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Shabbat, or Shabbos, is a day of rest that is observed once a week, on Saturday, by practitioners of Judaism, as well as by many secular Jews.

The Hebrew word Shabbat is best translated as "period of rest," and is the basis of the English words "sabbath" and "sabbatical." (A common linguistic confusion leads many to believe that the word means "seventh day." Though the root for seven, or sheva`, is similar in sound, it is spelled differently. Sephardi Jews will also pronounce the word differently, add a pharyngial fricative at the end of sheva`.)

A variation on Shabbat is also observed in Christianity as the Sabbath.

Observance of Shabbat is in accord with the Ten Commandments, a part of the Torah (five books of Moses). Jewish law defines one day ending at nightfall, which is when the next day then begins. Thus, Shabbat begins at sundown Friday night and ends at nightfall Saturday night. The added time between sunset and nightfall on Saturday night owes to the ambiguous nature of that part of the day according to Jewish law.

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Status as a holiday

While the Sabbath is not considered a holiday by many other cultures and religions, Judaism accords Shabbat the status of a joyous holiday. In many ways, halakha (Jewish law) gives Shabbat the status of being the most imporant holy day in the Jewish calendar.

  • It is the first holiday mentioned in the Bible, and God was the first one to observe it.
  • The liturgy treats the Sabbath as a bride and queen.
  • The Torah reading for the Sabbath has more parshiot (sections of the Torah sung aloud) than does Yom Kippor, which in turn contains the most of any regular Jewish holiday.
  • There is a tradition that the Messiah will come if every Jew observes the Shabbat twice in a row.
  • The Biblical penalty for violating Shabbat is greater than that for violating any other holiday.


The Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) describe Shabbat as having two purposes:

  • A commemoration of the Israelites' redemption from slavery in Egypt;
  • A commemoration of God's creations of the Universe; on the seventh day God rested from his work.

Prohibited activities

Jewish law strictly prohibits Jewish people from doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melacha does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work", nor does it correspond to the definition of the term as used in physics. Rather, it refers to the 39 categories of activity that the Talmud prohibits Jews from engaging in on Shabbat. Many religious scholars have pointed out that all these labors have something in common -- they prohibit any activity that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The 39 activities prohibited by Jewish law on Shabbat are as follows:

  1. Sowing;
  2. Plowing;
  3. Reaping;
  4. Binding sheaves;
  5. Threshing;
  6. Winnowing;
  7. Selecting;
  8. Grinding;
  9. Sifting;
  10. Kneading;
  11. Baking;
  12. Shearing wool;
  13. Washing wool;
  14. Beating wool;
  15. Dyeing wool;
  16. Spinning;
  17. Weaving;
  18. Making two loops;
  19. Weaving two threads;
  20. Separating two threads;
  21. Tying;
  22. Untying;
  23. Sewing stitches;
  24. Tearing;
  25. Trapping;
  26. Slaughtering;
  27. Flaying;
  28. Salting meat;
  29. Curing hide;
  30. Scraping hide;
  31. Cutting hide up;
  32. Writing two or more letters;
  33. Erasing two or more letters;
  34. Building;
  35. Tearing something down;
  36. Extinguishing a fire;
  37. Kindling a fire;
  38. Hitting an object with a hammer;
  39. Taking an object from the private domain to the public, or transporting an object in the public domain.

The 39 melachot are not so much activities as categories of activity. For example, while "winnowing" usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff[?] from grain, it refers in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish[?] is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.)

In the event that a human life is in danger, a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any Shabbat law which stands in the way of saving that life.


Shabbat is a day of celebration as well as one of prayer. Three festive meals are eaten each Shabbat: on Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and early Saturday evening before the conclusion of the Shabbat. All Jews are encouraged to attend services at a synagogue at least once during Shabbat.

With the exception of Yom Kippur, days of public fasting are postponed for a day if they coincide with Shabbat, and mourners sitting Shivah[?] conduct themselves normally for the duration of the day.

Permitted activities

The following activities are encouraged on Shabbat:

  • Visiting family and friends (within walking distance of home and synagogue);
  • Spending Shabbat together with your own immediate family;
  • Synagogue attendance;
  • Hosting family and friends to sleep over for Shabbat;
  • Having family and friends for Shabbat lunch and dinner;
  • Singing folk songs, zmirot, etc. (commonly done after the Friday night and Saturday afternoon meals);
  • Reading, studying and discussing Torah and commentary, Mishnah and Talmud, halakha and responsa and Midrash.
  • According to Kabbalah (esoteric Jewish mysticism), lovemaking between husband and wife is encouraged.

The following activities are in accord with Jewish law and tradition but are not mandated:

See also: Jewish holidays, Judaism, Sabbath, Jewish services

External links:

Recommended reading:

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