperCollins Publishers
  • The Sabbath Abraham Joshua Heschel
  • The Sabbath: A Guide to Its Understandings and Observance Dayan Isadore Grunfeld, Philipp Feldheim Inc.
  • A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice Isaac Klein, Ktav, 1992
  • The Artscroll Siddur Ed. Nosson Scherman, Mesorah Publications
  • The Encyclopaedia Judaica, entry on "Shabbat", Keter Publishing House Ltd
  • Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals Ed. Leonard S. Cahan, The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Siddur Sim Shalom Ed. Jules Harlow, The Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • Sabbath - Day of Eternity by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan - online version.
  • The Laws of Shabbat (A 37-part self study course) Rabbi Daniel Schloss - here

    External links