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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 7.12:
What happens on Shabbat?

Answer:

As a reminder, Shabbat runs from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday night. However, Shabbat preparations begin well before sundown, as one must be ready for the arrival of the "Shabbat Queen" (traditionally, Shabbat is treated as an arriving queen).

By mid-afternoon on Friday, traditional begin to prepare. The house is cleaned. The family prepares itself for the arrival of a special guest. One wears the best clothes that one has (some families have the tradition of reserving the first wearing of new clothes for shabbat). The best dishes and tableware are set. A festive meal is prepared (the running joke is that it is always Chicken :-)). Additionally, one must prepare for all those things that one cannot do on Shabbat. For example, lights and appliances must be set (or timers set); the refrigerator light bulb must be removed or unscrewed; and preparations for Shabbat meals must be made.

As the sun is starting to go down, Shabbat candles are lit and a blessing is recited no later than eighteen minutes before sunset. Why "before sunset"? Because after sunset, one cannot kindle a flame. The candle lighting is traditionally performed by the woman of the house; it marks the beginning of Shabbat. There are two candlesrepresenting the two commandments: zachor (remember) and shamor (observe). The family then attends a brief evening service. [In Reform congregations, the candle lighting is often done as the first activity in the service.]

In traditional households, the family comes home for a festive, leisurely dinner after services. In Reform households, dinner is often held before services. Before the dinner, the head of the house recites Kiddush, a prayer over wine sanctifying Shabbat. The usual prayer for eating bread is recited over two loaves of challah, a sweet, egg bread shaped in a braid. The family then eats dinner.

In the Reform movement, there is not always a festive dinner. To ensure the blessings are said, Reform congregations often have an "oneg" after the service; at the start of the Oneg, the blessings over the wine and bread are said by the rabbi.

During Shabbat, in traditional households, meals are generally stewed or slow cooked items. This is because of the prohibitions against lighting flames and cooking during Shabbat. Stews and slow-cooked items are OK, because food that are mostly cooked before Shabbat and then reheated or kept warm is permitted. Hence, a traditional Shabbat food is Cholet, a form of stew. After dinner, the birkat ha-mazon (grace after meals) is recited. By the time all of this is completed, it may be 9PM or later. The family has an hour or two to talk or study Torah, and then go to sleep.

On Saturday, morning Shabbat services begin around 9AM and continue until about noon. After services, its time for another kiddush and meal. During the afternoon, the family studies Torah for a while, and takes some family time together. Often, people walk to the park to enjoy the fresh air. It is traditional to have a third meal before Shabbat is over as a light meal in the late afternoon.

Shabbat ends at nightfall, when three stars are visible. Shabbat ends with a ritual called Havdalah (separation, division). Blessings are recited over wine, spices and candles. The spices remind us of the sweetness of Shabbat. The candle is then extinguished with the wine. A blessing is recited regarding the division between the sacred and the secular, between Shabbat and the working days, etc. We then pray for Elijah, who will announce the arrival of the Messiah, to arrive (often with the song Eliyahu Hanavi). We then wish each other a good week, a week of gladness and joy.

Note: This was adapted from a description of a typical shabbat at http://www.aujs.com.au/shabbat.htm. A description of the Orthodox service may be found at http://www.njop.org/html/shabbat_service.html.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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