Shabbat Practice

I.  Introduction

The Reconstructionist approach toward Shabbat observance, as with most Jewish ritual, is to acknowledge and consider its meaning in creating a richer, more meaningful Jewish life. As a Reconstructionist community, the Kehillah Synagogue strives towards holiness and mindfulness through its ritual practices.

The Kehillah community has been confronted over time by a growing number of Shabbat observance dilemmas. It was felt that it was time to develop guidelines to deal with these dilemmas, as had been developed previously for Shabbat services and kashrut (keeping kosher).

We, the Kehillah community, respect that individuals and households will decide for themselves how they will observe Shabbat in their homes. These guidelines apply to Shabbat observance on the Kehillah grounds and for Kehillah-sponsored events. We understand that over time, the Rabbi and the Ritual Committee may need to make exceptions to, or new applications of, the guidelines.

II. Process

The guidelines were developed in a series of working sessions using values-based decision making, informed by education around the issues and their history. Members engaged in an open, facilitated process to study the basic tenets and values of Shabbat—beginning with the Torah, continuing through rabbinic literature and Kabbalah, to modern reflections, including those of thinkers such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan. [For those interested, excerpts from the study materials can be found in the appendix to the guidelines.]

At the working sessions, members also discussed personal views of the spiritual experience and growth that Shabbat and its rituals/traditions can offer.

The process enabled us to make informed choices and reach consensus, considering Shabbat tradition within the context of community values. The guidelines are constructed to respect Jewish tradition and to be easily understood and adopted by members and guests.

III. Communal Values and the Tension between Melacha and Kavod/Oneg

The recurrent theme in our guidelines is a balance between melacha (prohibited work on Shabbat as a day of rest) with the kavod (honor) and oneg (joy) of Shabbat. In modern practice, the desire to cease from what the tradition defines as “melacha”/work on Shabbat and delighting in the Sabbath can be in tension, especially as our world differs considerably from that of our ancestors. For instance, using a microphone could be considered work; yet, for others, the service is not accessible without amplification. Examining and coming up with responses to such dilemmas was at the heart of our communal process

Our tradition teaches us that desisting from work on Shabbat helps us to:

  • Take a break from shaping, controlling and changing nature, allowing us to recognize that we do not control all things, that we are not the Creator, and that we can be open to appreciation of the Source of Life;
  • Remove burdens and distractions so that we can rejoice in, delight in, and honor Shabbat;
  • Ensure that we are able to appreciate sacred time instead of just seeing time as utilitarian; and
  • Distinguish between Shabbat and the rest of the week, allowing us to “be” rather than to “do.”

Further, however, Heschel reminds us that honoring and delighting in Shabbat means that we appreciate that “Shabbat is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with a healing sympathy. It is a day on which hours do not oust one another. It is a day that can soothe all sadness away.” As the sages advised, “one should prepare rich foods and sweet drinks for Shabbat consumption, each person according to his means. Praiseworthy is the one who spends much for Shabbat and for the preparation of numerous tasty dishes.

A consensus statement of communal values around Shabbat emerged at the end of the educational process; that statement has helped us determine how we want to balance melacha and kavod/oneg in our practice:

Shabbat at the Kehillah brings us together to celebrate our diverse,   intergenerational community with joy and delight, providing us the  opportunity to pray, study Torah, and link ourselves with our traditions.

In general, we permit different forms of “work” that enhance this vision of Shabbat.  We avoid forms of work that distract us from achieving this vision and that use Shabbat as preparation for the future (after Shabbat).  

IV. Guidelines

A.   Food Preparation and Room Set Up on Shabbat

  • A water heater may be used for hot drinks, and pre-cooked food may be reheated (see electricity guideline below).
  • We do not cook or bake at the Kehillah during Shabbat.  
  • The work of setting up/taking down of seating, prayer books, oneg food, etc, is considered supporting our communal joy in coming together for Shabbat. Any congregant who views these as inappropriate on Shabbat will not be expected to do them.

