What is Shabbat?

According to the Torah, Shabbat commemorates the day that God rested from creating the world; the word Shabbat literally means “he rested.” Exodus 34:21 states: “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” Shabbat is considered a day of peace and holiness. Abraham Joshua Heschel refers to it as a “palace in time.”

How is Shabbat celebrated?

shabbat_1Shabbat is celebrated, first and foremost, by observing the holy day as a day of rest from all work. The rabbis delineated 39 categories of work that are forbidden on Shabbat. While some Jews observe these laws strictly, others celebrate Shabbat in their own way, perhaps refraining from some everyday activities (like using the computer or watching TV) or just taking the time to relax and enjoy the day with family.

It is traditional to wear nice clothes on Shabbat, and some people also wear white as a symbol of purity and holiness. Synagogue services on Friday night include kabbalat Shabbat (receiving the Shabbat), where special songs are sung, and Shabbat is invited metaphorically as a “bride” or “queen.” This practice was instituted by the kabbalists, and is a beautiful way to start Shabbat. At home, candles are lit and blessed, and parents bless their children. On Shabbat morning in the synagogue, the Torah is read, and special Shabbat prayers and blessings are included in the liturgy. Shabbat ends on Saturday evening at sundown with the havdalah (separation) ceremony, which marks the transition from the holy day to the rest of the week.

What kinds of foods are eaten on Shabbat?

jlearning-challahShabbat traditionally includes three required meals: Friday night dinner, Saturday lunch, and the third meal in late afternoon. For non-Orthodox Jews, Friday night dinner is the most popular Shabbat meal. Typical Shabbat foods include challah (braided bread) and wine, which are both blessed before the meal begins. Eating meat is traditional on Shabbat, as Jews historically considered meat a luxury and a special food. However, vegetarians can also enjoy Shabbat foods. Ashkenazi Shabbat foods include gefilte fish (“stuffed fish,” made from a mixture of ground fish), chicken soup, cholent (a hearty strew usually made with meat), and kugel (potato or noodle pudding or casserole). Sephardic Shabbat foods include chreime (fish cooked in spicy tomato sauce), chamin (equivalent of the Ashkenazi cholent), and bourekas (stuffed filo pastries) on Shabbat morning.

What is the proper greeting for Shabbat?

On Shabbat greet friends and family with “Shabbat Shalom!” or in Yiddish, “Gut Shabbos!”

When is Shabbat?

Shabbat begins every Friday night at sundown and continues until Saturday evening at sundown.