Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, celebrated every week from sundown on Friday to nightfall of Saturday. In Hebrew, Shabbat means "resting." As is recounted in the beginning of the Book of Genesis, G‑d created the world in six days and on the seventh He refrained from creating. Adam and Eve celebrated the first Shabbat in the Garden of Eden.
The observance of Shabbat by the Jewish nation is mandated in the fourth of the Ten Commandments. We sanctify the Shabbat and "rest" on this special day—defined by abstention from 39 forms of creative activity.
Practically, how is Shabbat observed and celebrated?
As cooking and baking is not allowed on Shabbat, much of the food preparation is done in advance.
Shabbat is ushered in on Friday afternoon with the lighting of candles by women and girls. Following the special Friday night Shabbat evening prayers (preferably in the synagogue) we partake of a festive meal which is opened by the Kiddush blessing over a cup of wine or grape juice, and the Hamotzie blessing over two whole loaves of bread called Challah. The sumptuous meal is an integral part of oneg Shabbat, "delighting in the Shabbat." So we eat fish and salads, chicken or meat and other delicacies. (Click here for traditional recipes.)
On Shabbat morning it's prayer time again—this service also features the weekly public Torah reading. After the prayers we again enjoy a delicious festive meal, complete with Kiddush and Hamotzie. Some time in the afternoon we enjoy a somewhat smaller meal, called Seudah Shlishit. Shabbat ends after nightfall and is marked with the brief Havdalah, (separation) service which marks the departure of the holy day of rest.
On Shabbat we take a break from our mundane weekly activities. It is a time to regroup and pray, to eat and rejoice, to spend time with family and friends, to study and share—to indulge and pamper our spiritual side.
There is so much more to be said about Shabbat... Please check out our Shabbat Section which is complete with all the information you'll need. Or, for bite-sized info, see our Shabbat Minutes.