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Shabbat - The Jewish Sabbath


The Sabbath (or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew) is the most important ritual observance in Judaism. It is the only ritual observance instituted in the Ten Commandments. Primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment, the word 'Shabbat' comes from the root Shin-Bet-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. 

Shabbat is not specifically a day of prayer. Although Jews do pray on Shabbat, and spend a substantial amount of time in synagogue praying, prayer is not what distinguishes Shabbat from the rest of the week. Observant Jews pray every day, three times a day. To say that Shabbat is a day of prayer is no more accurate than to say that Shabbat is a day of feasting: we eat every day, but on Shabbat, we eat more elaborately and in a more leisurely fashion. The same can be said of prayer on Shabbat.

Shabbat is one of the best known but least understood of all Jewish observances. People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions, or as a day of prayer like the Christian Sabbath. But to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from God, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits.

In Jewish literature, poetry and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat hymn “Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah” (Come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride). It is commonly said that "more than Israel has kept Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept Israel."

In modern Australia we take the five-day workweek so much for granted that we forget what a radical concept a day of rest was in ancient times. A weekly day of rest had no parallel in any other ancient civilisation. In ancient times, leisure was for the wealthy and the ruling classes only, never for the serving or labouring classes. In addition, the very idea of rest each week was unimaginable. The Ancient Greeks thought Jews were lazy because we insisted on having a ‘holiday’ every seventh day.

Today, the ways in which Australian Jews observe the Shabbat differ from ancient times, but the essence is the same. Shabbat is a precious and essential occasion for the entire family.

Click on this link for Shabbat Times from the Australian Jewish News.

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