Religion holds power in various aspects of life. It does a lot for the world by creating many corporate opportunities, holding events that help other out, supporting a community, supplying a sanctum for people, and the list can go on and on. The majority of a religion would not understand why certain rituals or prayers are said, what is the meaning behind a certain event, or even not know obvious symbols used during a celebration. Judaism has many traditions and symbols that is known throughout the world such as: Hanukkah, dreidels, the Menorah, and many others. A very important day for Jews would be the Sabbath and many only understand it as a day that forbids them to perform work. There is much more to that, and many spiritual meanings behind it – which makes the celebration even more important to the Jewish community.
The Sabbath is one of the most recognized traditions in Judaism even if it is not the most understood. It is the day of rest on the seventh day of the week. This holy day starts off on Friday at sunset, and occurs throughout Saturday (the seventh day) until sunset. There are many things involved in this celebration such as rituals, food, and even traditional rules that needs to be followed. The Sabbath serves as a reminder for two very important events. The first event has its origins in the Jewish Bible, which states that God had created the world in six days, and on the seventh God had rested. This holy celebration allow Jews to remember God’s creation of the world. The second event is the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt. Many Hebrews had been slaves to rulers in Egypt and were led to freedom, also stated in the Jewish Bible (Louis Jacobs, 1999). The Sabbath allows every Jewish family to have bonding time, respect their religion, eat together elaborately, and to have leisurely time to rest for next week.
There are many things to do for Jewish families to prepare for the Sabbath, and during their day of rest itself. Family members that are not working would stay at home and clean the house. The women would usually prepare breakfast and lunch, then spend most of their time cooking for the elaborate Sabbath dinner for the evening. Everybody in the household will take a bath or shower, then dress appropriately for the night. As sundown nears (at least 18 minutes before the sunset), candles are lit and blessed, usually by the woman of the house. Candle lighting times can be found on the Jewish calendars. If people are still at work, the family would wait for that person to return before starting the meal and Sabbath blessings. Some Jewish families would go to a Friday night service that is hosted by their local “church” (synagogue) before their Sabbath meal. This Friday service is usually very short – 45 minutes. When the whole family is gathered, there are certain blessings that needs to be performed before eating. Every religious blessing is performed by the man of the house and he first blesses the children. The next blessing is for the wife. After blessing the woman of the house, the man of the house would recite a blessing over wine or grape juice. Some families will have a hand-washing ritual after honouring the wine, but some do not. A small amount of water is poured over both hands followed by a blessing. The last religious blessing to be done before eating is to bless the bread. After the blessing is recited and everyone acknowledged it with, “Amen”, they salt a piece of the bread that was broken off and eats it. This begins the dinner and everyone eats. To conclude the dinner, a certain grace is recited. After the festive meal, families would usually spend time together and sing songs, study the Bible, and even enjoy some leisurely activities. The family will go to bed early to attend the Saturday morning service hosted by their local synagogue. This usually concludes Friday’s activities (Falcon, and Blatner).
As Saturday comes around, the Jewish families will all walk to their local synagogue to attend the morning service which usually ends at noon. The family will usually eat an afternoon meal after the services with the same blessings as their dinner from the previous night. After the lunch, grace is said once again. The rest of the day would be leisure time for the family is bond with each other. Activities such as studying the Torah, naps, checkers or chess, and other “light” games usually occur. A meal would be eaten again in the late afternoon (the third meal during the Sabbath). When nightfall occurs, ending ceremonies for the Sabbath will be performed. A “separation/division” ceremony would be celebrated by blessings over wine, spices, and candles. After this tradition, the Sabbath is over and normal activities (and work) can resume.
The Sabbath is a day of rest, associated with the foundation of Judaism. The term Sabbath came from the Hebrew word, “Sabbat”, which means rest. There are many important artefact and symbols that relates to the Sabbath. The Torah is the Jewish “Bible” and outlines many teachings or laws that the Jewish community needs to follow. There are five books of the Torah and the first relates to one of the reasons why Jews celebrate the Sabbath. The first book is: “Genesis”, which tells of God creating the world in six days and rested on the seventh – declaring it to be holy (Genesis 2: 2-3). Another analysis on the seventh day allows us to believe that God created on the seventh day as well and that rest from work is itself a creation (Louis Jacobs, 1999). Freedom is an important aspect that the Sabbath reminds many Jewish families. “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the L-rd, your G-d brought you forth from there with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm; therefore the L-rd your G-d commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15). Every person that works are committed to deadlines, schedules, etc. They are like slaves to these concerns, but the Sabbath works to free them, just as it did to their Jewish ancestors (who were slaves in Egypt).
A symbol of faith between the followers of YHWH (the Holy Lord) would be the prayers used in this celebration. The Separation ceremony is called the Havadalah and has very important religious significance. As stated, the first blessing is over a cup of wine, which Jews thank and acknowledges the lord for creating wine. The same goes for the spices before they pass it around to smell. The next blessing is to again praise the lord for creating fire by holding up a candle. Lastly, Jewish families thank the lord for the division between the holy Sabbath and the weekdays.
The Sabbath celebration includes: distinguishing between the holy day and the weekdays, thanking the lord, acknowledging the lord, and spending time with the family all connects to an overarching significance that every follower needs to know: that God is there for you and many aspects of your life. This is shared by Hermann Cohen, who provided the foundation for Reform Judaism in the early twentieth century who stated, “…unique God of love for mankind.” (Branson). This contributes to the blessing over bread, wine, spices, fire, and family. The analysis behind the meaning of the Sabbath is very important to figure out the reason why someone puts a lot of care into preparing for the celebration. It allows people to open up and learn about other religions other than their own, or even learn more about their own. Cohen praised this idea as well and stated, “The Sabbath is given first to Israel. But the world has accepted it.”(Branson). Religion is a careful structure to seek and help people out in their own way, and to unify a defined community with moral values.
- “Sabbath”A Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion. Louis Jacobs. Oxford University Press, 1999. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.University of Toronto Libraries.18 November 2009http://www.oxfordreference.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t96.e586
- Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Judaism. Taylor & Francis, 21 January 1999. 19 November 2009 http://lib.myilibrary.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/Browse/open.asp?ID=10833&loc=cover
- Branson, Roy “Sabbath : heart of Jewish unity.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 15.4 (1978): 716-736. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. EBSCO. Web. 18 Nov. 2009.
- Falcon, Ted, and David Blatner. Judaism for dummies. For Dummies, 2001. Print.
- Holy Bible. Zondervan Publishing Company, 1987. Print.