Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A bit about observing Shabbat

I get many questions via email about Shabbat observance in our home, so I thought I would write a bit about it here.

The matters of Shabbat are so multiple and there is no way I will be able to discuss them all right now, so I'll just start by saying that the purpose of Shabbat is, of course, rest, though non-Jews are not expected or supposed to observe Shabbat in the same way Jews do.

For us, the types of work forbidden on the day of Shabbat are explicitly described so there is no problem defining what isn't supposed to be done. A general rule is not doing creative work (which would include painting as well as cooking) and not preparing for the upcoming week, which means that we don't sit around on Shabbat talking about what we are going to do tomorrow. This allows us to recharge mentally.

Naturally, there is still "work" to be done, such as serving meals and clearing up the table later, not to mention there's a baby to take care of, diapers to change, and dishes to wash.

Speaking of dishes, I wash mine. I simply don't have enough plates, cutlery, glasses and serving dishes to last me through the three Shabbat meals without washing up. So I wash what I need for Shabbat itself - I try to wash up the pots before Shabbat, but if I'm stuck with dirty pots, they wait until the Shabbat ends, because I wouldn't need them during Shabbat. I know families who simply let it all (dishes, glasses, etc) sit in the sink until the end of Shabbat. I don't do any wash up between the third meal and the end of Shabbat, because that's a period of time when we don't eat.

We heat our meals by using a Shabbat hot plate. A Shabbat hot plate is a simple device to keep food hot, but not hot enough to cook the food (as opposed to leaving the food on the stove). It turns on according to a pre-set clock so we have time to heat the food before meals. While I was single I didn't have a hot plate so I just ate cold food on Shabbat.

Other details of Shabbat: bathing the baby

Theoretically, I would be allowed to bathe the baby, but there's a problem with heating water on Shabbat, so I bathe her on Friday afternoon, and then her next bath is Saturday night.

Brushing our hair:

Brushing one's hair is forbidden on the day of Shabbat because hairs might get pulled out, but we can smooth out hair using one's hand. By the way we never had to brush Shira's hair yet, because it's so sleek.

Training children in Shabbat observance:

We always have Shira at the table with us during kiddush and meal times, and if she happens to touch something that we don't touch on Shabbat (like an electric appliance, a pencil, etc) we tell her "no. It's Shabbat!" - she will understand eventually.

Tending to animals:

Generally, there is no problem tending to the animals - your animals, just like your family members, need to eat, after all! And if you have a dog it must be taken out for a walk, Shabbat or no Shabbat.

I think it's very important that other family members pitch in with Shabbat chores (serving meals, clearing up) as well. I've been saddened to see families where people sit leisurely around the table, while the mother spends the entire meal dashing every minute to get this or that for one of the children, her husband, or the several guests that were invited. There is also the mad race from Friday morning till afternoon (you Jewish wives surely understand what I'm talking about!). Shabbat is supposed to be entered peacefully, not in a state of collapse from exhaustion.


Jo said...

Thank you for sharing that - it was very interesting.


Otter Mom said...

Our Sabbath observance is similar to yours, but obviously differs in many ways because we are not Jewish. It seems like not a lot of Christians observe Sabbath beyond church on Sunday (or Saturday for some). I think that we are missing something vital and very important by skipping it. We don't do any work, but crafting is something we allow as long as it's relaxing and fun. I do cook sometimes, but the dishes get loaded into the dishwasher as we use them and then if it's full it gets run after sunset. When I do cook, it's generally something very simple. We do family devotions, Bible reading and worship. We spend the day as a family and it really does "recharge the batteries." Obviously, pet care is something that is done - as you said, they have to eat too! Sometimes we take the dogs for a walk, but they seem to be just as happy snoozing all day sometimes. Sometimes we play games and we take turns deciding on a movie to watch - one only, and it has to be family friendly. But the main focus is to rest and relax. Unless it's a medical emergency or similar situation, we don't go anywhere and the cell phones aren't turned on either. I don't generally brush my hair, although if we are going to take the dogs for a walk and it's windy I might pull it up into a pony tail. Usually, we just stay in our pajamas all day. We spend a little time on Friday afternoons getting anything cleaned up, but I had to learn the hard way not to overdo it and be exhausted by Friday evening! My daughter is a great help when it comes to that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anna,
Thank you for these little peeks into the Jewish life, it's so interesting. Your Sabbath sounds lovely, I especially liked the no thinking of the next week and the fact that the whole family helps in the chores.
Have a beautiful end of the week!
Anna A.

Anonymous said...

