Keith Hunt - A Jews and the Sabbath Restitution of All

  Home Navigation & Word Search

A Jew writes about Jews and the Sabbath

How Orthodox Jews formed the day of Rest

                              THE DAY OF REST

From the book "Festivals of the Jewish Year" by Theodor H.
Gaster, written in 1952/53.
The writer was a Jew evolutionist type mind-set; he did not
believe the Bible was a collection of inspired books. What the
Jews practice and/or teach concerning the Sabbath maybe right and
maybe wrong. This not presented on this Website to say that I
agree with the Jews on how to observe the Sabbath. It is
presented for your interest. Remember by the time of Christ the
religious Jews had 600 laws from the scribes and Pharisees, on how to
observe the Sabbath. Jesus cast most of them away, by saying they
were the traditions of men, which often made void the
commandments of God and the "spirit of the law."

Keith Hunt


     The Hebrew word "sabbath" has passed into every European
language, and there is no civilized people in the Western
hemisphere to whom the institution of the weekly day of rest is
altogether unknown. Although, to be sure, the seventh-day sabbath
has been replaced, in Christian countries, by Sunday or the
Lord's Day - that is, by the day on which the crucified Jesus is
believed to have re-risen - the mode of observance is still a
direct, if attenuated, heritage from the ancient Hebrew practice.
The curious thing is, however, that nobody really knows how the
sabbath began; for the Biblical statement that it commemorates
the rest taken by God after the sixday labor of creation is
simply a fanciful attempt to rationalize and explain a
traditional institution.

(See what I mean that this man is an evolutionist Jew - he does
not believe in the inspiration of the Bible - Keith Hunt)

     A favorite theory is that the sabbath originated among the
Babylonians. The basis of this theory is that in certain
Babylonian documents, the equivalent word "shapattu" is used to
designate the fifteenth day of a lunar month. From this many
scholars have concluded that the sabbath was originally a
full-moon festival, the name being then explained from the
Semitic root sh-b-t, meaning "to stop," i.e., the day when the
moon comes, so to speak, to a full stop, its waxing thenceforth
giving place to waning. Moreover, in further support of this
theory, it is pointed out that in several passages of Scripture,
"sabbath" and "new moon" are in fact juxtaposed, and that in Lev.
23:11,15 the former term is applied to the beginning of Passover,
which happens to fall at the full moon.
     For all its popularity, however, this theory is extremely
tenuous, for there is no proof whatsoever that the term
"shapattu" denoted the fifteenth day of every month; all that the
texts imply is that on certain specific occasions that day
happened to coincide with a sabbath (in whatever sense the word
be understood). Moreover, it is difficult to see how, on this
hypothesis, the full-moon festival developed into the present
weekly sabbath, for the latter is entirely independent of the
phases of the moon. Nor, indeed, can anything really be deduced
from the fact that the words sabbath and new moon are sometimes
juxtaposed in Scripture to convey the comprehensive sense of
"sacred occasions." For this may be no more than an example of
the figure of speech known as "merism," whereby two contrasted
elements of a thing are mentioned together to indicate the whole,
e.g., "officers and men" for "army." The essence of a merism is
that the two parts belong to different categories; hence, the
very fact that "Sabbath" is juxtaposed with "new moon" might
itself be an indication that the former, as distinct from the
latter, did not form part of the lunar calendar.
     An alternative theory sees the origin of the Sabbath in the
ancient system of reckoning time by "pentacontads," or stretches
of fifty days. According to this view, the term Sabbath applied
originally to the days which were added to two of these stretches
in order to accommodate the system to the luni-solar year. These
days were regarded as outside of the regular calendar - a kind of
vacant space in time - and were therefore marked by a suspension
of normal activity, the word Sabbath meaning "stoppage" in this
sense. In the time of Ezra, it is supposed, when the Jews
returned from the Babylonian Exile, rebuilt the Temple and
re-established its services, a new system was introduced: all the
days in each pentacontad which happened to be divisible by seven
were deemed "vacant days" and excluded from the regular count;
and thus arose the weekly Sabbath.

