The laws of remembering Shabbos.
1. At mount Sinai our nation heard two commandments regarding Shabbos in a prophetic vision: to remember Shabbos and to keep it. Remembering Shabbos implies all the positive aspects of the day – making it special and different. Keeping Shabbos implies making sure not to desecrate it by performing any forbidden work. Let us first discuss the laws of the positive aspects of Shabbos.
2. The Shabbos is the most important holiday in our calendar, in many ways it is even a greater holiday than Yom Kippur. For this reason, seven people are called up to the Torah on Shabbos, six – on Yom Kippur and five on other holidays. Respecting Shabbos and being happy on this day is one of the most exalted ways to serve the Creator, Who wants us to enjoy this day. Moreover, for proper observance of Shabbos we are promised a great reward. Imagine that during a job interview, the employer proposed that all we need to do is eat, sleep, sing songs and enjoy ourselves and for all this we will be getting an excellent salary. I don’t think we would believe the seriousness of the offer. However, it is under these conditions that the Creator “hires” us: enjoy the Shabbos the best you can and I will reward you greatly.
3. Everything on Shabbos is different. Eating, walking, clothes, manner of speech, even the intimate relations between the spouses on Shabbos have nothing to do with weekday mundane ones. All these actions on Shabbos are elevated and become means in fulfilling the mitzvos. All of the Shabbos meals are separated from the weekday ones. We make Kiddush on wine in the beginning of Shabbos and it is forbidden to eat anything until Kiddush is made. After the end of Shabbos we make Havdala. Before Havdala, we are not allowed to eat or to do any work. On Shabbos itself we eat three festive meals. They are not called breakfast, dinner and supper, rather their very names are special: the first, second and third Shabbos meals. They correspond to the three forefathers – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov who also instituted the three prayers – Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv. After Shabbos we eat an additional meal – Melave Malka, seeing off the queen. It corresponds to an additional Shabbos prayer – Musaf. We will now discuss everything in greater detail.
4. Before Shabbos we take a shower or at least wash our hands and face. If the hair grew too long we try to get a haircut before Shabbos. Similarly, it’s a mitzvah to cut the nails on Friday. Some men have a custom to go to the mikva before every Shabbos. On Shabbos we wear beautiful holiday clothes. It is a mitzvah to prepare beautiful Shabbos candles; it is especially praiseworthy to light olive oil for Shabbos. In many families, the custom is for the man to prepare the candles and for the woman to light them. This way, the man also participates in the fulfillment of this wonderful commandment. Obviously, when the woman is absent or the man lives alone, he lights the candles himself. It is sufficient to light two Shabbos candles but many women light more – some light seven, ten or twelve. If one can’t get even two candles, she should try to at least light one. The time of lighting the candles is somewhere between 20 and 15 minutes before sundown. If this time passed, the candles can still be lit until sundown. However, since most watches are not perfectly accurate one should not light the candles in the last few minutes before sundown. Certainly, if the candles were not lit before the sundown, they cannot be lit later. The Shabbos is then spent without the candles and from the next Shabbos on, the custom is to light another candle in addition to the number one was accustomed to.
5. Even though Shabbos starts with sundown, it is a mitzvah to add to this day in the beginning and at the end. In the summer in many communities people pray Maariv – the evening prayer before sundown. In such a case, the woman should try to light the candles and accept Shabbos on herself before her husband receives Shabbos in the synagogue.
6. Kiddush – literally “sanctification” is pronounced over wine or grape juice before the meals on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Usually, when the men come home after evening prayers, the table is set and everything is ready for Kiddush. If there are no men in the household, the woman makes Kiddush. The Shabbos Kiddush consists of two blessings: the first is the usual brocha over the wine, the second is the actual Kiddush where we mention that Shabbos was separated from weekdays and we thank the Creator for giving us this day. Everybody present has to listen carefully and keep in mind to fulfill their obligation of Kiddush, while the one pronouncing the blessings has to keep in mind that with this Kiddush he lets others fulfill their obligations as well. The one making Kiddush has to drink the cup of wine or grape juice or at least its majority. It is preferable that everyone present also drinks at least a little bit. After this, everybody washes their hands for bread. One should not interrupt between Kiddush and washing. We start every Shabbos meal by making a blessing over two unbroken breads – chalas. The head of household pronounces the brocha keeping in mind to include everybody and then cuts the chala, dips the pieces in salt, eats a piece and distributes the rest to others. Nobody talks until they swallowed a piece of chala. Some people hold one chala on top of the other and cut the bottom chala during the evening meal and the top chala during all other meals.
