What are Sabbath Candles?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The Sabbath candles are the candles, at least two, that are lit each week at the beginning of the observation of the Sabbath or Shabbat on Friday night. Most practicing Jews commence their celebration of Sabbath, not only a time of rest and no work, but also a time of inner reflection, with the lighting of the Sabbath candles. Lighting of the candles in strictest form occurs precisely 18 minutes prior to sundown, and begins with the following heartfelt prayer, usually spoken in Hebrew:

A minimum of two Sabbath candles are required, as interpreted from the Torah.
A minimum of two Sabbath candles are required, as interpreted from the Torah.

Many practicing Jews commence their celebration of Sabbath with the lighting of the Sabbath candles.
Many practicing Jews commence their celebration of Sabbath with the lighting of the Sabbath candles.
    Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam
    Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe

    asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
    Who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us

    l'had'lik neir shel Shabbat. (Amein)
    to light the lights of Shabbat. Amen.

The duty of lighting the Sabbath candles belongs to the oldest woman in the home. When there are no women in the home, the oldest man lights the candles and says the blessing. After the candles are lit the person saying the prayer covers her eyes, so as not to see the light. It is also typical for women to include a silent prayer to God after saying the Shabbat blessing aloud.

The traditional number of Sabbath candles needed is two, but there is no proscription against including more. Some women light one for each day of the week, and others might light a candle to represent each of her children. A minimum of two is required since they represent two important texts in the Torah, or to Christians, the Old Testament. The first occurs in Exodus 20:8, where Jews are commanded to remember and keep holy the Sabbath day translated as the word zachor. In Deuteronomy 5:12, an almost identical statement exists, but Sabbath is written as shamor. Thus two candles represent these two words and God’s words to his people to uphold and protect the Sabbath.

The Sabbath candles may also be important as a source of light in Jewish homes where even electricity is shunned during Shabbat. This means the lighting must occur prior to the official beginning of Shabbat, as technically, lighting candles involves work. From the Sabbath candles, other candles may be lit, and this may not be viewed as work.

In homes that keep Kosher, families may look for candles certified as Kosher. The simplest candles are white, thick tapers about 2-3 inches (5.08-7.62cm) long that can be purchased in boxes containing several pairs. Standard tapers can also be used, and may come in a variety of colors or feature designs or patterns. Sabbath candles can be placed, as per instructions, in a variety of different candleholders. You can even find scented candles, though these may not be the best choice when combined with serving a Shabbat meal. Prices differ: a single set of tapers can cost from about two to five US Dollars (USD). Boxes might cost about $10-15 USD, depending upon how many total candles they contain.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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