(What fancy and crazy ideas of men, when they will not
acknowledge an Almighty God that can inspire and preserve His
word, which then tells how the Sabbath day came into being -
Keith Hunt)
     Fascinating as this theory is, we are perhaps on more solid
ground if we start from the fact that the Sabbath is by no means
an exclusively Semitic institution. Regular days of abstention
from work are a common phenomenon among primitive peoples. Among
several West African tribes, for example, each god has a special
day of the week reserved for his worship, and on that day his own
particular devotees are required to desist from all manual labor.
Similarly, among the Lolos of Southwest China, a Sabbath is
observed every sixth day, women being forbidden to sew or launder
clothes; while in Ceylon, the lunar quarters are regarded as
solemn "poya-days," and all stores remain closed. The
Tshi-speaking peoples of the Gold Coast keep every first and
every seventh day as a Sabbath; and the same usage prevails also
among the Ga, who call that day "dsu," or "purification." So,
too, it is customary among the Loango of West Africa and among
the Ibo of southern Nigeria to divide the month into seven
four-day weeks and to begin each with a sabbath (nsona); while
the Ewe of Dahomey (North Africa) abstain from work every fourth
     In most of these cases, the institution appears to have
arisen out of purely practical considerations, for the sabbaths
are, in fact, market days, when the normal routine has perforce
to be suspended in the individual villages while everyone is away
plying his wares at the central depot.

     Sometimes, however, days of rest are determined directly by
the phases of the moon. The Bapiri of Bechuanaland, for example,
make a point of staying indoors at new moon; while some of the
native tribes of Uganda take a week's rest on that occasion. The
Kanarese of India will not plow on either new moon or full moon;
and in Nepal, both of these dates rank as special holy days, when
no work is permitted and no one may cook food or indulge in
litigation. Among the Bahima of Southwest Uganda, the king goes
into retreat at new moon; while in Thailand, new moon and full
moon are considered "major sabbaths," and the first and last
quarters "minor sabbaths."
     From these examples - a selection out of many - it is
apparent that the sabbath, or periodic day of rest, does not
belong to any one particular calendarical system, nor is it
everywhere inspired by a single uniform cause. It may be
occasioned, in one case, by the practical exigencies of market
day, and in another, by superstitions about the phases of the
moon. When, however, formal calendarical systems are established,
they tend to incorporate and exploit the time-honored traditional
institution. This, it may be suggested, is what happened in the
case of the Hebrew Sabbath, many of the earlier ideas and
practices being taken over and absorbed when it was later
accommodated to the seven-day week. The abstention from work, for
example, may well have derived from the purely utilitarian
consideration of a market-day Sabbath, whereas the prohibition
against kindling fire (Exod. 35:3) links up immediately with a
practice observed elsewhere (e.g., in parts of Egypt and in
Hawaii) at crucial phases of the moon and therefore stems, in all
likelihood, from a "lunar" prototype. Similarly, the injunction
(Exod. 31:14) that anyone who profanes the Sabbath is to be put
to death obviously stems from a type of observance in which it
was more a day of taboos than a purely utilitarian institution;
indeed, the same law actually obtains in respect to the weekly
"sabbaths" observed by the Yoruba on the Slave Coast, and these
are of an entirely "superstitious" character, having nothing
whatever to do with such functional occasions as market days.
     However it may have begun, the Sabbath was developed by
Judaism along entirely original lines. It became - as the
Biblical law expresses it - "a token of the fact that in six days
the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day
He stopped (shabat) and was refreshed" (Exod. 31:17). There is
more to this phrase than appears from the English translation. In
the Hebrew original, the term rendered "was refreshed" is
connected with the word for "breath, spirit, vital essence." What
is meant, however, is not that God "breathed freely" or heaved a
sigh of relief, but that in the very act of ceasing from His
labors He also, as it were, became inspirited, and took on a new
vitality; and it is this combination of physical rest and
spiritual replenishment that characterizes the Jewish conception
of the sabbath. The day possesses a positive as well as a
negative aspect: it is not merely a memorial; it is an active
imitation by man of that which was done by God; and it is ob-
served from week to week because man's life on earth is, in fact,
a continuous process of creation.

