8 Shabbat Traditions: What is Shabbat?

"Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God." (Exodus 20:9-10)

Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, is the day we are called to stop our everyday activities, and rededicate ourselves to our faith and Jewish heritage. Every Jewish home celebrates the completion of Creation and the work week on this day, welcoming Shabbat the Queen. Wishing to integrate Shabbat into your weekend and sanctify it? Below you will learn everything you need to know about Shabbat traditions and customs.

Lighting Candles

In accordance with the Jewish calendar; the Sabbath begins on Friday evening at sunset and ends on Saturday night with the appearance of three stars.
You welcome Shabbat when you usher it with lighting candles. The candles’ light is as the light of the world, sun, disappears for the night. Traditionally, the women light the candles, with head and eyes covered, reciting the candles prayer.


The procedure, then, is as follows:

  1. Light the candles.
  2. Cover or close the eyes.
  3. Recite the blessing:

The blessing: Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu, melech haolam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat.
In English: “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through your mitzvot and commanded us to kindle the Shabbat candles."


Kiddush means "sanctification." It comes from the same Hebrew root as the word kadosh, which means "holy." Exodus 20:8 is the fourth of the Ten Commandments: "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (to sanctify it).
The kiddush describes the Shabbat as a commemoration of both the universal – the creation of the world – and the particular -God's redemption of Israel from Egypt.
The Sabbath meal is preceded by the reciting of kiddush, the sanctification of Shabbat over wine. In Jewish life, wine is a symbol for joy.
Find the complete wine blessing here.

Shabbat Greetings

Shabbat is considered as a great holiday; all are excited and feel the special atmosphere descending on the world. Therefore, like on holidays, it is customary to greet one another with a special greeting on Shabbat. Some say "Gut Shabbos." meaning in Yiddish for "Have a good Sabbath." Another common greeting is "Shabbat Shalom." Meaning "Sabbath Peace" and expresses the hope that one will have a peaceful Shabbat.

Tzedakah on Shabbat

Many households begin Shabbat by observing the mitzvah of tzedakah. While tzedakah is often translated as "charity," the word is actually based on a Hebrew root meaning "righteousness" or "justice." The mitzvah of tzedakah places on every Jew the obligation to right the injustices of society. One of the ways we do this is by contributing money to help individuals or groups who are in need themselves or who are engages in helping others.

Breaking the Challah

We bless two challot at every meal to commemorate the Jews who wandered in the desert after they were freed from Egypt. On each morning in the desert the wanderers received one portion of manna, but on Friday they received two portions to prevent bread-collecting on the Shabbat itself. After collecting this double portion they had everything they needed for the Shabbat. But, you can keep this Mitzvah with one Challah.



Havdalah means "separation." The ceremony takes place on Saturday night after sunset. The lights are usually off or kept dim. It consists of blessings over wine, spices, and a braided candle. The braided candles symbolize the two separate flames becoming one through the unifying force of Shabbat.

While it resembles the Friday night ceremony in many ways, there are some differences: two candles and a braided challah are used on Friday night while, on Saturday night, one braided candle with many wicks is used. In addition, the new element in the ceremony is the blessing of sweet-smelling spices.  Because Shabbat is such a special day, each Jew receives an extra soul at the beginning of Shabbat, which departs at the end of Shabbat. To revive us, because we've lost this extra soul, we smell spices at Havdalah, bringing some of the sweetness of the Shabbat with us into the week. The climax of the ritual is when the candle is doused in the wine, and we stand in the darkness of the new week. But, the darkness is not one of hopelessness; it is a time when we confront the new week with a vision of what we must do to bring about a better world. We sing the song of the prophet Elijah, symbol of the messianic future – a time when the world will be perfected.

Shabbat Prayer

On Friday night, before the evening services, we welcome in the Shabbat Queen with a special collection of Psalms and the beautiful melody of Lecha Dodi.

Kiddush Dinner

All of the above customs turn Shabbat into a very special day. Without taking away from the importance and contribution of each custom to the sanctifying of Shabbat, one of the central things on Shabbat is the Kiddush dinner when the entire family comes together. The table is abundant with everyone’s favorite dishes, Chraime, roasted brisket or chicken, baked potatoes, pumpkin soup and special desserts from Bubbe’s recipe book. No Jewish gathering is complete without an abundant table of food and Shabbat is no exception!

Each household chooses how to sanctify Shabbat, which traditions to incorporate and also creates new family traditions. Whichever tradition you choose, may you have Shabbat Shalom!
Preparing for Shabbat can be quite stressful, so check out our post on 4 amazing tips to prepare for Shabbat!