views updated May 29 2018


The seventh day of the week (Saturday) observed in Israel as a day sacred to Yahweh. This article considers the Biblical enunciation of the obligation to keep the Sabbath (Heb. šabbāt ) holy, the evidence of its actual observance in ancient Israel, the derivation of the term, the natural-law kernel of the observance and its transfer to Sunday, and the question of the prohibition of so-called servile work on the day.

Biblical Enunciation of the Obligation. The first reference in the Bible to the Sabbath is in a verbal form in Gn 2.23: "And he [God] rested [literally "sabbathed," Heb. wayyišbāt ] on the seventh day from all the work he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because on it he rested [Heb. šābat ] from all his work of creation." This "seventh day" occurs here in a series possessing neither calendaric nor other concrete reality; it is a skillful artistic framework for the theological message of God's creative power and authority. The passage is typical of the strand of the Pentateuch attributed to the Pentateuchal priestly writers (P) relatively late in origin (c. 500 b.c.). It is theoretical in ascribing to God from the very moment of creation the observance of a duty known much later to be incumbent upon His worshipers. The same theorizing appears in Ex 31.17 and in even more extreme degree in the Book of Jubilees, which, however, dates from c. 100 b.c. and is apocryphal.

The promulgation of the Sabbath as a genuine ritual law is found in Exodus three times, put in the mouth of Moses, or rather of God to Moses. Of these, the mention in Exodus (20.8) in the Decalogue (see commandments, ten) forms part of what is justly regarded as the most original and specific contribution of the Sinai revelation (c. 1250 b.c.); on the divergences from Dt 5.14, see below. But the mention in Ex 23.12, forming part of the book of the covenant, may well be regarded as stemming from long before the time of hammurabi (1700 b.c.), to whose laws it exhibits striking similarities that point to a stage of development in The Book of the Covenant that, though more retarded, was nobler.

Actually, before its promulgation in any of the legal passages of Exodus, the Sabbath is exhibited as being already observed in practice, in fact on the part of God even more than of men, through His apportioning of the manna (Ex 16.23). This passage is credibly ascribed to the yahwist or oldest strand of Mosaic tradition. But since here God's observance, rather than man's, is portrayed, it may seem warranted to consider the earliest concrete case to be rather in Nm 15.32. Here severe punishment is inflicted by the community itself for a Sabbath violation that consisted in gathering wood, commonly understood as firewood; and the passage is therefore parallel to Ex 35.3: "You shall not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day." In this perspective it turns out that the manna episode envisions the prevention of cooking, as shown by the Hebrew terms for "bake" and "boil" in Ex 16.23.

The conclusion may, therefore, be rightly drawn (despite E. Lohse) that the most primitive Sabbath observance consisted in a taboo on making fires. One need not here take issue on the further hypothesis (regarded tolerantly by R. de Vau) that such a taboo was suited to the tribe of smiths or Kenites (Gn 5.22) related in 1 Sm 15.6 to the Midianites, by whom Moses on Sinai was influenced (W. Schmidt), even cultically (Ex 18.12; 3.1). In such a tribe of nomads, whose livelihood depended on the forge, refraining from use of fire would be tantamount to that periodic rest from toil that nature itself requires. But in the Bible there is no such notion of repose attached to the Sabbath except in the accretion of Dt 5.14 discussed below.

There arose gradually within the Biblical revelation other prohibitions, not recognizably connected with firemaking: farming (Ex 34.10); carrying loads (Jer 17.21, allegedly interpolated); commerce (Am 8.5; Neh 13.15); eventually even traveling (Acts 1.12; but commended especially for the Sabbath in 2 Kgs 4.23, as was changing of the guard in 11.5); finally "no work at all" (Lv 23.3, of the P strand). Even so, there is no foundation in the Bible for Jerome's rendition of "servile work" (see below).

The obligation, though a peculiar token of the Israelite covenant (Ex 31.16; Ez 20.13; Is 56.6), was binding upon aliens and domestic animals (Ex 20.8) and even the earth itself (see sabbath year.) The variant, šabbātôn, occurs ten times, always in the P strand, seven times (Lv 16.31; 23.32; etc.) in solemn iteration of šabbāt, though the resemblance of this pairing to the Greek (σάββατα σαββάτων), like the Latin sanctum sanctorum, is fallacious. The word šabbātôn occurs alone only in Lv 23.39;25.5, and before šabbāt only in Ex 16.23. Though šabbātôn is used also of the Day of atonement (Lv 16.31; 23.32), which may fall on any day of the week, it has of itself no penitential implications despite the fact that Greco-Roman annalists regarded the Sabbath itself as a fast day and as an isolating institution like circumcision.

The Sabbath was indeed a sort of fast from certain activities; but it was insistently called joyous (Is 58.13), and it was festive because of its cultic as well as its workban associations. Only a slight increase in liturgical observances was prescribed (Nm 28.9; Lv 24.8; Ez 46.15). But in Lv 23.3 the Sabbath is reckoned among "the festivals of the Lord" on which there was to be a holy assembly or convocation (Heb. miqrā' in Neh 8.8 a public "reading"), and this, with 2 Kgs 4.23, may have given rise to the postexilic custom (of obscure origins: McKay) of gatherings in synagogue for instruction. Like any other day, the Sabbath began on what for us would be the preceding sunset; since the earlier part of that day was preempted for anticipating food cooking and similar needs, this was called the Preparation Day or Parasceve (Mt 27.62).

Evidence of Actual Observance There can be no doubt that the Sabbath had come to be observed among the Jews by a universal and rigorous abstinence from all activities resembling work (but with no implications of either servility or profit): Mt 12.2; 24.20; Mk 3.2; Lk 13.14; 4.6; Jn 5.10; Acts 1.12. This situation is reflected in the explicit and detailed supplement to the (variously called Third/Fourth) Commandment in both Ex 20.10 and Dt 5.14, which are identical up to the point where Deuteronomy inserts "Your male and female slave should rest as you do." This insertion then continues in Dt 5.15, ascribing the very origin of sabbath to an application of the Golden Rule: treat your slaves as you would have wished to be treated in the Egyptian slavery from which Yahweh's power liberated you. As against this, Ex 20.11 adds a wholly different reason: "In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath Day and made it holy." This disparity is to some extent resolved by viewing both formulations as expressions of the covenant. Nevertheless, experts are agreed that the original form of all the "Ten Words" was the concise or lapidary "Thou shalt (not) ."

The Sabbath law is not negative, "You shall not work on the sabbath," but rather, "You shall keep holy the sabbath." No proof has ever yet been forthcoming that the word "sabbath" meant "stoppage [of work or anything else]," except as a denominative verb formed on the basis on an existing ritual practice. "Its characteristic feature lies not in the regularity with which it recurs (pace Negretti's title; not all would accept his p. 26 & 87: social justice motivations secondary), nor in the cessation of work, nor in the various prohibitions which the cessation of work implies . Its distinctive trait lies in thefact that it is a day made holy because of its relation to the God of the Covenant" (De Vaux, 480; tacitly dissenting from Lohse).

It must be noted that the clearest and most numerous references both to the obligatoriness and to the meaning of the prohibitions against working on the Sabbath are in the Levitical or P strand of the Pentateuch. Even more recent are the (long assumed but recently combated single Ezra-Neh-Chr author) chronicler's firm references in Neh 10.32 (while 2 Chr 23.4, 8 merely reechoes 2 Kgs 11.5, 7, 9) lpny Šbt on an ostracon found by J. Naveh at Yavneh Yam is taken as "before Sabbath" except by Robinson p. 91.

