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Seven Shabbat Traditions

1. Candles: The Light of Shabbat

[Picture] According to Genesis, light was the first thing God created. If the sun was created afterwards, what was the source of the first light? One understanding is that the light that filled the world must have been a spiritual light -- the light of the dawning of consciousness.

Just as the creation of the world was initiated by light, so too is the Sabbath, as befits the celebration of creation. We usher in the Sabbath before sunset, with a candle-lighting ritual. Traditionally, women have lit Shabbat candles. Both men and women are now participate in, and enjoy, this practice. Young children especially love to be present for this moment.(For details and the words of the blessing, see the words and deeds section.)

On this topic:

Creating Shabbat

Seven Shabbat traditions

Words and deeds

Shabbat as a family 

Mishpacha participants on Shabbat


2. Blessing the Children 

Blessing your children can be a very special shared moment. Before beginning Sabbath dinner take a moment to lay your hands on your child's head and give the gift of your blessing. You can use the traditional words in the words and deeds section, or bless your children in whatever way you wish. If this feels alien to you, think in terms your personal prayers for your child's well-being, protection and growth. Some households have the custom of blessing everyone present.


The Sabbath meal is preceded by the reciting of kiddush, the sanctification of Shabbat over wine. In Jewish life, wine is a symbol for joy. The kiddush describes the Sabbath as a commemoration of both the universal -- the creation of the world -- and the particular -- God's redemption of Israel from Egypt.

What does the exodus from Egypt have to do with Shabbat? Not only do we ourselves rest on the Sabbath in imitation of God's rest from creation, but we give our servants, slaves and even our animals rest. Since the Israelites were liberated from servitude by God, they are commanded in turn to give rest to others on the Sabbath. (For the text of kiddush please refer to words and deeds.)

4.Breaking Bread

Challot (the Hebrew plural of challah) are the braided loaves traditionally eaten on Shabbat. We bless two challot at every meal to commemorate the Jews who wandered in the desert after they were freed from Egypt. On each morning in the desert the wanderers received one portion of manna, but on Friday they received two portions to prevent bread-collecting on the Sabbath itself. After collecting this double portion they had everything they needed for the Sabbath. (See the words and deeds section for the words of the blessing, and our recipe section to learn to bake your own.)

5. Blessing and Song

As you have seen, the Sabbath is a time of many blessings -- those which we recite, and those in which we partake. One central blessing is the blessing that is recited after the meal. This blessing is not particular to the Sabbath but one that is recited every time one eats a meal with bread -- the staple of our diet. The blessing gives thanks for the land and its bounty, and for God's goodness in feeding all creatures. Some families sing this blessing and others recite it to themselves. (On the words and deeds page you will find the English text for the first section.)


Sabbath meals are made joyous by communal singing. Traditionally, families sing Hebrew songs that are specific to the Sabbath. However, you may try singing your family's favorite songs. Singing immeasurably increases a sense of festivity around the dinner table.

6. The Sabbath Day

On the Sabbath day there is also a festive midday meal. Again kiddush, is recited (it is a kiddush particular to Saturday afternoon and different from the one recited on Friday night - see the words and deeds page.) After lunch many people take an opportunity for a long and luxurious nap. Saturday afternoon is also a good time for study, reading, or taking long meditative walks.

7. Havdalah

Havdalah brings the Sabbath to a close in the same way it began -- with light. For this ritual, we use one braided candle instead of two separate candles. The braided candles symbolize the two separate flames becoming one through the unifying force of Shabbat.

This ceremony includes blessings over wine, spices, light, and for the God who distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, between darkness and light. (See the words and deeds section for the text of the ceremony and its details.) 


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