Shabbat is the Jewish name for Sabbath, and is observed weekly. It begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. It is inexorably tied to the “seventh day” in the Torah where God rested after creating the earth. Observance of Shabbat is observance of that day of rest, among other things.
Jews from different sects observe Shabbat in different ways. For example, one prescriptive of Shabbat is that no work be done between Friday night and Saturday evening. Conservative and Orthodox Jews may include in the definition, turning on a light or driving a car, as types of work. As well, cooking is work, so meals must be prepared in advance of Shabbat.
Though work is forbidden, these laws can absolutely be broken if a person must save someone else’s life. So a doctor can perform surgery or be at the hospital and any medical devices requiring electricity are usually exempt from the definition of work. As well, a doctor could drive a car to a hospital.
Though one cannot work, play is encouraged along with prayer, differing from a strict view of the Sabbath as seen in some sects of Christianity. Sexual activity between husband and wife are encouraged as both regenerative and for enjoyment. Children and adults can play games together. Shabbat is both a holy day of rest, and a day that should be fun.
Shabbat begins a few minutes before sundown. The woman of the house lights the two Shabbat candles. These candles symbolize the purposes of Shabbat: to remember, and to observe. The Jewish book of prayer, the Siddur includes a third reason for the celebration of Shabbat. It is meant to give a taste of what will come when the Messiah comes.
After the lighting of the candles Jews may attend a Shabbat service. Not everyone does, and not everyone can get to a service. If one has to drive a car to get to temple, this may not be in accordance with the laws of Shabbat observance. Reformed Jews may allow for driving the car. Practicing Orthodox Jews might walk to temple.
After temple observance, the family enjoys a nice dinner that has been prepared prior to sunset. A blessing is said over the wine, called Kiddush. Kiddush includes recitation of Genesis 2:1-3, most likely said in Hebrew. Several prayers are then said. Jews then wash their hands and say a prayer.
The first item served is challah, which is Jewish bread. A prayer is said over the bread. These prayers are not long. The English translation for the prayer over Challah is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe who brings forth bread from the earth.”
After the Shabbat meal is ended, the family may study Torah, or they may practice more secular things like game playing. It really depends on the degree to which a family practices Judaism, and to what sect they belong. Reformed and less traditional sects might not observe the prayers or the prescriptive against work, and might spend the night watching television.
More observant Jews will attend another Shabbat service in the morning, and then the rest of the day is devoted to relaxation. At sundown, Shabbat officially ends. For the orthodox Jew, this may mean the cleaning up begins. Those who practice a little work on Shabbat may clean up after the family throughout Shabbat, since theoretically, a clean house contributes to greater enjoyment of the day.