Customs and Rituals

How do Jews observe the Sabbath?

Ritual observance of the Sabbath (Saturday) begins at sundown Friday and concludes twenty-five hours later at nightfall. In home ceremonies, families begin the day of rest by lighting two candles, one symbolizing resting from work and the other tranquility and joy, while many other families light the number of candles that equals the number of members in their family. Then after Kiddush (sanctification) prayers over a glass of wine, they celebrate with Sabbath dinner. The Friday night dinner is the first of three special meals, and at the end of the day on Saturday, the havdalah (separation) ceremony is performed, which marks the end of the sacred time of the Sabbath and transition back to “ordinary” time. Some celebrants include spices (and elaborately decorated spiceboxes) in that ceremony. Many Jews attend synagogue prayers on Friday evening, with typically larger numbers going to prayers together on Saturday. Refraining from labors on the Sabbath is variously interpreted, from Reform Judaism’s definition of “work” as one’s ordinary livelihood occupation, to Orthodox Judaism’s meticulous attention to avoiding all of the thirty-nine varieties of work in Rabbinic tradition. For example, Orthodox Jews generally do not drive on the Sabbath, preferring to walk even considerable distances to synagogue services.


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