Shabbat (שַׁבָּת, “rest” or “cessation”), Shabbos, Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish: שבת), or the Sabbath, is Judaism’s day of rest and seventh day of the week. On this day, religious Jews, Samaritans and certain Christians (such as Seventh-day Adventists, the Church of God (Seventh-Day) and Seventh Day Baptists) remember the biblical creation of the heavens and the earth in six days and look forward to a future Messianic Age.
Shabbat observance entails refraining from work activities, often with great rigor, and engaging in restful activities to honor the day. Judaism’s traditional position is that unbroken seventh-day Shabbat originated among the Jewish people, as their first and most sacred institution, though some suggest other origins. Variations upon Shabbat are widespread in Judaism and, with adaptations, throughout the Abrahamic and many other religions.
According to halakha (Jewish religious law), Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles and reciting a blessing. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: The first one is held on Friday evening, the second is traditionally a lunch meal on Saturday and the third being held later in the afternoon. The evening meal and the early afternoon meal typically begin with a blessing called kiddush and another blessing recited over two loaves of challah. The third meal does not have the Kiddush recited but all does have the two loaves. Shabbat is closed Saturday evening with a havdalah blessing.
Shabbat is a festive day when Jews exercise their freedom from the regular labors of everyday life. It offers an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with family.
The word “Shabbat” derives from the Hebrew verb shavat (שָׁבַת). Although frequently translated as “rest” (noun or verb), another accurate translation of these words is “ceasing [from work]”, as resting is not necessarily denoted. The related modern Hebrew word shevita (labor strike), has the same implication of active rather than passive abstinence from work. The notion of active cessation from labor is also regarded as more consistent with an omnipotent God’s activity on the seventh day of Creation according to Genesis. Other significant connotations are to shevet (שֶּׁבֶת) which means sitting or staying, and to sheva (שֶׁבַע) meaning seven, as Shabbat is the seventh day of the week; the other days of the week do not have names but called by their ordinals.
Sabbath is given special status as a holy day at the very beginning of the Torah in Genesis 2:1–3. It is first commanded after the Exodus from Egypt, in Exodus 16:26 (relating to the cessation of manna) and in Exodus 16:29 (relating to the distance one may travel by foot on the Sabbath), as also in Exodus 20:8–11 (as the fourth of the Ten Commandments). Sabbath is commanded and commended many more times in the Torah and Tanakh; double the normal number of animal sacrifices are to be offered on the day. Sabbath is also described by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and Nehemiah.
Seventh-day Shabbat did not originate with the Egyptians, to whom it was unknown; and other origin theories based on the day of Saturn, or on the planets generally, have also been abandoned.
The first non-Biblical reference to Sabbath is in an ostracon found in excavations at Mesad Hashavyahu, which is dated 630 BCE.
For the Babylonian concept of sapattu or sabattu, see here.
Connection to Sabbath observance has been suggested in the designation of the seventh, fourteenth, nineteenth, twenty-first and twenty-eight days of a lunar month in an Assyrian religious calendar as a ‘holy day’, also called ‘evil days’ (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). The prohibitions on these days, spaced seven days apart, include abstaining from chariot riding, and the avoidance of eating meat by the King. On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia advanced a theory of Assyriologists like Friedrich Delitzsch (and of Marcello Craveri) that Shabbat originally arose from the lunar cycle in the Babylonian calendar containing four weeks ending in Sabbath, plus one or two additional unreckoned days per month. The difficulties of this theory include reconciling the differences between an unbroken week and a lunar week, and explaining the absence of texts naming the lunar week as Sabbath in any language.
Status as a holy day
- To commemorate God’s creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from (or ceased) his work;
- To commemorate the Israelites’ redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt;
- As a “taste” of Olam Haba (the Messianic Age).
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 Shabbat as a “bride” and “queen” (see Shekhinah); some sources described it as a “king”.
- The Sefer Torah is read during the Torah reading which is part of the Shabbat morning services, with a longer reading than during the week. The Torah is read over a yearly cycle of 54 parashioth, 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 Shabbatoth.
- The punishment in ancient times for desecrating Shabbat (stoning) is the most severe punishment in Jewish law.
According to rabbinic literature, God via the Torah commands Jews to observe (refrain from forbidden activity) and remember (with words, thoughts, and actions) Shabbat, and these two actions are symbolized by the customary two Shabbat candles. Candles are lit usually by the woman of the house (or else by a man who lives alone). Some families light more candles, sometimes in accordance with the number of children.
