The Purpose of Shabbat

The Fourth of the Ten Commandments is: “Remember [Zachor] the Shabbat day to keep it holy ... for G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh” [Exodus 20:8].

By resting on Shabbat we declare our belief in G‑d as the Creator of the Universe.

Shabbat is the cornerstone of the Jewish religion. It is the one day in a week that we should divert our attention from weekday matters and concentrate on the spiritual purpose of life — to serve G‑d through the Torah and Mitzvot. It recharges our spiritual batteries for the week.

In Deuteronomy 5:12 the Torah states: “Observe [Shamor] the Shabbat day to keep it holy.” This observance refers to the prohibition of working on Shabbat.

Shabbat has a calm and serene atmosphere all of its own. We don’t work, drive, surf the internet, answer the phone, open mail or write on Shabbat.

Shabbat is a time for the whole family to attend the Synagogue, eat the Shabbat meal together and absorb the holiness of the day. Parents spend time and learn with their children. Rabbis have always gathered their congregations and taught the Torah on Shabbat.

Kavod and Oneg Shabbat

The Prophets tell us to honor Shabbat [Kavod means honor], and delight in Shabbat [Oneg means delight]. Kavod Shabbat is to wear special Shabbat clothing and Oneg Shabbat comes through having fine food and wine.

Kiddush and Havdallah

A special blessing is made to sanctify the arrival of Shabbat. This is called Kiddush and is recited to fulfill the mitzvah to Remember [Zachor] the Shabbat day to make it holy. The Kiddush is made before the meal on Friday night. The blessing is made holding a cup [becher] of wine. Kiddush is also said before the daytime meal.

Another blessing is made to signal the end of Shabbat. This ceremony is called Havdallah, which means separation or division as it separates Shabbat from the weekdays. The Havdallah is recited after the appearance of three medium stars on Saturday night. It consists of four blessings:

1) Borei Pri Hagafen over the wine,

2) Borei Minei Besamim over fragrant spices called Besamim,

3) Borei Meorei Haish over the flame of a special plaited Havdallah candle,

4) Hamavdil Bein Kodesh Lechol — a blessing referring to the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week.

Shabbat Candles

To honor the Shabbat, women light Shabbat candles to usher in the Shabbat. The candles must be lit at least 18 minutes before sunset on Friday night. Married women light two candles and girls one. [Some women light an additional candle for each child]. The candles should be lit on the table where the Friday night meal is eaten. It is customary to give some money to charity before the candles are lit. Once the candles have been lit all the Shabbat laws apply.


Three meals are eaten on Shabbat.

1) Friday night.

2) Shabbat day.

3) Shabbat afternoon — Seudah Shlishit [third meal].

At each meal the hands are washed [Netilat Yadayim], and Hamotzee [the blessing for bread] is said over two Challot called Lechem [bread] Mishneh [double]. Challah is special plaited bread made for Shabbat. Two Challot are used to symbolize the double portion of manna which fell on Friday when the Jews were in the wilderness. The Challot are covered with a Challah cloth to symbolize the covering of the manna with dew.

It is customary for fish to be served at every meal. Foods which are delicacies should be served to honor the Shabbat. Grace after Meals [Birkat Hamazon] is recited after each meal. Special songs called Zemirot are sung during the Shabbat meals which create an atmosphere of holiness and joy at the Shabbat table. It is also customary for Divrei Torah [words of Torah — Torah thoughts] to be said by the table.

The Order of Shabbat

Friday afternoon

Preparation for Shabbat; bathing, cutting nails, dressing in special Shabbat clothing, cleaning house, cooking all food, setting table with a white tablecloth and finest tableware, making beds, preparing candles, setting time switches for heating and lighting. Light candles 18 minutes before sunset.

Friday night

Minchah, Kabalat Shabbat [acceptance of Shabbat], Maariv. Come home. Some families have a custom for parents to bless their children before Kiddush. Sing Shalom Aleichem, Aishet Chayil [see Siddur], make Kiddush, wash hands, Hamotzee, meal, Grace.

Shabbat morning in Synagogue

Shacharit, reading of Sidra, Maftir/Haftorah, Musaf, come home, Kiddush, wash hands, Hamotzee, meal, Zemirot, Grace.

Shabbat afternoon

Minchah, Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers read during summer months, see Siddur], Seudah Shlishit, wash hands, Hamotzee, meal, Grace. [Some people just eat cake or fruit for the Seudah Shlishit].

Motzei Shabbat [termination of Shabbat]

Maariv, Havdallah.

Melave Malka is a light meal eaten after the termination of Shabbat to accompany the Shabbat Queen.

