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The Sabbath (Shabbat) is the most important festival of the Jewish
calendar and is celebrated at least fifty-two times a year.
Jews celebrate the Sabbath because it is believed that God rested on
the seventh day. Jews also celebrate Sabbath because of the exodus
from slavery in Egypt. The ancient Israelites were determined never to
be enslaved again and one of the Ten Commandments tells Jews they
should remember how hard it is to work without rest and so should give
all their employees a day off.
This is the fourth of the ten commandments in Exodus 20 verses 8-11:
"8Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9You have six days in which to
do your work, 10but the seventh day is a day of rest, dedicated to me.
On that day no-one is to work - neither you, your children, your
slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11In
six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the sea, and everything
in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord,
blessed the Sabbath and made it holy."
Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and lasts until sunset on Saturday.
Altogether it lasts 25 hours rather than 24. This is because sunset
doesn't happen exactly 24 hours after the previous sunset so Jews
allow half an hour each way.
The Sabbath is based mainly in the Jewish home and the whole family
will be together. However, there will also be two services during the
25 hours in which the Sabbath takes place. One will be just before the
Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday, when all the male members of the
family will go to the synagogue. The main act of worship takes place
on a Saturday morning at approximately 10 o' clock and lasts just over
two hours. It is a special service during which prayers will be said,
songs will be sung and discussions will take place.
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Torah will also be read during the service.
On the Sabbath, Jews do not work at all. The whole family will have a
meal and it is a very happy time. Songs are sung and prayers are said
to God. It is a time in which the whole family can make time for each
other and not have to worry about work.
Jews need to have a basic agreement as to what is holy rest and what
isn't. From ancient times work has been seen as something that is - or
could be - either constructive or destructive, in other words
producing a material change, whether a build up or break down.
On the Sabbath, these are five things that Jews must not do:
1. Produce or prepare food
2. Make clothes
5. Carry in a public place
Before the Sabbath begins, there is a flurry of activity. This is
mainly because no work can be done on the Sabbath so it has to be done
beforehand but it is also because it is very special, the "queen of
days," the only day which has a name in Hebrew - all the others are
Before Sabbath begins, there are three main areas of preparation,
these are as follows:
1. Housework - cleaning, dusting, hoovering. All the things that are
usually done on a daily basis.
2. Preparing cold and "slow-cooking" foods - both of which avoid the
use of fire on Sabbath.
3. Bathing and dressing up - Dress for the occasion. It helps you to
feel special if you look special.
Before Sabbath begins, Jewish women light candles to spread joy over
the family and bring warmth into the home. The table on which the
candles are on will be laid with the best linen and cutlery in
preparation for the Sabbath meal. This should be the last light made
on this day as to create light on the Sabbath would be classed as
work, which is banned.
The mother of the household will then circle her hands round the
lights as she says the following prayer:
"Blessed art thou O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has
sanctified us by thy commandments and commanded us to kindle the
This prayer would be said in Hebrew.
Once this has been said, the mother will then cover her eyes and say a
silent, private prayer asking for her family to be blessed and
thanking God for his goodness.
Whilst the mother has been making final preparations in order to
welcome the Sabbath in, the father and sons (aged 13 or over) will
have attended the synagogue to join in the Sabbath evening service.
When they arrive back home, as they enter the house they will touch
both their lips and the mezuzah(a box on the doorpost containing
written texts from the scriptures) with the same fingers.
Once inside the home, the father will bless all the children. He will
say to the boys "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh" and he
will say to the girls "May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel
He says a high Priestly prayer for them all and then the whole family
sing a song to welcome in the Sabbath.
When the whole family is gathered together the father will praise God
for the blessings of the past week and for the rest of Sabbath. The
father does this in a blessing said over a cup of wine. Jews always
try to ensure that the wine is from Israel as a reminder of the Holy
Land. The blessing is called the Kiddush, which translated into
English means the sanctification or setting apart of the Sabbath from
the rest of the week. Two more praises are then said, one thanking God
for creating the wine and the second prayer thanking God for the
The wine in the Kiddush cup will then be passed round to everyone
present until all of it is drunk.
