What is Shabbat?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Shabbat is the Jewish name for Sabbath, and is observed weekly. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. It is inexorably tied to the “seventh day” in the Torah where God rested after creating the earth. Observance of Shabbat is observance of that day of rest, among other things.

Shabbat is linked with the story of creation in the Torah.
Shabbat is linked with the story of creation in the Torah.

Jews from different sects observe Shabbat in different ways. For example, one prescriptive of Shabbat is that no work be done between Friday night and Saturday evening. Conservative and Orthodox Jews may include in the definition, turning on a light or driving a car, as types of work. As well, cooking is work, so meals must be prepared in advance of Shabbat.

Prayer is encouraged on the Sabbath.
Prayer is encouraged on the Sabbath.

Though work is forbidden, these laws can absolutely be broken if a person must save someone else’s life. So a doctor can perform surgery or be at the hospital and any medical devices requiring electricity are usually exempt from the definition of work. As well, a doctor could drive a car to a hospital.

Though one cannot work, play is encouraged along with prayer, differing from a strict view of the Sabbath as seen in some sects of Christianity. Sexual activity between husband and wife are encouraged as both regenerative and for enjoyment. Children and adults can play games together. Shabbat is both a holy day of rest, and a day that should be fun.

Shabbat begins a few minutes before sundown. The woman of the house lights the two Shabbat candles. These candles symbolize the purposes of Shabbat: to remember, and to observe. The Jewish book of prayer, the Siddur includes a third reason for the celebration of Shabbat. It is meant to give a taste of what will come when the Messiah comes.

After the lighting of the candles Jews may attend a Shabbat service. Not everyone does, and not everyone can get to a service. If one has to drive a car to get to temple, this may not be in accordance with the laws of Shabbat observance. Reformed Jews may allow for driving the car. Practicing Orthodox Jews might walk to temple.

After temple observance, the family enjoys a nice dinner that has been prepared prior to sunset. A blessing is said over the wine, called Kiddush. Kiddush includes recitation of Genesis 2:1-3, most likely said in Hebrew. Several prayers are then said. Jews then wash their hands and say a prayer.

The first item served is challah, which is Jewish bread. A prayer is said over the bread. These prayers are not long. The English translation for the prayer over Challah is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”

After the Shabbat meal is ended, the family may study Torah, or they may practice more secular things like game playing. It really depends on the degree to which a family practices Judaism, and to what sect they belong. Reformed and less traditional sects might not observe the prayers or the prescriptive against work, and might spend the night watching television.

More observant Jews will attend another Shabbat service in the morning, and then the rest of the day is devoted to relaxation. At sundown, Shabbat officially ends. For the orthodox Jew, this may mean the cleaning up begins. Those who practice a little work on Shabbat may clean up after the family throughout Shabbat, since theoretically, a clean house contributes to greater enjoyment of the day.

After the traditional lighting of candles on Friday evenings, some Jews attend a Shabbat service at their local synagogue.
After the traditional lighting of candles on Friday evenings, some Jews attend a Shabbat service at their local synagogue.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Why is the Sabbath so special?


@anon111738: What connection does jesus have with moses?

About your question as to why we do not practice some of the laws is because those laws were given specifically for the time of the messiah. We are waiting for the day to have the ability to perform those "Mitzvot" (as the commandments are called in Hebrew).

In medicine, there are some procedures that require specific conditions to be done, and if these conditions are not present than these procedures will not work or they may even harm the person! So too, these commandments that were given for the times of the Messiah are not considered the law when the messiah isn't here because it is missing one of the conditions of the law!

Also, there were many different laws and practices that were implemented by our sages that represent those commandments for the times of exile

I hope this answer was helpful, Anon.


Resting on the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments and therefore should be taken seriously by the Judeo-Christian community. How is it that we choose to make the Decalogue a core set of axioms to our society and yet choose to so blatantly disregard this one commandment? I see and hear of Christians working on the Sabbath all the time! I really don't see how the world can take us seriously in the West if we make such a mockery about what we claim to believe.



Interesting point. Some Christians do celebrate the sabbath on Saturday, but the majority see Sunday as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in that it was the day Christ rose from the dead. Anyone in Christ is considered a "new creation," so your point about the Sabbath being on the first day adds a very relevant nuance to the argument.


Why is the Christian sabbath on Sunday rather than Saturday, as it should be? Even the Spanish word for Saturday remains "Sabado." God rested after he created the world, not before.



Although it may be true that "the law is the law," modern day Orthodox Jews are aware that they no longer live in a nomadic society or in an Old Testament Jerusalem. The temple or the tabernacle no longer exist in the manner that they used to, and they would consider themselves "sojourners in a foreign land" (Gen. 15:3).

That being said, the core values and traditions of the Canonical books of Torah are still followed, and form the basis of Orthodox Jewish living as well as the topic of compendious commentaries which are all taken very seriously and often memorized at a young age.


question? if jews don't believe that jesus christ was the messiah, why is every word of the law that was handed down from moses, which is very extensive, such as the priest sacrificing an unblemished lamb, and all the cleansing practices not practiced? the law is the law.

why is it that so many of the ceremonial laws that follow under strict obedience to worshiping the on true god until the messiah comes are not practiced?

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