     The Jewish sages brought out the twofold character of the
day by carefully codifying its restrictions on the one hand and
by continually stressing, on the other, the necessity of
utilizing the weekly pause for purposes of mental and spiritual
recreation (in the literal sense of the word).
     Insofar as the restrictions are concerned, the Mishnah
specifies thirty-nine actions which may not be performed on the
sabbath, viz.-

sowing, plowing, reaping, shearing;
threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops;
grinding, sifting, kneading, baking;
shearing, blanching, carding, dyeing;
spinning, weaving, making a minimum of two loops, weaving two
threads, separating two threads;
tying, untying; 
sewing a minimum of two stitches, ripping out in order to sew
hunting a gazelle, slaughtering it, flaying it, salting it,
curing, scraping, or slicing its hide;
writing a minimum of two characters; 
erasing in order to write them;
building, wrecking;
extinguishing, kindling;

     This list in turn underwent further refinement; and, as a
matter of fact, a large part of medieval and later Jewish
literature consists in the replies issued by rabbinical
authorities to questions concerning the minutiae of the law.
An excellent picture of the strictness with which the Sabbath was
observed by Jews of more rigid cast is afforded by a document
discovered, in 1896, among discarded manuscripts and damaged
copies of the Law, in the old synagogue at Fostat, near Cairo.
This document is the manual of discipline of an ascetic
brotherhood which existed in Damascus at some time between the
first and third centuries of the current era. The regulations
concerning the Sabbath (many of which are paralleled in the
Mishnah) run as follows:

On the sabbath day, no one is to speak of profane or vain
matters. No one is to make loans to another. No one is to engage
in litigation about property or profit. No one is to talk
business ... No one is to go about in his field for the purpose
of carrying on his normal work. On the sabbath day, no one is to
go out of the city beyond a distance of a thousand cubits. No one
is to eat anything that has not been prepared beforehand ... When
on a journey, no one is to partake of any food other than that
which he previously had with him in his place of encampment ...
No one is to draw water ... No one is to commission a non-Jew to
do his own work. No one is to wear soiled garments or garments
which have been worn while working in the garden except he wash
them in water and scrub them with lye. No one is to observe a
voluntary fast. No one is to follow his cattle to pasture beyond
a distance of a thousand cubits ... No one is to bring anything
into or out of his house ... Nurses are not to take their charges
out on the sabbath day. No one is to issue orders to his
manservant or his maidservant or his hireling on the sabbath day.
No one is to assist an animal to give birth. If an animal fall
into a pit or snare on the sabbath day, no one is to lift it out;
and if a human being fall into a well whence he cannot be
extricated by a ladder or a rope or any other instrument, no one
is to lift him out ...

(You see how people made up rules from their own mind-set as what
to do and what not to do on the Sabbath - Keith Hunt)

     At the present day, the strictly "orthodox" Jew will not
transact business, touch money, write, tear paper, smoke, switch
on lights, use the telephone, travel or carry anything on the
sabbath. Indeed, in some cases, even handkerchiefs are pinned to
the garments and thereby regarded, by a legalistic subtlety, as
integral parts of the clothing rather than as things carried!
Especially strict is the ban on travel and transportation.
     According to the Bibical law (Exod. 16:29), no man is to
leave his "place" on the sabbath day. The sages, however,
attempted by various legalistic devices to modify the rigors of
this restriction. A number of houses, they declared, could be
temporarily combined into a single common "place" or domain, if
the householders formed a kind of ad hoc "holiday club" by each
contributing something to a common stock of food placed in a room
accessible to all. Similarly, they eased the regulation which
confined travel on the sabbath to distances within a radius of
two thousand cubits by permitting people temporarily to transfer
their residence from the center to the circumference of the
imaginary circle. This dispensation, however, was granted only in
cases where a man might wish to travel in order to fulfill a
religious duty (e.g., to attend a circumcision), and to qualify
for it he had, before the advent of the Sabbath, to transfer a
token quantity of food to the new dwelling.