- Honoring Shabbat (kavod Shabbat): on Shabbat, wearing festive clothing and refraining from unpleasant conversation. It is customary to avoid talking on Shabbat about money, business matters, or secular things that one might discuss during the week.
- Recitation of kiddush over a cup of wine at the beginning of Shabbat meals, or at a reception after the conclusion of morning prayers (see the list of Jewish prayers and blessings).
- Two homemade whole-wheat challot covered by traditional embroidered Shabbat challah cover
- Eating three festive meals. Meals begin with a blessing over two loaves of bread (lechem mishneh, “double bread”), usually of braided challah, which is symbolic of the double portion of manna that fell for the Jewish people on the day before Sabbath during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It is customary to serve meat or fish, and sometimes both, for Shabbat evening and morning meals. Seudah Shlishit (literally, “third meal”), generally a light meal that may be pareve or dairy, is eaten late Shabbat afternoon.
- Enjoying Shabbat (oneg Shabbat): Engaging in pleasurable activities such as eating, singing, spending time with the family and marital relations. Sometimes referred to as “Shabbating”.
- Recitation of havdalah.
Havdalah (הַבְדָּלָה, “separation”) is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Shabbat, and ushers in the new week. At the conclusion of Shabbat at nightfall, after the appearance of three stars in the sky, the havdalah blessings are recited over a cup of wine, and with the use of fragrant spices and a candle, usually braided. Some communities delay havdalah later into the night in order to prolong Shabbat. There are different customs regarding how much time one should wait after the stars have surfaced until the sabbath technically ends. Some people hold by 72 minutes later and other hold longer and shorter than that.
Jewish law (halakha) prohibits doing any form of melakhah (מְלָאכָה, plural melakhoth) on Shabbat, unless an urgent human or medical need is life-threatening. Though melakhah is commonly translated as “work” in English, a better definition is “deliberate activity” or “skill and craftmanship”. There are 39 categories of prohibited activities (melakhoth) listed in Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2.
The term shomer Shabbat is used for a person (or organization) who adheres to Shabbat laws consistently. The shomer Shabbat is an archetype mentioned in Jewish songs (e.g., Baruch El Elyon) and the intended audience for various treatises on Jewish law and practice for Shabbat (e.g., Shemirat Shabbat ke-Hilkhata).
There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of the Sabbath. The (strict) observance of the Sabbath is often seen as a benchmark for orthodoxy and indeed has legal bearing on the way a Jew is seen by an orthodox religious court regarding their affiliation to Judaism. See Yosef Dov Soloveitchik’s “Beis HaLevi” commentary on parasha Ki Tissa for further elaboration regarding the legal ramifications.
The 39 categories of melakhah are:
The categories of labors prohibited on Shabbat are exegetically derived – on account of Biblical passages juxtaposing Shabbat observance (Ex. 35:1–3) to making the Tabernacle (Ex. 35:4 ff.) – that they are the kinds of work that were necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. They are not explicitly listed in the Torah; the Mishnah observes that “the laws of Shabbat … are like mountains hanging by a hair, for they are little Scripture but many laws”. Many rabbinic scholars have pointed out that these labors have in common activity that is “creative”, or that exercises control or dominion over one’s environment.
Orthodox and Conservative
Different streams of Judaism view the prohibition on work in different ways. Observant Orthodox and Conservative Jews refrain from performing the 39 prohibited categories of activities. Each melakhah has derived prohibitions of various kinds. There are, therefore, many more forbidden activities on Shabbat; all are traced back to one of the 39 above principal melakhoth.
Given the above, the 39 melakhoth are not so much activities as “categories of activity”. For example, while “winnowing” usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, and “selecting” 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 one solution to this problem).
Orthodox and some Conservative authorities rule that turning electric devices on or off is prohibited as a melakhah; however, authorities are not in agreement about exactly which one(s). 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 purposed for light or heat (such as an incandescent bulb or electric oven), then the lighting or heating elements may be considered as a type of fire that falls under both lighting a fire (category 37) and cooking (i.e., baking, category 11). Turning lights off would be extinguishing a fire (category 36).
Another view is that a device 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 (category 35) and turning it off would be demolishing (category 34). Some schools of thought consider the use of electricity to be forbidden only by rabbinic injunction, rather than because it violates one of the original categories.
A common solution to the problem of electricity involves preset timers (Shabbat clocks) for electric appliances, to turn them on and off automatically, with no human intervention on Shabbat itself. Some Conservative authorities reject altogether the arguments for prohibiting the use of electricity. Some Orthodox also hire a “Shabbos goy”, a Gentile to perform prohibited tasks (like operating light switches) on Shabbat.
