The Jewish Sabbath

Monday, April 20, 2009

The only holiday in Judaism that is not determined by a particular day of a month is the Sabbath. The word in Hebrew is Shabbat, which basically means to rest. For many, it is the crowning jewel of the Jewish time cycle.

We should remember that Sabbath is the only sacred day mentioned outright in the Ten Commandments. Other holidays are not mentioned. The Sabbath is. The Ten Commandments actually appear twice in the books of Moses. In the book of Exodus, in chapter 20, the reason for resting on the 7th day is emulating God. Just as God created the world in six days and the rested on the 7th, so we should also rest on the 7th day.

However, in the second version of the Ten Commandments, which appears in Deuteronomy chapter 5, this is expressed far more as a social issue. On the 7th day you should not do any work. This phrase, “not to do work on Sabbath”, engenders and causes enormous discussions among the rabbis to define work. What does work mean? Whole books are written about it. But it goes on. Your son, your daughter, your servants, your cattle and the stranger that lives withing your gates may rest as you.

This is, when we think of the chronological context in which this was formulated, a tremendous advanced social awareness of the needs of people. They need to have a day of rest. If you did not get the point, the Ten Commandments continue, remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt and that the Lord your God took you out of there. You ought to know how a servant in fact requires a day of rest.

The Sabbath, like all days in the Jewish calendar, begins at sunset. It continues until the evening of the following day. It does not begin at midnight, it begins at sunset. This is based on the way the scriptures described creation. When God creates the world, every day of the creation is concluded by “and it was evening, and it was morning, day 1”; then, “it was evening, it was morning, day 2”, and so on.