     In contrast to this more liberal attitude is the practice of
the Samaritan community at Nablus. The Samaritans claim to be the
descendants of the ancient Kingdom of Israel. Their religion is
based on the Law of Moses and they reject the authority of the
Jewish sages. To the Samaritans, the law means just what it says;
accordingly they do not stir from their houses on the seventh
day, except to attend services in the synagogue. It is said,
indeed, that the Samaritan teacher Dositheus, who lived
(probably) in the first century C.E., actually commanded his
followers to remain in one position throughout the sabbath.
     For all their legalistic precision, however, the sages were
conscious always that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for
the Sabbath, and they insisted that any of the regulations might
be-nay should be-broken immediately in case of life-and-death
emergency, or of real danger to health. In support of such
relaxation, they were fond of quoting the Scriptural verse: "Ye
shall therefore keep My statutes and Mine ordinances, which if a
man do, he shall live by them" (Lev. 18:5).

     The other aspect of the sabbath - that of mental and
spiritual recreation - was brought out in the injunction that the
leisure hours of the day should be devoted to study and to
discourse about the Torah. The rabbinic classic Pesikta Rabbathi,
compiled in the ninth century, has a fine passage exemplifying
this doctrine. Said Rabbi Hiyya, the son of Abba: The Sabbath was
given for enjoyment. Said Rabbi Samuel, the son of Nahmani: It
was given for studying the Torah. 
     There is no discrepancy between the two statements. Rabbi
Hiyya was alluding to the scholars who study the Torah all the
week and enjoy themselves on the sabbath, whereas Rabbi Samuel
was thinking of laborers who toil throughout the week, and on the
Sabbath come to study the Torah.

     Enjoyment of the sabbath in this positive sense is, in
Jewish tradition, an integral part of its observance. "Those who
both observe the sabbath and call it an enjoyment," says the
prayer book, "will rejoice in the kingdom of God and enjoy the
riches of His bounty." The expression does not refer to ultimate
rewards in Kingdom Come, nor is it a mere pious promise of "pie
in the sky when you die." It means simply that those who on
sabbath retreat from mundane things and consecrate the day to
study of the Torah will be automatically refreshed and
replenished by a growing awareness that behind the passing show
of men lie the abiding verity and sovereignty of God.
     There are several ways in which this more positive aspect of
the sabbath finds, or has found, practical expression. One of
them is the custom of meeting together in the synagogue during
the afternoon in order to study the Bible (usually the weekly
lesson from the Law) and various rabbinic writings, and or to
hear an exposition of them from the rabbi or from some visiting
     On each of the sabbaths between Passover and Pentecost it is
customary to read a chapter from the "Ethics of the Fathers," a
tractate of the Mishnah in which are collected the apothegms of
the ancient sages.

     Another is the practice of concluding the introductory meal
on Friday night with the chanting of religious table songs
(zemiroth), the central theme of which is the delight of the
Sabbath day. These songs - all of comparatively recent date - are
a characteristically Jewish counterpart of the medieval monks and
students' songs. Some of them stem from the group of cabbalists
who gathered around the illustrious Isaac Luria in Safed during
the early part of the sixteenth century; while others are the
product of the Hasidim, or Pietist movement which grew up in
eastern Europe some hundred and fifty years later. In many of
them, the Sabbath becomes, as it were, the "toast of the
evening," being feted in the manner of a carnival queen. In
others, as in the following famous poem by Luria himself, the
imagery is even bolder and God Himself is the guest, come to
regale the company, in the manner of a presiding rabbi, with
subtle and profound expositions of the Law and with the tales of
miracles and wonders:

I spread the board this sabbath eve, 
And now do I invite
The Ancient Sage, the Holy One. 
Now may His radiant light 
Shine in our cups, and may His lore 
Illume our feast tonight!

May He His radiant beauty shed, 
And we His splendor see, 
The while He whispers soft and low 
His hidden mystery.
And tells us, as we gather round, 
Of wonders yet to be

Of sabbath feasts which in His courts 
For us shall yet be spread, 
When we shall taste His holy meats 
And break His holy bread,
And all the wine of His great pow'r 
Shall rush into our head!

When in a living tether He 
Shall tie the souls of all, 
And nevermore shall flower fade 
And never blossom fall, 
And all in one great music break, 
All creatures great and small;

And they shall make sweet minstrelsy 
To crown the festive board, 
And His great name be on their lips, Forevermore adored;
And they at last find words to tell 
The glory of the Lord.

