Greeting the Shabbat Queen

Kabbalat Shabbat is a group of psalms and prayers we recite at the beginning of Friday night services.

Any royal visit merits a welcoming party, and Shabbat is no exception. The Talmud relates that every Friday eve, just as the sun began kissing the horizon, Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in a tallit and announce: “Let us go and greet the Shabbat Queen!”1

This pronouncement would later be expanded into a full-fledged series of prayers called “Kabbalat Shabbat” (or: “Kabbolas Shabbos”) — “Accepting Shabbat.”

When Were the Kabbalat Shabbat Prayers Instituted?

The evolution of Kabbalat Shabbat from the Talmudic one-liner to the full liturgy we use today was a slow process that took many centuries. The first glimpses began in the 12th century, with the custom of reciting Psalms 92 and 93, which speak about the glory of Shabbat.2

In the 16th century, the Arizal then added Psalm 29 to the Kabbalat Shabbat.3 That psalm speaks of seven “voices” that praise G‑d, each representing one of the seven blessings in the Shabbat Amidah.4

The 16th century was also when the hallmark Lecha Dodi prayer was added, when Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz penned the acrostic poem which focuses on greeting the Shabbat Queen.

The 17th century saw the addition of five psalms, 95-99, by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.5

That was the final addition to the Kabbalat Shabbat until the 1800s, when the students of the Baal Shem Tov added a Kabbalistic passage from the Zohar, called Kegavna, which speaks about the mystical aspect of the advent of Shabbat.6 This addition was accepted in Chassidic communities but is not part of the Ashkenazic liturgy.

How Is Kabbalat Shabbat Recited?

The Kabbalat Shabbat prayers are a joyous greeting to the Shabbat queen, often accompanied by dancing and energetic tunes.

The custom is that the first section of the Kabbalat Shabbat, Psalms 95-99, may be said seated. From Psalm 29 through Lecha Dodi, Psalms 92-93, the Kegavna prayer, and Barchu, the custom is to remain standing.7

As we recite the penultimate stanza of the Lecha Dodi poem, the custom is to turn to face west.8 During the last four words of that stanza, “bo’ee kallah bo’ee kallah”, we bow slightly to the right and then to the left. We then bow forward and recite “bo’ee kallah shabbat malketa.”9

If a holiday falls out on Shabbat, the Kabbalat Shabbat prayers are shortened, often beginning from Psalm 29.10