Orthodox and many Conservative authorities completely prohibit the use of automobiles on Shabbat as a violation of multiple categories, including lighting a fire, extinguishing a fire, and transferring between domains (category 39). However, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards permits driving to a synagogue on Shabbat, as an emergency measure, on the grounds that if Jews lost contact with synagogue life they would become lost to the Jewish people.
A halakhically authorized Shabbat mode added to a power-operated mobility scooter may be used on the observance of Shabbat for those with walking limitations, often referred to as a Shabbat scooter. It is intended only for individuals whose limited mobility is dependent on a scooter or automobile consistently throughout the week.
Seemingly “forbidden” acts may be performed by modifying technology such that no law is actually violated. In Sabbath mode, a “Sabbath 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. (Dynamic braking is also disabled if it is normally used, i.e., shunting energy collected from downward travel, and thus the gravitational potential energy of passengers, into a resistor network.) However, many rabbinical authorities consider the use of such elevators by those who are otherwise capable as a violation of Shabbat, 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 by use of an eruv. Others make their keys into a tie bar, part of a belt buckle, or a brooch, because a legitimate article of clothing or jewelry may be worn rather than carried. An elastic band with clips on both ends, and with keys placed between them as integral links, may be considered a belt.
Shabbat lamps have been developed to allow a light in a room to be turned on or off at will while the electricity remains on. A special mechanism blocks out the light when the off position is desired without violating Shabbat.
The Shabbos App is a proposed Android app claimed by its creators to enable Orthodox Jews, and all Jewish Sabbath-observers, to use a smartphone to text on the Jewish Sabbath. It has met with resistance from some authorities.
In the event that a human life is in danger (pikuach nefesh), a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any halakhic law that stands in the way of saving that person (excluding murder, idolatry, and forbidden sexual acts). The concept of life being in danger is interpreted broadly: for example, it is mandated that one violate Shabbat to bring a woman in active labor to a hospital. Lesser rabbinic restrictions are often violated under much less urgent circumstances (a patient who is ill but not critically so).
We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat. People asked: “Why are you here? There are no Jews here,” but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives …. We are desecrating Shabbat with pride.— Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish ZAKA rescue-mission to the 2010 Haiti earthquake
Various other legal principles closely delineate which activities constitute desecration of Shabbat. Examples of these include the principle of shinui (“change” or “deviation”): A violation is not regarded as severe if the prohibited act was performed in a way that would be considered abnormal on a weekday. Examples include writing with one’s nondominant 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.
Reform and Reconstructionist
Generally, adherents of Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism believe that the individual Jew determines whether to follow Shabbat prohibitions or not. For example, some Jews might find activities, such as writing or cooking for leisure, to be enjoyable enhancements to Shabbat and its holiness, and therefore may encourage such practices. Many Reform Jews believe that what constitutes “work” is different for each person, and that only what the person considers “work” is forbidden. The radical Reform rabbi Samuel Holdheim advocated moving Sabbath to Sunday for many no longer observed it, a step taken by dozens of congregations in the United States in late 19th century.
More rabbinically traditional Reform and Reconstructionist Jews believe that these halakhoth in general may be valid, but that it is up to each individual to decide how and when to apply them. A small fraction of Jews in the Progressive Jewish community accept these laws much the same way as Orthodox Jews.
All Jewish denominations encourage the following activities on Shabbat:
- Reading, studying, and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, and learning some halakha and midrash.
- Synagogue attendance for prayers.
- Spending time with other Jews and socializing with family, friends, and guests at Shabbat meals (hachnasat orchim, “hospitality”).
- Singing zemiroth or niggunim, special songs for Shabbat meals (commonly sung during or after a meal).
- Marital relations between husband and wife.
Special Shabbatot are the Shabbatot that precede important Jewish holidays: e.g., Shabbat HaGadol (Shabbat preceding Pesach), Shabbat Zachor (Shabbat preceding Purim), and Shabbat Shuvah (Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur).
Most Christians do not observe Saturday Sabbath, but instead observe a weekly day of worship on Sunday, which is often called the “Lord’s Day”. Several Christian denominations, such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of God (7th Day), the Seventh Day Baptists, and many others, observe seventh-day Sabbath. This observance is celebrated from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
The principle of weekly Sabbath also exists in other beliefs. Examples include the Babylonian calendar, the Buddhist uposatha, and the Unification Church’s Ahn Shi Il.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia