Shabbat

Shabbat (Hebrew: שַׁבָּת, Modern Shabbat Tiberian Šabbāt, Ashkenazi pronunciation: Shabbos, Yiddish: שבת, in English: the Sabbath, "rest" or "cessation") is the seventh day of the Jewish week and a day of rest in Judaism. Shabbat is observed from a few minutes before sunset on Friday evening until a few minutes after the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night. The exact times, therefore, differ from week to week and from place to place, depending on the time of sunset at each location. In polar areas where there is no sunrise or sunset at certain times of the year, a different set of rules applies.

On Shabbat Jews recall the Biblical Creation account in Genesis, describing God creating the Heavens and the Earth in six days and resting on the seventh. It also recalls the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, when God commanded the Israelite nation to observe the seventh day and keep it holy.

Shabbat is considered a festive day, when a Jew is freed from the regular labors of everyday life, can contemplate the spiritual aspects of life, and can spend time with family. Traditionally, three festive meals are eaten: on Friday night, Saturday morning, and late Saturday afternoon. The day is also noted for those activities prohibited on Shabbat according to halakha (Jewish law).

The Tanach and siddur (Jewish prayer book) describe Shabbat as having three purposes:

  1. To commemorate the Israelites' redemption from slavery in ancient Egypt;
  2. To commemorate God's creations of the universe; on the seventh day God rested from (or ceased) his work;
  3. As a "taste" of Olam Haba (the Messianic Age).

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:

Although most Shabbat laws are restrictive, the fourth of the Ten Commandments in Exodus is taken by the Talmud to allude to the positive commandments of the Shabbat. These include:

  • Honoring Shabbat (kavod Shabbat): Preparing for the upcoming Shabbat by bathing, having a haircut, and cleaning and beautifying the home (with flowers, for example). On Shabbat itself, wearing festive clothing and refraining from unpleasant conversation. It is customary to avoid talk about money or business matters on Shabbat
  • Recitation of Kiddush over a cup of wine at the beginning of the first and second Shabbat meals, or at a reception after the conclusion of morning prayers (see list of Jewish prayers and blessings)
  • Eating three festive meals. 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 which fell for the Jewish people during their 40 years in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. It is customary to serve meat or fish, and sometimes both, for the Shabbat evening and morning meals. 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.
  • Recitation of Havdalah at the conclusion of Shabbat at nightfall (over a cup of wine, and with the use of fragrant spices and a candle).

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

The 39 categories of melakhah 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.

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

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