     Both the beginning and the end of the sabbath are marked by
special ceremonies. These are determined very largely by the fact
that the Jewish day commences at sunset, the moment when, in
ancient times, the candles or oil lamps were lit. At the
beginning and end of the sabbath, this purely utilitarian act
came naturally to acquire a special significance, and it thus
attained the status of a religious rite.
     The lighting of the candles - at least two - on the eve of
the sabbath is assigned to the mistress of the house; and popular
fancy supposes that neglect of this duty will be punished by
death in childbirth. Shortly before sunset the housewife spreads
a clean white cloth on the table and usually places the sabbath
loaves (covered with an embroidered napkin) upon it. She then
lights the candles and pronounces the blessing: 

"Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who hast
hallowed us by Thy commandments and commanded us to kindle the

     Such a commandment, to be sure, is nowhere mentioned in the
Scriptures, but Judaism regards the institutions established by
the rabbis and by the consensus of tradition as equally inspired
by God, that is, as equal expressions of man's contact with, or
apprehension of, the divine and transcendental, and it therefore
gives them the status of commandments. 
     After pronouncing the blessing, it is customary for the
housewife to spread her hands over the flame and then to place
them for a moment over her eyes. The reason for this practice is
disputed, but the most probable explanation is that it symbolizes
an actual use of the light and thus validates the blessing; for
in Jewish tradition, a blessing is not pronounced in general and
vague terms but as an act of thanksgiving and appreciation for
some actual and present benefit.

     At the expiration of the Sabbath, the ceremony is more
elaborate. Known as Habdalah, or "Separating," it is performed by
the master of the house after the evening prayers. The officiant
takes a special candle made of two intertwining pieces of wax and
yielding a double flame, a box of spices, and a glass filled to
overflowing with wine or any other beverage. He then recites a
formula which begins with a threefold invocation to the prophet
Elijah bidding him come speedily "with the Messiah, the scion of
David," continuing with a formula in which God is blessed for
"separating the holy from the profane, Israel from the heathen,
and Sabbath from weekdays," and concluding with a separate
benediction over each of the three ritual objects. When he
blesses the candle, he makes a point of curving his hand and
looking intently at his fingernails, and when he blesses the wine
or beverage, he cups his hands over it and gazes into it in the
light of the twin flame. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the
candle is extinguished in that portion of the liquid which has
spilled over into the saucer or silver tray, while the cup is
passed in turn to all the males and children in the company.
     Women may not partake of it; indeed, a popular superstition
asserts that if they do so, they will grow mustaches.

     The ceremony looks both backward and forward; if it marks
the end of the sabbath rest, it also marks the beginning of a new
week of labor. But what that week holds in store is, of course,
as yet unknown, and the ceremony therefore includes various
devices designed both to divine the future and to forefend evil.
     To the former category belongs the practice of gazing at the
fingernails and of peering into the cup. Gazing at the
fingernails and interpreting shadows which light might shed upon
them was, in ancient times, a common method of reading the
future; and Jewish literature contains a number of references to
the spirits who were then believed to appear and who are known as
"the prince of the palm" or "the prince of the thumb." Similarly,
the habit of seeking omens by gazing intently into water or into
the contents of a cup is abundantly attested both in antiquity
and in modern folklore. In Scandinavia, for example, people who
had been robbed during the week used to repair to a diviner on a
Thursday evening to see the face of the thief revealed in a
bucket of water, and a similar method is adopted among the
natives of Tahiti. Nor, indeed, should it be overlooked that in
the Bible itself (Gen. 44:5), the silver goblet which Joseph
orders to be hidden in the sack of his youngest brother, Ben-
jamin, is described expressly as a vessel from which he both
drank and divined.
     On the other hand, the use of the spices is a measure of
protection against the perils of the ensuing week. They are a
kind of symbolic "smelling salts," and are intended to revive and
fortify the spirit after the departure of that "extra soul" with
which, so it is said, every Jew is endowed during the Sabbath

     Of the same order, too, is the invocation of Elijah; for not
only is the threefold repetition strongly suggestive of a magical
formula, but the fact is also that, in Jewish belief, Elijah,
besides being the forerunner of the Messiah - who, it is
supposed, will arrive at the close of the sabbath - is at the
same time the protector par excellence against demons and
"princes of darkness." (He is credited, for instance, with the
power of protecting expectant mothers from the assaults of the
child-stealing demon, "Lilith"). It is therefore very natural
that appeal should be made to him at the critical beginning of a
new week, when - according to Jewish superstition - the devils
and demons which have remained confined in hell (Gehenna) over
the Sabbath, are again released to work their mischief upon men.