The Maccabees' fidelity to Sabbath rest even in wartime was recognized by themselves as self-defeating (1 Mc 2.40; 2 Mc 7.11; 15.1), and their compromise in 167 b.c. seems to have driven a wedge between them and their hasidaean allies (1 Mc 2.42; 7.13), who in turn later split into the intensely Sabbatizing Pharisee and Essene (and/or) Qumran sects (CDC 11.4; 13.13; Josephus, Bell. Jud. 2.8.9). Nodet takes this very first indication of any scruple about defensive war on sabbath, despite frequency of the need in the early history of the biblical people, as point of departure for his sweeping claim that Sabbath itself was a Samaritan tradition, from the time of Joshua (24, at Shechem: "covenant," "ordinances" apparently not mentioning Sabbath). Intriguing factual data are claimed to support this view. The Shechemites in Josephus Ant l3.251264 ask Alexander to sanction the Sabbath (which they admit having received from the Judahites, Nodet p. 378). There is nothing about sabbath taboos in "Ezra's Torah" (Neh 8.2), yet already Nehemiah (13.17) strongly forbids sabbath commerce. Nodet sees him relying on an interpretation newly established, though incorporated in the Torah only around 200 by Simon as in Pirqe Abot (Nodet p. 164, but his p. 12; 152; 386 really do not clarify at what late date the Sabbath was incorporated into the Samaritan Pentateuch and from there into the canonical Jewish Torah.

From a much earlier date, however, even before 750 b.c., the Prophets clearly assumed a widespread and conscientious "observance" (of something) linked with the Sabbath. This was sometimes lumped together with other purely external rituals in which the lack of requisite internal dispositions was deplored in Am 8.5; Hos 2.13; Is 1.13; 66.23. But in equally conspicuous cases Deutero-Isaiah himself (Is 56.2, 4, 6), Jeremiah (Jer 17.2122, 24), and especially Ezekiel (Ez 20.1213, 20; 22.26; 46.14) promoted existing Sabbath observance more formally than anything they had to say about sacrifice. To be examined later is the question how the Prophets stressed a link between the Sabbath and the moon that is otherwise not prominent in the Bible.

The actual practices attested in Nm 15.32 and Ex 35.3 show that Sabbath observance was taken seriously from a date even earlier than the Prophets and involved the omission of some workaday chores, but with no clarity as to whether they were prohibited because toilsome, or because of some taboo, such as fire; or because of the natural and social-justice requirement of an occasional off-work day. Emphasis on the Sabbath day as noteworthily subordinated to the sabbath year in the Book of the Covenant (Ex 23.1012) shows that the usage was at the latest contemporary with Israel's early sedentarization in Canaan and, indeed, a great deal earlier, if one attaches due weight to the affinities with the Code of Hammurabi. Ultimately, the mention in the Book of the Covenant reflects the earliest situation recorded in the Bible and clearly imposes something as antithesis to work. Though the rendition as "rest" of a verb that means merely "keep Sabbath" is tendentious and premature, it is not without significance that the admirable Lexicon of Brown-Driver-Briggs from an enumeration of occurrences concludes firmly, "originally observed simply by abstinence from labour "even if this conclusion was doubtless dictated at least in part by the now unwarranted assumption that the verb šābat meant "cease" before it meant "sabbatize."

Derivation of the Term. The scholar De Vaux, himself a competent Assyriologist, rejects categorically any influence of Babylon on the Hebrew Sabbath, as did N.H. Tur-Sinai. De Vaux specifically disowns B. Landsberger's "two-sevens" etymology, which was favored in the point-for-point documentation of Biblica 36 (1955) 182201. The clarity and force by which De Vaux's presentation undoubtedly excels are to some extent at the cost of simplifying or overstating facts that must reasonably be regarded as complex and ambiguous. These complexities are here analyzed.

As was insisted above, there is no evidence whatever that the verb šābat had an existence and meaning, either in Hebrew or in cognate languages, not dependent on the technical-ritual noun šabbāt. The likeliest cases (Is 24.8; Hos 7.4; Jb 32.1; Lam 5.1415; Prv 22.10; Neh 6.3) are all vaguely cultic or at most involve a metaphor no bolder than when one speaks of an "economic heresy."

Though doubtless an ignorant overlooking of the final ayin in šeba' (seven) led early Christian Fathers to equate seven (-day week) with Sabbath [see E. Vogt, Biblica 40 (1959) 1008, who disproves that šabbāt ever meant week] still the best grammarians now admit cases in which ayin is in fact transmuted or lost. In the existing Syriac form šabbā, the loss of the final t is no less anomalous than that of the final ayin would be.

Mystical or superstitious suggestiveness of the number seven has been so conspicuous from antiquity down to our own day that it may well have exerted some influence on the choice of the seventh as the day of either taboo or natural also correspond too closely with seventh-day recurrence to be ruled out of consideration on the ground of a disparity amounting to five percent (29.55-vs. 28-day period). Now the classic insistence on the "New Moon" occurring in the Bible 18 times, three more than "sabbath" though usually coupled with it, is McKay (p. 2542, citing her summary in Eskenazi). She shows no interest in the link of the greatest feast of all, Passover, with the full moon. Andreasen p. 4 documents the brief heyday of Johann Meinhold's 1909 claim that sabbath was originally the full moon day, therefore monthly not weekly.

Traces of a primitive division of the year into seven 50-day periods, though doubtless overstated by J. and H. Lewy [Hebrew Union College Annual 17 (1942) 1155], leave open a certain minimal possibility that seven-squared, loosely called 50, was the chiefly venerated number, of which the simple seven was a secondary application. This hypothesis is exemplified in the jubilee year as seventh Sabbath year and finds some corroboration also in the apparent meaning of šabbātôn as "big sabbath."

Applicability of šabbātôn to a non-Saturday penitential day and the fact that Babylonian šapattu days were unlucky rather than auspicious imply merely a sacredness (Latin sacer means accursed, too) that of its nature can involve simultaneously pleasurable and oppressive elements (see sacred and profane).

However cultic or covenantal the Hebrew Sabbath may have been, it cannot reasonably be considered to have arisen devoid of any connection with the natural need of periodic festive repose from toil. This perspective tends to connect the Sabbath with a fire taboo of Kenite tinkers.

It would be imprudent to conclude categorically that any one of these factors is alone, or primarily, at the origin of the Hebrew Sabbath: week, the number 7, šapattu, new (and full) moon, the number 50, šabbātôn, natural repose, Kenites, fire-taboo. We now may even have to add from Eskenazi "purification" (S. Meier p. 6: seven days after menstruation Lv 12:2, 5, 7; or 14 after childbearing) and even "the political": American courts failing to uphold Adventist (M. Tyner p. 256) and Jewish (S. Rosenthal p. 261) rights against Sunday observance (on which see McCrossen). But even keeping all these "possibilities" in view does not warrant falling into a syncretism claiming to see features of all of these disparate practices finding their way little by little into the concept of the Sabbath. The present state of modern knowledge does not warrant deciding which, if any, of these factors were operative and to what extent. In De Vaux's words (480), "If the Qenite hypothesis looks the least unlikely, this may be merely because we have no documents at all which contradict it. Obviously, the sabbath day may have originated outside Israel, but we cannot prove this."

Natural-law Kernel and Transfer to Sunday. It is unmistakable that if one prescinds from the Sabbath precept, the Ten Commandments enunciate nothing other than the dictates of the natural law. It might seem logical, therefore, to assume that Sabbath observance, too, is such a dictate. This can be defended in the sense that the commandment merely asserts the obligation of periodic festive rest on some (not necessarily the seventh) day that is therefore automatically called Sabbath, and for which Semitic cultures would tend to favor seventh or new moon, especially if the intervals at which it recurs involve the number seven. Some moralists, however, assert categorically that the OT Sabbath precept embodies no natural-law obligation whatever and that it is a purely positive precept. A middle group would claim that there is a basic natural obligation, but its linking with any specific day or interval is a purely arbitrary positive legislation. The exegete can live with any one of these moralist positions.

Recent discussions of the "natural (law)" demand of periodic festive repose from work have focused rather questions of social justice for the underprivileged. There are excellent reasons for maintaining that from its earliest (Ex 23.10) to its latest (Lv 25.2), the "sabbath" principle was "so that the poor can have rest or food," and that this is the aspect of any sabbath-related biblical guidance which must be most urgently reinterpreted for our present day. Andreasen p. 126 focusing the "socio-economic institution" as possibly a market-day affording also cultic and recreational opportunities, strives (p. 126 & 255) to confront such views with the furious rejection of sabbath-marketing in Neh 13.17, 21.

