Ask the Expert: What to do on Shabbat?

How do I occupy myself on this day of rest?

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Saturday afternoon is the perfect time to read a big chunk of the newest best-seller, or to actually forge through the newspaper, from start to finish. Many communities sponsor classes at the synagogue on Saturday afternoons, or hold an open beit midrash series, where pairs of people, or hevrutot can come to study a text together. Some people use Shabbat afternoon to walk to a local hospital or old-age home and visit those who are not feeling well.

As evening descends, it’s time for minha, the afternoon prayer service, followed by seudah shlishit, or the third meal of Shabbat. Seudah shlishit is generally a lighter meal than Shabbat lunch and is often followed by the singing of slow and mournful songs that refer to the beauty of Shabbat and the sadness that comes as it draws to a close.

At the end of Shabbat, when three stars are visible in the sky, the evening prayer service, maariv, is recited, followed by havdalah, the ceremony that separates between Shabbat and the rest of the week. And just like that it's back to the frantic activity of the workweek, with phones ringing, inboxes filling up, and televisions blasting.

Yes, there are certainly a lot of restrictions with this type of observance. But what many people find so comforting and warm about Shabbat is the way that communities come together to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Traditional Shabbat observance isn't for everyone, but for many people it is an important and refreshing part of every week. At the very least, it's nice to take a 25 hour break from checking your email.

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