Shabbat, which is also known as the Sabbath, is a weekly holy day which occurs on Friday nights and Saturdays until sunset, in which all forms of work are prohibited. Jews consider it to be a gift given by God, a day of happiness that is highly anticipated in the week preceding it.
During Shabbat Jews are expected to set aside their weekly, secular anxieties and devote themselves to a greater purpose. Within Jewish manuscripts Shabbat is referred to as being a queen, and is one of the most pivotal observances within the Jewish faith.
The Origin of Shabbat
Shabbat has a special place within Judaism for many reasons. It is the only observance which was established within the Ten Commandments, and as a result its importance exceeds even that of Yom Kippur. A greater number of aliyot, or opportunities offered to congregants to be called before the Torah, are provided during Shabbat than all other days.
Shabbat is also known as being a day of rest, primarily from secular pursuits. Jews are expected to seek spiritual enlightenment, and while this day is often associated with prayer, it was not developed exclusively for that purpose. While Jews do pray during Shabbat and spend lots of time in their synagogues, this is not what makes the event unique. Jews are expected to pray three times daily. What makes Shabbat a special event is that it is in adherence to two commandments, which is “shamor,” (to observe) and “zakhor” (to remember).
Shabbat Customs and Practices
Jews will begin preparing for Shabbat in the afternoon on Friday. Their preparations may be likened to those taken to prepare for the arrival of an honored guest. The home will be cleaned, the family will bathe and dress themselves, and the best tableware they have will be brought out. The mood will be festive and meals will be prepared accordingly. No labor is permitted on Shabbat which means anything that cannot be done on that day must be completed by Friday.
As with all Jewish observances, Shabbat will start at sunset. This is a reference to the tale of creation which is told in Genesis, that there was an evening, followed by morning, and then one day. To Jews this means that a day will begin in the evening, rather than in the morning. The Jews will light Shabbat candles and blessings will be recited before sunset.
Jewish families will attend evening service and will then return home for a relaxing dinner. Prior to dinner the patriarch of the home will recite the Kiddush, which is a prayer before wine that will sanctify the Shabbat. The Jews will then pray before challah, which is a sweet type of bread which is shaped like a braid, and then dinner will be eaten. While there are no specific guidelines on what types of foods should be prepared, it is popular among Jews to slow cook their meals.