7. Now is the time for the holiday meal. It is interesting to note that in today’s technologically advanced world people feel further apart from each other than ever before. The family members living under one roof have separate interests with almost nothing in common. In many cases each one has his own computer with internet access, video games, news and movies of his choice. On the other hand, in an observant Jewish family the traditional values are still intact. The family gathered around Shabbos table has many common issues to discuss. The children’s learning in school, the weekly Torah reading, the various stories about righteous people – all these can be topics of interesting and exciting conversations. The children feel their importance and the genuine interest of their parents makes their relationship very close. Many people have Shabbos guests who make the discussions at the table even more interesting – the long conversations often continue for hours. Last but not least – the food at Shabbos meals is very desirable. First, gefilter fish is served, then soup, then the main course and at last the desert.
8. When the meal is finished, the blessings after eating are pronounced. There is a special addition to the third brocha – we mention the Shabbos day there. Now the family members go to sleep. Getting a good Shabbos rest is also a mitzvah. When the wife is not Nida, it’s a mitzvah for the couple to have relations. According to the teachings of Cabala, if a woman conceives on Shabbos night, very special children will be born.
9. In the morning usually the men go to the synagogue. If a woman does not have small children she often goes to the synagogue as well. Certainly, if she has small children, she is absolved from going to the synagogue since she is busy with a much more important mitzvah – taking care of them.
10. Before the morning prayers one is allowed to drink coffee or tea but a healthy person should not eat anything. A sick individual who needs to eat in the morning should at least recite the morning blessings before eating. Those women who normally don’t pronounce the formal prayers but only say the morning brochos, should not even drink without making a Kiddush on wine or grape juice. If this is difficult, she can make Kiddush on a different juice or milk and eat a piece of cake greater than the size of an average egg.
11. After the morning prayers are finished, one can not even drink water until the Kiddush is made. It consists of only one blessing on the wine or grape juice. It is preferable to eat the morning meal immediately but many people only eat some cake while the second Shabbos meal is eaten later. In any event one should not delay that meal till after midday.
12. Those who are tired can take a nap in the afternoon but one should not say: “Let me get some sleep now so I will be able to do my work after Shabbos.” One should also not forget that Shabbos is given not only for physical pleasures but for spiritual as well. In many synagogues lessons of Torah take place before the afternoon prayer – Mincha. In larger Jewish communities many different classes are conducted so one can choose the Torah topic that appeals to him the most. Lessons for women are usually also available.
13. After Mincha, the third meal is held. One should try to eat a piece of bread bigger than an average egg, but if this is too difficult, he should eat cake or at least fruits. Kiddush is not made but one should drink some wine or grape juice during the meal. Note, that the blessing over the bread does not cover the wine, and therefore we have to make a brocha before we drink it.
14. The Shabbos ends when three small starts can be seen on the evening sky. This time can depend on the season and location – latitude and longitude of the city. The general custom of most Jews is to wait at least 72 minutes after sundown. In any case, it is a mitzvah to add to Shabbos and not to end it at the earliest possible time. After Shabbos is over we pray Maariv – the evening prayers. One should not forget to make a special addition – “Ata Chonantanu,” where we mention that Shabbos was separated from weekdays. If one forgot to say “Ata Chonantanu,” he should say after his prayers “Baruch Hamvdil Ben Kodesh Lechol” and then doing work becomes permitted. One is forbidden to eat or drink until Havdala is made. At home, the father makes Havdala for the whole family. Havdala includes four blessings corresponding to four senses – sight, hearing, smell and taste to separate all our feelings on weekday from the Shabbos ones. We make a blessing on the wine (taste), on nicely smelling substances (smell), on the fire (sight) and the main blessing to distinguish Shabbos from weekdays (hearing). Everybody has to hear this blessing otherwise the obligation of Havdala is not fulfilled.
15. It is a special mitzvah to eat another meal – Melave Malka, seeing off the Shabbos queen. It is preferable to eat bread, but if this is too difficult one can eat some cake or at least fruits.
16. Even during the week we have to remember Shabbos. Every morning in our prayers we mention which day after Shabbos this is. Note that the Jewish days of the week don’t have independent names – Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. They are counted only as days after Shabbos “Yom Rishon” – first day, etc. If we notice rare fruits being sold during the week, we buy them for Shabbos. Many men buy flowers for their wives on Friday so the Shabbos table is even more beautiful. It is customary to do laundry on Thursday so that fresh clothing is available for Shabbos. Let us merit keeping and respecting Shabbos fittingly.
