What is Shabbat?

The Jewish Sabbath day is the most important day of the week. It is a time of coming together, rejoicing, and truly resting. While in the Gentile mind the many restrictions and prohibitions set for the Sabbath look burdensome and frustrating, many Jewish people I have related with do not find this to be so, but instead they find it freeing and restful to observe many of these practices. In these next few posts I want to take a closer look at this special day in the life of a Jewish person.
The Jewish Sabbath occurs on Saturday and you might hear it referred to in several different ways. If you are from one linguistic group you might refer to it as Shabbos, and another group would refer to it as Shabbat. Typical greetings to everyone you meet are “Good Shabbos” or “Shabbat Shalom.” When I lived in Israel, the general greeting was “Shabbat Shalom” but since moving to the area of Brooklyn where I currently reside, there is a larger population of Ashkenazic Jews and the greeting I hear most is “Good Shabbos.”
The Jewish day begins at sundown and lasts until the following sundown, so Shabbat begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening. Friday before sundown is a busy day for a typical Orthodox woman because all the shopping must be completed before the stores close for the Sabbath, the food must be prepared, all the cleaning must be done, and everything must be ready for the weekly celebration. Since driving on Shabbat is prohibited, families will often get together for the entire weekend and large amounts of food and preparation are required.
There are many rules and regulations regarding what you may or may not do on the Sabbath. Depending on how religious you are will also determine how strictly the rules are observed. One of the most basic prohibitions is driving, and you are also not allowed to use your phone, flip a light switch, do any general work, or even push buttons—and you  cannot specifically ask someone to do it for you. For example, if the light was off in the bathroom you could not outright ask someone to turn it on for you but could only hint at it. Some people hire what is referred to as a “Shabbas Goy.” This is a Gentile hired specifically to do these types of things for them on Shabbat. Many appliances, such as ovens and stoves have a “Sabbath Mode” so they can be set beforehand. There are also Sabbath elevators which are automatically programmed to stop on every floor so that no buttons need to be pushed!
Being in Israel on Shabbat is an incredibly fascinating experience—especially in Jerusalem. The Jewish section of the city pretty much completely shuts down. It is quiet, and shops and restaurants are closed- it is truly a day of rest. You might walk down a back street and stop outside a synagogue to hear the prayers being chanted and people “davening”—swaying back and forth as they recite the prayers. Children are washed and dressed in their best clothes, and around the meal table lively discussions are often happening. While typical studying is prohibited, the study of Torah and Scripture is applauded and treasured. Often times people find many of these rules freeing because it takes away any feeling of needing to do work because they know it is prohibited leaving them free to rest, feast and celebrate without guilt. Families will often be seen out walking together or going to the park, soaking up the last remnants of relaxation before the busy week begins again at sundown.

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