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An Overview of the Sabbath

    For centuries the Jews have practiced the keeping of the Sabbath. Traditionally, we know this commandment to come out of "The Ten Commandments"(Exodus 20:1-17). Simply stated, this commandment would read: "You will remember and keep the Sabbath day holy". For most Christians, this can mean anything from attending church service on Sunday to not cursing on Sunday. In actuality, the Sabbath is steeped in Jewish culture and religion and takes on a multifaceted dimension. For the purposes of this report, I'd like to give a brief overview of this rich tradition.

    According to David S. Noss, in A History of the World's Religions, "The Sabbath day…appears to have an ancient date, originating long before the time of the Exodus, from the custom of taking one day of every "moon" for worship and recreation. Gradually, it became customary to set aside the seventh day of the week as a pious period of rest, sacred to the Lord"(Noss 381). Here we see that the keeping of the Sabbath did not necessarily originate from the time of Exodus 20:1-7. Rav Doniel Schreiber, in his article, The Laws of Shabbat, states that "…one who actively observes Shabbat is acting as a witness attesting to the creation of the world by G-d…By imitating G-d and resting on Shabbat, we proclaim to the world that it was G-d "Who rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had made (referring to Genesis)"(Schreiber 1). Schreiber is saying that keeping the Sabbath is an act of hallowing or making this day holy as the Jews are commanded to do.

    So, how does one keep the Sabbath? Since it is a day of rest one should not do any work. Depending on the interpreter of "work"(Orthodox or Reform traditions), work could mean restrictions on lighting a match, dragging a chair across the floor (thus "tilling" the dust), or cooking. Although, according to Schreiber, there are "positive mitzvoth associated with the sanctity of Shabbat", such as "…earthly delights: eating well and often, in fine attire and in a bright and sparkling atmosphere"(Schreiber 2). Thus, Sabbath is not only a solemn time to recognize G-d, but also a joyous time for celebrating co-existence with the creator of color, light, and taste. This brings us to a point that Schreiber explains as "a very important…dimension to observing Shabbat…the chance to renew our relationship with G-d; to, "recharge our spiritual batteries"(Schreiber 2). To explain, when we understand that G-d is dwelling with the Jewish community in such a special way, we see that the Jews get a big jolt to an otherwise mundane existence. Schreiber, then, sums up Shabbat as "a time when Hashem (G-d) and B'nei Yisrael (Israel) "rush into each others arms." It is a time to blend spiritual and earthly pleasures. We use this opportunity to increase our Torah study (our primary bridge to Hashem), to enjoy and strengthen our families (the primary source of our mesora, tradition), and to realize the depths of our spiritual capacities in our earthly bodies"(Schreiber 3). Thus, we see this day as a very Lord-centered day that brings an energizing joy into the Jewish community.

    In keeping the Sabbath, there is much preparing to do. For purposes of this paper, the preparations will be discussed using a famous anecdote. As Schreiber explains, "We are all familiar with the analogy of Hashem to a leader of a great nation. If that leader were to come to visit our home, our preparations would be endless, our house would be shining, our food delicious, clothing spotless, and we would certainly not finish our preparations late. How much more so should we be careful to honor Hashem and the Shabbat"(Schreiber pt.2, 1). Therefore, the many preparations should be viewed as a joyous welcoming and not as a monotonous burden.

    When does the Sabbath begin? It certainly does not begin, for Jews, on Sunday morning as it would for most Christians. According to Schreiber, the "Shabbat officially begins at the onset of night when three medium size stars appear (tzeit ha-kokhavim) at the end of Friday, the sixth day"(Schreiber pt.3, 1). Because of the difficulty of seeing the stars sometimes, some have legislated the Sabbath would begin as soon as the ball of the sun disappeared over the horizon.

    Finally, I'd like to introduce some ideas of a well known writer and philosopher of Judaism. His name is Abraham Joshua Heschel. In his work, The Sabbath: It's Meaning for Modern Man, Heschel explains that "Six days a week we(the Jews) live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time…a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation"(Heschel 10). Heschel, certainly, has a way with words. In just a few sentences, he has summed up the meaning or the essence of keeping the Sabbath.

    To conclude, we can see that the idea of the Sabbath differs between Christian and Jews for the most part. After just a little research, one can uncover a vast, dynamic, and rich heritage behind the Sabbath. We've seen that keeping the Sabbath attests G-d as creator, celebrates the Lord's creation, draws one closer to G-d, and strengthens and renews ones vitality. To quote Heschel again: "There are few ideas in the world of thought which contain so much spiritual power as the idea of the Sabbath. Aeons hence, when many of our cherished theories only shreds will remain, that cosmic tapestry will continue to shine. Eternity utters a day"(Heschel 101).

Works Cited:

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man. New York: The Noonday Press, 1989.

Noss, David S. A History of the World's Religions. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 1999.

Schreiber, Rav Doniel. The Laws of Shabbat. Jan. 1997. Virtual Jerusalem, Inc. Sept. 27, 1999. <>.