The Shabbat reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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Shabbat, or Shabbos (Ashkenazic pronunciation) (שבת shabbāṯ, rest), is a day of rest that is observed once a week, on Saturday, by practitioners of Judaism, as well as by many secular Jews.

Table of contents
1 Etymology
2 Shabbat in other religions
3 Definition
4 Status as a holy day
5 Purpose
6 Mandatory activities
7 Prohibited activities
8 Observance
9 Permitted activities
10 See also
11 External links
12 Recommended reading


The Hebrew word Shabbat comes from the Hebrew verb shabat, which literally means "to cease", in the sense of ceasing from doing something. Although Shabbat or its anglicized version "Sabbath" is almost universally translated as "rest" or a "period of rest", a more literal translation would be "ceasing", with the implication of "ceasing from work". Thus, Shabbat is the day of ceasing from work; while resting is implied, it is not a necessary connotation of the word itself.

Incidentally, this clarifies the often-asked theological question of why God needed to "rest" on the seventh day of creation, as related in the Genesis account. When it is understood that God "ceased" from his labour rather than "rested" from his labour, the usage is more consistent with the Biblical view of an omnipotent God who does not need "rest". Notwithstanding this clarification, this article will follow the far more common translation of Shabbat as "rest".

Shabbat is the basis of the English words "sabbath" and "sabbatical". (A common linguistic confusion leads many to believe that the word means "seventh day". Though the root for seven, or sheva' , is similar in sound, it is spelled differently.

Shabbat in other religions

Sabbaths are also observed in other religions: the weekly day of rest of Christianity is on Sunday. Islam has a day of public prayer, (the concept of "rest" is not incorporated), on Friday that is derived from the practice of having market day on Friday in preparation for the Jewish Shabbat.


Observance of Shabbat is mentioned a number of times in the Torah, most notably as the fourth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Other instances are Exodus 31:12-17 and 35:2-3, Leviticus 19:3 and 30, 23:3 and 28:9-10 (the sacrifices). It is referred to directly by the prophets Isaiah (56:4,6) and Ezekiel (ch. 20, 22, 23) and Nehemiah 9:14, apart from numerous other allusions in the Bible.

Jewish law defines one day ending at nightfall, which is when the next day then begins. Thus, Shabbat begins at sundown Friday night and ends at nightfall Saturday night. The added time between sunset and nightfall on Saturday night owes to the ambiguous nature of that part of the day according to Jewish law.

On occasions the word Shabbat can refer to the law of Shemittah or to the holidays, dependent on the context.

Status as a holy day

While the Sabbath is not considered a holiday by many other cultures and religions, Judaism accords Shabbat the status of a joyous holy day. In many ways, halakha (Jewish law) gives Shabbat the status of being the most imporant holy day in the Jewish calendar.


Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) describe Shabbat as having two purposes:

Mandatory activities

Although most Shabbat laws are restrictive (see below), the fourth
commandment in Exodus is taken by the Talmud to allude to the positive aspects of the Shabbat. These include: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein is quoted to have said that decreased emphasis on the "positive" aspects of Shabbat has been a factor in increased assimilation in the generations after WWII.

Prohibited activities

Jewish law prohibits Jewish people from doing any form of melachah ("work", plural "melachot") on Shabbat. Melacha does not closely correspond to the English definition of the term "work", nor does it correspond to the definition of the term as used in physics. Rather, it refers to the 39 categories of activity that the Talmud prohibits Jews from engaging in on Shabbat. Many religious scholars have pointed out that these labors have something in common -- they prohibit any activity that is creative, or that exercises control or dominion over one's environment.

The 39 activities are (Mishna Shabbat 7:2):

  1. Sowing;
  2. Plowing;
  3. Reaping;
  4. Binding sheaves;
  5. Threshing;
  6. Winnowing;
  7. Selecting;
  8. Grinding;
  9. Sifting;
  10. Kneading;
  11. Baking;
  12. Shearing wool;
  13. Washing wool;
  14. Beating wool;
  15. Dyeing wool;
  16. Spinning;
  17. Weaving;
  18. Making two loops;
  19. Weaving two threads;
  20. Separating two threads;
  21. Tying;
  22. Untying;
  23. Sewing stitches;
  24. Tearing;
  25. Trapping;
  26. Slaughtering;
  27. Flaying;
  28. Salting meat;
  29. Curing hide;
  30. Scraping hide;
  31. Cutting hide up;
  32. Writing two or more letters;
  33. Erasing two or more letters;
  34. Building;
  35. Tearing something down;
  36. Extinguishing a fire;
  37. Kindling a fire;
  38. Putting the finishing touch on an object;
  39. Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or within the public domain;

The 39 melachot are not so much activities as categories of activity. For example, while "winnowing" usually refers exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain, it refers in the Talmudic sense to any separation of intermixed materials which renders edible that which was inedible. Thus, filtering undrinkable water to make it drinkable falls under this category, as does picking small bones from fish. (Gefilte fish is a traditional Ashkenazi solution to this problem.)

In the event that a human life is in danger, a Jew is not only allowed, but required, to violate any Shabbat law which stands in the way of saving that life.


Shabbat is a day of celebration as well as one of prayer. Three festive meals are eaten each Shabbat: on Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and early Saturday evening before the conclusion of the Shabbat. All Jews are encouraged to attend services at a synagogue during Shabbat, even if they would not normally do so on weekdays.

With the exception of Yom Kippur, days of public fasting are postponed for a day if they coincide with Shabbat, and mourners sitting Shivah conduct themselves normally for the duration of the day and are indeed forbidden to express public signs of mourning.

Permitted activities

The following activities are encouraged on Shabbat: The following activities are in accord with Jewish law and tradition but are not mandated:

See also

External links

Recommended reading