What is Shabbat? The Origin and its Role In Judaism

Come in and explore with us as we discover what Shabbat is and how it is intrinsically tied into Jewish communities around the world.

The Shabbat, which is also referred to as the sabbath or shabbos, is the central tenet, equal to all other commandments that guide those who follow Judaism. For many within the Jewish community, Shabbat is such a fundamental part of their day to day lives that to call someone a Shomer Shabbat, which means an observer of Shabbat, has become almost synonymous with being a practicing Jew. Shabbat is a celebration and day of rest that starts every Friday when the sun sets and officially ends the following day once night has fallen. We explore the origins of this tradition, how it affects the Jewish community, and what exactly it entails further.

Continue reading to discover:

  • * Origins of Shabbat
  • * Shabbat Within the Home
  • * 39 Forbidden Acts
  • * Final Thoughts

Origins of Shabbat

The concept of Shabbat is said to have been created by God and taught to the Jewish people after he led them out of Egypt. It is based on the idea of Menuchah, which means to rest. When God created the world, it took six days to finish his creation, and then he rested on the seventh day. This day of rest is the basis of Shabbat and is meant as a way to rejuvenate the spirit so that creativity can be restored. Shabbat is one of the 10 commandments passed down. It is a celebration of God’s mercy and blessing when he saved the Jewish people from a life of servitude, and a remembrance of the creation of the world.

Shabbat Within the Home

The Shabbat is considered by many to be an extremely holy day. It is undertaken very seriously. Most dress in their best clothing, clean their homes, and wash themselves in preparation for the event. Within the Talmud, it is said that each believer receives a second soul on each Shabbat. There is a warning not to handle any items that serve no purpose within Shabbat. These items are called muktzeh and must be put away until the end of the Shabbat the following evening.

Many of the rituals of the Shabbat are passed down by the sages, who, after a careful reading of the Torah, have shared the teachings they have learned. There are four central parts to the celebration of Shabbat. They go as follows.

Illumination: Before the beginning of Shabbat, it is customary to light up every home with candles, as there is to be no lighting of fire once the sabbath has commenced. The women of the household traditionally do this. These candles are to be placed nearby where meals are to be held. After the candles have been lit, there is a blessing spoken aloud. It is forbidden to cook during the Shabbat, so many prepare their dishes beforehand, keeping them warm on an already lit fire so that hot meals can be enjoyed during the celebration. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a lot of cold food.

The Kiddush: On the evening of Friday, there is a special ritual known as the kiddush, which is performed over wine. The kiddush is a prayer spoken to sanctify the day, a kind of verbal declaration that the Shabbat has begun and is a holy day. There are three meals within Shabbat, and there are quite a few rules about what is to be cooked and how. The regulations for cooking can be found easily online. Each meal of the Shabbat is meant to be festive and grandiose in celebration of God’s gifts. Each meal begins with the sharing of two loaves of bread. Before the food is eaten, the hands are to be washed in a specific manner.

Prayers: Before any of the services are begun on Friday evening, individual psalms are recited, as well as the melody of Lecha Dodi. The morning service includes a reading of that week’s Torah portion, as well as the Musaf service. Most come together after the morning services with their community and relax and enjoy each other’s company. When the Shabbat is coming to a close in the evening, the Havdalah is performed. The Havdalah is a ceremony of closing, with prayers spoken over another cup of wine, and other blessing spoken over certain spices. This is in remembrance and to commemorate the passing of Shabbat.

39 Forbidden Acts

There are precisely 39 acts said to be forbidden by the sages of the Talmud. None of these must be performed during the Shabbat. They are known as melachot in Hebrew. These are separated into four different groups with specific details of what not to do.

First Group: The initial 11 acts composing the first group are entirely related to the making of bread during the Shabbat. Details are given on plowing, reaping, as well as kneading and baking.

Second Group: The second group is composed of 13 acts related to the creation of clothing and other garments, such as shearing and others.

Third Group: The next 9 acts speak of the different stages of utilizing paper.

Fourth Group: The final acts detail how to go about the building of things, destruction, and transportation in public.

Final Thoughts

This is a very simple overview of melachot. Each group has multiple interpretations and can affect many other things within your day, so it is best to take the time to really research and see how others practice Shabbat within their homes and communities if you are new to the practice. Most of the faithful do not commute at all by car during the Shabbat, nor engage in any usage of most technology such as cellular phones and computers. Shabbat is meant to be a time of celebration, a time to embrace the gift of creation bestowed by God and to come together as fellow believers.

This is a perfect time for someone new to Judaism, or who has not been a practicing Jew for a while, to join in the community and find out more about the beautiful people around them and rekindle their connection with God.

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