Rationale: Warm food and beverages enhance the physical comfort of Shabbat, encourage fellowship, and increase delight in Shabbat. However, cooking and baking changes the state of food and would be utilizing Shabbat to achieve productive work.

B.    Electricity and Candle Lighting on Shabbat

  • Electricity will be used at Kehillah during Shabbat for turning lights, microphones, and heat/air conditioning off and on, and making adjustments as needed. We will minimize obvious use and disruption to the Shabbat service by, to the extent possible, making adjustments before the start of the service.  When the cost and environmental impact are not unreasonable, we will invest in items lessening the need for real time adjustment.
  • Photography, video, and audio recording will not be captured on Shabbat. These:
    • May disrupt the peacefulness which separates Shabbat from the everyday;
    • Unlike other electricity are not necessarily needed to enhance the physical setting;
    • May move the activities from “participatory” to “performance;” and
    • Create a product on Shabbat for later use.
    • Candle lighting at services will occur only if the service begins prior to sunset.

Rationale: Our tradition clearly forbids lighting and/or extinguishing a fire on Shabbat as “work.” Our study group concluded that accessing electricity was not the same as kindling fire and was therefore not work. And, while using electricity could be interpreted as “mastering” nature, the physical comfort and the ability of all congregants to see and hear the service were viewed as critical elements of Shabbat kavod/oneg.

We were concerned with minimizing both disruption of the kavod/oneg of the Shabbat service and offense to congregants who are uncomfortable with use of electricity on Shabbat. We also took into account congregational values such as stewardship of the earth so that we rejected some solutions used by other congregations, such as turning lights on before Shabbat starts

While candle lighting at Friday services helps us communally enter and celebrate Shabbat, creating fire is one of the forms of work explicitly prohibited in the Biblical text. For many, a key aspect of Shabbat is our surrender to the rhythms of the natural world, including beginning Shabbat at sundown. For such people, lighting Shabbat candles – which is not only work, but signifies the beginning of Shabbat – after the Sabbath has already started undermines the spirit of Shabbat itself.

C.   Musical Instruments on Shabbat

  • Non-electrified musical instruments are permitted as part of Shabbat services as long as their use enhances and supports the joy of prayer – not as a performance or for entertainment. The Rabbi and Ritual Committee will decide which kind of instruments to use based on that criterion.
  • The musicians should be volunteers, not hired.
  • Congregants will be informed when the use of musical instruments is planned for Shabbat services.
  • The Shofar will not be blown when Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat. Blowing the shofar, like chanting Avinu Malkeinu (also not done on Shabbat), is inconsistent with the spiritual peace of Shabbat. 
  • Musical instruments are not permitted at onegs or other Shabbat events where they would not be enhancing prayer.
  • Pre-recorded music will not be played. The community sense is that the contagious joyfulness of the musician is mostly removed from a recording.

Rationale: While playing a musical instrument is not directly defined by our tradition as “work,” the tactical details of transporting, preparing, and/or adjusting them can be. On the other hand, for many, our community value of celebrating Shabbat “with joy and delight” means using instrumental music to enhance prayer. However, it was felt that electrified musical instruments on Shabbat:

  • May disrupt the peacefulness which separates Shabbat from the everyday
  • May move the perception of the music from “participatory” to “performance.”

D.   Communications on Shabbat

  • We refrain from writing at Kehillah on Shabbat and Yom Tov.  When events require nametags, they should be prepared in advance based on reservation lists. A contact list of staff and key lay leadership will be printed and kept in the chapel to give to newcomers who visit. Likewise, newcomers can be provided with stamped, self-addressed postcards to Kehillah, on which they can later add their contact information and mail. This guideline will be included in planning materials for B’nei Mitzvah events.
  • We refrain from Kehillah business communications on Shabbat. Committee chairs and members will not send Kehillah business-related emails or make Kehillah business-related phone calls.  Kehillah will also not create or send bulk emails or make phone calls.
  • We ask that people refrain from the use of electronic devices during Shabbat while in Kehillah buildings or courtyard. In the case of emergency, congregants are asked to leave the sanctuary/chapel to avoid disruption of services. As congregational announcements are an important source of information, announcements will continue to be read at services.  However, sign-up sheets will not be distributed nor reservations taken.  Fliers with registration information may be available, but the announcement of the flyers must indicate that congregants may sign up after Shabbat.

