Shabbat in the Community

Much of what Sabbath-observant Jews do during Shabbat takes place outside the orbit of home and family. As much as Shabbat may be an opportunity for nuclear families to spend time together, it is also a chance to enjoy the company of extended family and community in a relaxed atmosphere. During the work week, considerations of profit or advancement often dictate with whom we spend our time; on Shabbat, we can choose for ourselves with whom to spend our time.

The synagogue is the focus of much of the public observance of Shabbat. A ceremony to welcome Shabbat precedes the formal evening service on Friday nights. That service is known as Kabbalat Shabbat–literally, “Welcoming the Sabbath”–and comprises several Psalms and Lekha Dodi, a popular liturgical poem from the 16th century.  It and indeed all Shabbat services are conducted at a more relaxed pace and in a richer musical mode than the weekday liturgy.

shabbat quizMost often the worshippers disperse to private homes for dinner, and it is common for individuals and families to have dinner guests. Some people try to open their Shabbat tables to out-of-towners they just then met at synagogue, visitors who may be in the community for a weekend, on vacation or business. In many communities, the evening prayers are followed on occasion by a communal meal at the synagogue. Some synagogues regularly put off their Shabbat evening service until after the dinner hour and follow it with unprogrammed socializing over light refreshments, often calling this event oneg Shabbat, the traditional term for “the pleasure (or delight) of Shabbat.”

Synagogue worship continues on Saturday. Shabbat morning services usually begin at a later hour than is common on workdays, when participants commonly proceed from the synagogue to their workplaces. The liturgy is extended in several ways, most notably by the public recitation of a sizeable selection from the Torah and a short extra reading (Haftarah) from one of the Bible’s prophetic books. Except in most Reform and Reconstructionist communities, an “additional service” (Musaf) is added, in commemoration of the Shabbat sacrifice in the ancient Temple.

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