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Shabbat (Hebrew: שַׁבָּת, shabbāt, "rest" or "cessation"; Ashkenazi pronunciation shabbos) is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from sundown Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact time, therefore, differs from week to week and from place to place, depending on the time of sunset at each location.

Shabbat recalls the Biblical Creation account in Genesis, describing God creating the Heavens and the Earth in six days, and resting on and sanctifying the seventh (Genesis 1:1-2:3).

Shabbat is considered a festive day, when a person is freed from the regular labors of everyday life, can contemplate the spiritual aspects of life, and can spend time with family. Traditionally, on that day three festive meals are eaten — on Shabbat-eve, at lunch, and as an end-of-Shabbat evening meal. The day is also noted for those activities which are prohibited on Shabbat prescribed by Rabbinic Judaism, but not all Jews follow these categories, and Karaite Judaism has its own traditions.



Shabbat derives from the Hebrew verb shavat. 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, a 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.

Biblical source

Shabbat is given special status as a holy day at the very beginning of the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), 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 20:8-11 (as the fourth of the Ten Commandments). Shabbat is commanded and commended many more times in the Torah and Tanakh; special sacrifices are to be offered on the day. Shabbat is also described by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and Nehemiah.

Origin theories

A longstanding Jewish position is that unbroken seventh-day Shabbat originated among the Jewish people, as their first and most sacred institution,[1] whether this Mosaic tradition preserves an origin in special creation,[2] or whether it indicates some obscure later naturalistic origin.[3] Seventh-day Shabbat did not originate with the Egyptians, to whom it was unknown;[4] and other origin theories based on the day of Saturn, or on the planets generally, have also been abandoned.[5] The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia advanced a theory of Assyriologists like Friedrich Delitzsch[1] that Shabbat originally arose from the lunar cycle,[6][7] containing four weeks ending in Sabbath, plus one or two additional unreckoned days per month.[8] 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 Shabbat in any language.[5]

Status as a holy day

The Tanach and siddur (Jewish prayer book) 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" (see Shekhinah).
  • 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 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.[9]
  • The punishment in ancient times for desecrating Shabbat (stoning) is the most severe punishment in Jewish law.[10]

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 Shabbat eve, lunch on Shabbat, and another meal before the conclusion of Shabbat later in the afternoon.

Many Jews attend synagogue services on Shabbat even if they do not do so during the week. Services are held on Shabbat eve (Friday night), Shabbat morning (Saturday morning), and Shabbat afternoon (Saturday afternoon).

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 display public signs of mourning.

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 Shabbat candles late afternoon on Preparation Day (Friday; 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.[11]

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:

  • Honouring 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.
  • 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 Jewish prayers and blessings)
  • Eating three festive meals (shalosh seudot). Meals begin with a blessing over two loaves of bread (lechem mishneh), usually a braided challah, which is symbolic of the double portion of manna God gave the Jewish people on Preparation Days during their time in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. It is customary to serve meat or fish, and sometimes both, for Shabbat eve dinner and Shabbat lunch. The third meal, eaten late Shabbat afternoon, is called Seudah Shlishit (literally, "third meal"). This is generally a light meal and may be parve or dairy.
  • Enjoying Shabbat (Oneg Shabbat). Engaging in pleasurable activities such as eating, singing, spending time with the family and marital relations.

Observing the closing havdalah ritual in 14th-century Spain.

  • Recitation of havdalah, or "separation," at the conclusion of Shabbat at nightfall (over a cup of wine, and with the use of fragrant spices and a candle).

It is customary to avoid talk about money or business matters on Shabbat.[12]

Prohibited activities

The 39 categories

Jewish law (halakha) prohibits doing any form of melachah (מְלָאכָה, plural melachot) on Shabbat, with some exceptions. Though melachah is commonly translated as "work" in English, a better definition is "deliberate activity" or "skill and craftmanship". There are 39 categories of prohibited activities (melachot) listed in Mishnah Tractate Shabbat Chapter 7, Mishna 2).

Different streams of Judaism view the prohibition on work in different ways. Observant Orthodox and Conservative Jews refrain from performing the prohibited activities. These prohibited activities are exegetically derived - based on juxtaposition of corresponding Biblical passages - from the kinds of work that were necessary for the construction of the Tabernacle. They are not directly listed in the Torah; elsewhere, the Mishnah observes that "the laws of the Sabbath [...] are like mountains hanging by a hair, for they are little Scripture but many laws" (Hagigah 1:8). 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 of melachah are ploughing earth, sowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing wool, beating wool, dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, tanning, scraping hide, marking hides, cutting hide to shape, writing two or more letters, erasing two or more letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a fire, kindling a fire, putting the finishing touch on an object and transporting an object between the 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.

Given the above, the 39 melachot 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.)

Use of electricity

Orthodox and some Conservative authorities rule that it is prohibited to turn electric devices on or off as falling under 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 one of the original categories.

A common solution to the problem of electricity involves pre-set timers (Shabbat clocks) for electric appliances, to turn them on and off automatically, with no human intervention on Shabbat itself. Some Conservative authorities[13][14][15] reject altogether the arguments for prohibiting the use of electricity.