Insofar as the sabbath precept would embody a natural-law obligation, there could be no question of Jesus' abrogating or belittling it. It is equally obvious that much of His polemic with the Pharisees seems to be deliberately provocative of their insistence on Sabbath. A second look suffices to show that in these cases Jesus is not downgrading the Sabbath itself but rather insisting that equally urgent obligations must not be lost sight of, exactly as in His echoing of the Prophets' so-called polemic against sacrifice (Mt 9.13; Jer 7.22; Am 5.25; Hos 6.6). Just as a man may in exceptional circumstances have to "hate" his mother in the sense of preferring another's claims over hers (Lk 14.26), so he could be said to "hate" even the Sabbath obligation in according precedence to a conflicting duty. This norm was fully admitted by the pharisees (Yoma 8.6; life can be saved on the Sabbath), as Jesus acknowledged when He made it the basis of His own counter argument (Lk 14.5; Mk 3.2). When Jesus declared in Mk 2.27, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," He was in fact using the very words that would be handed down by a Pharisee rabbi in Mekilta Exodus 109b. One cannot prove or disprove that this rabbinical maxim either had a divergent import or was to some extent (re) formulated under Christian influence. Still, to glorify this maxim as "Christian superiority over Pharisaism" is unrealistic.

In some cases, indeed, such as Mt 12.8; Jn 5.810,9.14, Jesus claimed the right to give to the Sabbath law an interpretation that would be henceforth more valid than that of the Pharisees; but this is a part of his more general claim not to destroy a single jot or tittle of the Law but to fulfill it (Mt 5.1718). In principle Jesus had no quarrel with the Sabbath obligation itself or even with the Pharisees' interpretation of it, which for the most part was not unduly severe. Whereas the Essenes forbade even defecation (Josephus, Bell. Jud. 2.147), the Pharisees had no prohibition of the use of marriage on Sabbath; and though they commended timing to avoid the pangs of labor on a subsequent Sabbath, still in the case of a birth on the Sabbath the circumcision was to be performed on the octave (Jn 7.22). Jesus primarily remonstrated that men charged with imposing onerous obligations should lead by example and show that they would undergo privations imposed by their own juridicism (Mt 23.13).

Ultimately to assess with fairness the strictures on the Pharisees in Matthew ch. 23, one must take into account certain undeniable services that these zealous men had rendered both to God and to the poorer people. By conscientious casuistry, they had shown to many a way in which God's law could be observed with less discomfort than had been imagined. Thus, what they finally decided upon as an irreducible minimum enjoyed an authority destined to constitute an ultimate and insuperable barrier to the people's acceptance of Jesus' message. The Pharisees were excoriated therefore as a test casenot that they were any worse than other men, indeed, quite the contrarybecause their very clinging to some fringes of what Jesus came to teach made their resistance more formidable.

Nothing in the comportment of Jesus gave the slightest hint that he would have considered it preferable to transfer the Sabbath observance to any other day.

Doubtless, as in the case of sacrifice, prayer, and fasting, it was at first taken for granted that the little Palestine Christian community ought to observe these regulations "like the other Jews, only better." With the spread of Christianity to a Gentile milieu, especially by Paul, the problem had to be posed and decided: Christians were not bound by Jewish practices as such but only insofar as these embodied the natural law (Acts 15.2829). When once Jewish devotions were acknowledged to be not binding, it became merely a question of prudence whether they might not nevertheless be profitable; and Paul required circumcision for Timothy though forbidding it for Titus (Acts 16.39; Gal 2.3). Similarly Paul declared exempt from Saturday observance the Christians to whom he wrote in Col 2.16; but in the case of Romans (Rom 14.5) he seems rather to have left the choice of day expressly to the local group or even to the individual. (Gal 4.10 may be rather an ironical comment against Pharisaism.)

Eventually the early Christians on a universal scale deliberately chose Wednesday and Friday as their fasting days simply because the Jews fasted on other days. As for the week's most solemn commemoration of the Lord's new Passover, the more suitable day for this would have been Friday or Thursday (or, in the light of the Qumran calendar, even Tuesday). Still, at this time there was never a question of making attendance at divine service obligatory once a week or connecting the weekly feast with the omission of work.

In the decision to celebrate the weekly festive day of rest on the lord's day (Sunday), it may even be that Roman usages played a part, either as in the fixing of the Christmas festival, or in order not to be mixed in with historians' contempt for the Jews' "lazy" and isolating Saturday (McKay p.89f & 176f greatly enlarges customary access to relevant sources). Celebration of the Resurrection itself was not on a Sunday in the more primitive and oriental areas of Christianity but on the Passover fullmoon day itself (see quartodeciman.) Yet obviously the relevance and supremacy of the Easter event can never have been absent from the Christian mind in arriving at the eventual decision. That the transfer from Saturday to Sunday was an operation not of Jerusalem but of Rome is documented by Bacchiocchi (p.132212; otherwise Callewaert).

Question of So-called Servile Work. The substitution of the first for the seventh day of the week as requiring cultic interruption of work for 24 hours is not even hinted at in Acts 20.7 or 1 Cor 16.2; the celebration of the eucharist or agape was not limited to that one day, especially when the minister was transient. (On the adaptation of the OT Decalogue Sabbath to NT morality by St. Augustine and later Christian writers, see F. Pettirsch.) Clarification of this transferred Sabbath obligation as prohibiting so-called servile work is a rather late tour-de-force of Cajetan (d. 1534). There is no more foundation for it in the Bible than for current efforts to invent a proof that gainful activity is the object of the prohibition[P. Delhaye, Ami du Clergé 68 (1958) 225249].

The term "servile work" comes from St. Jerome's rendering of the Hebrew expression m el e'ket 'ăbōdâ, which means simply "the doing of work," as opus servile. Both the Jewish 1963 Torah and the 2001 Oxford RSV3 render the phrase in which the term occurs as "You shall not work at your occupations." Moreover, all the 11 passages of the P strand in which the term is found are concerned, not with the Sabbath, but with feast days other than the Sabbath (Lv 23.78, 21, 25, 3536; Nm 28.18, 2526; 29.1, 12, 35). The Septuagint translated it as rgon latreutßon, which the Greek Fathers applied to "a service of sin" (cf. Jn 8.34) or "idolatrous services" [see M. Zalba, Periodica 52 (1963) 134].

The truly Biblical observance would have to be a positive rather than a negative thing and to pervade the whole day rather than focus on a half hour of it. It would stress festivity and relaxation but also attention to the things of God and chiefly to the Scripture itself.

Bibliography: j. briend, "Sabbat," Dictionnaire de la Bible Supplément 10 (1985) 113270. r. de vaux, Ancient Israel, Its Life and Institutions, tr. j. mchugh (New York 1961) 475483, 550, bibliog. c. kÖrting, et al., Theologische Realenzyklopädia 29 (1998) 518533. g. hanel, "Sabbath," Anchor Bible Dictionary 5 (1992) 849856. w. schmidt, Exodus, Sinai und Mose 3: Erträge der Forschung 1994, p. 3 & 110130; w. rordorf, Lexicon für Theologie und Kirche 8 (1999) 14015; Sunday, the History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church (Philadelphia 1968). h. mckay, Sabbath and Synagogue (Leiden 1994). t. eskenazi et al., eds., The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions (New York 1991). s. bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday (Diss., Rome 1977). e. nodet, "A Search for the Origins of Judaism, from Joshua to the Mishnah" (1993), tr. e. crowley, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, supp. 248 (Sheffield 1997). r. goldenberg, "The Jewish Sabbath in the Roman World," Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2.19.1 (Berlin 1979), 411447. m. strassfeld, Jewish Holidays (New York 1985). d. carson, ed. & pp. 5797, From Sabbath to Lord's Day (Grand Rapids 1982). n. negretti, Il settimo giorno, Analecta biblica 55 (Rome 1973). a. mccrossen, Holy Day, Holiday: The American Sunday (Ithaca, N.Y. 2000). k. a. strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, DC. 1982). n. andreasen, The OT Sabbath, a Tradition-Historical Investigation (Diss. 1972). r. north, "The Derivation of Sabbath," Biblica 36 (1955) 182201, with copious bibliog. f. pettirsch, "Das Verbot der opera servilia in der Heiligen Schrift und in der altkirchlichen Exegese," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 69. e. spier, "Sabbat:" Das Judentum 1 (Berlin 1989). m. gruber, "The Source of the Biblical Sabbath" [not Babylon], Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 1, 2 (1969) 1420. f. mathys, "Sabbatruhe und Sabbatfest," Theologische Zeitschrift 28 (1972) 241262. h. cazelles, "Ex 34.21 traite-t-il du Sabbat?," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961) 2236. b. malina, The Palestinian [Targum] Manna Tradition (Leiden 1964). j. weingreen, "The Case of the Woodgatherer (Nm 15,3246)," Vetus Testamentum 16 (1966) 3614 (19 [1969] 1258 [a. phillips]). c. callewaert, "La Synaxe eucharistique de Jérusalem, berceau du Dimanche," Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 15 (1938) 3473.

