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How To Host And Do Jewish Shabbat Dinner: 101

Need more information about Shabbat? Check out our Shabbat Made Easy Guide

We also have a Shabbat cheat sheet for celebrating with kids or without kids.

Visit our Shabbat page for more resources.

Making these videos is fun and informative, but one of the most important pieces that you have to leave out of a short video is instructions about what to say! Looking for blessings and more in-depth information? We have you covered!

What is Shabbat Dinner & How to Host It?

Did you know there is one Jewish holiday whose importance exceeds all the rest?

If you are thinking that it is Passover, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, guess again.

Here’s a hint… The most important Jewish holiday comes every week! Yep, it is Shabbat. One day a week, in imitation of God who rested on the seventh day of creation, we rest from our work from sunset on Friday night until we see three stars in the sky on Saturday night.

“Some Jewish families transition from their busy week to a more relaxed and reflective period for Shabbat with a Friday night dinner. Some people enjoy arranging for a special meal, and others are just happy to get everyone together at the same time for takeout. Some families say the Shabbat blessings, sing traditional songs, share what’s going on in their lives and exchange thought-provoking issues. You can incorporate as much or as little of Jewish tradition into your own holiday as you like.”

NOW, let’s answer some questions you may have about how to host and do a Shabbat dinner.

Explaining the Jewish Customs of Shabbat Dinner

What if the only candles I have are birthday candles? Do the candles need to be special Shabbat candles? – Celebrating Shabbat is not dependent on what you have or don’t have. Don’t let the accoutrement or lack thereof prevent you from taking the time to enjoy Shabbat. Many people have special Shabbat candlesticks, challah covers, Kiddush cups etc. because the Rabbis teach us that it is a mitzvah – a commandment – to beautify Shabbat. We want Shabbat dinner to look extra special to reflect the place it has in our week. However, your intention, the special reasons that you feel connected to Shabbat, far outweigh any special items you may or may not have. Celebrate Shabbat in whatever way works for you or your family. It is that celebration that is important.

Does the bread have to be challah? I don’t have time to bake/can’t eat bread/don’t live in an area that I can easily buy it. – The blessing over the bread that we say on Shabbat does not specify what kind of bread, just simply, “bread from the earth.” This can be challah, white bread, gluten free bread, and everything else in between. Challah can be fun to make, so if you ever do have the time and inclination, give it a go!

Does the wine have to be kosher? – Nope! The wine can even be grape juice.

Can a Kiddish cup be any glass? – Absolutely! Many people use a kiddish cup because it has been passed down in their family or they received one as a gift. It is another way to make your Shabbat dinner special and beautiful. However, it is certainly not necessary to celebrate Shabbat. There are many ways to make Shabbat dinner special and beautiful even if you use a Solo cup!

What if I don’t/can’t speak Hebrew? – Don’t worry! There are many transliterations of the Shabbat blessings available if you want to speak the Hebrew words. You can also say the blessings in English or whatever language you are most comfortable speaking.

What if I can’t be at home? – It is possible to have a Shabbat dinner wherever you are if you are so inclined. You may have to forgo some of the usual details but you can still take the time to rest, to separate the day of Shabbat from the other days in your week, even if only for a few minutes. Shabbat is just as much a state of mind as it is a ritual or a day.

Does it have to be done at sundown? – In Judaism, the day begins and ends at sundown rather than at midnight. Therefore, we begin our celebration of any holiday, including Shabbat at sundown. The more observant of Jews will wait until the exact moment of sundown, but many others will celebrate Shabbat before they begin dinner, whenever that may be. Your intention around celebrating Shabbat is far more important than the timing.

What if I do it wrong? – You can’t do it wrong! If you take the time to create a Shabbat dinner experience for yourself or your family, you’re doing it right. Conducting a Shabbat dinner will look different in every home, so think about what will be the most meaningful for you and your family. Forgive yourself if/when it doesn’t happen the way you planned and try again next week. Find your Shabbat rhythm and see where it takes you.

What if I’m at someone else’s house? – When you find yourself outside of your own space, you can still create a meaningful Shabbat experience. (It’s also Ok to wait until next week too.) Maybe you won’t be able to light the candles or drink the wine/grape juice, but perhaps you can take a moment to be grateful for your friends and family and the meal you will eat with them. If you are at the home of someone who is hosting a Jewish Friday dinner, enjoy learning about how they do it.

Is this something I can do alone? What if I don’t have a partner or children in my home? – Shabbat happens every week, no matter who we are with or where we are. For some people Shabbat is about being with family but for others, Shabbat is about taking a day to rest, rejuvenate and relax.

What if there is a visitor to my house of another faith? How do I include them? – The best way to include any visitors you might have is to teach and explain to them what you are doing and why. The values of Shabbat, like rest, gratitude, and connection are universal. When you invite them in to share the Shabbat dinner experience, everyone can find meaning together.

Do I have to go to services for it to be a real Shabbat? – Nope! Shabbat happens even if you don’t do anything to celebrate it! Many people enjoy attending services at their local synagogue to be with their friends and community. However, plenty of others stay home and enjoy their Shabbat dinner with their family or on their own. Shabbat services can certainly enhance the Shabbat experience but certainly aren’t required.

Why do you cover your eyes while lighting the candles? Does everyone cover their eyes? – Traditionally as one person lights the Shabbat candles, the others do a circling motion with their hands and then cover their eyes in order to invite the light of Shabbat in and focus on that light. Not everyone covers their eyes or does the circling motion meant to invite the Shabbat light in. Many people keep their eyes open and enjoy watching the flames dance. Some people don’t know why they circle their hands or why they cover their eyes and they do it anyway because they watched a family member do it when they were growing up. Do whatever is most comfortable for you.

Does the meal have to be kosher or homemade or fancy? – Nope, nope and nope! A Shabbat dinner can look different every week, depending on what you or your family likes eating, where you are and how much time you have. The importance of Shabbat is not in the type of food: It’s about taking the time to separate Friday evening from all of the other evenings. Having Shabbat dinner is about your intention, so do the best with what you’ve got. Shabbat should be a time of less stress, of rest, so if worrying about your Shabbat meals adds to your stress, order a pizza and focus on those things that give you a sense of peace and relaxation.

How much do I have to do for it to “count”? – It always counts! Shabbat happens no matter what you do or don’t do. However much you want to do/can do/find meaning in doing, counts. Rather than worrying about what might count according to someone else, think about what counts for you. What makes you feel like it’s Shabbat?

Need recipe help? Visit our recipes for some ideas.


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Author: 18Doors