shabat, shabas, shabes [Hebrew, "rest"] - A day
of rest after a week of work; one of the oldest and most enduring holy
days in the Jewish tradition.
The Sabbath is a commemoration of the day the Creator rested after
the creation of the world. The Ten Commandments included a command to
observe this day: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but
the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not
do any work... For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth,
the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." (Exodus
The Sabbath begins on Friday evening and ends
on Saturday evening (Jewish calendar). Jews are completely banned from
doing any work that would demonstrate their mastery of nature, since the
Lord rested that day. Religious law names 39 different kinds of work
that are forbidden during that time, most of which are related to
agriculture and shepherding, influencing nature, such as ploughing,
sowing, shearing sheep, as well as building things, lighting fires and
In order not to break this ban on work unintentionally, no
activities are allowed that are even similar to those that are banned.
These include printing, drawing or turning electric lights on and off.
In order to avoid some of the bans (such as moving things out of the
house), Jewish communities were surrounded by a wire or string (eruv),
which symbolically created one "household" encompassing the entire
neighborhood or even town. In many Jews homes, a non-Jew (shabes goy)
was hired during the Sabbath to do all the necessary domestic work.
Before the Sabbath begins, Jews go to the mikva for ritual baths.
The holy day begins with the lighting of two candles on Friday, just
before sunset. They symbolize God's light and man's soul. The women
light them and say a blessing over them, which is their most important
religious obligation. It is believed that if they fail to do this, they
are in danger of dying during childbirth. Men greet the Sabbath in
synagogue. In very religious families, the women and children wait for
them at home, or taking a walk outside in their Sabbath finest.
After the men come back home, there is a
special meal, which begins with Kidush. No one should be hungry during
the Sabbath, which is why in many homes poor people or students are
invited to share the meal. The most popular dishes in Eastern Europe
were herring and challah, as well as stuffed fish, chopped liver and
cymes. For Saturday dinner, chulent, stuffed chicken necks, kishke and
kugel were served. On Saturday evening, the third Sabbath meal was
eaten, seuda shlishit (suda), and Sabbath songs were sung (zmirot).
Chasidim, in the belief that the Messiah would come on a Saturday,
made the final meal and singing last late into the evening. The holiday
ends with a special Sabbath blessing, Havdala [Hebrew, separation],
which separates the period of the holiday from that of daily life. A
blessing is said over light, wine and aromatic herbs, which are placed
in besamin boxes. Two entwined candles are lit, symbolizing holiness and