[r. north]


views updated May 29 2018


SABBATH (Heb. שַׁבָּת; Shabbat; related to the verb shavat, "cease, desist, rest"), the seventh day of the week, the day of rest and abstention from work.

In the Bible

The etiology of the Sabbath is given in Genesis 1:1–2:3, although the name of the day does not appear there: God worked six days at creating the world; on the seventh he ceased working (shavat mi-kol melaʾkhto), blessed the day, and declared it holy (see 2:1–3). The special status of the seventh day and its name were disclosed to Israel in the episode of the manna. God supplied each day's need of manna for five days; on the sixth, a double portion was provided to last through the seventh day, on which no manna appeared. Correspondingly, the Israelites were commanded to go out, collect, and prepare each day's portion for the first five days; on the sixth, they were to prepare for two days; on the seventh they were not to go out at all but were to remain at home. Thus they learned that the seventh day was "a Sabbath of the Lord," which they must honor by desisting from their daily food-gathering labor (Ex. 16:22). The fourth "word" of the *Decalogue generalizes the lesson of the manna. All work (melaʾkhah) is banned on the Sabbath, which here for the first time is given a rationale, drawn directly from the formulation of Genesis 2:1–3 and expressly identifying the Sabbath with the seventh day of creation (Ex. 20:8–11). The meaning of the "blessedness" and "sanctity" of the day is inferrable from the manna experience.

According to Exodus 23:12 and 34:21, work is to cease on the seventh day in order to give slaves and draft animals rest; this must be observed even during the critical seasons of plowing and harvest. Deuteronomy's version of the Decalogue embodies this humanitarian motive in its divergent rationale of the Sabbath rest; Israel is to keep the Sabbath so that its slaves might rest, and because God, who liberated it from Egyptian bondage, so commanded (Deut. 5:14–15). God's instructions concerning the building of the Tabernacle end, and Moses' conveyance of them to the people begins, with an admonition to keep the Sabbath, indicating its precedence even over the duty of building the Sanctuary. The Sabbath is called a sign both of God's consecration of Israel, and of His six-day creation. The rulings are applied in the exemplary tale of Numbers 15:32ff. A man was found collecting wood (to make a fire) on the Sabbath. Apprehended by witnesses and brought before Moses, he was sentenced to death by stoning at the hands of the whole community. Besides the daily sacrificial offering, an additional one, amounting to the total offering of a weekday, was prescribed for the Sabbath (Num. 28:9–10; cf. Num. 28:3–8). Admonitions to observe the Sabbath are coupled once with reverence toward parents (Lev. 19:3; cf. the juxtaposition in the Decalogue), and twice with reverence toward the Sanctuary (Lev. 19:30; 26:2). As a time marker, the Sabbath terminated the week. Thus in the Tabernacle cult, the weekly replacement of shewbread occurred on the Sabbath (Lev. 24:8; i Chron. 9:32).

Only scraps of evidence are available concerning the nature of the Sabbath during the monarchy. In the Northern Kingdom during the ninth and eighth centuries, Sabbath and New Moon are mentioned together as days when business activity was halted (Amos 8:5), and people paid visits to men of God (ii Kings 4:23). From Hosea 2:13 it appears that the Sabbath, like the New Moon and the festival mentioned before it, was among "all the joys" of the North that were under God's doom; this is a precious attestation of the joyous character of the day. In eighth-century Judah, too, Sabbath and New Moon were popularly celebrated in sacred convocations held in the Jerusalem Temple (Isa. 1:13; cf. Lam. 2:6 for later times). Again, as a time marker, the Sabbath was the day on which the palace guard was changed weekly (ii Kings 11:5–9). Esteem of the Sabbath rose just before, during, and after the Exile. Jeremiah 17:19–27 berates the rulers and populace of Judah for condoning the hauling of burdens (market wares) into and within Jerusalem on the Sabbath. In an unprecedented prophecy, the fate of the dynasty and the city is made to depend upon the observance of the Sabbath. Ezekiel contains similar prophecies. Chapter 20:12ff. lays stress on the Sabbath as a sign of Israel's consecration to God; its significance is shown by juxtaposition with all the rest of the divine laws, the Sabbath alone being singled out by name. In catalogs of sins for which Jerusalem was doomed, desecration of the Sabbath occurs repeatedly. As part of his program for a reconstituted Israel, the prophet innovates the priestly duty of seeing that the Sabbath is kept holy (44:24). Noteworthy too is the increase in the number of animals prescribed for the Sabbath sacrifice from double that of the weekday to the befitting number seven (Ezek. 46:4). The Exilic "Isaiah" also singles out the observance of the Sabbath, juxtaposing it to all the rest of the covenant obligations as the precondition of individual and national restoration (56:2, 4, 6; 58:13: "If you call the Sabbath a delight/That which the Lord has sanctified – a day to be honored"). This prophet looks to an eventual universalization of the Sabbath among all nations (66: 23).

The prophets' estimate of the fateful importance of Sabbath observance was taken to heart in the fifth-century community of restored Jerusalem. The public confession of Nehemiah 9:14 once again singles out the Sabbath from all the "commandments, laws, and teachings" given to Israel through Moses. A special clause in the covenant subscribed to by the community's representatives forbids commerce with outsiders on Sabbaths and holy days (Neh. 10:32). Nehemiah enforced this clause rigorously as governor of Judah, reminding the indifferent aristocrats that for desecrating the Sabbath their ancestors had been visited with catastrophe (13:15–22).

historical and literary-historical considerations

Evidence that in the period of the monarchy the Sabbath was a popular, joyous holy day, marked by cessation of business and celebrated publicly and by the individual, in the Sanctuary and outside it, accords with the pentateuchal traditions that it was among the chief stipulations of the Mosaic covenant. The antiquity and interrelation of the various rationales given in the Pentateuch for the Sabbath are, however, problematic. Such rationales appear in both versions of the Decalogue. That of Exodus, associating the Sabbath with the Creation, is theocentric and sacramental. The sanctity of the day is grounded in an event in the life of God – His cessation from work, His rest, His blessing and consecration. Israel's observance of the day is imitative and out of respect for God's authority. The revelation of the day's sanctity exclusively to Israel – with the attendant obligation to keep it – is a sign of Israel's consecration to God. This rationale is worked out in the creation story, the Exodus Decalogue, and the two admonitions connected with the building of the Tabernacle. Critical analysis assigns all these passages to the Priestly Source (p); their interrelation is, in any event, beyond dispute. The Deuteronomic version of the Decalogue grounds the Sabbath, ambiguously, on the liberation of Israel from slavery. On the one hand, the humane concern of Exodus 23 over the welfare of slaves is involved, on the other, the authority of God to give such laws by virtue of His having redeemed Israel. Since none of these rationales is reflected in the meager extra-pentateuchal passages on the Sabbath, speculation on their age and interrelationship can be based only on internal evidence. Even if conceptual or literary development can be shown, absolute dating is impossible – all the more so when it is borne in mind that presently interrelated ideas may have arisen independently and contemporaneously, and in either case, before their literary embodiment. The compassionate ground of Exodus 23:12 is conceptually simpler than the historical-humanistic one of Deuteronomy. On the other hand, Deuteronomy's is tangential to the essence of the Sabbath day – its holiness. That is accounted for only by the cosmic-sacramental rationale associated with the Exodus Decalogue. But if the rationale in Exodus is the best developed, it is not necessarily the latest. Deuteronomy's seems to have been substituted for it, as more in accord with the spirit of that work, in its version of the Sabbath commandment. Critics consider the sacramental (probably priestly) rationale an Exilic conception, since its esteem of the Sabbath as a sign of Israel's consecration agrees with the Exilic views of the importance of the day. But is a historical explanation really needed for the priestly esteem of a holy day whose centrality in Israel's life is vouched for by its inclusion in the Decalogue – the only holy day so honored? Distinctively Exilic is the appreciation of the Sabbath as a decisive factor in national destiny, and that is lacking in the priestly material as elsewhere in the Pentateuch. Warnings of doom for violation of the covenant laws single out idolatry (Ex. 23:24; Deut. 4:25ff.) as the fatal national sin; Leviticus 26:34–35, 43 – of priestly provenance – adds neglect of the Sabbatical (fallow) Year to the causes of national doom. But violation of the Sabbath day is nowhere held to be a factor in Israel's downfall, nor is its observance a warrant of national well-being – as in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Exilic Isaiah, and Nehemiah. This suggests that the age of Jeremiah is the terminus ad quem of the pentateuchal material on the Sabbath. The increased regard for the Sabbath from Jeremiah's time on is to be connected with the danger of assimilation to the gentiles that loomed since the reign of Manasseh (cf. Zeph. 1), and greatly troubled the religious leaders of the Exile (Ezek. 20:32ff). With the Temple destroyed and the Jews dispersed, the distinctively Israelite day of rest, which allowed for public and private expression and which was not essentially bound up with a sacrificial cult, became a chief vehicle of identification with the covenant community. To mark oneself off from the gentiles by observing the peculiar, weekly "sign" of God's consecration of Israel was an act of loyalty which might well be counted the equivalent of the rest of the covenant commandments, while disregard of the Sabbath might well be considered as serious a breach of faith with the God of Israel as the worship of alien gods. Such in fact was the view of Exilic and post-Exilic thinkers who put forward the idea that the breaking of the Sabbath was a cause of the nation's collapse.

