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The Jewish Sabbath

The Jewish Sabbath or "Shabbat" is the Jewish holy day observed every week to commemorate the Covenant agreement made between an individual and God. The Covenant refers to the Jewish relationship with God and can be described as an understanding and agreement whereby a Jewish individual keeps Godís laws and brings holiness into every aspect of life in exchange for the good deeds bestowed by God upon the Jewish people. The Covenant appears in its earliest biblical form between God and Abraham.

Shabbat is viewed as a gift from God and as a time to devote oneself to higher concerns without the worries of everyday work. Shabbat is considered a day of rest and is the only ceremony that is referred to in the Ten Commandments.

Meaning of the Sabbath: Zachor and Shamor

The word Shabbat comes from the root "Shin-Bet-Tav" meaning to end or to rest. The Sabbath involves two commandments that are referred to as zachor (to remember) and shamor (to observe). When commemorating the Sabbath, observant Jews are also remembering Godís creation of heaven, earth, and all living things and their freedom from slavery in Egypt, as allowed by God.

These two events are both referred to in the Torah in relation to the day of rest, or the Sabbath: "because for six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day, he rested; therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it" (Exodus 20:11).

The Sabbath is important to freedom from slavery because rest and leisure were confined to certain classes in ancient times. By allowing a day of rest, Jews are reminded of their freedom from slavery.

Shamor refers to the various restrictions that must be observed on the Sabbath. The restrictions are based on refraining from tasks that are considered "work" under the Jewish Law, and primarily involve exerting force over oneís environment. For this reason, the use of electricity, automobiles, and certain tools are prohibited, as are tasks involving shopping or physical labor.

Shabbat Customs

The Sabbath begins at sunset on Fridays and ends at sunset on Saturdays. For this reason, observant Jews much make the necessary preparations for Shabbat before sundown. All cleaning, shopping, and cooking must be performed prior to the ritual. All preparations for the coming Sabbath, such as turning off electric appliances, must also be made prior to sundown.

A typical Shabbat is a special occasion where families gather together. A meal is prepared and then served in the householdís best dishes, and families dress up in their best clothes. Just prior to sunset, two candles are lit symbolizing the two commandments, zachor and shamor. This is typically performed by the woman of the house and is accompanied by a blessing to commemorate the beginning of the Sabbath. Sweet wine may be drunk out of a goblet known as the Kiddush cup to symbolize joy and celebration.

The family may then attend an evening service at a synagogue before returning home for a meal. The man of the house will recite a Kiddush, a prayer sanctifying the Sabbath and then bless a type of sweet egg bread known as challah. Grace is recited after a meal, and a morning service is attended the following day.

It is also traditional for parents to recite prayers blessing their children, as the Sabbath is considered a time for families to come together in the presence of God.

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