Rationale: The types of communications above detract from our core values, previously discussed, of desisting from work and of honoring and taking delight in Shabbat and Shabbat services.

 E.    Commerce on Shabbat

  • Kehillah will not sponsor going out for paid entertainment on Shabbat. Sponsorship of events not involving payment will be at the discretion of the Rabbi and the Ritual Committee, who will determine if the event is in keeping with our consensus statement, which states that Shabbat “brings us together to celebrate…with joy and delight, providing us the opportunity to pray, study Torah, and link ourselves with our traditions.”
  • Shabbat announcements for weekday programs that involve commerce, payment, and/or social action will refer congregants to sign up after Shabbat.
  • Caterers, babysitters, etc. for Shabbat events should be paid all fees and tips before or after Shabbat. If Jews choose to do such work, they may be hired. It is the policy of Kehillah to respect such individual decisions. This guideline will be included in planning materials for B’nei Mitzvah events and will be given to caterers.
  • Kehillah will not sponsor, co-sponsor, or participate in social justice and/or fundraising activities on Shabbat. We will respond to such offers by engaging in dialogue with and educating others about Judaism and by striving to create non-Shabbat alternatives for participation.
  • On Shabbat, we will refrain from advancing organizational Kehillah business,  including but not limited to:
    • Engaging staff or lay-leadership in discussions of organizational operations
    • Scheduling meetings
    • Setting up or planning for a program that takes place after Shabbat. Programs scheduled to take place after Shabbat will either be set up in advance of Shabbat or take place late enough for set-up to begin after Havdallah.

Rationale: Our tradition views most forms of commerce and/or monetary transactions as “work.” We respect Shabbat as a time when we disengage from secular work.


In the Beginning: Biblical Texts on Shabbat, Study Session #1 

Text #1

And the skies and the earth and all their array were finished.  And in the seventh day God finished God’s work that God had done and ceased in the seventh day from all God’s work that God had done.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because God ceased in it from doing all God’s work, which God had created. [Genesis 2:1-3]

Text #2

This is the thing which the Lord has commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons, whom each of you has in his tent; And the people of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.

And when they did measure it with an omer, he who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.

And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning

However they listened not to Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank; and Moses was angry with them.  And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating; and when the sun became hot, it melted.  And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man; and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.  And he said to them, This is what the Lord has said, Tomorrow is the rest of the holy sabbath to the Lord; bake that which you will bake today, and boil what you will boil today; and that which remains over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.

And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade; and it did not stink, neither was there any worm in it. And Moses said, Eat that today; for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you shall not find it in the field.  Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. And it came to pass, that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, How long refuse you to keep my commandments and my laws

See, because the Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore he gives you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide you every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.  So the people rested on the seventh day.

[Exodus 16:16-30]

Text #3

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days shall you labor, and do all your work; But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and made it holy. [Exodus 20:8-11]

Text #4

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

Speak you also to the people of Israel, saying, Truly my sabbaths you shall keep; for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am the Lord that does sanctify you. You shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you; every one who defiles it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work in it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant.

It is a sign between me and the people of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.  And he gave to Moses, when he finished talking with him upon Mount Sinai, two tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

[Exodus 31:12-18]

Text #5

And Moses gathered all the congregation of the people of Israel together, and said to them, These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them.