Speculation on the origin of the Sabbath has centered on the apparent Babylonian cognate, šapattu, the mid-month day of the full moon, called "the day of calming [the god's] heart" – apparently an auspicious day. The biblical combination of "New Moon and Sabbath" has been thought, accordingly, to reflect what were originally two holy days, one at the start, the other in the middle of the month. Another partial analogy to the Sabbath has been found in the "evil days" of the Babylonian month (mostly at seven-day intervals) on which the king's activity was severely restricted. How the šapattu might have been combined with the entirely distinct "evil days," become dissociated from the lunar cycle, and finally emerge as the joyous, weekly "Sabbath of the Lord" has not been persuasively explained. Nonetheless an ultimate connection between the biblical and the Babylonian phenomena seems likely. If so, the history of the Sabbath began with a radical severance from the past. The particularity of the biblical day was its positive sanctity – so that abstention from work on it expressed piety, and that sanctity was a divine ordinance – not a matter of lucky and unlucky times. It was perhaps first grounded on God's compassion toward workers, later brought into relation with the Creation, and later still with the Exodus.

[Michael J. Graetz]

In the Apocrypha

According to the Book of Maccabees, the Sabbath was at one time observed so strictly that on one occasion during the Maccabean revolt, the Jews allowed themselves to be killed rather than resist on the Sabbath (i Macc. 2:31–38). Later, it was decided that the Sabbath may be transgressed in order to save life (i Macc. 2:40–41). The Book of Jubilees (2:17–32 and 50:6–13) is extremely severe on Sabbath desecration, death being the penalty even for such offenses as walking any distance, fasts, or traveling on a ship on the Sabbath. The Book of Jubilees (50:8) also forbids marital relations on the Sabbath, whereas in the rabbinic teaching it is considered meritorious to perform these on the Sabbath (bk 82a, Ket. 62b).

In Rabbinic Literature

The rabbis wax eloquent on the value of Sabbath observance. "If Israel keeps one Sabbath as it should be kept, the Messiah will come. The Sabbath is equal to all the other precepts of the Torah" (Ex. R. 25:12). "God said to Moses: 'Moses, I have a precious gift in My treasury whose name is the Sabbath and I want to give it to Israel. Go and tell them'" (Beẓah 16a). "The Sabbath is one sixtieth of the world to come" (Ber. 57b). "The Sabbath increases Israel's holiness. 'Why does so-and-so close his shop?' 'Because he keeps the Sabbath.' 'Why does so-andso refrain from work?' 'Because he keeps the Sabbath.' Furthermore, whoever keeps the Sabbath testifies of Him at whose word the world came into being; that He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh" (Mekh. Sb-Y to Ex. 31:14). The juxtaposition of the instructions to build the Sanctuary and the prohibition of Sabbath work caused the rabbis to deduce that it was forbidden on the Sabbath to do any work that was required for the Sanctuary. The rabbinic definition of forbidden Sabbath work is, therefore, that which was needed for the Sanctuary (Mekh. Sb-Y. to Ex. 35:1; Shab. 49b). Any work analogous to those types used for the building of the Sanctuary is classified as being biblically forbidden. There are thus 39 main classes of work ("fathers of work," avot) used in the building of the Sanctuary, and many others derived from these ("offspring," toledot), with only slight technical differences between "father" and "offspring" (bk 2a). Watering of plants, for instance, is a toledah of sowing; weeding, of plowing; adding oil to a burning lamp, of lighting a fire. The Mishnah (Shab. 7:2) gives a list of the 39 main classes of work. (It has been noted that the number 39 is a standard number in rabbinic literature and that these types of work are all of a kind obtaining in the rabbinic period.) The Mishnah (Ḥag. 1:8) also states that the laws of forbidden work on the Sabbath are as mountains hanging by a hair, for there is little on the subject in the Scriptures yet the rules are many. In addition to the biblical prohibitions, there are various rabbinic prohibitions introduced as a "fence to the Torah" (Avot 1:1), such as the handling of tools or money (mukẓeh), riding a horse, instructing a gentile to do work. These rabbinic prohibitions are known as shevut ("rest"; Beẓah 5:2). One who profanes the Sabbath in public is treated as an idolator (Ḥul. 5a). Conversely, whoever observes the Sabbath as it should be, is forgiven his sins, even if he practiced idolatry (Shab. 118b).

The Sabbath is a festive day and three meals should be eaten on it (Shab. 118a). It was considered meritorious for a man to make some preparations for the Sabbath himself, even if he had servants to do it for him (Kid. 41a). R. Safra used to singe the head of an animal, R. Huna used to light the lamp, R. Papa to plait the wicks, R. Ḥisda to cut up the beets, Rabbah and R. Joseph to chop the wood, R. Zera to kindle the fire (Shab. 119a). R. Ḥanina would say on the eve of the Sabbath: "Come let us go out to meet the Bride, the Queen." R. Yannai used to adorn himself and say: "Come O Bride, come O Bride" (ibid., bk 32a–b). Out of respect for the sacred day, it was forbidden to fast on the eve of the Sabbath (Ta'an. 27b). In a well-known passage (Shab. 119b), it is said that on the eve of the Sabbath two ministering angels accompany a man from the synagogue to his home. If, when he arrives home, he finds the lamp burning, the table laid, and the couch covered with a spread, the good angel declares, "May it be thus on another Sabbath too" and the evil angel is obliged to answer "Amen." But if not, the evil angel declares, "May it be thus on another Sabbath too" and the good angel is obliged to answer "Amen." At the beginning of the Sabbath, the special sanctification (*Kiddush) is recited (Pes. 106a), and after the termination of the Sabbath the *Havdalah ("distinction") benediction (which signifies the separation of the Sabbath from the weekday) is recited (Ber. 33a), both over a cup of wine. A man should wear special garments in honor of the Sabbath; he should walk differently from the way he does on a weekday, and even his speech should be different (Shab. 11a–b).

In Jewish Thought

From an early period, the Sabbath became a day of spiritual refreshment. Philo (ii Mos. 216) and Josephus (Apion, 2:175) refer to the practice of public discourses on the Torah on this day, as do the rabbis (Yal., Ex. 108). Philo (Decal. 96) sees the Sabbath as an opportunity for man to imitate his Creator who rested on the seventh day. Man, too, should rest from his weekday labors in order to devote himself to contemplation and to the improvement of his character. The Midrash (Mekh. Sb-Y to 20:11) similarly states that if God, who exerts no effort, "writes about Himself " that he rested, how much more should man rest of whom it is said that he was born to toil. The benediction for the Sabbath afternoon service sums up the rabbinic attitude to the Sabbath as a precious gift from God, and as a sacred day kept even by the Patriarchs: "Thou art One and Thy Name is One, and who is like Thy people a unique nation upon the earth? Glorious greatness and a crown of salvation, even the day of rest and holiness, Thou hast given unto Thy people – Abraham was glad, Isaac rejoiced, Jacob and his sons rested thereon – a rest granted in love, a true and faithful rest, a rest in peace and tranquility, in quietude and safety, a perfect rest wherein Thou delightest. Let Thy children perceive and know that this their rest is from Thee, and by their rest may they hallow Thy Name."