Orthodox and many Conservative authorities completely prohibit the use of automobiles on Shabbat as a violation of multiple categories include "igniting a fire" (category 37), "extinguishing a fire" (category 36) 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 halachically-authorized Shabbat module added to an Amigo power operated vehicle may be used on the observance of Shabbat for those with walking limitations. Often referred to as a Shabbat scooter or Amigo Shabbat, it is manufactured by Zomet Institute in Israel, each Shabbat module application is individually inspected and certified by a Zomet representative. It is intended only for individuals whose limited mobility is dependent on a POV/scooter or automobile consistently throughout the week.

Shomer Shabbat

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 the Sabbath day (e.g., Shmirat Shabbat ke-Hilkhata).

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 Judaism, excluding murder, idolatry, and forbidden sexual acts, must be broken if doing so will help save the life of one who is in grave danger.) 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).

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. (Dynamic 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. Some also use an elastic band which has clips on both ends, and keys are placed between them as an integral link in the band, which may then be considered a belt.

In recent years, the Shabbat lamp has been developed to allow a light in a room to be turned on/off at will while the electricity remains on. A special mechanism blocks out the light when the off position is desired without violating Shabbat.

Reform and Reconstructionist views

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.[16] Radical Hungarian-born Reform rabbi Ignaz Einhorn even shifted his congregation's Shabbat worship to Sundays.[17]

More rabbinically traditional Reform and Reconstruction Jews believe that these halakhot 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.

Encouraged activities

All Jewish denominations encourage the following activities on Shabbat:

  • Spending Shabbat together with other Jews;
  • Synagogue attendance for prayers;
  • Socializing with family and friends;
  • Hosting guests for Shabbat meals (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.
  • Sexual relations between husband and wife, particularly on Shabbat eve. (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.)
  • Taking Shabbat naps

Special Shabbats

The Special Shabbats are the Shabbats that precede important Jewish holidays: e.g. Shabbat Hagadol is the Shabbat before Passover, Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat before Purim, and Shabbat Teshuva is the Shabbat before Yom Kippur.


Most Christians do not celebrate Shabbat, citing, e.g., Colossians 2:14-17. Instead, they observe a weekly day of worship on Sunday, known as the Lord's Day or Sabbath. This Sabbath in Christianity is often also a day of rest, and is sometimes observed with a strictness as vigorous as that in Judaism.

Several Christian denominations, such as seventh-day Churches of God, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Seventh Day Baptists, the True Jesus Church, etc., observe seventh-day Sabbath, generally from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset (rather than Saturday nightfall). Some of Messianic Judaism considers its Shabbat to be kept according to Jewish tradition, while most of Rabbinic Judaism disagrees.

The principle of weekly Sabbath, derived from Shabbat, has also been adopted and instituted by other religions as well.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Landau, Judah Leo. The Sabbath. Johannesburg, South Africa: Ivri Publishing Society, Ltd. pp. 2, 12. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  2. Graham, I. L. (2009). "The Origin of the Sabbath". Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  3. "Jewish religious year: The Sabbath". Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-26. "Scholars have not succeeded in tracing the origin of the seven-day week, nor can they account for the origin of the Sabbath." 
  4. Bechtel, Florentine (1912). "Sabbath". The Catholic Encyclopedia. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sampey, John Richard (1915). "Sabbath: Critical Theories". in Orr, James. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Howard-Severance Company. p. 2630. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  6. Joseph, Max (1943). "Holidays". in Landman, Isaac. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia: An authoritative and popular presentation of Jews and Judaism since the earliest times. 5. Cohen, Simon, compiler. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc. p. 410. 
  7. Joseph, Max (1943). "Sabbath". in Landman, Isaac. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia: An authoritative and popular presentation of Jews and Judaism since the earliest times. 9. Cohen, Simon, compiler. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc. p. 295. 
  8. Cohen, Simon (1943). "Week". in Landman, Isaac. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia: An authoritative and popular presentation of Jews and Judaism since the earliest times. 10. Cohen, Simon, compiler. The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc. p. 482. 
  9. Talmud, tractate Shabbat 118
  10. See e.g. Numbers 15:32-36.
  11. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim chapter 261.
  12. Derived from Isaiah 58:13-14.
  13. Neulander, Arthur. "The Use of Electricity on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950) 165-171
  14. Adler, Morris; Agus, Jacob; and Friedman, Theodore. "Responsum on the Sabbath." Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly 14 (1950), 112-137
  15. Klein, Isaac. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America: New York, 1979.
  16. Faigin, Daniel P. (2003-09-04). "Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups Frequently Asked Questions and Answers". Usenet. p. 18.4.7. Retrieved 2009-03-27. 
  17. Meyer, Michael (1988). Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 162ff. 

Further 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 [1]
  • Sabbath's Place in the Individual (Translated Introduction to Raza L'Shabat), Rabbi Haim Lifshitz - here.[2]

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Shabbat. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.