Shabbat – The Jewish Sabbath


Shabbat – The Jewish Sabbath

The Sabbath (Shabbat) traditionally begins just before sunset on Friday night, and continues throughout all of Saturday until after dark. It comes once a week, but in many ways traditionally it is the most important of all the Jewish holidays.

Universalized messages of the Sabbath can be developed to set the day apart from the regularized routine of the rest of the week. As part of this, each weekly Shabbat Torah reading can suggest specific universalized themes that a group can focus on. In broader terms, Shabbat can be a time to emphasize:









Shabbat represents everything that Judaism stands for. We rest because, ever since coming out of Egypt, we are no longer slaves. Just as the Torah describes that God paused on the seventh day from creating the world, so do we pause to celebrate that we do not need to spend all of our life creating the world around us without ever having time to stop and enjoy it. In pausing this way, we affirm that there is meaning and purpose to life. In the words of the Torah, between us and God, “it is a sign” and “an everlasting covenant,” done in memory of the Exodus from Egypt and a reminder of the Creation of the World. It is a time of peace and joy.

In more general terms, Shabbat is a time once a week to pause from our everyday routine in order to remember what is most important to us in life. We celebrate just being alive, and take note of the things we can be grateful for but might otherwise take for granted. Shabbat observance therefore is to be marked by Oneg (joy), Menuchah (rejuvenating restfulness) and Kedushah (literally holiness, but for practical purposes, difference). This means that activities on Shabbat should be joyful, rejuvenating and different from many of the activities typical of the rest of the week.

Shabbat ends on Saturday night when it is dark outside – traditionally when it is dark enough so that on a cloudless night three stars each in a different part of the sky may be seen.

Havdalah is the ceremony that ends Shabbat (just like there is a candle-lighting ceremony we already do to start Shabbat). Havdalah is a short ceremony said traditionally over a candle (here electric), spices and wine or grape juice. The candle reminds us that we are entering the first day of the week when, according to the Torah, God created light. The spices represent our effort to hold onto the “extra Shabbat soul” that is said to be with us on Shabbat, as we enter into the rest of the week. The wine or grape juice is a symbol of joy that accompanies the recitation of so many Jewish blessings. Regardless of the meaning, it is a short and beautiful ceremony.

In the summer this can be very late. It is traditional in the summer months for people to discuss Pirke Avot, a compilation of wisdom from the Talmud. This may or may not be what anyone wants to do, but it is yet another suggestion from the tradition itself of a learning activity for that time of day. In general, during the time of year when Shabbat ends late, an interactive after-dinner program could be planned, for example perhaps around some topic of learning or discussion, or by activities involving dramatic readings of a selection of literature (just as examples). The program can end with dessert and people coming together for Havdalah.

In the winter months, when Shabbat ends early in the day, the Saturday night after-dinner programming can begin with Havdalah. Saturday night  programming during that time of year can be modeled in the form of a “Melave Malka,” literally an “Escorting Out of the Queen,” (the Queen being Shabbat.)