The medieval Jewish philosophers tend to dwell on the symbolic nature of the day. For Maimonides (Guide, 2, 31), the Sabbath has a twofold significance: It teaches the true opinion that God created the world, and it provides man with physical rest and refreshment. According to Isaac Arama (Akedat Yiẓḥak, 55 ed. Bialystok (1849), 285–89), the Sabbath teaches the three fundamental principles of Judaism: belief in creatio ex nihilo, in revelation (because the Sabbath is a time when the Torah is studied), and in the world to come (of which the Sabbath is a foretaste). *Judah Halevi looks upon the Sabbath as a God-given opportunity for men to enjoy complete rest of body and soul for a sixth part of their lives, in a way denied even to kings, who know nothing of this precious boon of complete cessation from toil and distraction (Kuzari, 3, 10).

Samson Raphael *Hirsch (Horeb, section 2:21; tr. by I. Grunfeld, 1 (1962), 61–78) understands the prohibition of creative activity on the Sabbath (the types of forbidden work do not so much involve effort, as they are creative) to be a lesson for man to acknowledge his Creator as Creator of everything there is. Man is allowed to rule over the world for six days by God's will, but is forbidden on the seventh day to fashion anything for his own purpose. On each Sabbath man restores the world to God, as it were, and thus proclaims that he enjoys only a borrowed authority.

The Laws and Customs of the Sabbath

The mistress of the house kindles at least two candles before the advent of the Sabbath, one corresponding to "remember the Sabbath day" (Ex. 20:8), the other to "observe the Sabbath day" (Deut. 5:12). For each meal two whole loaves of bread are placed on the table, covered by a cloth, to correspond to the double portion of manna for the Sabbath (Ex. 16:22–26). Before the Kiddush is recited, the parents bless the children. During the festive meals of the day, special table hymns (*zemirot) are chanted. Whenever possible, guests should be invited to participate in the Sabbath meals. There is a special order of service for Sabbath in the synagogue. Psalms are recited before the evening service on Friday night, and the morning service includes the weekly readings from the Torah, as well as a Musaf Amidah. The afternoon service also includes a Torah reading from the portion to be read on the following Sabbath. When the Sabbath is over, the Havdalah benediction is recited, together with a benediction over spices (to restore the soul saddened by the departure of the day), and over light (which could neither be lit nor blessed on the Sabbath). Where there is danger to life (*pikku'aḥ nefesh), the Sabbath must be set aside and Sabbath profanation in such circumstances is meritorious in the extreme. Unlike the *Karaites, who took the verse "let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Ex. 16:29) literally, the rabbis placed no restrictions on freedom of movement within one's town, but they prohibited any walking outside the town beyond a distance of 2,000 cubits (a little more than half a mile). This boundary is known as the teḥum shabbat (Sabbath limit). It is, however, permitted to place, before the Sabbath, sufficient food for two meals at the limits of the 2,000 cubits; then, by a legal fiction known as *eruv, this place becomes one's "abode" for the duration of the Sabbath, so that the 2,000 cubits may then be walked from there. It is forbidden to instruct a non-Jew to do any work on the Sabbath which is not permitted to a Jew, unless it is for the sake of health. In cold climes, the heating of the home by a non-Jew falls under the heading "for the sake of health."

Modern inventions have produced a host of new questions regarding Sabbath observance. Orthodox Judaism forbids travel by automobile on the Sabbath, Reform Judaism permits it. Conservative Judaism has differing views on this question, but generally permits travel by automobile on the Sabbath solely for the purpose of attending synagogue. The basic legal question regarding the switching on of electric lights is whether the noncombustive type of burning produced by electricity falls under the prohibition of making a fire or any of the other prohibitions listed above. Orthodox Jews refrain from the use of electrical appliances on the Sabbath, with the exception of the refrigerator, which may be opened and closed on the grounds that any electrical current produced in the process is incidental and without express intention. It has, however, become the practice for observant Jews to use electrical appliances on the Sabbath which are operated by time switches set before the Sabbath. In Israel, on religious kibbutzim, the same procedure is used to milk the cows on the Sabbath. Israel also has local bylaws forbidding certain activities on the Sabbath. There is, however, no comprehensive law covering the whole country. Thus, whereas public transportation does not operate on the Sabbath in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv, it does in Haifa. Except for specifically non-Jewish sections of the country, the Sabbath is the official day of rest on which all business and stores must close, but there is some doubt as to what is a business for this law (see *Israel, State of: Religious Life).

[Louis Jacobs]

In Kabbalah

The seven days of the week, reflections of the seven primeval days of creation, symbolize in Kabbalah the seven lower Sefirot, from Ḥesed to Malkhut, which are known as the Sefirot ha-Binyan because of their part in "building" creation. According to the kabbalists, the Torah hints at the existence of the two Sabbaths in the system of the Sefirot when it says "Ye shall keep My Sabbaths" (Lev. 19:30). Even in the kabbalistic literature, which was influenced by the Zohar to a slight degree or not at all, and which generally avoids stressing erotic elements in divinity, the Sabbath was interpreted as the element of union in the system of the Sefirot. Interpreting "And God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed [va-yekaddesh] it" (Gen. 2:3), these kabbalists linked va-yekaddesh with kiddushin ("betrothal") since the "atarah [Malkhut] is betrothed to Tiferet" (Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut (Mantua, 1558), 185a). In the same way they interpreted the Sabbath eve prayer: "You hallowed [kiddashta] the seventh day" as meaning "you betrothed the seventh day, which is the basis to the atarah" (ibid.).

Inverting the story in Genesis Rabbah 11:8, in which the Sabbath complains to God: "You gave a mate to everyone, while I have none," and was given *Keneset Yisrael as her mate, the kabbalists regarded Keneset Yisrael as the symbol of the Sefirah Malkhut, as the feminine mate of the Sabbath, which is the masculine principle in divinity (Yesod or Tiferet). Since according to the kabbalists the souls are the outcome of the union in the system of Sefirot, the idea of the holy union which takes place on the Sabbath is linked to the Sages' belief that on Sabbath additional souls are given. In the Sefer *ha-Bahir this word is expounded in connection with the Sefirah Yesod, which "maintains all the souls" and from which the souls fly. Many sayings of the Sages and the different customs they initiated are given a mystical meaning in Kabbalah. The concept of "family peace" (shelom bayit), which must be kept especially on the Sabbath, is interpreted in Kabbalah as "peace, which is the Sefirah Yesod, is at home [bayit] in the Sefirah Malkhut" (ibid.). The Sabbath candles lit by the wife are symbols of the additional souls emanating from the Sefirah Malkhut, which is called sukkat shalom ("canopy of peace"). The Zohar treats at length of the Sabbath, the time when the entire arrangement of the order of the worlds is changed. Lights descend like dew from the upper to the lower Sefirot, and from there the divine abundance flows to all creatures. The additional souls that descend through the medium of the divine harmony illuminate the faces of the people who enjoy the holiness of the Sabbath. Many passages in the Zohar are poetical descriptions of the position of the worlds on the Sabbath. A typical passage is to be found in the second part of the Zohar, 135a–b. This passage is reproduced in Ḥasidic prayer books and is recited ecstatically on Sabbath eve.

The author of the Zohar and other kabbalists who followed him decided not to recite the part of the Ma'ariv prayer beginning "and He is compassionate" on Sabbath eve, for they feared that the mention of sins in the prayer might awaken the forces of the sitra aḥra, which, according to the Zohar, do not have any power on the Sabbath.

