Shabbat: The Day Of Rest

“Where life is in danger, Sabbath laws do not apply.” – Jewish proverb

Although it comes once a week beginning Friday at sundown, the Jewish holiday of Shabbat, AKA the Sabbath, or Shabbes in Yiddish, is meant to be a pretty big deal as far as Jewish holidays go. The purpose is to make the sixth day of the week holy and create an experience of the Messianic Age for that day each week.

How is a feeling of the Messianic Age created on the Jewish holiday of Shabbat? There are certain laws for the Jewish holiday of Shabbat. The ones most people obey on this Jewish holiday and the “official line” of Judaism.

Common Shabbat Laws

  • No working
  • No driving
  • No using electricity

Official Laws Of Judaism For Shabbat

  • Peace within ourselves
  • Peace between people
  • Peace between people and nature
  • Peace between people and G-d

The “official” laws are much harder to abide, so most people generally opt out of working as their way of observing this weekly Jewish holiday.

In modern America, we take the five-day work-week so much for granted that we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. The weekly day of rest has no parallel in any other ancient civilization. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or laboring classes. In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable. The Greeks thought Jews were lazy because we insisted on having a “holiday” every seventh day.

A Typical Jewish Holiday Shabbat

At about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon, observant Jews leave work to begin preparations for the Jewish holiday of Shabbat. The house is cleaned, the family bathes and dresses up, the best dishes and tableware are set, a festive meal is prepared. In addition, everything that can’t be done during Shabbat must be set up in advance: lights and appliances are set (or timers placed on them), the light bulb in the refrigerator is removed so it does not turn on when you open it, and the remaining Shabbat meals are prepared.

The Sabbath, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sunset. Shabbat candles are lit and a blessing is recited no later than 18 minutes before sunset. This ritual, performed by the woman of the house, officially marks the beginning of the Sabbath. Two candles are lit, representing the two commandments: zachor and shamor.

The family then attends a brief evening service (45 minutes – that’s brief by Jewish holiday standards).

After services, the family comes home for dinner. Before dinner, it is customary for parents to bless their children. Then the man of the house recites Kiddush, a prayer over wine sanctifying the Jewish holiday of the Sabbath. The usual prayer for eating bread is recited over two loaves of challah. The family then eats dinner.

After dinner, the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is recited. By the time all of this is completed, it may be 9 p.m. or later. The family has an hour or two to talk or study Torah, and then go to sleep.

The next morning, Shabbat services begin around 9 a.m. and continue until about noon. After services, the family says Kiddush again and has another leisurely, festive meal. A typical afternoon meal is cholent, a very slowly cooked stew. By the time birkat ha-mazon is done, it is about 2 p.m. The family studies Torah for a while, talks, takes an afternoon walk, plays some checkers, or engages in other leisure activities. A short afternoon nap is not uncommon. It is traditional to have a third meal before the Jewish holiday Sabbath is over. This is usually a light meal in the late afternoon.

The Jewish holiday of Shabbat ends at nightfall, when three stars are visible, approximately 40 minutes after sunset. At the conclusion of Shabbat, the family performs a concluding ritual called Havdalah (separation, division). Blessings are recited over wine, spices and candles. Then a blessing is recited regarding the division between the sacred and the secular, between the Sabbath and the working days, etc.

As you can see, the Jewish holiday of Shabbat is a very full day when it is properly observed, and very relaxing.

Although few strictly observe the Sabbath, many people will have special Friday night Shabbat dinners in observance of the Jewish holiday. Inviting non-Jewish guests over for Shabbat dinners is part of the tradition of this Jewish holiday. These dinners are fancier than the typical mid-week dinner.

How do you plan a fancy dinner party for a Jewish holiday when you aren’t supposed to work or do chores? That is where the Shabbes goy comes in! Shabbes goy is the Yiddish term for a non-Jew hired to cook and do household chores on the Sabbath. In Europe, up until the turn of the century, Jews lived in segregated communities known as shtetles. Shabbes goy were often their only contact with non-Jews.

What should you bring to a Jewish holiday Shabbat dinner? Kosher wine, dessert and/or flowers are always welcome. Kosher wine doesn’t have to taste bad. In fact, there are plenty of well-regarded Kosher wines on the market today to help you better enjoy the Jewish holiday. Check your local Trader Joe’s for some of the following brands to enjoy on this Jewish holiday: Gedeon Cabernet Savignon, Tishbi Cabernet Petit Syrah and Teal Lake Special Reserve 2004.

Shabbat wouldn’t be a Jewish holiday without food. Challah is the rich, braided egg bread found at almost every Jewish holiday meal. After the blessing over the bread, rip off a hunk and pass the loaf on to the next person. This, quite obviously, is the breaking of the bread. It is also seriously breaking your diet because Challah is super fattening as the following recipe illustrates.

Recipe For Jewish Holiday Challah Bread

  • 9 cups flour
  • 1 ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 packages dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • ½ cup oil
  • 5 eggs
  • Poppy or sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine 2 ½ cups flour, sugar, yeast, salt, water, and oil. Mix well. Add 4 eggs and 1 ½ cups flour. Mix well. Add remaining flour, one cup at a time. Mix in between each cup of flour. Knead well. Cover with towel, and let rise for 2 ½ hours. Divide dough into 3 parts.

If dough is too sticky to work with, slowly add flour as needed. Braid into three loaves. Beat the remaining egg and brush it onto the loaves. Sprinkle on poppy or sesame seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Shabbat Humor

Finally, here’s a quick joke to keep on hand for your next Shabbat dinner:

Q: Why are all the Israeli grocery stores selling fat loaves of braided bread every Friday?

A: Because the next day is always a national “hallah” day.