     The lighting of the candles, however, is not the only
ceremony connected with the incoming and outgoing of the Sabbath.
Equally important, on Friday evening, is the rite known as
"Kiddush," or Sanctification. Properly speaking, this is simply a
formal hallowing of the Sabbath, in accordance with the
Scriptural commandment to "remember [or, observe] the Sabbath day
to keep it holy" (Exod. 20:8; Deut. 5:12); and it originally
consisted only in the pronouncement of a benediction praising
God for granting this institution to Israel as a perpetual
heritage. Later, however, perhaps as a counterblast to the Roman
practice of beginning a meal with a libation to the gods, it
became customary to accompany the benediction with the drinking
of wine (itself duly blessed), and it is in this form that the
ceremony is today observed.

     The Sanctification is prefaced by the chanting of the
Scriptural passage, Gen. 2:1-3, describing how God "finished His
work on the seventh day ... and rested." Thereby, says the
Talmud, the officiant spiritually retrojects himself to the
moment of creation and becomes, as it were, the partner of God in
that process.

     Kiddush is followed immediately by the blessing over bread
which precedes every meal in a traditional Jewish home. This,
however, lends itself, on the sabbath, to a special
embellishment. Not one, but two loaves are used, in commemoration
of the double portion of manna which the Israelites received in
the wilderness on the eve of the sabbath (Exod. 16:22,29).
     Moreover, the loaves are covered with a napkin (often
ornately embroidered), symbolizing the "fine layer of dew" which
covered the manna (ibid., 13-15).

     Sabbath bread is called "hallah" (often spelled chollah),
the term used in the Bible (Num. 15:17-21) for the cake of new
dough which every Israelite was required to present as a "gift
unto the Lord." Before it is baked, a portion of the dough has to
be removed, in accordance with that commandment. The loaves are
commonly fashioned in the shape of "twists" popularly known as
"berches." It has been suggested that this name derives from the
old German Berchisbrod - that is, bread shaped like intertwined
braids of hair which women and girls allegedly used to set out
for Berchta, the demonic hag of Teutonic folklore who was
believed to make the rounds on Twelfth Night. More probably,
however, the name is connected with quite a different German
word, viz., "Berchit," which in turn goes back to the Low Latin
bracellus, "arm," and denotes a type of loaf shaped like folded
arms. Another form of this word (though the meaning is now
somewhat different) is the familiar "pretzel."

     It is customary also on Friday night, at the conclusion of
the service in the synagogue, for Jewish fathers to place their
hands upon the heads of their children and pronounce a blessing
over them. In the case of boys, the blessing runs: "May God make
thee like Ephraim and Manasseh," and in that of girls: "May God
make thee like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah." Moreover, as a
graceful compliment to his wife, he chants the concluding chapter
of the Biblical Book of Proverbs:

"A woman of worth who can find? Her price is far above rubies.
She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the
bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and
he praiseth her: Many daughters have done worthily, but thou
excellest them all."

     At the conclusion of the Sabbath, the most interesting
feature of the service is, perhaps, the recital of the
Ninety-first Psalm. That psalm is known traditionally as the
"plague psalm," the name being derived from vss. 5-6

"Thou shalt not be afraid of the terror by night, Of the arrow
that flieth by day, Of the pestilence that stalketh in darkness,
Of the destruction that ravageth at noon."