During the renaissance of Kabbalah in 16th-century Safed, new customs were established which spread to the Diaspora. Two of the main ones were the order of Kabbalat Shabbat ("the reception of the Sabbath") and matters concerning the Sabbath meal. It is said that Isaac *Luria and his disciples used to go out of Safed on Friday afternoon to meet the Sabbath, a practice which is described in the Shulḥan Arukh shel ha-Ari: "The Sabbath is received in the field: you must stand facing west, preferably in a high place, and there must be an open space behind you." While singing Psalm 92 during the reception of the Sabbath, the kabbalists used to close their eyes to identify themselves with the *Shekhinah, who lost her sight by weeping incessantly for the exile of Israel. There are signs that in Safed itself there was some opposition to this custom of going out into the fields, which is expressed in Moses *Cordovero's commentary on the prayers and in the writings of Isaiah *Horowitz (the Shelah). Some of the kabbalists used to go out into the garden or the courtyard, but eventually the custom of turning westward was adopted. The author of Ḥemdat Yamim notes with resentment that he is not able to go out into the fields as was formerly done and states that in his own day (c. 1700?) this was still the custom in Jerusalem. Moses Cordovero's circle adopted the custom of reciting during this service six psalms for the six days of the week, along with Psalm 92 for the Sabbath. This order of the Kabbalat Shabbat service, including the hymns Lekhah Dodi, written by Solomon Alkabeẓ, and Bar Yoḥai, written by Simeon *Labi, is to be found in the books of Tikkunei Shabbat which were printed at the beginning of the 17th century.

Concerning the Sabbath meal, these books state that it was the custom to recite Shalom Aleikhem and Eshet Ḥayil (Prov. 31:10–31), the latter being introduced since it is expounded by the Zohar and various kabbalists as referring to the Shekhinah. These books also contain hymns which Isaac Luria wrote for each of the Sabbath meals and the invocation of the divine powers in accordance with one of the ways instituted by the Zohar. Among some kabbalists great importance was attached to the fourth Sabbath meal which takes place at the end of the Sabbath. In the same way as the first three Sabbath meals were related to the Patriarchs, this fourth one was identified with David, the King Messiah. It therefore became particularly significant for the Shabbateans (see *Shabbetai Ẓevi), who often continued it until midnight. The third meal was of special importance for the Ḥasidim; it took place at a "favorable hour," which, according to the kabbalists, was the time of the Minḥah prayer on Sabbath.

[Efraim Gottlieb]

In Art

the sabbath light

The commandment of kindling the Sabbath lights has been fulfilled in a myriad of ways over the generations. Rabbinic texts from the Mishnah onwards are concerned with the types of fuel used to light and the material of the wicks, but not with the type of implements that contain the sources of light. Both local custom and the need to provide light throughout the day no doubt influenced the design of lamps for the Sabbath. In the ancient period clay lamps with one or more spouts were used. Later versions were probably made of metal. Archaeological evidence from the Land of Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple shows that ceramic lamps in use by the Jews were decorated with Jewish symbols to distinguish them from the lamps used by the local non-Jewish populace.

European Sabbath Lamps

Hanging Sabbath lamps of the Middle Ages consist of nozzles arranged in a circle at the periphery of an open, flat saucer filled with oil, thus creating their characteristic star shape. These lamps, usually made out of bronze or silver, often were hung at the end of a ratcheted hook which enabled raising and lowering. Certain lamps had bowls underneath for the collection of oil drips, some connected the nozzles to this bowl with attached metal ducts, others had various tools attached to them for trimming and cleaning. More elaborate lamps, made by non-Jewish craftsman, are embellished with figurines, narrative reliefs or other decorations. The Italians deepened the central saucer into a bowl, provided a silver drip pan to catch the excess oil, and hung the lamp by chains which converged at the top in a finial. In central and eastern Europe the central bowl was kept small and the spouts enlarged, the result being a star-shaped lamp called the Judenstern. While the form of the lamp was influenced by local design, the term Judenstern has been found in a record book of a silversmith from the 16th century, showing the association of this item with Jewish practice. Depictions of such lamps appear in Jewish manuscripts from both Spain and Ashkenaz of the 14th and 15th centuries (for example, the Sarajevo Haggadah (Sarajevo, National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, fol. 31v), the Second Nuremburg Haggadah (Jerusalem, Schocken Ms. 24087, fol. 4v), and the Ashkenazi Haggadah (London, British Library, Ms. 14762, fol. 6r)). The Italian rabbi, Leone *Modena (1571–1648), mentions in his Historia de riti Hebraici that women would light anywhere from four to six lights, congruent to the six pointed lamps depicted in manuscripts and printed books.

Candles were also used for lighting in the medieval period in Europe, as revealed by both halakhic texts and illuminated manuscripts. The candlesticks depicted in the Rothschild Miscellany (Jerusalem, Israel Museum Ms. 180/51), late 15th century Italy (fols. 55v, 156v), show striking similarity with candlesticks in use in private homes in Europe. Candles in Europe were often made from animal fat and thus not permissible for Jewish use. The 19th-century development of synthetic materials for candles led to their greater diffusion among the Jews. Concomitantly, advances in indoor illumination technology gave the lighting of the Sabbath candles a more symbolic and less practical function, also prompting the move away from oil lamps. In Poland, brass candlesticks with anywhere from three to seven candles, decorated with lions and eagles, often inscribed in Hebrew "to kindle the Sabbath lights," were common in Jewish homes, besides pairs of candlesticks.

North African and Oriental Jewish Communities

The use of oil as the main form of fuel among the North African and Oriental Jewish communities continued until the contemporary era. In Morocco, sheet brass rectangular vessels with wicks in the four corners were traditionally used for lighting. In Persia and Afghanistan, the silver vessel used for lighting resembled the shape of the ancient clay oil lamp, with a deep bowl for the oil and two wick-nozzles. Sometimes there were two separate bowls, one for each light. The base was often decorated with birds or floral motifs and engraved with the woman's name. In Yemen, a simple hanging round stone lamp with notches for multiple wicks was used.

kiddush cups

There is speculation that the gold glasses found in the catacombs of Italy were originally used for the blessing on wine. Jewish illuminated Haggadot from the late Middle Ages show elaborate goblets, sometimes with lids, sometimes double goblets, such as those depicted in the Ashkenazi Haggadah (London, British Library, Ms. 14762, fol.2v) and the Cincinnati Haggadah (Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College, Ms. 444, fol. 2v). As with Sabbath candlesticks, these cups were often copies of local types, generally made by non-Jewish craftsmen, and often decorated with vegetal motifs or geometric designs. In certain Oriental Jewish communities, the tradition of the lidded kiddush cup continues to the present time, often decorated with a small bird on the lid.

Ḥallah covers and knives

Other ritual objects for use on the Sabbath include a special cover for the *ḥallah and a special knife for cutting the ḥallah. Leone Modena mentions a long cloth used to cover the ḥallah, as depicted in both the Ashkenazi (fol. 6r) and the Cincinnati Haggadot (fol. 2v). Extant examples of embroidered ḥallah covers from the 19th century from various European communities have survived, as well as such knives.

contemporary ritual art

Twentieth-century Jewish artists, such as Ludwig Wolpert and Moshe Zabari, applied their skills to making modern versions of all the Sabbath implements, and contemporary Judaica artists such as Zelig Segal continue this trend for a growing market. The blossoming of contemporary Jewish art makes the list of artists working in this field too numerous to mention.

the sabbath in painting

The earliest printed depiction of a Jewish woman lighting a six-pointed Judenstern appears in the Sefer ha-Minhagim of Venice from the year 1593. Christian works on the Jews, such as Johann Christoph Georg Bodenschatz' Kirchliche Verfassung der heutigen Juden sonderlich derer in Deutschland (Frankfurt and Leipzig: Johannes Friedrich Becker, 1748–49) also show women lighting Sabbath lamps. Sabbath candlesticks as an attribute of the Jewish women appear on Jewish carved gravestones from the 19th century. Moritz *Oppenheim in Germany in his Bilder aus dem altjüdischen Familienleben ("Scenes rom Traditional Jewish Family Life," 1866), shows a woman lighting a traditional oil lamp, and devotes several works in the series to the subject of the Sabbath. Jewish artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Isidor *Kaufmann, show traditional Jewish women on Sabbath eve with two lit candlesticks on the table. The Scandinavian Jewish artist, Geskel Saloman, shows two women lighting from a four-branched Polish-style candlestick. The subject of the Sabbath appears in the works of Samuel Hirszenberg, Boris *Schatz, Hermann *Struck, Jacob *Steinhardt, Josef *Budko, and Max *Band, among others. The use of the candlesticks to symbolize Jewish tradition and the home can be found in the works of Marc *Chagall, and Naftali *Bezem, while Yossl *Bergner uses the spice box (see *Havdalah). The subject of the Sabbath in the life of the pioneers was dealt with by Israel artists Yohanan Simon and Joseph Kossonogi.

