What Do Orthodox Jews Do on Saturdays?

Jews eat challah bread during Sabbath meals.
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Orthodox Jews observe the Sabbath, or Shabbat, on Saturdays. The holy day begins on Friday at sunset and lasts until Saturday at sunset. Shabbat, stemming from the Hebrew word for rest, requires that Jews not work, and turn from worldly matters. The tradition of rest comes from the Bible story in which God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe, and from the fourth commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy.

1 Rest

Orthodox Jews do not see the Sabbath as an obligation, but as a gift from God. They believe it is an opportunity to rest and escape worldly concerns. Chores, such as cooking and cleaning, must be complete before sunset on Fridays, so Jews may completely rest during Saturday. Orthodox Jews observe a list of 39 activities they must avoid during the Sabbath, from basic work tasks, such as hammering and sowing, to specific activities such as erasing two letters. Because they do not use electricity, they do not watch television, answer work phone calls or check email, but devote themselves to complete rest.

2 Eat

Food plays an essential component in the Sabbath observance. Since Orthodox Jews do not cook or use electricity on the Sabbath, they prepare meals ahead of time. Jews must eat three meals on the day of Sabbath, and one of the meals must include bread, though many Orthodox Jews eat bread before each meal. The most common Sabbath bread is challah, an egg-bread made from braided dough. However, during Passover, Jews must not eat bread that rises, so they replace challah with matzo. Other Sabbath dishes include cholent, a traditional stew. Families drink wine from a glass called the kiddush cup after reciting blessings, and consume festive meals.

3 Worship

Orthodox Jews view the Sabbath as a chance to thank God for upholding his covenant. On Saturday mornings, Jews attend Shabbat services, which typically last till around noon. They recite the kiddush, a prayer blessing the wine before the Saturday meal. After this prayer, and before the meal, they pass a cup of water around to wash their hands, and say another blessing, Netilat Yadayim, before they dry them. After washing their hands and before drying them, a member of the family will recite Ha-Motzi, a prayer before breaking the bread. The prayers take place before the Friday and Saturday evening meals. Havdalah, which mean separation, is a blessing that ends Sabbath.

4 Family

Many Jews reserve Shabbat for family time. In addition to eating meals, participating in blessings and attending services together, families will use the Sabbath to spend time with each other. While they may not use electronics or watch television, they participate in games, take walks, read the Torah or engage in conversations. A function of Shabbat is to remember; Jews remember the creation story, as well as their escape from slavery in Egypt, and the journey their ancestors took. They spend Saturdays remembering their origins and their ancestors' accomplishments.

A resident of Riverside, California, Timothy Peckinpaugh began writing in 2006 for U.S. History Publishers, based in Temecula, California. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor's degree in English.