     At first sight, these verses look like a mere blanket
formula, as in the familiar Cornish prayer: "From ghoulies and
ghosties and long-legitty beasties, and things that go bump in
the night, good Lord deliver us." In point of fact, however, the
reference is to specific demons of ancient Semitic folklore. The
"terror by night" is the "hobgoblin," and he is mentioned again
in Song of Songs 3:8, where the attendants of the bridegroom
(facetiously identified with Solomon) are said to be armed - as
indeed they are in Oriental weddings - "each man with his sword
upon his thigh," in order to ward off that demon's assaults. The
"arrow that flieth by day" is the familiar "faery arrow" which,
in the belief of many peoples, is the cause both of stitch in the
side and of all diseases. The "pestilence that stalketh in
darkness" is the demon known to the magical literature of Babylon
as "he that stalks abroad at night" (mutallik mushi); while "the
destruction that ravageth at noon" is a personification of the
scorching midday heat which may cause sunstroke or even death. It
is apparent, therefore, that this psalm originally found place in
the service because it was regarded as a kind of charm against
the malevolent spirits released from hell at the beginning of the
week. It was, in fact, a complement to the ceremony of
"Habdalah;" and it is significant that it also forms part of the
burial service, where it serves to protect both the deceased and
his survivors from the ravages of the evil spirits thought to be
especially rampant at a time of death.

     It is easy to smile at these beliefs and to adopt a superior
attitude toward them. They are, however, simply a primitive way
of expressing normal and rational apprehension of the hazards and
perils of an uncertain future. The belief in the extra "Sabbath
soul," for instance, is simply a fanciful way of saying that
retreat from mundane preoccupations on the Sabbath gives a man a
special spiritual serenity which tends to depart the moment he
immerses himself again in the humdrum routine of the workaday
world. By smelling the fragrant spices he reminds himself, in
symbolic fashion, that he can become immune from the contagion of
that world, if, so to speak, he but absorb by osmosis the
constant fragrance of holiness. (Significantly enough, the word
"osmosis" really means "smelling," and thus provides an exact
counterpart in language to the symbolism of the ritual).

     Similarly, the demons and evil spirits which are believed to
rise from hell at the moment the Sabbath ends are no more than
picturesque personifications of the hazards and uncertainties
which attend the beginning of each new week.
     In taking over these traditional notions, however, Judaism
gave them a new and deeper significance. It was now not only the
individual but also the whole House of Israel that stood in need
of protection from the hovering demons of disaster. If, on the
one hand, the Habdalah service includes such intimate, personal
appeals as the touching Yiddish prayer of the Jewish mother that
"God, Who in the seventh heav'n dwells, May pity me, my husband,
and my babes," on the other, it now called upon Elijah not for
personal deliverance but for national salvation; as a long
acrostic poem has it, he is to lead Israel "from darkness to

(Ah, it is true that a person in the spirit and power of Elijah
was to come before the first coming of the Messiah; whom Jesus
said was John the baptist; and another in the spirit and power of
Elijah will come to restore all things before the Messiah comes
the second time - Matthew 17:9-13 - Keith Hunt)

     This development comes out especially in the preceding
evening service. A feature of those devotions is the recital of
sundry Scriptural prophecies relating to material prosperity.
Each, however, is followed immediately by another which foretells
national salvation. Thus, the promise of Deuteronomy (7:13-15)
that God "will bless the fruit of thy body and the fruit of thy
land, thy corn, thy must and thine oil" is capped, so to speak,
by Isaiah's assurance (45:17) that "Israel is saved by the Lord
with everlasting salvation"; and the prediction of Joel (2:26)
that "ye shall eat in plenty and be satisfied" by Isaiah's
confident declaration (35:10, 51:11) that "the ransomed of the
Lord shall return and come with singing to Zion"; until, in an
inspired climax, the immergence of individual in collective
deliverance is brought home by the skillful juxtaposition of the
two verses, "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord" (Jer.
17:7) and "The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord
will bless His people with peace" (Ps. 29:11).

     The sabbath is personified in Jewish tradition as a bride
whose bridegroom is Israel. Rabbinic fancy plays eloquently on
this conception. Observing that the Hebrew term for the marriage
ceremony really means "hallowing," the sages interpret the
Biblical statement that "God blessed the sabbath day and hallowed
it" (Gen. 2:3) as meaning that He wedded it to His people.
     In the East, weddings usually take place on a Friday
evening, and this served as an added incentive for representing
the advent of the sabbath as a symbolic wedding festivity. The
Talmud tells us that, on the eve of the sabbath, the famous
teacher, Rabbi Hanina used to put on his best clothes and say,
"Come, let us go and welcome Queen Sabbath," while Rabbi Yannai
used to rise and declare, "Come, O bride; come, O bride."