Forbidden Activities on Shabbat— 39 Melachot

In order to preserve the Shabbat/Holy Day atmosphere, the Torah tells us that no work [melachah] may be done on Shabbat. The Rabbis detailed the type of forbidden work into 39 categories which correspond to the 39 types of work done in the construction of the Tabernacle. These are called the 39 melachot. The following list shows that not only is business forbidden on Shabbat, but many activities in the home are also forbidden. All these prohibitions are intended to allow a person to concentrate on the spiritual side of Shabbat.

1) CARRYING: It is forbidden to carry any object in a public domain, i.e. in the street. E.g., one may not carry a Tallit or Siddur to the Synagogue on Shabbat rather, the Tallit and Siddur should be left in a safe place in the Synagogue.

It should be noted that some cities have an Eruv, an enclosure which surrounds the city turning the whole city into a private domain in which one may carry. In a place where there is a kosher Eruv under rabbinic supervision one may carry in the street.

2) BURNING: One may not light a fire on Shabbat. For example, smoking, turning on a gas flame to cook, or turning on lights, are all forbidden. Driving is included in this prohibition. Each time one accelerates new fire is created in the engine. On Shabbat it is forbidden to drive.

3) EXTINGUISHING: For example, turning OFF the lights is prohibited. Most Shabbat observant homes have a time switch which turns their lights on and off automatically on Shabbat.

4) FINISHING: e.g. all forms of repair.

5) WRITING: e.g. letter writing. One may also not send e-mail or text messages.

6) ERASING: e.g. erasing writing.

7) COOKING: All Shabbat food must be cooked before Shabbat. The food is kept hot by placing it on an electric hotplate. On a gas range an aluminum sheet called a Blech is used to cover the gas range to facilitate slow cooking. All flames on the stove must be lit before Shabbat and must not be adjusted on Shabbat.

8) WASHING: e.g. washing clothes.

9) SEWING: Needlework, etc

10) TEARING: Includes undoing any form of sewing.

11) KNOTTING: i.e. a permanent knot. A bow is permitted.

12) UNTYING: as above.

13) SHAPING: e.g. cutting up an object to shape.

14) PLOUGHING: Includes any activity that improves the ground, e.g. raking the lawn.

15) PLANTING: This includes gardening and watering flowers.

16) REAPING: e.g. cutting any growing things.

17) HARVESTING: Any harvesting operation such as binding bales, etc.

18) THRESHING: Any operation where food is separated from its natural container.

19) WINNOWING: e.g. winnowing grain.

20) SELECTING: i.e. picking out the bad from the good. This is one reason we eat gefilte fish on Shabbat, so that we need not separate the bones from the fish.

21) SIFTING: Sifting flour, straining liquids.

22) GRINDING: Milling grain, grinding herbs for medicine.

23) KNEADING: Any combination of powder with liquid to form a dough.

24) COMBING: e.g. wool or cotton.



27) CHAIN STITCHING e.g. knitting.


29) WEAVING: Including needlework and embroidery.





34) SHEARING: i.e. removing hair from any creature.






Rabbinic Prohibitions

In addition to the 39 categories of forbidden work on Shabbat which are Biblically prohibited, the Rabbis added some prohibitions. To list them all is not within the scope of this book. However, two examples will be given.

1) Muktzeh: In order to preserve the spirit of the Shabbat day, one may not move certain objects which have no direct use on Shabbat, e.g. bricks or money. Furthermore, one may not move any object which may be used to do some forbidden activity, e.g. a pen.

2) Speech: The Rabbis instructed that on Shabbat we should not discuss certain subjects which have no relevance to Shabbat, e.g. prices in shops. We should try to direct our speech to Torah discussion.

Attitude Towards Forbidden Activities

After reading the whole list of forbidden activities, one may think that Shabbat must be very boring. On the contrary, only because you are not allowed to do certain activities does this give you an opportunity to enjoy the spiritual side of Shabbat, which would not be enjoyed otherwise.

The Spirit of Shabbat

Throughout the week we look forward to Shabbat. Shabbat is called a “queen” — just as we would prepare for a royal visit, so too do we prepare for Shabbat. Choice foods are prepared, the finest clothes put on, and an atmosphere of rest and spiritual delight descends on the Jewish home.

Special Shabbatot

There are certain Shabbatot which have special names because of the time in the year in which they fall, e.g.: Shabbat HaGadolShabbat before Pesach.

Shabbat ChazonShabbat before Tisha B’Av. Shabbat NachamuShabbat after Tisha B’Av. Shabbat ShuvahShabbat before Yom Kippur.

The names of these Shabbatot are often the first words of that week’s Haftorah.

Shabbat Mevarchim is the name of any Shabbat that is the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh — the first day of the new month. On Shabbat Mevarchim a special prayer is recited in the synagogue blessing the forthcoming month.