Shabbat (Sabbath)

Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest. Shabbat begins at nightfall on Friday and ends slightly after nightfall on Saturday. Shabbat is the first holiday mentioned in the Bible and G-d was the first one to observe it. In fact, Jewish people observe the Sabbath in order to imitate G-d's actions. G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh and Jews are permitted to do creative work for six days and must rest on the seventh.

Jewish people relate to the Shabbat as a long-awaited-for-guest. Indeed, observant Jews who do no creative work on Shabbat start preparing as early as Wednesday for the special day. They clean the house, cook special foods and invite friends and family to come over.

On Friday afternoon up to and hour-and-a-half before sunset, the woman of the house lights Shabbat candles. She lights two candles, one representing remembrance of the Sabbath day, the other representing the honoring of the Sabbath day.

Over the Shabbat day, three festive meals are eaten. One is eaten on Friday night, one at lunchtime on Saturday and one an hour prior to the end of Shabbat. The first two meals begin with the man of the house reciting a blessing called Kiddush over a cup of wine. The wine is drunk from a specially-assigned cup called a Kiddush Cup. Special bread called Challah is eaten at all three meals. This bread is covered with a specially-designated Challah cover before it is used, is placed on a Challah board and cut with a Challah knife. After eating Challah, a meal of several courses is eaten.

The meals are eaten with extended family and friends. There are exclusive Shabbat songs that are song joyously. The meals are an opportunity to get together with significant others, reflect on the week that has gone and gather strength for the week ahead.

Religious observers of the Sabbath day will go to Synagogue on Friday night and twice on Saturday for special Sabbath prayers and to hear the weekly portion being read from the Pentateuch. They will also learn religious texts.

The ceremony of Havdalla is the way Jewish people bid farewell to the Sabbath day. The three essential components of the ceremony are a braided candle, a box filled with sweet-smelling spices and a glass of wine. A special passage is recited over the wine whose role it is to gladden the heart at this spiritually difficult time of departing from the holy day of Shabbat. The candle is representative of fire which G-d allegedly left uncreated until the end of the first Shabbat in the Garden of Eden. The sweet-smelling spices are meant to entice the extra soul gained on the Sabbath day to stay just a bit longer. At the end of the ceremony the candle is extinguished in some wine spilled out of the wine cup. Many have the custom of singing songs in prayer for a good week ahead.

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