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D3. Keeping the Sabbath Day Holy.    [Make a Comment]

We are to keep the Sabbath Day holy - set apart for God.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 20:8 (Maimonides RP155; Meir MP19; Chinuch C31)
Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God.

Exodus 31:14-15
Therefore you are to keep my Shabbat, because it is set apart for you. Everyone who treats it as ordinary must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it is to be cut off from his people. On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for ADONAI. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat must be put to death.

Exodus 35:1-2
Moshe assembled the whole community of the people of Isra'el and said to them, "These are the things which ADONAI has ordered you to do. On six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is to be a holy day for you, a Shabbat of complete rest in honor of ADONAI. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.

Deuteronomy 5:12
Observe the day of Shabbat, to set it apart as holy, as ADONAI your God ordered you to do.

Isaiah 56:1-7
Here is what ADONAI says: "Observe justice, do what is right, for my salvation is close to coming, my righteousness to being revealed." Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps himself from doing any evil. A foreigner joining ADONAI should not say, "ADONAI will separate me from his people"; likewise the eunuch should not say, "I am only a dried-up tree." For here is what ADONAI says: "As for the eunuchs who keep my Shabbats, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant: in my house, within my walls, I will give them power and a name greater than sons and daughters; I will give him an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to ADONAI to serve him, to love the name of ADONAI, and to be his workers, all who keep Shabbat and do not profane it, and hold fast to my covenant, I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Mark 1:21-22
They entered K'far-Nachum, and on Shabbat Yeshua went into the synagogue and began teaching. They were amazed at the way he taught, for he did not instruct them like the Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself.

Mark 2:24-28
The P'rushim said to him, "Look! Why are they violating Shabbat?" He said to them, "Haven't you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry and needed food? He entered the House of God when Evyatar was cohen gadol and ate the Bread of the Presence," - which is forbidden for anyone to eat but the cohanim - "and even gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "Shabbat was made for mankind, not mankind for Shabbat; So the Son of Man is Lord even of Shabbat."

Luke 4:16-21
Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha'yahu. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of ADONAI is upon me; therefore he has anointed me to announce Good News to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned and renewed sight for the blind, to release those who have been crushed, to proclaim a year of the favor of ADONAI." After closing the scroll and returning it to the shammash, he sat down; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He started to speak to them: "Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled!"

Acts 17:1-3
After passing through Amphipolis and Apollonia, Sha'ul and Sila came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue. According to his usual practice, Sha'ul went in; and on three Shabbats he gave them drashes from the Tanakh, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and that "this Yeshua whom I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah."


Scripture speaks of keeping the Sabbath Day holy by abstaining from work, resting physically, and assembling for a holy convocation. Beyond those, it is well to remember that keeping the Sabbath Day holy means treating it as special, and setting it apart for God. That does not mean that we cannot engage in some things that are ordinary or recreational, but we need to use good judgment and maintain a Sabbath consciousness.

One way of making the Sabbath special is to keep track of when it begins and when it ends. Jewish practice ushers in the Sabbath on Friday evening (before sundown) with the lighting of candles, Kiddush, prayer in either the home or synagogue, and enjoying a festive meal. There are traditionally three daytime services (Shachrit, Musaf, and Minchah) held on Shabbat, and the Shabbat is ended with Havdalah at sundown, after which begins the first day of the next work-week (albeit after sundown) with the evening service of ma'ariv.

Within the wider Jewish community (and especially within the Orthodox community) there are other ways of making the Sabbath special as well. From the original Torah command to not light fires, Orthodox tradition has extended the uniqueness of the day to not turning on or off electric appliances including lights, and not driving cars (spark plugs make fire). In the same way, Torah is extended to not carrying things on one's person outside of one's home (not even a bible or siddur to the synagogue), and not spending money (if one does not carry it, one cannot spend it). In some communities, exceptions are made for those in the military and life-saving services.

We who recognize the New Covenant have an additional depth of appreciation for the Sabbath's holiness because of what Hebrews 4:4-11 says about it:

For there is a place where it is said, concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And once more, our present text says, "They will not enter my rest." Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter it, and those who received the Good News earlier did not enter, he again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David, so long afterwards, in the text already given, "Today, if you hear God's voice, don't harden your hearts." For if Y'hoshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later of another "day." So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God's people. For the one who has entered God's rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides states that the meaning of Exodus 20:8 is that we are to recite words proclaiming the greatness of the Sabbath day - the Kiddush at the beginning, and the Havdalah at the end. Meir agrees with Maimonides about hallowing the Sabbath with those particular words, and adds that we must recite the Kiddush prayer over either wine or bread. He also cites Isaiah 58:13 in calling the Sabbath a delight, and states that we must honor God by washing our hands and face with warm water, dressing in clean clothing, and eating a minimum of three meals. HaChinuch is in agreement about hallowing the Sabbath with words. He states that the Kiddush should be said over wine, but that the sages have allowed it to be said over bread if a man delights in bread more than wine. That notwithstanding, HaChinuch maintains that Havdalah must be conducted over wine.


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