Written by: Allan Nadler
Shabbat is a twenty-five hour observance beginning at sundown on the prior evening (Friday) and ending at nightfall on Saturday. It is ushered in with the lighting and blessing of candles at home, a Friday evening service known as Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming of the Sabbath), and a festive family meal. The Friday night meal is inaugurated with an invocation, known as kiddush (sanctification), recited at the dinner table over a goblet of wine, followed by the ceremonial breaking and sharing of a braided, sweet egg-loaf, known as challah. The kiddush begins with the first verses of Genesis 2 that describe God's having "rested" on, and sanctified, Shabbat after having completed the creation of the universe, and concludes with a blessing affirming the holiness of Shabbat.
|1. Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. |
2. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
3. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Based upon the highly expansive rabbinical definition of the biblical term for "all labor" (melakha) that is prohibited on Shabbat in the fourth of the biblical Ten Commandments, Jewish law identifies thirty-nine classes of activity that are prohibited on Shabbat. Consequently, in addition to not engaging in any commercial work or handling currency, observant Jews refrain on Shabbat from almost all conventional weekday activities, even the most mundane, such as using electricity, traveling, carrying even the smallest of items in public, writing, tearing, mending, and so forth. Shabbat is consecrated in such a way as to restrict activity to prayer, Torah study, eating, relaxing, and sleeping. However, rabbinical law ordains a broad exception to these severe restrictions when it comes to preserving human life. Interpreting the biblical injunction "to live by the laws of God" as a prohibition against dying, the rabbis insisted that even the most remote risk to human life mandates the violation of Shabbat.
Almost all of these Shabbat restrictions also apply to the first and last "Holy Days" of the three biblical "pilgrimage festivals"—Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot—and to the "High Holydays" of Rosh Ha-shanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). A notable exception is made regarding any labors required for the preparation of and serving of the festival meals, such as the use of fire and carrying.