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Jewish Time

Shabbat and Holidays

The Jewish Week: Shabbat

There is no more prominent and frequent occurrence in the Jewish calendar than the weekly arrival of Shabbat. Along with the remaining six days of the week, Shabbat provides the basic rhythm of Jewish time. Six days of work, one day of rest: mundane, holy. Hurry up, slow down. Get distracted, return to the Source of All. Worry about yourself and your loved ones, remember your blessings. In the Havdala blessing that marks the end of Shabbat, God is praised for distinguishing between holy and mundane (hamavdil beyn kodesh l’ḥol).

Over the long and rich history of the Jewish people, the weekly observance of Shabbat has played a central role. The actual details of how Jews have observed Shabbat have evolved over the centuries and varied according to where Jews have lived and which cultural traditions they have inherited. In all communities of which we are aware, however, Shabbat has been the primary axis upon which Jewish life has turned: preparing for Shabbat, lighting the candles before sunset on Friday, sanctifying the day over wine and hallah, eating, singing, praying and studying Torah. The day revolves around putting aside the cares of the week to create 25 hours devoted to holy, restful living until the moment on Saturday evening when the Havdala ceremony marks Shabbat’s end. However the melodies, the foods and the customs have varied, Shabbat has sustained Jewish lives.

The Jewish Year: Holidays

The Jewish calendar allows us to follow ancient rhythms that orient our lives in many subliminal ways. To live in Jewish time means, for example, that the heat of summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) reminds us of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Tisha B’Av) and leads us to the self-examination that precedes the High Holy Days. The weeks preceding Pesach have us enslaved in preholiday preparation, and the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot have us moving toward the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Following the annual cycle of the reading of the Torah has us thinking about the matriarch Sarah in October and November, and Miriam, Moses’ sister, in June. We inevitably bring new interpretations to the understanding of the holiday cycle and the re-reading of Torah, but in doing so, we are being acted upon by the sacred texts and practices that we encounter. We are becoming ever more Jewishly acculturated.1

  • 1. The material on this page is adapted from A Guide to Jewish Practice, Volume 2—Shabbat and Holidays

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