Before the family will gather round the table, every member of the
family will wash their hands by pouring water twice over each hand as
this symbolises purification. From this point onwards the family will
remain silent for the ceremony which welcomes the Sabbath meal.
On the table there will be two loaves of bread covered by a clean
white cloth. The two loaves remind Jews of two portions of manna given
to them on the sixth day each week when they were in the wilderness.
The father will make a blessing over them saying "Blessed art thou O
Lord our God, king of the Universe who brings forth bread from the
The two plaited loaves (called challa) are then uncovered and cut,
traditionally, with the first cut slicing both loaves.
A portion of the bread is then cut for each member of the family and
then sprinkled with some salt. Salt is a symbol of covenant between
God and the Jews.
The bread will be passed round to each person at the table and once it
has all been eaten, the silence kept since the washing of the hands
can be broken. The normal meal will then begin
During the Sabbath meal songs are sung and the mood is so social that
the dominant theme is Israel. The themes of the songs are of peace and
the happiness of being together on a day that is without work or
At the end of the meal, thanksgiving is sung with extra Sabbath
The main synagogue service of the week takes place on Saturday morning
and the main part of it is the reading of the Torah portion, which
happens on a weekly basis.
When the family goes to the synagogue the father will go into the main
body of the building downstairs, while his wife will sit upstairs.
Young children under the age of 13 are able to choose which parent
they want to go with. If a man walks into a synagogue he will put on a
skull cap and make his way to his seat. He will then take out his
Tallith and Daily prayer book from a little cupboard in the pew.
Before putting on the Tallith he will say a prayer and then he will
say another one when he has placed it over his shoulders.
First of all, a number of psalms will be read, among them
19,34,90,91,135,136,33 and 92 which is known as a song for the Sabbath
Each member of the congregation is expected to read the passages aloud
from the prayer book which they have.
The second thing that happens during the service is when the cantor
sings a section from the prayer book. The section that he sings will
remind Jewish people of God's acts of redemption, focusing mainly on
their deliverance from Egypt. God is blessed for being faithful to
everyone and for his love. The Shema is then said, followed by the
Amidah (a prayer which each member of the congregation joins in with
by silently standing and facing the Ark - looking towards Jerusalem).
The Scrolls are then taken out of the Ark and the older people in the
Synagogue will organise the readings. As the Torah is carried to the
Bimah, members of the congregation will touch it with their Talliths
which they will then kiss.
The cover and crown of the Torah will then be removed and some Jewish
men will be called up one by one to read it, words will be followed by
a Yad (a pointed instrument).
If the service takes place in Britain, a prayer for the queen will
then be said in English, all other readings will have been read in
Hebrew. The Torah will then be taken back to the Ark and the rabbi or
minister will then speak for the first time. He will preach a sermon.
The Amidah will then be read again, this time by the Cantor and he
will say a prayer for the mourners who have lost relatives during the
last eleven months.
Just before the service ends, The Hymn of Glory will be chanted. This
could be done by the Cantor or sometimes by a young child who stands
in front of the Ark and says:
"I will chant sweet hymns and compose songs; for my soul panteth after
thee. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory, and
the victory and the majesty: for all in heaven and in the earth is
thine; thine O Lord, is the kingdom and the supremacy as head over
all. Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord, or show fourth all his
Havdalah is the ceremony which takes place towards the end of the
Sabbath. Havdalah separates the holy Sabbath from the rest of the
week, it therefore means division. It takes place when the head of the
family comes back from the Saturday evening service at the Synagogue.
A glass of wine, a spice box and a plaited candle are set out. The
three wicks of the candle are lit. The father will then make a
blessing over the wine and the spices. The ornamental container
containing the spices will be passed round for all to enjoy the
fragrance of the departing Sabbath. The reason for the sweet smelling
spices is to give Jews the hope that the week ahead will be as sweet
as the Sabbath.
The whole family will then gather round the candle and enjoy its
The last thing which will be done on the Sabbath will be the drinking
of the Havdalah wine. The candle will then be put out and the family
will sing a hymn asking for God's blessing on the week ahead.