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord; whoever does work in it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.  And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the people of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the Lord commanded, saying, Take you from among you an offering to the Lord; whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the Lord; gold, and silver, and bronze,

[Exodus 35:1-5]

Text #6

Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord your God has commanded you.

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your ox, nor your ass, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is inside your gates; that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and with a stretched out arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. [Deuteronomy 5:12-15]

Text #7

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; If you call the sabbath “delight,” The Lord’s holy day “honored”; And if you honor it and go not your ways nor look to your affairs, nor strike bargains – Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.  I will set you astride the heights of the earth, And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob—For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. [Isaiah 58:13-14]

 Study Session #2

Shabbat in Torah – Biblical Values and Concepts

  • Shabbat is the culmination and crown of God’s Creation.  God blesses Shabbat and makes it holy.   Shabbat is woven into the fabric of the universe (T1): 
  • The Hebrew word Shabbat is derived from the verb to cease (T1).
  • No gathering (of manna).Shabbat helps us realize we have enough and have done enough (T2): 
  • Shabbat is a time of ceasing from m’lachah/productive work (T3)
  • Shabbat is an opportunity for bringing Godliness into the world/for imatatio deo (T3):  Every 7th day is God’s Shabbat, and we must recognize the day’s holiness by resting from our work just as God did.  And we must make sure that all those for whom we bear responsibility do the same.
  • Shabbat helps connect us to God (T4) :  It is a remembrance of the work of Creation/of God in the world.
  • Shabbat is a source of providing belonging/identity with Jewish people:  Shabbat is a sign of the connection between God and the Jewish People for all time and a reminder that God sanctifies us.  One who defiles it is liable for the death penalty. (T4)
  • No fire shall be kindled on Shabbat.   Shabbat provides an opportunity to take a break from trying to master the natural world (T4)
  • Observance of Shabbat interrupts the creation of the tabernacle. Observance of Shabbat is of such importance that cease even human works of creation that are of the highest spiritual value (T5)
  • Shabbat is in remembrance of the Exodus    Just as God releases the slave so do we.  On Shabbat social hierarchy is cancelled; there is equality in rest.  Only because we were freed from slavery are we free to celebrate Shabbat. (T6)
  • Shabbat directs us away from the mundane and allows us to have a taste of delight and honor of the Holy (T7) 

In the Torah m’lachah is not defined (no definitive list or definition).  Several activities, though, are forbidden in the Torah and the rest of the bible:

  1. Engaging in work (Exod. 20:10; Duet. 5:14)
  2. Gathering from the field (Numbers15:32-36)
  3. Traveling (exodus 16:29-30
  4. Kindling fire (Exodus 35:2-3)
  5. Doing business and carrying (Isa. 58:13, Jer. 17:22)
  6. Agricultural activity (Exodus 34:21)
  7. Treading winepresses and loading animals (Neh. 13:15-18)

Text #1 Mishnah Shabbat 7:2

The main categories* of work are forty less one (i.e., thirty-nine): [1] sowing, [2]plowing  [3] harvesting, [4] gathering;  [5]threshing or  [6] winnowing; [7] selecting, [8]grinding, [9]sifting, [10] kneading, or [11] baking; [12]shearing wool, [13] bleaching [14] combing [raw fibers] [15] dyeing, [16] spinning, or [17] weaving ; [18] making two loops, [19] weaving two threads, or [20] separating two threads; [21] tying, or [22] untying, or [23] sewing two stitches; [24] tearing in order to sew two stitches; [25] trapping a deer, [26] slaughtering, [27] flaying, [28] salting hides, [29] curing hides, [30] scraping hides, or [31] Cutting to shape; [32]writing [33]erasing in order to write two letters; [34] building [35] demolishing; [36] extinguishing a flame; [37] lighting a fire; [38] striking the final hammer blow; [38] carrying from one domain to another. Behold, these are the categories of forbidden labor, forty less one.  