Laws of work forbidden on Shabbos from the Torah.
1. We will now try to describe briefly the laws of work forbidden on Shabbos. We will first describe those types of labor prohibited by the Torah and then discuss additional fences instituted by Rabbis. In general, the laws of Shabbos are quite complicated, sometimes one of two similar actions may be permitted while the other – forbidden. It is a great Mitzvah to learn the laws of Shabbos, there are many excellent books in English that can be helpful. We will only describe the most basic laws, certainly, in case of any doubts one should ask a Rabbi.
2. There are 39 general types of work that our Torah forbids to perform on Shabbos. These works were done by our nation on weekdays in the wilderness when we were commanded to build the Mishkan – Tabernacle. According to the teachings of Cabala, the Tabernacle was a projection of the entire universe. Thus, just as 39 types of work were used to create the universe, the projections of those works were used to build the Mishkan. There is also the fortieth work that was used in the beginning of creation – making out of nothing. However, this work can not be preformed by people anyway and therefore it is not counted. Many of the 39 forbidden works are quite uncommon, and we will only describe the ones that occur frequently.
3. The Torah forbids us to light
or extinguish fire. It is similarly forbidden to cause increases of the fire or
its decrease. For this reason, one is also not allowed to drive a car on Shabbos, after all the driver
constantly causes changes to the combustion in the engine. It is also forbidden
to turn on, turn off, increase or decrease the electric light. For this reason,
one should take out the electric bulb from refrigerator before Shabbos, otherwise
light would turn on as we open the door. Despite the fact that electricity was
discovered quite recently, all Orthodox Rabbis from one end of the world to the
other agree that electric light can not be turned on Shabbos.
This is another wonder of our Talmud which records the Oral Law received on
4. The Torah does not forbid doing work on a weekday even if it causes an automatic activity on Shabbos. It is thus permitted to set special electric timers before the Shabbos starts and they turn the light on and off automatically. With all that, the Talmud forbids causing such Shabbos activity that would make loud noise as for example a watermill. After all, this would subtract from the spirit of the day of rest. For this reason, one should not set radio and similar devices on a timer. Setting alarm clock so that it rings on Shabbos is permitted, since everyone knows that alarm clocks always ring at preset times. Of course, every concrete question should be asked to a Rabbi.
5. It is forbidden to cook on Shabbos even on the fire that was lit before Shabbos started. Moreover, even pouring hot water from tea pot on leaves of tea is forbidden. The detailed laws of preparation of hot food for Shabbos are quite complicated; the best advice is to learn from a Shabbos observer. The general method is to leave semi cooked food on a metal sheet that covers the stove. The food continues to be cooked until it is removed on Shabbos. Under certain circumstances one is permitted to return the pot back after taking out what is needed for this meal. Many Rabbis permit preparing tea as follows: the water from the teapot that was on the stove from before Shabbos is poured into a cup and then from it into a different cup, where the tea bag is inserted. Generally we can not use on Shabbos the hot water that runs in our sinks. The reason for this is that when hot water is taken out from the boiler, new cold water enters and starts to get heated. Moreover, any hot water that was heated on Shabbos can not be used even if the heating was done automatically. Some people living in private houses are able to close the fire that heats the boiler as well as the new cold water access and then use the hot water for washing hands, face and dishes. However, taking a shower even using such water is prohibited Rabbinically as we will describe later.
6. The Torah forbids taking an object from a mixture or sorting any articles on Shabbos. Only those utensils or foods that are needed right now can be removed. Thus, for example one can take out some nuts from the mixture of nuts and nutshells if he is planning to eat them now, one can choose a pair of socks than he wants to wear. However, it is forbidden to use special tools to sort any objects. For example, one can not pass liquids through a sieve. When one is eating eggs or fruits that have shells, the shells can be removed only right before the eating. When one is eating meat or fish that has bones, the food should be removed from the bones, but not the bones from the food. According to some opinions, one is allowed to remove pits and bones as he is eating, but not before the meal. According to this, one can take away the watermelon pits from a slice of water melon. Most Sephardic Rabbis rely on this opinion; however Ashkenazi Jews permit this only when there is no other way, like during feeding the children. Otherwise, one should try to eat the fruit and spit out the pits.
7. It is forbidden to squeeze out fruits on Shabbos. According to many opinions one is allowed to squeeze the fruits right into solid food. Those foods that absorbed liquids can be squeezed if one's purpose is to get rid of the liquid but not in order to drink the liquid they absorbed. It is also forbidden to grind or cut into very small pieces those foods that grow from the earth.
