Explaining Shabbat to Goyim

It was asked of me to explain how modern jewish famlies keep shabbat by one of my non-jewish friends on the Facebook, so I will give kind of a run down on the subject, translating terms and hopefully not getting too bogged down in the many, MANY, complexities of halachah (jewish law…the ‘ch’ is prounced like the ‘ch’ in Achmed the Dead Terrorist) dealing with Shabbat.

Shabbat, the Holy Sabbath, is the central point in time for a jew.  It is commonly called “the day of rest”.  Shabbat as a day is meant to remind us of G-d as both creator and liberator.  It is a rememberance of creation and how G-d completed all of His work in 6 days and then rested on the seventh.  It is also a rememberance of the exodus from Egypt, G-d freeinf us from the house of bondage.  And so we both try to be like G-d and also remember that there is only one true creative and controlling force in the world….and it ain’t us.

I will be doing my best to explain this in the way Orthodox views of judaism interpret sabbath observance, but know that there are many jews from many parts of the jewish world who do things in their own way and I am in no way diminishing their style of observance.  As a good friend of mine, Rabbi Mike Moskowitz would say, “It’s a big Torah”  (actually he would say “It’s a big Toyrah” haha).

Sabbath preperations are often times things which can span the course of the week.  Getting choice meats, produce, wine, making sure the house is clean and clothing is prepared are all part of being ready for Shabbat.  Food for Shabbat is cooked beforehand since there is a prohibition on the use of fire and cooking.  Now you can have a special hot plate, called in yiddish a blech or hebrew a platah to warm solid foods and many people utilize a slow cooker to make a kind of stew called chollent.  The food is ready, many people wear special garments (imagine your “sunday best”), the house is prepared and it is friday at sunset and the lady of the house lights a pair of candles to bring in shabbat with a blessing.  Some go to attend an evening service at synagogue.  Others stay home bringing in the sabbath with songs to angels and one dedicated to the lady of the house known as Aishet Chayil.  Then a blessing known as kiddush is made over wine or juice, a ceremonial washing of hands followed by a blessing over bread and a festive meal in honor of Shabbat.

During this time no one is messing with electricity, no one is driving, we’re basically Amish for 25 hours.  The next day many will go to synagogue, walking there, for shabbat service, the length of which varies from place to place.  Afterwards there typically is a kiddush with snacks, sometimes even a full lunch, and people schmooze.  Then lunch back home with a special kiddush for the day and after that, if you can, a nice schlof or nap lol.  The day is spent with resting, eating, drinking (if that’s your thing), learning Torah, schmoozing…really anything you want that falls within the realm of permissible during Shabbat.

Saturday night, at nightfall, ends Shabbat. A special ceremony known as havdalah ends the day, blessings said over wine, spices, and a special multi-wicked candle.

So that’s a really really condensed explanation of what happens on shabbat.  If you have friends who are Jewish and celebrate shabbat I would suggest floating the idea of checking it out with them, or maybe look up a local synagogue and see what services look like.  I hope this illuminates this special day for my non-jewish readers and if you are jewish too, what are some ways that your family uniquely celebrate shabbat?  I like to let the kids get a little goofy during Shalom Alaichem, welcoming the Shabbat angels, and I roll Sephardic style, not using a knife but rather tearing my challah bread by hand.

I would recommend both chabad.org and jewfaq.org as good online sources to read up on this as well.  Jewfaq.org was a great source for me when I first began exploring Judaism.

Hope you all enjoyed.  Shabbat Shalom.


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