*[literally, avot m’lachah – derivatives of the avot are called the toladot. Shvut are additional prohibitions derived by the Sages to prevent inadvertent violation of avot and toladot.]

Text #2  From Rabbi Arthur Green, Sabbath as Temple

[For the Amoraic Rabbis] the Biblical basis for almost the entirety of the Sabbath prohibitions lies in Exodus 31:13:  “Moreover you shall keep My Sabbaths…” This Sabbath command is inserted, seemingly without reason, in the midst of the ongoing discussion of the building of the tabernacle, the Torah’s prototype of an ideal Temple.  Since the word ‘akh with which this Sabbath verse opens, is a term of exception in the technical vocabulary of rabbinic exegesis (ie., it comes to teach that what follows is an exception to the previously stated rule), the rabbis conclude that all forms of labor involved in any way in the construction of the tabernacle [i.e., the 39 categories] were meant to be forbidden on the Sabbath. …By a deft interpretation of an ‘akh, the Rabbis have succeeded in transferring all that Biblical detail from the realm of space, where it had been rendered useless, to that of time.  The phenomenon is one of reversal.  By doing all these labors in the particular prescribed configuration, one creates sacred space.  By refraining from these same acts, in the context of the Sabbath, one creates sacred time. 

Text #3 Mishnah Shabbat 12:1

 “Whoever performs a forbidden act of labor on the Sabbath and [the result of] his act of labor endures is liable.” 

Text #4  Babylonian Talmud Yoma 84b

…Thus also was it taught: One may warm water for a sick person on the Sabbath, both for the purpose of giving him a drink or of refreshing him, and not only for [this] one Sabbath did they rule thus, but also for the following one. Nor do we say: Let us wait, because perchance he will get well, but we warm the water for him immediately, because the possibility of danger to human life renders inoperative the laws of the Sabbath, not only in case of such possibility on this one Sabbath, but also in case of such possibility on another Sabbath. Nor are these things to be done by Gentiles or minors, but by Jewish adults…One must remove debris to save a life on the Sabbath, and the more eager one is, the more praiseworthy is one; and one need not obtain permission from the Beth din.

Text #5: Rambam Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Shabat  [12th century philosopher and codifier in Spain and Egypt]

32:2.  What constitutes honor of the Shabbat?  One must wash his face, hands, and feet with hot water on Erev Shabat, in honor of the Shabbat.  He should then wrap himself in a fringed garment and sit in a dignified way awaiting the arrival of the Shabbat, as if he were going to greet the king.  The early sages used to gather their students on Erev Shabbat, enwrap themselves and exclaim:  “Let us go out to greet the Sabbath bride.” 

3.  Included in the honor of Shabbat is the donning of clean garments.  One’s weekday clothing should be different from one’s Shabbat clothing.

4.  Out of deference to Shabbat, it is forbidden to make a banquet on Erev Shabbat [so that one’s appetite for the Shabbat meal will not be diminished].

5.  A person must set the table for a Shabbat meal on Friday night, even if he feels no need for more than a minimal amount of food….In order to honor the Shabbat, a person must arrange his house while it is still daytime, light candles, set the table, and make the bed.  All of these things constitute honor of Shabbat.

7.  What constitutes delighting in the Shabbat?  This is explained by the Sages to mean that one should prepare rich foods and sweet drinks for Shabbat consumption, each person according to his means.  Praiseworthy is the one who spends much for Shabbat and for the preparation of numerous tasty dishes.

8.  One who was raised in luxury and wealth such that everyday was like Shabbat, must nevertheless prepare different foods for Shabbat than he eats during the week.

9.  A person is obligated to eat three meals on Shabbat: an evening meal, a morning meal, and an afternoon meal.

14.  Cohabitation is regarded as one of Shabbat’s delights.

Ibid. 24:1, 4

A person is forbidden from surveying his holdings on Shabbat or even to speak of them.  For example, he should not speak to his partner concerning what he plans to buy or sell tomorrow, or how he will build a particular house, or which merchandise he will sell in such a place.