8. The Torah forbids us to mix various powders and liquids if the end result is a solid substance. For this reason, one can not prepare various instant jellies, puddings etc. There are many other applications of this prohibition and when one is in doubt he should consult a Rabbi. It is also forbidden to salt vegetables on Shabbos. When making a salad, one should mix the salt with oil first, so that its strength is decreased, and then one can pour the mixture into the salad.
9. The Torah forbids carrying any objects on the outside. Note, that the forbidden activity as defined by the Torah does not depend on the amount of exertion. One is not allowed to carry the smallest object on the street, but it is permitted to move even heavy objects inside the house. It is sometimes forbidden however to carry from one apartment to another even within the same building, or even from one room to another in the same apartment, if they are owned by different people. However, using an "eiruv" the various domains can be mixed and then the carrying between them becomes permitted. Certainly, in making an eiruv one has to consult a competent Rabbi. In some cases a whole neighborhood or even a city can become one domain in which carrying is permissible, obviously the decisions of when this is possible are made by leading Rabbis.
10. The Torah forbids us to sew up, unstitch, glue together, break up and cut various objects. For this reason, toilet paper should be cut before Shabbos or one should use napkins. If one has no precut paper, he is permitted to tear off from a roll in an unusual manner, for example using his elbow. (The matter is that any work on Saturday, if it is done in unusual way, is forbidden only by Rabbis, not by the Torah, and in this case the Rabbis removed their prohibition because of human dignity.) It is forbidden to tie or untie complex knots on Shabbos, but it is permitted to fasten a temporary bow (for example, on shoe laces.) One is not allowed to knit and weave anything; girls cannot braid their hair or unbraid it. It is forbidden to smear thick substances on Shabbos. For this reason, we do not use a solid soap and we do not rub creams. The above mentioned prohibition does not apply to foods.
11. It is forbidden to build or break anything. Breaking in order to fix is forbidden by Torah itself, while breaking for destructive purpose is forbidden by the Rabbis. One should try to open all food packages and cans before Shabbos. If this was not done, they should only be opened in destructive manner, making the vessel useless. (This is another example where a Rabbinical prohibition is removed when there is no other way to enjoy the Shabbos meals.) It is forbidden to open even temporary tents or make any roofs. One can not carry an umbrella even in places where there is an eiruv, even if it was open before Shabbos.
12. The Torah forbids washing or rinsing clothes. Similarly one can not squeeze out a wet cloth. If wine got spilled on a shirt, one is not allowed to pour some water on the spot.
14. One can not write or erase any writings on Shabbos. It is also forbidden to paint or color any objects, a woman may not put on makeup. Those women that want to have their makeup on put it before Shabbos and it stays for the whole day.
14. It is forbidden to catch animals or insects as well as to kill and wound them. Also, the Torah forbids pulling out what grows on the body of a person or an animal. It is therefore forbidden to cut nails or hair. It is also forbidden to pluck any plants from the ground or fruits from trees. It is prohibited to water plants, therefore one should not pour out water in a court yard where flowers or trees grow.
Laws of Rabbinical prohibitions on Shabbos.
1. The Creator gave the Rabbis the sanction to establish fences around the Torah laws. With the help of such safeguards, the laws of the Torah itself are protected. (One might question why, if the protections are so important, were they not specified by Torah itself? One of the reasons is, that protections can vary, depending on necessity, and laws of a Torah – are eternal. A good example of this is the Rabbinical prohibition of taking a hot shower or bath on Shabbos. The Talmud tells us, that in the beginning it was permissible to bathe in the hot water which has been heated up before Shabbos, but some bathhouse attendants began to heat up water on Shabbos itself, claming that it was heated before. The Rabbis then forbade washing in hot water, but allowed to come into a bath for sweating and afterwards wash with cold water. However they had to forbid that also, since people were still washing in hot water claming they only come to the bathhouse for sweating. It happens sometimes, that if the generation becomes better, the severity of some Rabbinical prohibitions is also decreased. A good example of this is the laws of Muktza – prohibition of moving certain objects. Many more objects were included in Muktza category in a generation that was conducting business on Shabbos, but afterwards, when people improved their observance some of these objects were permitted to be moved again. Note also, that some of the Rabbinical laws are hinted by Torah itself. With regards to Shabbos in particular, the Torah requires the Rabbis to institute laws that will make this day special and also hints to some of the ways this day should be made different from weekdays. The Torah hints to the prohibition of walking far away from the city (Shemos 16, 29); the prohibition on doing commerce (Yermiyahu 17, 21, Nechemiah 13, 16); the requirement that our speech and manner of walking is different on Shabbos (Yeshiyahu 58, 13) etc. Obviously, after the sealing of the Talmud 1,500 years ago no more laws can be added by any Rabbi. All matters of Jewish law including the new questions that arise regarding for instance electric devices are decided based on the Talmud.
