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Sunset on the water

The reason many Jewish holidays and celebrations begin in the evening is rooted in the biblical story of Creation, which teaches that God created night and then day; night came before day.

On the Jewish calendar, holidays begin in the evening, at sundown, and they continue through the next day. For example, the weekly holiday of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday night.

For many Jewish families, it is customary to begin the holiday just a bit before sundown and to extend the holiday a bit after sundown the following night.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Julie Zupan
little girls looking at open Torah scroll

I am learning Torah cantillation (trope) by learning each week’s Torah portion. Is there a suggested part of the parashah to chant each week? I see that the parashah is broken down into seven aliyot, but I’ve never heard my rabbi chant that many verses.

It is customary to chant the entire parashah (divided into seven aliyot) on Shabbat. Some congregations follow a triennial cycle, reading  one third  of the weekly parashah until, over the course of three years, they have read the entire Torah.

In Reform congregations, it’s common to read a selection of verses from the parashah or weekly Torah portion rather than to chant the entire parashah. Often the spiritual leader selects the verses, and different verses from the parashah may be selected each year. Sometimes rabbis or cantors choose verses they plan to teach or preach about, or verses that are meaningful to the children becoming b’nei mitzvah. The Reform Movement does not suggest communities read particular aliyot or particular verses over others. 

Perhaps you’ve already asked her, but it would be interesting to learn how your rabbi chooses the verses that are shared each Shabbat.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Nancy H. Wiener, D.Min.

For centuries, Jewish custom has prohibited marriages at specific dates and times during the Jewish year. A strict interpretation of Jewish law prohibits work on certain days: Shabbat, Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and the first and last days of Festivals, such as Passover and Sukkot. (See the Jewish holiday calendar). Since weddings historically involved a monetary transaction and the signing of a legal contract, both considered forms of work, Rabbinic law prohibited weddings at those times.

Although many contemporary Jews and Jewish movements do not view weddings as a legal business transaction, most rabbis nevertheless maintain the custom of not officiating at weddings on these days. There is an additional reason not to officiate at weddings on Shabbat and Festivals: a midrash teaches that weddings are not celebrated on these days “because we do not mix one simchah (joyous occasion) with another” (Mishneh Torah, Hilkot T’filah 1:2 based on Mishnah Mo-eid Katan 1:7).

From Beyond Breaking the Glass, A Spiritual Guide to Your Jewish Wedding, CCAR Press.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

The best way to begin observing Shabbat is by starting small and adding to your Shabbat observance as you grow more comfortable. If you are interested in ritual, try learning the blessings of the Shabbat table.  Begin with one blessing, such as the blessing over the candles and work your way up to the blessing over the wine. If spending time with family and friends is meaningful, host a Shabbat dinner. Preparing traditional Shabbat foods can be an enjoyable family activity. If worship will enhance your Shabbat, find a nearby congregation, or even join in from the comfort of your own home. In our hectic lives, Shabbat offers the opportunity to relax and spend some time with family. You may want to take it a step further and study the weekly Torah portion

In essence, Shabbat can be a time to set aside everything in order to take care of yourself, and spend time with loved ones and friends. Observing Shabbat can include spending time reading for pleasure, playing games with your kids, taking a nap, and enjoying activities that feed and nurture your soul.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Richard Sarason
Closeup of a personal calendar

Genesis, Chapter 1 provides the basis for the Jewish week and the understanding of its days – God creates on days 1 to 6 and rests on day 7; hence Shabbat is day 7.

The names of the days, familiar from Latin and Teutonic cultures, developed separately and were named for various gods – Sunday (Helios, the sun), Monday (Luna, the moon), Tuesday (Tua, a Teutonic goddess), Wednesday (Wotan/Odin, the chief Teutonic/Norse god), Thursday (Thor, Teutonic god of thunder), Friday (Freia, Teutonic goddess of youth), Saturday (Saturn, Roman name for Kronos, chief of the Titans).

Suffice it to say, the two systems for designating the days developed independently of each other (except, likely, for the designation of seven days as a week=one quarter of the lunar cycle).

To distinguish themselves from the Jews, Christians began to celebrate Sunday as the Lord's Day (the day Christ arose from the dead) rather than celebrating the Jewish Sabbath (although some Christian groups persisted in observing the Sabbath).

Answer By: 
Rabbi Mark Washofsky

The requirement that we rest on Shabbat is explained by the Torah according to two broad themes. First, God "rested" from the work of Creation on the seventh day; therefore, we rest on that day to acknowledge God as the Creator of the universe. Second, we rest on Shabbat as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, our redemption from slavery. Our rest, a dignity not granted to slaves, reminds us that we are in bondage to no human master; we therefore acknowledge God's liberating power in our lives and in the history of our people. An intrinsic feature of rest (m'nuchah) is the prohibition against doing any manner of work (m' lachah), a prohibition that the Torah mentions no less than six times. The Torah never defines the concept of "work" in precise terms. That task is accomplished by the Rabbis of the Talmudic tradition.

The definition of "work," they claim, is derived from the Torah itself. One of the biblical verses that prohibits m'lachah on Shabbat occurs immediately prior to Moses's instructions to the people on the construction of the desert Tabernacle. From this fact, declares one midrash, we learn that the Torah defines "work" as any and all creative activities necessary for the building of that shrine. This teaches us that Shabbat takes precedence even over the construction of the holiest of structures. Over the centuries, the details pertaining to these restrictions have been expanded to include activities that were certainly never contemplated by the authors of the biblical and early Rabbinic sources.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

There are two popular explanations for this custom. Since the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine, precedes the Motzi, the blessing over the challah, we cover the challah so that it should not feel slighted by the attention paid to the wine. Jewish literature often likens Shabbat to a bride. Just as the veil of a bride is lifted under the chuppah (wedding canopy), the challah is uncovered prior to the recitation of the blessing.

An important custom in Judaism is that of hidur mitzvah, making the commandment pleasing. It is not simply enough to put an unadorned cloth over the challah, but to have or make a beautiful cover that is just for this purpose. Making a challah cover is a wonderful family activity.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

The traditional practice is to light two candles on Shabbat. One symbolizes the idea of remembering the Sabbath, "remember the Sabbath day" (Exodus 20:8), and the other symbolizes observing the Sabbath, "observe the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:12). Some families light more than two candles. They may light one candle for each child or for each member of the family.

For small children, it can be a treat to blow out the match used for lighting the candles. Whether one lights two or several candles, their glow makes the Shabbat dinner table even more special.

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