A person is forbidden from running or jumping on Shabbat, as the verse states: ‘[Refrain] from pursuing your affairs’ (Isa. 58:13).  This indicates that a person’s way of walking on the Shabbat should differ from his walking on weekdays.

Ibid 5:1  Lighting candles on the eve of Shabbat…is a requirement…for it [the candle lighting] is a part of Shabbat delight

Ibid 29:1  It is a positive biblical commandment to sanctify the Shabbat day with words, as it says: “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it.”  This means remember it by mentioning praise and sanctifying it.  And one is required to remember Shabbat when it begins and when it ends:  when it begins, with the Kiddush, and when it ends, with the havdalah…the Rabbis explained that the Kiddush and havdalah should be recited over wine.

Text #6 Talmud Avodah Zarah, 50a

“Whoever took trouble the day before Shabbat will eat on Shabbat.  Whoever didn’t bother the day before Shabbat, what would they eat on Shabbat?” (Talmud. Avodah Zarah 50a.)

Text #7  Babylonian Talmud, Beitzh 16a 

R. Hama b. Hanina said: He who makes a gift to his neighbor need not inform him, for it says, ‘And Moses knew not that the skin of his face sent forth beams’.  An objection was raised: ‘That ye may know I am the Lord who sanctify you’, The Holy One, blessed be He, said unto Moses: Moses, I have a precious gift in my treasury and its name is Sabbath and I wish to give it to Israel; go and tell them…

Text #8  Babylonian Talmud Berachot 57b

Three things are a reflex of [come from] the world to come: Sabbath, sunlight, and tashmish [sexual relations]…( BT Ber. 57b)

Study Session #3

The main categories* of work are forty less one (i.e., thirty-nine): [1] sowing, [2]plowing  [3] harvesting, [4] bundling sheaves;  [5]threshing or  [6] winnowing; [7] selecting, [8]grinding, [9]sifting, [10] kneading, or [11] baking; [12]shearing wool, [13] bleaching [14] combing [raw fibers] [15] dyeing, [16] spinning, or [17]inserting thread into the loom ; [18] making two loops, [19] weaving two threads, or [20] separating two threads; [21] tying, or [22] untying, or [23] sewing two stitches; [24] tearing in order to sew two stitches; [25] trapping a deer, [26] slaughtering, [27] flaying, [28] salting hides, [29] curing hides, [30] scraping hides, or [31] Cutting to shape; [32]writing [33]erasing in order to write two letters; [34] building [35] demolishing; [36] extinguishing a flame; [37] lighting a fire [38] striking the final hammer blow; [39] carrying from one domain to another. Behold, these are the categories of forbidden labor, forty less one.  

*[literally, avot m’lachah – derivatives of the avot are called the toladot. Shvut are additional prohibitions derived by the Sages to prevent inadvertent violation of avot and toladot.]

Text #1

The major conceptual innovation in the Kabbalistic understanding of the Sabbath is the identification of Shabbat with divinity.  For the Rabbis, the Sabbath was of heavenly origin, a gift from God.  For most mystics, the Sabbath was even more sublime; it was an aspect of God, a mysterious process within Him.  In its Kabbalistic meaning, Shabbat refers to the state of intradivine harmony which directs and transforms the cosmos on the seventh day.  Elliot K. Ginsburg, The Sabbath in Classical Kabbalah

(see sefirot diagram)

Text # 2:  Shabbat as Uniting Masculine and Feminine Aspects of the Divine

When the supernal Point [Shekhinah] ascends and the divine light shines, then She is crowned with the three Patriarchs [Hesed, Gevurah and Tiferet].  Immediately, she unites with them and becomes one.  This totality is called Shabbat.