2. There are many specific laws regarding making a partnership with non-Jews who work on Shabbos. In case a Jew wants to operate a common restaurant, hotel, factory or a parking lot there are rules when this is permitted and how the profits should be divided. The detailed laws are beyond the scope of this book, obviously in each particular case one should ask a Rabbi. (Note also, that having a nonreligious Jewish partner in business is governed by more severe laws.)
3. One should similarly discuss with a Rabbi if he wants to hire non-Jews to do work on Shabbos. On the other hand, giving some work to a non-Jew before Shabbos starts, without asking him to do it on Shabbos – is generally permitted. For this reason we can deposit our dry cleaning and mail our letters on Friday. This law applies only to the work that is not done publicly, but hiring a construction company to build for us may be forbidden even if they do their work on Shabbos without being asked. Each concrete question should be asked to a competent Rabbi.
4. On Shabbos itself it is even more strictly forbidden to ask a non-Jew to do work for us. Unfortunately even some people who otherwise keep Shabbos are not fully aware of this prohibition. Many people heard of the concept of Shabbos Goi – a non-Jew who does the work for us. The truth is that in cold countries it is permitted to ask a non-Jew to heat the stove in order to avoid suffering in the winter. With time, many people started asking that non-Jew to do other things for them as well. This is how the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do work was often ignored.
5. If some work is forbidden on Rabbinically, one can ask a non-Jew to do it in case of a mitzvah, or for a person who is not feeling well. Sometimes, in case of great financial loss one can hint to a non-Jew to do work. For example, if there is fire that does not present any danger to people, one can tell a non-Jew: “whoever extinguishes it will not loose.” Obviously, if there is danger involved the work can be done by Jews as well and it is an obligation to do everything to save life.
6. The Rabbis forbid us to move certain objects called Muktza. Anything that is generally useless like stones, sticks, bones, shells and money can not be moved on Shabbos. If a stone was used from before Shabbos in order to hold a door from closing, we can continue using it on Shabbos. Any expansive article that is normally used for work that is forbidden on Shabbos can not be moved. However, if the article is cheap, it can be moved to perform permitted activity or to free space. Thus, a hammer can be moved to break nut shells or to move it out of the way. Those objects that were doing work in the beginning of Shabbos can not be moved the entire Shabbos. Thus, candles and lamps can not be moved even after they extinguish. Anything on which muktza objects were placed from before Shabbos also becomes muktza. Thus, the table on which Shabbos candles were lit can not be moved the entire Shabbos. However, if before Shabbos started other articles were place on that table, one can move it provided those articles are of greater importance than the candles. Many people therefore place chalas on the table before Shabbos so that when the candles extinguish the table can be moved. Others light the Shabbos candles on a separate table, and this was the custom of Arizal and Vilna Gaon. (According to Cabbala the candles are lit in the south while the eating table is placed in the north.)
7. During the meal we often have bones, pits and shells gathering in front of us. If so much of it assembled that one gets disgusted, he can move it away. A better advice is to put some bread on a plate first and during the meal to place all the pits on that plate. Afterwards, the plate can be removed. Note also that those bones that a dog can eat can be moved as long as there are some dogs in the vicinity. Regarding the animals themselves, they are also muktza and can not be moved on Shabbos.
8. It is forbidden to talk about business on Shabbos. One is not allowed to mention anything that can not be done on Shabbos itself, for example: “I will ride my car tomorrow.” However, one is allowed to talk about performing a mitzvah after Shabbos even if some work will be involved. In general, our speech on Shabbos should be exalted and different from weekdays.
9. It is prohibited to play musical instruments on Shabbos. Similarly, dancing or clapping hands is forbidden unless it is done for a mitzvah. For example, one can dance on Simchas Torah.
10. It is forbidden to climb trees and ride animals or even to lean on
them or to ride in a boat. It is also prohibited to walk outside the limits of Tahum – a distance of approximately 2/3 of a mile
from the city. Inside the city, it is permissible to walk any distance, but
regarding what is considered the same city, one should ask a Rabbi. (Many
cities in rural parts of