Many people think that the Sabbath is for the Jewish people. However, the Bible already records in Genesis 2:1-3: “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” The Sabbath was established even before humanity was created. The observance of the Sabbath was later commanded to the Israelites by God through the Ten Commandments when Moses led them out of Egypt and they wandered in the wilderness. Let’s take a look at how Jewish people observe the Sabbath!

The Hebrew word for Sabbath is שבת (pronounced: Shabbat). From Sunday to Friday, for six days, Jewish people work diligently. After sunset on the sixth day, the Sabbath begins. So, in Israel, on Fridays, people rush home after completing half a day’s work to welcome the Sabbath.

On this evening of the Sabbath, family members gather at the father’s house. Children who are working or serving in the military away from home will come back for this special Sabbath dinner. Having lived in Israel for many years, our family has participated in various Jewish Sabbath dinners, each leaving us with a different experience.

The first time was an invitation from our landlord, and all the children came back to gather together. Before the meal, our landlord led us in singing songs, offering prayers and blessings, dividing the Sabbath bread, and drinking from the same cup of grape juice.

Another time, we attended a Sabbath dinner at a family’s home with traditional Jewish faith. This time, we truly experienced the significance of the Sabbath dinner! The entire dinner is divided into seven parts, each building upon a strong and harmonious family atmosphere:

1. Candle Lighting

18 minutes before sunset, the mother or daughter lights a pair of candles. The host of the traditional Jewish Sabbath dinner we attended explained that after lighting the candles, there are 18 minutes to turn off the lights and finish any unfinished tasks because entering the Sabbath, Jewish people do not work or operate switches; phones should also be turned off!

On the Sabbath, traditional Jewish people light two candles. One symbolizes the remembrance of the Sabbath: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8). The other symbolizes keeping the Sabbath: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. ” (Deuteronomy 5:12).

The hostess covers her head with a veil, signifying her submission to the Lord and welcoming this special day He ordained. After lighting the candles, she waves her hands over the candlelight three times, then covers her eyes with her hands and recites a blessing prayer.

At this point, she takes a moment for private prayer, then opens her hands, gazes at the candlelight, and says “Shabbat Shalom,” signifying Sabbath peace. Then, the song “Shalom Aleichem” is sung to welcome the Sabbath angels.

2. Blessing Friends

The song “Lekha Dodi” is sung to welcome friends.

3. Blessing Children

The father blesses each child from the eldest to the youngest, laying his hands on their heads to bless them.

The blessing for sons is “May the Lord make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.”

The blessing daughters is, “May the Lord make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.”

Then, he blesses all his children, saying, “May the Lord bless you and keep you; may the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

4. Blessing the Wife

The husband praises his wife in front of the children, reciting Proverbs 31:10-31 as a tribute to her: ‘Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. She considers a field and buys it; from her profits she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.’

5. Blessing over the Wine

A blessing is recited over the wine, thanking God for the Sabbath, reflecting on its significance and holiness. Each adult holds a cup of grape wine (children typically use grape juice), and one person leads a blessing song. At the end of the blessing, everyone says “Amen,” and then they can drink.

6. Washing Hands

After the wine blessing comes the washing of hands. Filled cups of water are poured over the top and bottom of the right hand two or three times, then the left hand. Before drying the hands with a towel, the following blessing is recited: “Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.”

After washing hands, everyone quietly returns to their seats at the table, waiting for the bread to be placed before them.

7. Blessing over the Bread

The head of the household takes the braided Sabbath bread (challah) and blesses it, reciting the blessing: “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

The challah is a braided bread made of two dough strands crossed over each other, symbolizing how God provided double the amount of manna, allowing the people to gather enough food to last until the Sabbath (Exodus 16:22). The challah is then torn into pieces and passed around the table. When breaking the bread, a knife is not used as it symbolizes the sacrificial offering on the temple altar, and metal implements are not used on the altar. Each small piece is lightly dipped in salt to remember the offerings provided with salt and to commemorate the destroyed temple. During Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, honey is used instead of salt, symbolizing hope for a sweet year ahead.

After the blessings, everyone joyfully enjoys the meal together.

During the Sabbath dinner, parents prepare sumptuous dishes in anticipation of their children’s return. Children share the ups and downs of their week with their parents during the dinner. Throughout the process, the head of the household carries blessings from above to bless the children and praises his hardworking wife in front of everyone. This warmth, family harmony, and the sense of being a support for the children make home a comforting haven no matter how challenging life outside may be. It truly is a beautiful tradition to pass down.