Shabbat in the Community

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At many synagogues, services are followed on some occasions or every week by a communal Kiddush ("sanctification" of Shabbat)--a very short liturgy recited over wine or another beverage--followed by light refreshments. Some communities have a communal lunch at the synagogue following Kiddush.

Minhah, the afternoon service, is enriched on Shabbat as well--this time by a public Torah reading that offers a first taste of the following week's Torah portion and by reciting the prayers in a wistful musical mode especial to that one weekly occasion. After dark, a weekday evening service is recited in the synagogue, most often followed by a public recitation of havdalah, the liturgy that ends the Sabbath.

Torah study is one of the many other traditional Shabbat activities that emphasize the value of doing things whose benefit is intrinsic and not instrumental. Friends may gather for peer-led learning, or more formal classes may take place in synagogues or homes at any hour of Shabbat.

In traditionally observant communities, a number of Shabbat restrictions affect how a person interacts with others: Travel by conveyance is banned, for example, and there are even limits on how far one can walk outside the limits of a city or town into unpopulated territory.

While such restrictions serve to bolster one's ties to the immediate community, there is one rule that is so often felt to be burdensome that rabbinic law worked out a way to circumvent it. That restriction is the ban on carrying anything in public, even a small child unable to move about alone. Specifically, the ban prohibits moving objects from public to private property or between one private domain and another, or even a distance of four cubits (about 2 meters) on public property.

To address this problem, a symbolic enclosure called an eruv may be created, which, by means of a legal technicality, turns a public domain or multiple private ones into one large private domain, thereby enabling people to carry things about. Whole neighborhoods (and in Israel, entire towns and cities) are frequently outfitted with an eruv, making it possible for families with babies and toddlers to bring them to synagogue or elsewhere outside their own homes. This enables a parent or other caregiver to enjoy the same important Shabbat social opportunities as everyone else.

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