What is Shabbat Dinner?
The story of how the Lord created the earth and filled it with life is central to three of the most wide-spread religions in the world. Christianity, Islam, and Judaeism all recognize the significance of this narrative, and the importance of the Lord’s day of rest following the completion of his labors. In many regions and throughout history the faithful have honored and celebrated this day of rest. And the people of ancient Israel were no different. Then and today, adherents to Judaism recognize this day of rest as the Shabbat.
What Is the Shabbat?
The Shabbat (also known as Shabbos or the Sabbath) was and is a central aspect of Jewish faith. Celebrated from Friday evening through nightfall on Saturday, the Shabbat commemorates the Lord’s day of rest. And while there are many sacred rituals and observances associated with the Shabbat, such as the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer, one of the most widely celebrated is the Shabbat Dinner.
What Is a Shabbat Dinner?
Shabbat dinner is used by many to mark the beginning of the Shabbat. What is Shabbat dinner? It’s a time for worshiping the Lord, honoring tradition, and spending time with family and loved ones. By sharing a special meal together, Jewish families transition from their daily lives and concerns, and embrace a more spiritual mindset.
How Is Shabbat Dinner Observed?
Although modern followers of Judaisim may observe Shabbat in slightly different ways, the celebration generally begins at sundown on Friday night. Before the dinner, the women of the household will light at least two candles representing shamor (observance) and zachor (remembrance) of the Shabbat, and will then traditionally cover their eyes and recite the Kiddush blessing over the wine of the dinner to sanctify it. Next, there is a blessing made over the challah bread, the eating of which begins the meal. Parents may also choose to bless their children before reciting the Kiddush.
The meal itself usually consists of traditional foods, such as gefilte fish, poultry, matzo ball soup, and more, along with sides and desserts. Because the Shabbat is a day of rest, meals should be prepared beforehand.
Because Shabbat Dinner is a celebration of family and togetherness in addition to an observance of the Shabbat, many families spend the dinner singing songs, playing games, or doing service together with their loved ones. These and other positive activities help to emphasize the importance of spiritual connections and commitments within the home.
Customarily, families also observe Shabbat dinner by dressing in clean, non-workday clothing and further emphasizing the importance of the meal by covering the table with a clean white tablecloth (representing spiritual purity) and using the finest place settings available.
Transitioning into the Shabbat
With Shabbat dinner concluded, Jewish observers continue their celebration of the Shabbat through Friday night and Saturday, concluding the Shabbat once the sun has gone down on Saturday night. During this 25-hour period, families and individuals attend Saturday synagogue services, sing Zemirot (hymns), enjoy Shabbat-approved hobbies and leisure activities, and spend time with family members, friends, and community.
Perhaps most importantly, the Shabbat is a time to cast aside the distractions of the week and fully dedicate oneself to worshiping the Lord and giving thanks for his blessings. To help ensure the proper mindset, Jewish law identifies 39 forms of work (called the Melakha) that are forbidden on the Shabbat, including:
Interpretation of certain forbidden activities may vary among different denominations, but for the most part adherents will try to abstain from any form of work or leisure that violates the Shabbat.
Understanding the Importance of the Shabbat
The Shabbat has been an integral part of Judaism since before the time of Christ. And while modern Christians may choose to celebrate the sabbath in different ways or on a different day, celebrating the lord’s day of rest is still an important part of the Gospel.
This importance would have been well understood by Jesus' followers and others who lived in ancient Israel. Jesus himself would have observed the Shabbat and taken part in Shabbat dinner according to the custom of his day. As such, understanding this vital aspect of Isrealite culture can help us better understand the Savior himself.
Want to see what Shabbat dinner may have been like during the time of the New Testament? Season 1, Episode 2, and experience the Shabbat for yourself.