“In The Beginning …the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. And on the seventh day God finished the work which He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work which He had done. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation which He had done.” (Genesis 2:1-3)

Shabbat Ceremonials – Summary

1. Before sunset on Friday the women of the household light two or more Sabbath candles.

2. A service welcoming the Sabbath is held at the Synagogue. This includes a song describing the Sabbath as a metaphorical bride and queen, which is combined with a special welcome into the synagogue for those who are in mourning.


3. On returning home the husband recites “A woman of worth” from Proverbs in praise of his wife, and blesses each of his children.


4. The family dinner begins with a prayer sanctifying the Sabbath over wine (the Kiddush). There is als a blessing for the two loaves of plaited bread (Challah), recalling the double portion of Manna in the desert for Friday and for the Sabbath.

5. A festive meal is followed by Sabbath songs.

6. The morning service is followed by the reading of the Law, in which the weekly portion from the Torah is chanted from a parchment scroll in sections on behalf of seven members of the congregation. Another member of the congregation chants a reading from another part of the Hebrew Bible (the Haftorah). This is followed by an ‘additional’ service, called ‘Mussaf’.


7. A “third meal” accompanied by singing and philosophical discussion is often eaten at the synagogue hall before the afternoon and evening services.

8. Sabbath ends with a Havdalah ceremony in the home, in which a special plaited candle is lit, with its light and shadow symbolising the contrast between the sanctity of the Sabbath and the ordinary weekday life, and the flame is extinguished in wine.

Some Notes on Shabbat

Accoprding to Biblical tradition, on the seventh day, God stopped working, or more accurately, He stopped creating. Many generations later, when God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, He commanded the children of Israel and their future generations to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.

Remember and Observe

Zachor and Shamor: Remember and observe. Two distinct concepts, when fused together, represent the full understanding of the Sabbath. To observe is to keep the law, without which there is no Sabbath day. To remember, denotes a longing for the Sabbath, which is why it is a custom to view each day of the week as a prelude to the coming Shabbat, and an almost unwillingness to let go of the previous Sabbath.

Zachor: “Remember” the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

“Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord, your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, or your cattle, or the stranger, who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it.”

Shabbat, which begins from twilight on Friday and continues until Saturday at sundown, is the only Jewish holiday listed in the Ten Commandments; not just once in Exodus, but also a second time in Deuteronomy, when the Ten Commandments were repeated before the entire congregation of Israel.

Shamor: “Observe” the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

“Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord your God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”

Symbolically, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday belong to the previous Sabbath (Zachor). Therefore it is permissible to say Havdalah, the prayer which marks the end of Shabbat, until Tuesday night. However, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, correspond to Shamor, keeping the Sabbath, since symbolically, they are the days spent preparing and longing for the coming Shabbat.

The two versions of the same commandment touch upon God’s message to the Jewish people, then and now. The version in Exodus emphasizes the cessation from work so that we sanctify the moment when God’ ceased all creative effort. Since all work was finished, there was nothing else to consecrate but time.

The Rules of Shabbat

Melakhah: Melakhah is the Hebrew word used in the Torah which is often translated into the English ‘work’. A more accurate translation would be ‘creative effort’.

But how does the Torah define ‘melakhah’? Specifically, what is considered work? Turning on and off a light? Warming food in the microwave?

When the Jews were brought out of Egypt, the Sabbath prohibition against melakhah meant refraining from any of the acts which were necessary for the construction and furnishing of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle that the Jews were commanded to build in the desert.

Melakhah as we know it today, stems from the following 39 categories of forbidden acts which were used in building the Mishkan. They include:

Ploughing; Sowing; Reaping; Sheaf-making; Threshing; Winnowing; Selecting; Sifting; Grinding; Kneading; Baking; Sheep-shearing; Bleaching; Combing raw material; Dyeing; Spinning; Inserting thread in a loom; Weaving; Removing the finished article; Separating into threads; Tying a knot; Untying a knot; Sewing; Tearing; Trapping; Slaughtering; Skinning or flaying; Tanning; Scraping; Marking out; Cutting to shape; Writing; Erasing; Building; Demolishing; Kindling a fire; Extinguishing a fire; Making a final hammer blow; and Carrying in a public place.

Refraining from melakhah means refraining from influencing the physical world. It has nothing to do with switching on and off a light, or with starting the car, acts which do influence the physical world, but obviously are not “hard work.”

The Torah’s second reference to Shabbat, in Deuteronomy, is more about social justice and how to observe the Sabbath day. One’s servants must rest on the Sabbath, as do animals, specifically those used for labor, like cattle and oxen. The passage in Deuteronomy also recalls the our ancestors days as slaves in the land of Egypt. So Shabbat also represents the road from slavery to freedom, something Jews must never forget.

Throughout our history, the Sabbath has been a focal point in our religious life. Even the poorest saw Shabbat as a ray of light in an otherwise dismal week. As for the non-observant, each Sabbath was still a constant weekly reminder, whether or not it was fully kept.