Text #3:  Sabbath as Perfected Time

The Sabbath may be said to occupy the center of two basic geometric models.  Imaging Time as an endless round of seven-day cycles, the Kabbalists depicted Shabbat as the point around which weekly time revolved, its Sacred Axis…But the Kabbalist also imaged Time in more obviously historical fashion…mapping the progression from Creation to Cosmic Redemption…each Shabbat is seen as a rupture, a break in the unidirectional procession of history.  For on this day Time reverses its course and, as it were, “conflates”: the paradigmatic first and last moments erupt into the present; the past, present and future converge. (Elliot Ginsburg, The Shabbat in Classical Kabbalah, pg. 94

Text #4: Shabbat as Source of Blessing

The divine Shabbat is the main reservoir and dispenser of shefa, the cosmic energy which sustains and sanctifies existence:

The Holy One gives his abundant Wisdom to the Life of the cosmos [Shabbat/Yesod] which provides [nourishment] for all.  (Bahir 183).

All supernal and earthly blessings depend on the seventh Day…And it is further taught:  Why was there no manna on the seventh day?  Because all six supernal days are blessed through it.  Each one sustains the world below on its appointed day, imparting that blessing which it received on the seventh….For the weekly blessing is prepared at this time so that all six weekdays may be blessed….The rest of the days are nourished by this overflow of Sabbath-bounty (Zohar 2:88a)

In other words, not only does the divine Sabbath renew Time and cosmos on the Sabbath day, but its overflow extends into the week, sustaining mundane existence and according it a degree of sanctity.  The point could not be made more forcefully:  the Sabbath is the life-blood of the cosmos, upon which all existence depends.  Extending the metaphor, it might be said that Sabbath-observance is that which keeps the cosmic channels open, stimulating and maintaining the proper circulation (or flow). (Elliot Ginsburg, The Sabbath in The Classical Kabbalah)

Text #5:  Sabbath Soul

Ramban:  This is the meaning of shabat va-yinnafash [Ex. 31:17], referring to the additional soul [neshamah yeterah] that comes from the Foundation of the Cosmos “in whose care is the Soul of all Life”. [Job 12:10]

The [Hashkivenu] is then recited…Come and see: As Israel blesses and welcomes this “Canopy of Peace,” the Holy Guest…the supernal Holy One [Shechinah] descends and spreads Her wings over Israel, sheltering them as a mother [bird] does her fledglings…As [Shekhinah] hovers over them, wings outstretched over Her children, She brings forth new souls for each and every person. (Zohar, 1:48a)

On this [Sabbath] night, this supernal Point [Shekhinah] spreads forth light, spreading Her wings over the world.  All other dominions pass away.  The world grows secure…At this moment, an extra-soul is imparted to each member in Israel.  With this Sabbath-soul all sadness and anger are forgotten.  Joy reigns on high and below.

Text #6: Shabbat as a Time of Complete Compassion

The Secret of Shabbat.  She [Shekhinah] is Shabbat!  United in the secret of  One to draw down upon Her the Secret of One…

When the Sabbath arrives, She is placed by Herself, separated from the Other Side.  All judgments are removed from Her.  Basking in the oneness of holy light, She is crowned over and over in the presence of the King.  All wanton tyrannies and lords of affliction flee from Her and vanish.  There is no power in all the cosmos aside from Her.  Her face shines with a light from beyond.

On earth She is crowned by the holy people, and all of them are crowned with new souls.  They bless Her with joy and beaming faces.…(Zohar, Raza’ de-Shabbat (2:135a-b

As Israel prepares for Shabbat a flame of [holy fire] emerges and batters the Fire [of the North – Sitra Ahra] so that both of them are hurled down into the Cavern of the Great Abyss.  The flame belongs to the Right Side and can sweep away the fire of the Left, confining it to this Cavern…There it remains until the end of the Sabbath.  When the Sabbath departs Israel must make a blessing over the fire.  Through this blessing the flame [of holiness] goes forth and keeps the blazing fire in check all night.  Hence, the blazing fire remains in subjugation/\. (Zohar, 2:203b)

Text # 7: Abraham Joshua Heschel

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. (The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man)

It is one thing to race or be driven by the vicissitudes that menace life, and another thing to stand still and to embrace the presence of an eternal moment.

