The Bible clearly tells us that Shabbat (the Sabbath) is an eternal covenant and a sign between God and the Children of Israel, a testimony to the fact that God introduced the concept of rest on the seventh day.
It shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Yisrael. For in six days Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed. Exodus 31:17
For most of the past 2,000 years, this hasn’t presented any conflict. Jews had their Sabbath from sundown Friday night until sundown Saturday night. And Christians had Sunday.
In recent times, these categories have become somewhat blurred, as people with Christian backgrounds have begun seriously exploring the Hebrew roots of their faith. It’s also not uncommon for Christian Zionists to experience Shabbat with a Jewish family in Israel and to want to replicate elements of the Jewish Shabbat when they return home.
This interest in Shabbat from Torah-aware Christians creates dilemmas on both sides of the bridge. Jews are commonly taught that Shabbat is exclusively and eternally for the Jewish people and that non-Jews are not allowed to keep the Jewish Shabbat. The discussion about people from the Nations marking the seventh day as a Sabbath is found in rabbinic texts which most Christians don’t accept.
At the same time, Torah-aware Christians are looking for guidance about how to best recognize and honor the Biblical Shabbat.
Therein lies the dilemma.
The dilemma intensified recently when an article by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in Breaking Israel News quoted Rabbi Yoel Schwartz, a major rabbinic figure, saying that the time has come for the Jewish people to encourage people from the Nations to honor Shabbat in ways that are appropriate for them. Rabbi Schwartz said that doing so is connected to the appearance of Moshiach (Messiah).
Jewish law recognizes multiple categories of non-Jews. The discussion on this topic is extremely technical and beyond the scope of this article. Given this dilemma, and the complications involved, what practical advice can be offered to people from the Nations who wish to take part in Shabbat?
For the Torah observant Jew, Shabbat observance is a combination of things we do (sometimes called positive commandments) and things we refrain from doing (sometimes called negative commandments).
The actions we refrain from doing on Shabbat include driving in a car, using electronic devices, handling money, turning light switches on or off and cooking. Jewish law is clear that people from the Nations are not required to, indeed ought not, refrain from any of the actions that Jews refrain from on Shabbat.
The actions that mark Shabbat include things like lighting candles before sundown, eating festive meals and studying the weekly Torah portion. People from the Nations are encouraged to remember the Shabbat by marking it with special rituals.
Breaking Israel News spoke to Daniel Goldstein, author of Practicing the Sabbath with Community: A Christian Guidebook for Restoring a Day of Rest from A Jewish Perspective. Goldstein recommends that a Shabbat for non-Jews should include, “two candles, a cup of wine (for kiddush), and at least two challot (the special bread of Shabbat).
“The candles bring light to the home and remind us of the beauty and sacredness of the day. The challah bread is a reminder that God alone is the One who provides our daily food, especially for Shabbat. And the wine of kiddush reminds us how one day each week is set apart as holy unto God,” he elaborated.
To accompany the lighting of the candles, drinking Shabbat wine and eating challah, it’s worthwhile for non-Jews to consider reciting relevant Biblical verses
Some of the Biblical verses that could be recited to accompany Shabbat candle lighting include:
Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light for my path. Psalms 119:105
I found that Wisdom is superior to folly As light is superior to darkness; Ecclesiastes 2:13
The mitzvah (commandment) of lighting candles to inaugurate Shabbat is rabbinic and not Biblical in origin. At the same time, there is a very strong tradition in Judaism that all the Biblical foremothers, starting with Sara, lit candles for Shabbat. It is taught that a miracle accompanied Sara’s Shabbat lights and they would continue to burn all week long.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, more commonly known as the Lubavitch Rebbe, taught that, “Just as any candle reveals whatever is hidden in a dark room, so too the Shabbat candles reveal the Godliness hidden in all things. Just as the light of the Shabbat candles bring peace between a husband and wife, so too they bring peace between God and His world.”
Kiddush over wine or grape juice has a much more direct Biblical connection. Goldstein pointed out that “The blessing for kiddush begins with the verses from Genesis 1:31-2:3 which remembers the first Shabbat as God Himself sanctified the seventh day.” It’s worthwhile to consider reciting these verses before taking a sip of wine or grape juice on Shabbat.
And Hashem saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day Hashem finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done. And Hashem blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it Hashem ceased from all the work of creation that He had done. Genesis 1:21-2:3
The third element Goldstein mentioned, challah, translated here as a loaf, is also mentioned in the Bible, specifically as a gift the Jewish people offered to the priests. It’s worthwhile to consider reciting these verses before cutting and serving the challah on Shabbat.
as the first yield of your baking, you shall set aside a loaf as a gift; you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to Hashem from the first yield of your baking, throughout the ages. Numbers 15:20-21
Interestingly, the commandment of challah is categorized as t’luyot ba’aretz (dependent on the Jewish people living in the Land of Israel).
Beyond the three elements of candles, challah and wine, Christians should seriously consider spending time studying the Bible and especially focusing on the parsha (weekly Torah portion) or the Biblical verses related to the Creation. These verses are especially significant because Shabbat is the culmination of Creation.
Shabbat is also an ideal time to spend with family, close friends and like-minded neighbors. A festive meal, with special tableware, wine, challah and multiple courses, is entirely appropriate.
Shabbat is also a good time to recite chapters from the Book of Psalms, especially chapter 92 which specifically mentions Shabbat. Some have the custom of reading the entire Book of Psalms every week . To facilitate that, the 150 chapters of Psalms are divided into seven sections. Chapters 120-150 are the Shabbat portion of the Book of Psalms.
Another potential Shabbat activity for non-Jews is spending time in nature, which could include taking leisurely walks or hikes or picnicking in a nearby park.
Whatever activities one chooses, the emphasis on Shabbat should be on bearing witness to the fact that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Shabbat is the ideal time to reflect on love of God, studying His Torah and acknowledging our belief in the Oneness of God.
Goldstein further advised, “I would recommend reading the Biblical texts that teach about the Sabbath day and to read an easy-to-understand commentary on the Sabbath, like the book that I have written, Practicing the Sabbath with Community. Regarding the cessation of work, I generally challenge others to consider what consumes their lives for the other six days of the week and to set these activities aside for the day of rest.”
In a 2015 video about whether a non-Jew can keep Shabbat, Rabbi Dror Cassouto who has a very large following of non-Jewish students, taught that ultimately, the purpose of honoring Shabbat in whatever way is appropriate is, “to be very humble, to crown Hashem Yitbarach (God, may His name be blessed) on ourselves. It doesn’t matter where you are and on which level you’re holding. The question is how humble you are and how much you’re crowning Hashem Yitbarach on yourself and how much you’re serving and want to commit yourself to Him.” he explained.
Goldstein concluded by saying that, “The Sabbath is sometimes mistakenly viewed as a negative command that people have to keep, causing some to feel restricted from doing what they want to do whenever they choose to do it. Instead of this negative perspective of the Sabbath, I believe it is better to view the Sabbath as a gift from God of a weekly day to set aside the activities that consume our lives with a focus on reflecting on the goodness of God, the joy of family and relationships, and the opportunity to relax without feeling guilty.”