Sources from the Torah and Prophets

Exodus 16:22-30, which tells how food for the Sabbath must be prepared on Friday:

“And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread (manna), two corners for each one; and the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. And he said unto them: “This is that which the Lord has spoken:
‘Tomorrow is a solemn rest, a holy Sabbath unto the Lord. Bake that which ye will bake, and seethe that which ye will seethe; and all that remains over, lay up for you to be kept until the morning.’”

Exodus 31:16-17 indicates that Shabbat exists as a covenant between God and the Jewish people:

“Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe throughout their generations for a perpetual covenant.”

Exodus 35:1-3, God commanded no fire to be kindled on the Sabbath.

“These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.”

Leviticus 23:1-3, the Sabbath is declared a day of rest and convocation.

“The appointed seasons of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my appointed seasons. Six days shall work be done; but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation; ye shall do no manner of work; it is a Sabbath unto the Lord in all your dwellings.”

Isaiah 58:13-14, the reward of honouring Shabbat.

“If thou turn away thy foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing thy business on my holy day… Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord, and I will make thee to ride upon the high places of the earth; and I will feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father…”
Isaiah 66:23, the Sabbath as a universal day of worship.

“And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall flesh come to worship before me, said the Lord.”

Jeremiah 17:24,25,27, Jerusalem’s glory depending on keeping the Sabbath.

“And it shall come to pass if ye diligently hearken unto Me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but to hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter in by the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David… But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden and enter in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall not be quenched.”

Ezekiel 20: 10-13, 17-22, God rebukes Israel’s continued disregard of the Sabbath.

Nehemiah 13:15-22, the prophet Nehemiah, who led the Jews’ return to the land of Israel from Babylonian exile attempts to enforce Sabbath’s observance.

“And it came to pass that, when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut, and commanded that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath…From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.”

Evolution of Shabbat

Wherever Jews have lived, they have had to be prepared to explain the concepts regarding Sabbath observance. For the most part, surrounding nations had no real Sabbath equivalent.

The ancient Babylonians had a day of rest called Shappatu, but it was observed once a month on a full moon and considered unlucky. The ancient Greeks and Romans had no Sabbath equivalent and ultimately persecuted the Jews for keeping their Sabbath. As a result, the Jews who did not succumb to assimilation and persecution risked their wealth and sometimes their lives to keep the Sabbath holy.

Like other Biblical Jewish festivals, Shabbat was observed during Temple times. It was marked in the Temple service by the display of twelve loaves of bread (‘showbreads’) and an additional sacrificial offering (replaced today by the Musaf – additional service – in synagogues on Shabbat). Before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the Sabbath sacrifices had been expanded and there was an evolving body of Sabbath laws.

After the destruction of the Second Temple, the synagogue and the Jewish home became the focal point of every Jewish community, especially on the Sabbath. Prayers and symbolic acts replaced the Temple services which could no longer be performed. The Sabbath liturgy grew and expanded, the Torah instructions became formalized and defined, and the essential structure of the Sabbath prayers was developed. Eventually an entire tractate of the Talmud evolved that was devoted to the laws and spirit of the Sabbath.

The Character of the Sabbath

Shabbat is often referred to as the ‘Shabbat Kallah’, the Sabbath bride, or ‘Shabbat Ha Malkah’, the Sabbath Queen. The theme of Shabbat as bride is found throughout the traditional Friday night prayers.

Sixteenth century mystics of Safed created the Friday evening service, called in Hebrew, Kabbalat Shabbat (‘Welcoming the Sabbath’). Among the prayers is the song or poem, “Lecha Dodi” (“Come, my Beloved”):

“Come my beloved to meet the bride.
Let us welcome the presence of the Sabbath
Come in peace… and come in joy…
Come, O Bride! Come, O Bride!”

As the last verse is sung, it is customary for the congregation to turn from the Aron, the Ark which contain the Torah scrolls, and bow before the synagogue entrance as if the bride is about to enter. (In some traditions this is also an occasion when the community welcomes and consoles mourners.)

Shabbat Ha Malkah

While the Kallah represents the feminine and sensual side of Shabbat, the more regal, majestic aspect of ‘malkhut’ (royalty) is felt through the Shabbat Ha Malkah, the Sabbath Queen.

The Malkah lends stability, guaranteeing the mood. She lends permanence to the observance of Shabbat. Both are necessary. A Malkah without the tenderness and passion of the Kallah, could mean a harsh, emotionless day, all laws and prohibitions. Just as Zachor, remembering with love and anticipation; and Shamor, keeping the letter of the law, fuse to create one transcendent Sabbath; so do Kallah and Malkah fuse, representing both inward feeling and outward observance.

Adapted by Sandy Hollis from www.everythingjewish.com/Shabbat/Shabbat_Origins.htm