[Susan Nashman Fraiman (2nd ed.)]


E. Millgram, Sabbath: The Day of Delight (1944, incl. full bibl.); U. Cassuto, From Adam to Noah (1961), 165–9; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 475–83 (incl. bibl.); H.J. Kraus, Worship in Israel (1966), 78–88; see also Maim. Yad, Shabbat; Sh. Ar., oḤ, 242–344; J.Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (1951), 437–70; H. Biberfeld, Menuḥah Nekhonah (19653); A.J. Heschel, The Sabbath (1951); S. Goldman, Guide to the Sabbath (1961); Y.L. Baruch, Sefer ha-Shabbat (1956). add. bibliography: Y.L. Bialer, "Shabbat Implements in Art," in: Mahanaim, 85–86 (1964), 138–43 (Heb.); H. Friedberg, "The Contemporary Design of Ritual Art," in: Mahanaim, (new series) 11, part 2, (1995), 230–39 (Heb.); F. Landsberger, "The Origin of the Ritual Implements for the Sabbath," in: huca, 27 (1956; repr. in J. Gutmann (ed.), Beauty in Holiness: Studies in Jewish Customs and Ceremonial Art (1970), 167–203; V. Mann, "New Examples of Jewish Ceremonial Art from Medieval Ashkenaz," in: Artibus et Historiae, no. 17 (1988), 13–24; K. Schwartz, "Shabbat in Art," in: Ya'akov Nacht et al. (eds.), Sefer HaShabbat (1958), 551–64 (Heb.); I. Shachar, Jewish Tradition in Art: The Feuchtwanger Collection of Judaica (1981); V. Sussman, Ornamented Jewish Oil Lamps from the Fall of the Second Temple Through the Revolt of Bar Kochba (Heb., 1972); R. Wischnitzer-Bernstein, "The Sabbath in Art," in: A.E. Millgram, Sabbath The Day of Delight (1965), 319–33; B. Yaniv and Z. HaNegbi, Zohar, Shabbat Shalom (1998); E. Zoref, "Shabbat in Jewish Painting," in: Mahanaim, 85–86 (1964), 152–57 (Heb).


views updated May 18 2018

Sabbath (Heb., shabbat; Yid., shabbas). The seventh day of the week, on which Jews abstain from work. According to the Bible, God worked for six days in creating the world and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore he blessed the seventh day and made it holy (Genesis 2. 1–3). Re rabbis classified thirty-nine main classes of work to be avoided (B.Shab. 7. 2), and required that, as it is a festive day, three meals should be eaten (B.Shab. 119a). It is the custom for the mother of the household to light two candles before the start of the Sabbath, and, before the special Sabbath Kiddush is recited (B.Pes. 106a), the parents bless the children. The reason for two Sabbath lights is to fulfil the two commandments, ‘Remember the Sabbath day’ (Exodus 20. 8) and ‘Observe the Sabbath day’ (Deuteronomy 5. 12); and there are generally two loaves of bread to commemorate the double portion of manna (Exodus 16. 22–6). The articles used for Sabbath ritual (candlesticks, Kiddush cups etc.) are frequently extremely artistic. Certain Sabbaths are regarded as ‘Special Sabbaths’, either because of the readings allocated to them, or because of their place in the calendar, especially when a Sabbath falls during a festival.

The Sabbath has been of paramount importance for Jews and Judaism: ‘More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews’ (Aḥad ha-ʿAm). The Sabbath takes Jews back to the condition which God originally intended in the Garden of Eden, but even more it anticipates the final state.

Since Christianity emerged as an interpretation of Judaism with Jesus accepted as messiah, many early ‘Christians’ (the name first appeared at Antioch, according to Acts 11. 26) observed the Sabbath and attended synagogue. The transfer of ‘rest’ from the Sabbath to Sunday began from about the 4th cent., but the reason given was to enable people to worship God, rather than to revive the abstention from work in imitation of the sabbath rest. The phrase ‘the Christian sabbath’ dates from about the 12th cent. The early Reformers (e.g. Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox), insisted on the day of rest, though not in imitation of the Sabbath. The Evangelical Revival reinforced strict sabbath observance in 19th cent. Britain (the Lord's Day Observance Society was founded in 1831), but the influence of Sabbatarian movements on the Continent was more limited. The erosion of ‘sabbath observance’ is now extensive. Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the churches have been in error in abandoning the observance of the Sabbath on the original day and have reverted to that practice.


views updated Jun 08 2018


The seventh day of the week; the day of religiously mandated rest.

In Judaism, the Sabbath (in Hebrew, Shabbat, or rest) was and is the holiest day of the week. Historically, no work of any kind could be done; hence, fire could not be made and, by extension, nothing that runs electrically or mechanically can be started up by observant Jews. Food is prepared in advance and special customs ensure rest and reflection on the past week, and thereby restoration of the soul for the coming week.

The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown Friday and lasts twenty-five hours, until nightfall Saturday; the Christian Sabbath is usually celebrated on Sunday. In Israel on the Sabbath, public facilities are closed. Outside of Haifa, buses of the state cooperatives do not run, no El Al (Israeli) airliners take off or land, and no Hebrew newspapers are published.

Public observance of the Sabbath has been the source of some tension within Israeli society. Since the formation of the state, Orthodox and, in particular, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews have been insistent that restaurants, movie theatres, and other "profane" public establishments remain closed in observance of the Sabbath. Although such closings have been common, increasing numbers of businesses are remaining open on the Sabbath.

There is no ban in Israel on the driving of private cars on the Sabbath, but haredi Jews, in an effort to enforce the religious prohibitions of the Sabbath, have periodically clashed with local authorities and drivers by demanding the closure to automobile traffic of public thoroughfares that pass near or through their enclaves on the holy day of rest. This has occasionally led to violent demonstrations, stone-throwing, and mass protests by Orthodox Jews against "desecration of the Sabbath." Although most of these demonstrations ultimately have led to the limitation or eventual halt of the flow of traffic on these thoroughfares during the Sabbath, the protests have also led to increased tensions between Orthodox and secular Israelis and often hostile debates about religious coercion in Israeli society.

samuel c. heilman


views updated May 18 2018

Sabbath a day of religious observance and abstinence from work (the Sabbath), kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday; the idea that the Lord's Day is a ‘Christian Sabbath’ or a substitute for the Sabbath occurs in theologicial writings from the 4th century onwards, but was not popularly current before the Reformation. In English, Sabbath as a synonym for ‘Sunday’ did not become common until the 17th century.

Recorded from Old English, the name comes via Latin and Greek from Hebrew šabbāṯ, from šāḇaṯ ‘to rest’. ‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy’ is the fourth (or in medieval reckoning, the third) of the Ten Commandments.
Sabbath day's journey the distance (equivalent to 1225 yards) which (according to Rabbinical prescription in the time of Christ) was the utmost limit of permitted travel on the Sabbath.

See also witches' sabbath.


views updated Jun 08 2018

sab·bath / ˈsabə[unvoicedth]/ • n. 1. (often the Sabbath) a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.2. (also witch·es' sab·bath) a supposed annual midnight meeting of witches with the Devil.


views updated May 21 2018

Sabbath seventh day of the week observed by Jews as a day of rest OE.; the Lord's Day, Sunday XVI; midnight meeting of demons and witches XVII. OE. sabat — L. sabbatum and (O)F. sabbat, †sabat — Gr. sábbaton — Heb. šabbāth, f. šābath rest. The sp. with th and the consequent pronunc. are due to learned assoc. with the Heb. form.


views updated May 23 2018

Sabbath Seventh day of the week, set aside as a sacred day of rest. For Jews, the Sabbath runs from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Christians set aside Sunday for their Sabbath, making it a day of worship and rest from labour.