Me again. Sorry fo misspelling Shabbat in my comment!!
Anna A.

SarahF said...

Very interesting, Anna. Are these rules in the Torah or are some eg not brushing hair, not using heat rabbi interpretation?

Kacie said...

Hi Anna,

Thank you for sharing a glimpse of what Shabbat is like in your home.

I have a question, because I'm genuinely curious.

Why so many rules? I understand that Shabbat is intended as a day of rest, but I don't understand the legalistic nature of so many rules (i.e. "don't touch this item, don't brush your hair" etc.).

Leah Burks said...

I was actually thinking about asking you about some of these things! How timely, especially the dishes thing. I have plenty of dishes, so we make a sink of soapy water and pile them all there, and I even wait til Sunday morning to deal with them, since they are in soapy water.

Courtney said...

Thats interesting to know! Although I would like to know more about why you cant brush your hair on Shabbat please.

Anonymous said...

I very much appreciate your explanations, and look forward to more.

Star said...

Interesting to hear what you do on Saturdays. I was brought up Christian and when I was small, the Sabbath was a family day. We observed it as such, went to church, shared a meal together, did family things. It was lovely and the day felt special. These days people work on Sunday, but I try to keep it a family day as much as possible. I have also changed my religion a bit to include Sabbats. I follow the Wiccan way.
Blessings, Star

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for writing about this; it is very fascinating. I'm not Jewish, but I love the idea of preparing before the weekend starts to allow for a day or two of rest, mediation, fellowship, and worship; and then having everything already set to go for the beginning of a new work week. Your Shabbat just makes so much sense to me.

Thanks again and have a great day :) I love reading your blog.

Miss Jocelyn said...

Thanks for posting this. It was interesting to see how others celebrate Shabbat. We do the mad race on Friday too, but oh so rewarding when Shabbat begins!

Mrs. Anna T said...

An answer to all the "why so many rules" comments:

In observing the Shabbat, we follow the rules set down in the Oral Torah, which was given to our sages back at Mt. Sinai. You'll notice that from just reading the written Torah, it's impossible to know exactly how to "observe the Shabbat day and keep it holy", yet obviously there must be many specifications to prevent a mistake in such an important matter.

Jo said...

Growing up, our Sunday was called The Lords Day and we dressed in our Sunday best (with hat or headscarf in the afternoons) and after breakfast went to my Uncle's for Sunday meeting (hymns, prayer and bible reading - the later only by the menfolk), followed by a simple lunch (we did wash the dishes). The day was one of rest - no work, reading of worldly novels (only Christian books), crafts, games, radio (we didn't own a TV) or playing. We sometimes visited elderly friends and family for a quiet afternoon tea, go for a drive to see the countryside or go for a walk around our farm (still in our best clothes). Dinner was also a simple meal followed by hymns (I am referring tho the old ones) and more bible readings.

However because we lived on a farm and the cattle still needed to be fed and the fruit trees watered, my father and brothers would do this in the afternoon.

I have to admit, I didn't like being different to all my friends and really struggled with the way I was brought up.

We were a Brethren family.


Tamsen said...

Your posts on Shabbat have always sounded so beautiful to me. Thank you for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...


I have an honest question for you and mean no disrespect. Where do you get the rules for this from? Is it from the Talmud? Because I don't remember reading all this in the Torah.

Thanks for helping me learn.

Many Blessings :)

Cassandra said...

I am Seventh Day Adventist and we observe Shabbat. I know exactly what you mean about the mad rush on preparation day!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Ace, yes, many of the Shabbat laws were written down in the Talmud, after many generations of being passed down orally.

Anonymous said...

Shalom, Everyone! So many very good questions asked so respectfully. We, too, observe Shabbat. While it seems like there are many rules, they are for protection of this most holy day. The Torah says, "Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you."Ex. 31:14. The Hebrew for observe is shamar which means to watch, guard, protect, be careful. While in our American culture we tend to be independent, in this case, the rabbis are only doing this to protect (shamar) the Sabbath day. They have many years of wisdom in interpreting the Torah. In addition, not doing "crafting" or "creating" can actually be derived from the Torah. Ex. 20:9 states,"...the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your G-d; in it you shall not do any work..." The Hebrew for work is melakah which means article made, business, crafsmanship. Also, G-d rested on the seventh day from all His work (melakah). What was He doing? The "work" of creating. A lot of the other "guards" come from the work of the temple since it was commanded that even work on it was supposed to cease on the Sabbath. What a nurturing G-d we serve that He commands us to rest every 7 days!
Mrs. G