     The custom of going out to "meet the bride" was especially
common among the cabbalists of Safed in the earlier part of the
sixteenth century, and some of the more poetically talented of
them actually composed symbolic imitations of the conventional
marriage songs. The most famous of these is the "Lechah Dodi,"
written by Solomon Alkabetz, teacher and brother-in-law of the
mystic philosopher, Moses Cordovero. This poem, which is now an
integral part of the Friday night service, plays on one of the
most prominent features of Arab weddings, namely, the procession
of the bridegroom from the local mosque to his own home, where
the bride awaits him. He is usually accompanied on this occasion
by torchbearers, musicians and singers. The latter, however, do
not confine themselves to the chanting of wedding songs; they
also intone lyric odes of a religious character in praise of
Mohammed. All of these elements find place, if only by hint and
implication, in the celebrated Hebrew poem. The bridegroom -
i.e., Israel - is first bidden to come and meet the bride:

Bridegroom, come to meet the bride;
Let us greet the sabbath-tide! 

     Immediately, however, in the manner of the Arab singers, the
poet breaks off to offer praise to God; and the familiar
expression "the Lord is one, and His name one" looks to all the
world like a characteristically Jewish imitation of the familiar
Arabic cry, "There is no God but One" - a cry which punctuates
all public ceremonies. Then, playing on sundry Biblical verses,
he predicts the future prosperity of Zion, evidently a parody of
the blessings customarily invoked upon the bride. Finally he
addresses the maiden herself:

Come in peace, and come in joy, 
Thou who art thy bridegroom's pride;
Come, O bride, and shed thy grace 
O'er the faithful chosen race; 
Come, O bride! Come, O bride!

--an invitation doubtless modeled on that addressed to brides at
human weddings. 
     "Lechah Dodi," which has been translated into German by both
Herder and Heine, is probably the best known of all Hebrew poems,
and it enjoys the reputation of having been set to more tunes
than any other poem in the world. It is of interest to note,
however, that a very similar though now long forgotten poem,
employing the same tropes and many of the same phrases, was
composed at the same time by the Italian-Jewish poet Mordecai
Dato (1527-85 ), another follower of Moses Cordovero.

     Other fancies also are associated with the sabbath in Jewish
traditional lore.
     Not only the Jewish people but all the God-fearing elements
of creation are believed to observe the sabbath day. It is told,
for example, that on a certain occasion a cow which had belonged
to a pious man, when sold to a stranger, refused to work on the
sabbath. It is told also that there exists in the far reaches of
the world a river called Sambatyon (variously located) which
ceases flowing on the Sabbath. Such an intermittent stream is
mentioned, indeed, by several non-Jewish writers throughout the
ages, and many are the tall tales of more recent travelers who
claim to have seen it. An ingenious explanation of this legend
has been proposed. The river, it is suggested, possessed no such
miraculous properties as were later attributed to it. It was
simply a river of sand. But the Hebrew word for "sand," viz.,
"hol," is indistinguishable from another which means "weekday,"
and hence arose the notion that "the river of hol" was one which
flowed only on weekdays and rested on the sabbath.

     Finally, it is maintained in Jewish legend that even the
angels keep the sabbath - an idea which receives its finest
expression, curiously enough, not in Jewish literature, but in
Peter Abelard's great hymn for Saturday evening:

Oh what shall be, oh when shall be, that holy Sabbath day, 
Which heavenly care shall ever keep and celebrate alway; 
When rest is found for weary limbs, when labor hath reward, 
When everything, for evermore, is joyful in the Lord?

The true Jerusalem above, the holy town is there,
Whose duties are so full of joy, whose joy so free from care;
Where disappointment cometh not to check the longing heart, 
And where the soul in ecstasy hath gained her better part.

There Sabbath day to Sabbath day sheds on a ceaseless light,
Eternal pleasure of the saints who keep that Sabbath bright; 
Nor shall the chant ineffable decline, nor ever cease,
Which we with all the angels sing in that sweet realm of peace.


There it is; some of the teachings and customs of the Jews, on 
the Sabbath, as they adopted and adapted from this culture or that 
culture, or from their own thoughts and ideas as they developed 
down through the centuries.

  Home Top of Page

Other Articles of Interest:
  ... ... ...

Navigation List:

Word Search: