Shomer Shabbat (שומר שבת, also pronounced shomer Shabbos) literally means “guardian” or “keeper” of Shabbat.

The source of the concept of “keeping” the Sabbath is in the 10 Commandments, where we are told to “Keep the Sabbath day to make it holy.”1 The exact term is found in Isaiah 56:6, where G‑d promises material and spiritual reward for those who keep the Shabbat.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) is so central to Jewish life that the term shomer Shabbat (“Shabbat keeper”) is synonymous with “religious Jew” in common parlance.

What Do Shomer Shabbos People Do?

The Shabbat laws are quite complex. However, here are some common activities shomer-Shabbos Jews do not do on Shabbat:

  • Driving
  • Turning on or off lights or operating electrical appliances (including phones)
  • Cooking
  • Carrying in the public domain (defined as public areas outside of an eruv enclosure)
  • Shopping or handling money

Read: The 39 Classes of Forbidden Acts (Melachot)

Of course, Shabbat is not just about what we don’t do, but also about the many things Jewish people do to honor and delight in this special day of rest, which is a gift from G‑d. These include:

  • Lighting the Shabbat candles before Shabbat begins
  • Enjoying a lavish dinner and then feasting again the following day, each time saying Kiddush over wine and breaking bread on two whole loaves of challah
  • Attending synagogue services and connecting with the community
  • Relishing in the joy of disconnecting from the rat race for a set time each week

The History of Shomer Shabbos in America

For much of Jewish history, keeping Shabbat was a given, and no self-respecting Jew would dream of working on G‑d’s sacred day.

All that changed when millions of Jews immigrated to America, where a 6- or 7-day workweek was expected. Keeping Shabbat became a major challenge, even for the most devout.

Those shomer-Shabbat Jews who refused to work from before sundown on Friday afternoon until nightfall the following night often found themselves without jobs.

Many pressed on undeterred, living by the credo, “More than the Jews have kept the Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”

To assist them, a special free-loan fund (gemach) was founded in New York for the express purpose of providing short-term relief for people unable to find work due to their fealty to Shabbat.

This fund was greatly encouraged by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—who would send his greetings to the annual fundraiser every year, providing both moral support and personal donations.

The advent of the 5-day workweek and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 have made it much easier for workers to take off for Shabbat and Jewish holidays. And today, shomer-Shabbat Jews enjoy employment in every sector and are generally allowed to follow the full verse, “Six days you shall work and do all your labor, and on the seventh day, it shall be Shabbat for G‑d …”2