Text # 8:  Ehad Ha-Am – Zionist Thinker

A Jew who feels a real tie with the life of his people throughout the generations will find it utterly impossible to think of the existence of Israel without Shabbat.  One can say without exaggeration that more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel.

Text # 9: Mordecai Kaplan and the Concept of Folkways

In Jewish tradition, all religious observances, civil laws and ethical principles are equally designated mitzvoth, or “commandments.”  The implication is that they were all decreed by God…Even though some of us no longer regard the traditional practices as commanded by God, we may still refer to them as mitzvoth,,,But it is of vital importance to have a significant term beside mitzvoth for those customs which have been referred to as “commandments pertaining to the relations between man and God.”  A term is needed that would indicate a different approach from that which we come to positive law or jurisprudence.  The term “folkways” meets that requirement….They [folkways] should be dealt with as the very stuff of Jewish life, which should be experienced with spontaneity and joy, and which can be modified as circumstances require.  Secondly, we would convey the implication that not only should as many “commandments” or folkways as possible be retained and developed, but that Jewish life should be stimulated to evolve new and additional folkways…Fortunately there is an alternative to the traditional attitude toward the mitzvoth – to treat them as religious poetry in action…Judaism is not merely a universe of discourse, but also a universe of sense experience… (Kaplan, Judaism as a Civilization, pg 431- 434)

Text # 10:  Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman

The very essence of modern society is that it progressively releases the individual from the vice-like control of strong limits, and the coercion of the bonded group.  But instead of being released to freedom, the individual is drawn into…potential isolation, where we cannot depend on each other, and have little faith in ultimate truth…It is total unconnectedness to any social fabric, which is to say, meaninglessness….

To moderns, then Shabbat is an opportunity for meaning, a moment in time to forge connections and to belong.  If Jews will not keep Shabbat on the grounds that they are commanded to do so…perhaps they will do so because keeping Shabbat will provide their otherwise disconnected lives with meaning. (from A Day Apart:  Shabbat at Home)

Text #11 The Modern Reform  Movement

Shabbat is a unique Jewish contribution to our civilization.  It is a weekly respite from endless toil and competition.  Interrupting the pursuit of wealth and power, it turns the Jew toward the meaning of human existence.  Given a day without labor, the individual can concentrate on being a creature fashioned in the divine image.  On Shabbat we take delight in the beauty of creation, spending time with family, friends, and community and recharging our physical and spiritual batteries for the week ahead…Jewish authenticity and a life of mitzvah are inexorably bound up with Shabbat observance.  By celebrating Shabbat as an island of holy time in a sea of secular activity, the Jewish people have been able to survive the forces of assimilation and corruption…Shabbat is a day on which we celebrate both the emergence of the world from chaos to order and the emergence of the Jewish people from slavery to freedom.  Shabbat is God’s time, the God who created the world and who created Israel.  Every Shabbat, when we lift the Kiddush cup for blessing, we remember the One who created the universe and blessed our people with freedom….

An understanding of the deeper meaning of work and rest in today’s society is essential to any real observance and enjoyment of Shabbat.  A primary goal of Shabbat observance is the avoidance of gainful work and of all such activities which do not contribute to the celebration of Shabbat as a day of joy (Oneg), a day of holiness (Kedushah), and a day of rest (Menucha).  Shabbat is a day of leisure in which time is used to express our humanness.  Through prayer and song, study and reflection, we celebrate the sanctity of Shabbat.  The rest and joy of Shabbat provide opportunities for thoughtful re-evaluation and new perspective, for defining and recognizing goals.  Once a week we are called upon to cease the struggle of extracting a living from the world and are summoned to pay attention to the inner core of our existence.  (The Gates of the Seasons, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1983