Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath. The English word Sabbath came from the Hebrew word, Shabbat. It’s pronounced “shah-baht.” An alternative more Yiddish spelling is Shabbos and is pronounced “shah-biss.” Along with being among the most prevalent and lengthy offerings to Western society, the Jewish Sabbath is perhaps the most recognizable and defining tradition of Judaism.
The Shabbat is featured in the Ten Commandments, and the commandment to keep Shabbat is repeated in the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scripture that provides the foundation for Judaism.
Shabbat lasts from sundown on Friday until three stars are visible on Saturday night. The greetings for Shabbat are “Shabbat shalom” (Sabbath peace) or the Yiddish “gut Shabbos” (“good Sabbath”).
Shabbat is a day of rest and enjoyment for us at the end of the work week, just as God did at the end of the week of creation. Traditional Jews avoid doing any work, reserving the time for friends and family, pleasant walks and naps, prayer, and study.
Shabbat is a day of peace, rest, reflection, and hospitality for the entire community. The Torah invites all to share in the blessing of rest and explicitly includes those who are not Jewish to take a day of rest as well. Jews were the first community to establish this healthy custom of a day off from work.
In the Scriptures, the Jewish Sabbath is represented as the culmination of the formation of the world. Its observance is often seen as a symbol of the earth’s necessity as well as the benefits of human civilization. Shabbat also acts as a reminder of the act of Faith to save the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery by forgoing a day for rest and personal liberty.
For some Jewish people, Shabbat means a day of refuge from the hard labor demands of work and is a representation of the ideal world that will one day be reached.
The gift of Shabbat is part of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. Honoring the Sabbath is one way Jews have of maintaining that agreement.
The meaning of Shabbat, such as other important holidays in Judaism, has its origins in the Torah. It is described by the holy scriptures as a day of leisure too. In a complicated set of prohibitions on productive practices of several kinds, the Rabbis laid out their definition of prohibited work.
For any portion of the Shabbat holiday, they have a selection of traditional foods and rituals. Over the centuries and across the world, the changes of Shabbat beliefs and practices reflect the tolerance of Jewish people to changing conditions and environments and conceptual frameworks in other cultures.
The importance of family life with relatives and visitors is a recurring theme in the religious practice of Shabbat throughout history. While Shabbat is usually celebrated from Friday evening to sunset on Saturday, some Jewish homes begin the celebration earlier in the week. The sacred candle-light blessings signals the start of the holiday. Rabbinic Judaism traditionally requires to include three Shabbat meals, with two beginning with a particular kiddush that is recited over wine.
Regardless if your family attends Shabbat services on Friday night or Saturday morning, you will usually have a similar experience at the synagogue. The synagogue, from the vibrant introduction service, Kabbalat Shabbat, to the reflective parting ritual, Havdalah, focuses on this reflective time of the week.
Most synagogues allow anyone to attend the Shabbat service. A section of the Torah is recited at the primary communal prayer on Saturday morning.
The Guide to Shabbat and Havdalah for Interfaith Families is available as a PDF and our booklet Shabbat: What to Expect in the Synagogue, Shabbat Made Easy, and Havdalah Made Easy are available for download.