What is the Sabbath

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SABBATH, the weekly day of rest and religious observance. The term is derived from its use as the Hebrew Shabbath, denoting the seventh day of the week, or Saturday. Most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday, although some sects such as tlıe Seventh Day Adventists keep it on Saturday. The Müslim Sabbath is Friday. This article deals with the Jewish observance. For Christian customs, see Sunday; for Müslim practice, see İslam—Islamic Worship.

Origins. The Jewish Sabbath is kept from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. It is observed in Hebrew ritual as a holy day in which man is required to withdraw from mundane affairs in order to experience a foretaste of paradise on earth. The biblical law of the Sabbath observance constitutes the fourth of the Ten Commandments: “Six days shalt thou labor, and do ali thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates” (Exodus 20:9-10 and Deuteronomy 5:13-14, The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text).

The reason given for resting on the Sabbath is twofold. First, the day has to be kept holy because God made heaven and earth in six days, “and rested on the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:11). Second, the day serves as a reminder that “thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence” (Deuteronomy 5:15). As strictly interpreted, the penalty for desecrating the Sabbath was death: “whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:15).

Postbiblical Jewish law devoted much attention to determining in precise detail the various kinds of work forbidden on the Sabbath, although any of them was considered permissible if it had to be performed in order to save a human life. These rules are contained especially in the tractate “Sabbath” of the Mishna and the Babylonian Talmud, upon which are based ali the subsequent codification of Sabbath observances.

Scholarly research has sought to establish a relationship between the Hebrew Sabbath and the Babylonian Sabattu, a periodic unlucky day on which people abstained frorn any activity or undertaking. Whatever tiıe original connection, the Hebrew Sabbath developed a completely different character.

Traditional Observances. Ever since the İst century a. d., the Sabbath has been a day of spiritual and intellectual enjoyment, expressed most characteristically in prayer and study. Traditionally, men begin the holy day by attending synagogue services about an hour prior to the commencement of the Sabbath on Friday evening, while the women remain at home and light the Sabbath candles. Upon the men’s retum from the synagogue, the Kicldush (“Sanctification”), a benediction over a cup of wine, is recited, and then the Sabbath meal, consisting of specially delightful food, is served. Whenever the wife is in a ritually pure state, marital intercourse on the Sabbath night is recommended by | the rabbis.

The Sabbath morning is again spent in the synagogue, where, in addition to the regular morning (Shaharit) service, the Mussaf (or “Sup-plement”) prayers are said, and the weekly por-tion is read from the Pentateuch. The afternoon is spent in leisure, or in studying the sacred books. In the late afternoon a repast kept hot since the day before is set out at the “third ban-quet” amidst singing and learned discussion. This is followed, after sunset, by the Havdalah (“separation”), the valedictory benedictions over a candle, spices, and wine which signify the end of the Sabbath.

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