Shabbat, Shabbos, or the Sabbath, is Judaism's day of rest and seventh day of the week. On this day, religious Jews, Samaritans and certain Christians remember the biblical story describing the 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 honour 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, 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 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 labours of everyday life. It offers an opportunity to contemplate the spiritual aspects of life and to spend time with family.
EtymologyThe word "Shabbat" derives from the Hebrew verb shavat. Although frequently translated as "rest", another accurate translation of these words is "ceasing ", as resting is not necessarily denoted. The related modern Hebrew word shevita, has the same implication of active rather than passive abstinence from work. The notion of active cessation from labour 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 which means sitting or staying, and to sheva 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.
Biblical sourcesSabbath is given special status as a holy day at the very beginning of the Torah in. It is first commanded after the Exodus from Egypt, in and in , as also in . 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.
OriginsThe longstanding traditional Jewish position is that unbroken seventh-day Shabbat originated among the Jewish people, as their first and most sacred institution. The origins of Shabbat and a seven-day week are not clear to scholars; the Mosaic tradition claims an origin from the Biblical creation.
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.
BabylonFor the Babylonian concept of sapattu or sabattu, see here.
AssyriaConnection 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’. 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 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 dayThe Tanakh and siddur describe Shabbat as having three purposes:
- To commemorate God's creation of the universe, on the seventh day of which God rested from his work;
- To commemorate the Israelites' redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt;
- As a "taste" of Olam Haba.
- It is the first holy day mentioned in the Bible, and God was the first to observe it with the cessation of Creation.
- Jewish liturgy treats Shabbat as a "bride" and "queen" ; 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. 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 is the most severe punishment in Jewish law.
Welcoming ShabbatHonoring Shabbat on Preparation Day includes bathing, having a haircut and cleaning and beautifying the home.
According to Jewish law, Shabbat starts a few minutes before sunset. Candles are lit at this time. It is customary in many communities to light the candles 18 minutes before sundown, and most printed Jewish calendars adhere to this custom. The Kabbalat Shabbat service is a prayer service welcoming the arrival of Shabbat. Before Friday night dinner, it is customary to sing two songs, one "greeting" two Shabbat angels into the house and the other praising the woman of the house for all the work she has done over the past week. After blessings over the wine and challah, a festive meal is served. Singing is traditional at Sabbath meals. In modern times, many composers have written sacred music for use during the Kabbalat Shabbat observance, including Robert Strassburg and Samuel Adler.
According to rabbinic literature, God via the Torah commands Jews to observe and remember Shabbat, and these two actions are symbolized by the customary two Shabbat candles. Candles are lit usually by the woman of the house. Some families light more candles, sometimes in accordance with the number of children.
Other ritualsShabbat is a day of celebration as well as prayer. It is customary to eat three festive meals: Dinner on Shabbat eve, lunch on Shabbat day, and a third meal in the late afternoon. It is also customary to wear nice clothing on Shabbat to honor the day.
On June 13, 2014, Am Yisrael Foundation’s White City Shabbat organization set the Guinness World Record for the world's largest Shabbat dinner. Held at Hangar 11 at Tel Aviv Port, the event was attended by 2,226 people, including Alan Dershowitz, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, Israeli basketball star Tal Brody and former US Ambassador Michael Oren. The event took almost a year of preparation and involved “60 days of crowd-sourced fundraising, 800 bottles of Israeli wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 80 long tables, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 portions of beef and 250 vegetarian meals.” A total of 2,300 diners signed up for the dinner and another 3,000 were placed on the waiting list.
Many Jews attend synagogue services on Shabbat even if they do not do so during the week. Services are held on Shabbat eve, Shabbat morning, and late Shabbat afternoon.
With the exception of Yom Kippur, which is referred to in the Torah as "Shabbat of Shabbatoth", days of public fasting are postponed or advanced if they coincide with Shabbat. Mourners sitting shivah outwardly conduct themselves normally for the duration of the day and are forbidden to display public signs of mourning.
Although most Shabbat laws are restrictive, the fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus is taken by the Talmud and Maimonides to allude to the positive commandments of Shabbat. These include:
- Honoring 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.
- Eating three festive meals. Meals begin with a blessing over two loaves of 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, generally a light meal that may be pareve or dairy, is eaten late Shabbat afternoon.
- Enjoying 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.
Prohibited activitiesprohibits doing any form of melakhah 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 listed in Mishnah Tractate Shabbat 7:2.
The term shomer Shabbat is used for a person who adheres to Shabbat laws consistently. The shomer Shabbat is an archetype mentioned in Jewish songs and the intended audience for various treatises on Jewish law and practice for Shabbat.
There are often disagreements between Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews as to the practical observance of the Sabbath. The 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:
- plowing earth
- binding sheaves
- shearing wool
- washing wool
- beating wool
- dyeing wool
- making two loops
- weaving two threads
- separating two threads
- sewing stitches
- scraping hide
- marking hide
- cutting hide to shape
- writing two or more letters
- erasing two or more letters
- extinguishing a fire
- kindling a fire
- putting the finishing touch on an object, and
- transporting an object
Orthodox and ConservativeDifferent 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.
ElectricityOrthodox 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. One view is that tiny sparks are created in a switch when the circuit is closed, and this would constitute lighting a fire. If the appliance is purposed for light or heat, then the lighting or heating elements may be considered as a type of fire that falls under both lighting a fire and cooking. Turning lights off would be extinguishing a fire.
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 and turning it off would be demolishing. 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 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 on Shabbat.
AutomobilesOrthodox 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. 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.
ModificationsSeemingly "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. 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.
PermissionsIn the event that a human life is in danger, a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any halakhic law that stands in the way of saving that person. 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.
Various other legal principles closely delineate which activities constitute desecration of Shabbat. Examples of these include the principle of shinui : 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 and does not cause a forbidden activity to be permitted barring extenuating circumstances.
Reform and ReconstructionistGenerally, 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.
Encouraged activitiesThe Talmud, especially in tractate Shabbat, defines rituals and activities to both "remember" and "keep" the Sabbath and to sanctify it at home and in the synagogue. In addition to refraining from creative work, the sanctification of the day through blessings over wine, the preparation of special Sabbath meals, and engaging in prayer and Torah study were required as an active part of Shabbat observance to promote intellectual activity and spiritual regeneration on the day of rest from physical creation. The Talmud states that the best food should be prepared for the Sabbath, for "one who delights in the Sabbath is granted their heart's desires".
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.
- Singing zemiroth or niggunim, special songs for Shabbat meals.
- Marital relations between husband and wife.
Sabbath adaptationMost 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, 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.