Shabbat Preparation is a Weeklong Activity
One prepares for the Sabbath all week. In Hebrew the days of the week do not have names; they are all a launch pad for Shabbat. Sunday is the first day, Monday the second, and so on until Friday, which is both the sixth day and “the eve of Shabbat.”
In anticipation of the Friday night meal, observant Jews tend to eat lighter meals during the daytime on Friday. There is also much to do. In fact, the more observant you are of the details of Shabbat, the more you have to prepare before it arrives. The late eminent scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik used to say that the true mark of a pious Jew is not that he or she is a shomer Shabbat (a Sabbath observer) but is shomer erev Shabbat (one who properly prepares on the eve of the Sabbath).
By traditional Jewish law, one cannot shop on the Sabbath, so marketing is usually done during the day on Friday. Cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath, so that must be done in advance, too. Foods prepared beforehand can be kept warm on a hot plate or on the stove, a condition that has led to a preference for certain hearty dishes like a meat-bean-and-potato stew called cholent.
In our home, we try to give our children special Sabbath eve responsibilities. Of course, there’s cleaning up their own rooms, but we also divide up family responsibilities like sweeping, or setting up the Sabbath candles. My daughter, Emma, loves art projects, so she is always willing to write and decorate place cards if we are having company for Shabbat dinner. My son Adam vacuums.
— Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter, is the author of The Search for God at Harvard. Reprinted with permission from Being Jewish, published by Simon & Schuster.
Friday: Spiritual Preparation as Well
Some Jewish men, Chasidim in particular, go to the mikvah (ritual bath) on Friday afternoon. It is a lovely custom, for mikvah not only symbolizes a spiritual cleansing, it also offers a few moments of private time to reflect, to relax, to disengage from the past week, to think about the coming experience of Shabbat. However, if their wives are home frenziedly preparing for Shabbat, caring for eight kids, it’s not altogether fair, nor is it in the spirit of the day. Similarly, in those families where a woman has the leisure to sit in a beauty parlor for three hours on a Friday afternoon, while her husband is frantically winding up a hard week, there might be a better distribution of responsibility so that a man will have the time to come a bit more restfully into Shabbat.