A cornerstone of Jewish life at home and in Jewish communities, and one of the most important Jewish holidays that happens every single week—the day of rest! Shabbat. Shabbos. The Sabbath. Whatever you call it, this biblical tradition offers us the gift of taking a break. Starting with candle lighting on Friday and ending with a short ceremony called Havdalah on Saturday, how you choose to spend Shabbat is totally up to you. Read on to learn the Shabbat basics.
In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of creation and learn about Shabbat. It says: “On the seventh day God finished the work that God had made and God ceased from all the work that God had made.” Observing Shabbat is also one of the 10 Commandments, which are in the Torah twice.
Like every Jewish holiday, Shabbat starts and ends at sundown. Shabbat can start as early as the four o’clock hour on Fridays in the winter and end as late as 9 or 9:30pm on Saturdays in the summer, depending on your exact location, but it always lasts 25 hours.
The first time Shabbat is referenced in the 10 Commandments, it says to remember Shabbat and the second time it says to keep Shabbat. People who follow a traditional way of celebrating Shabbat are called shomer Shabbat, and they do not drive, use electricity or spend money on Shabbat. Think about what would make the day meaningful for you (the sky’s the limit), and then remember to do something to make Shabbat stand out from all other days.
Everyone! Shabbat is a great way for interfaith couples to start bringing Jewish practice into your lives. You can create your own way of observing the holiday that feels comfortable and meaningful to both of you (and anyone else you’re celebrating with). You can say blessings in Hebrew or English, or not at all. You can make it into a date night or a family night; you can start small and add more rituals over time.
Flowers and good china, takeout containers and pajamas and everything in between—there are lots of ways to have a special dinner on Friday nights. You can eat traditional Jewish foods like matzah ball soup, or you can eat foods that are special to a family member who is from a different culture. You can do the same thing every Shabbat and create your own traditions, or spice things up with new ideas each week.
The options are endless, and it’s up to you to decide how to make Friday evenings different than the rest of the week. Maybe you’re inspired to set the table or clean the house. Perhaps you’re interested in experimenting with challah recipes and sharing them with friends. Whatever you do, there isn’t a wrong or right decision to how to have a Shabbat meal.
For many, Shabbat begins with lighting candles. You may choose to “gather” the light toward yourself with sweeping hand motions while covering your eyes and saying a blessing.
Google “candle lighting times,” for the traditional precise timing for lighting your candles: 18 minutes before sundown each week. Light the candles then, at the start of dinner or whenever works for you. People typically light two candles, or sometimes one candle for each member of their family. The person lighting and saying the blessing may keep their eyes covered while saying the blessing if they want, and can also keep them covered a bit longer to add private prayers. If you prefer, say the blessing all together. Want to hear the blessings read aloud? Listen to them here.
Here are the words for the Shabbat candle lighting blessing:
בְּרָוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַׁבָּת.
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the universe, who sanctified us with the commandment of lighting Shabbat candles.
Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy and commands us to kindle the light of Shabbat.
After lighting candles, or at the start of dinner, some parents place their hands on their children’s heads and recite a blessing. The traditional blessing for boys calls on them to be like Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s children in the Torah. The blessing for girls invokes the names of the Jewish matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. We prefer the gender-neutral version of the blessing for all children that leaves out the first part, and you can also include the names of ancestors from your own families.
A blessing for everyone, even adults:
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְיָ וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ יָאֵר יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ יִשָׂא יְיָ פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם.
Gender neutral: Y’simkhol Elohim k’sarah, rivka, rakhel leah ephraim u’menashe.
For boys: Yesimcha Elohim ke’Ephraim v’che’Menashe
For girls: Yesimech Elohim ke’Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, ve’Leah
Followed by (or just read this part to bless everyone/anyone): Y’varechecha Adonai V’yish’m’recha. Ya’er Adonai panav eilecha vichuneka. Yisa Adonai panav eilecha v’yasem I’cha shalom.
May God bless you and keep you
May God’s light shine upon you and be gracious to you
May the presence of God be with you and give you peace.
May you be blessed and guarded
May you know favor and grace
May you give and receive kindness and peace.
Both Shabbat dinner on Friday and Shabbat lunch on Saturday—as well as most festive Jewish occasions—traditionally start with Kiddush, a blessing over wine or grape juice. You may want to use a special Kiddush cup or wine glass and fill it up to the top as a symbolic representation of being full of blessings. The version of Kiddush for Friday night includes a passage from the Torah about God resting on the seventh day.
Here are the words for the blessing:
בְּרָוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָפֶּן
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha-olam, borei p’ri ha-gafen.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy. Blessed is the Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Ha-motzi, the blessing over bread, is traditionally said before eating bread any time of the week. On Shabbat, we say ha-motzi over challah—a rich, braided loaf specially prepared for holidays and festive occasions. Making challah is easy to do and it’s a chance to get creative, incorporate other cultures and involve kids. Find Shabbat recipes here.
Some people wash their hands in a ritual way before ha-motzi, and sprinkle salt on the challah to represent the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Shabbat tables typically have two loaves of bread to represent the extra manna the Israelites collected in the desert before Shabbat. People may have a decorative plate or beautifully embroidered challah cover as another way to make Shabbat feel extra special.
Here are the words for the blessing:
בְּרָוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha–olam ha-motz-i lechem min ha’ar-etz.
Blessed are You, God, who has brought forth bread from the earth.
Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy and brings forth bread from the earth.
Think about how you can make Shabbat a meaningful day for you. The options are truly endless. Here are just a few ideas: