Jewish Studies Sabbath
by
Omer Hacker
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0211

Introduction

In Judaism, the Sabbath is the seventh and the sacred day of the week, a recurring seven-day temporal unit. The concept of Sabbath influenced the Christian Sunday and the Muslim Friday, and with the expansion of both, the seven-day week became a globally common temporal unit. As such, the Sabbath is identified with two highly influential ideas: the seven-day week institution of cyclical temporality almost disconnected from nature, and the dichotomy of sacred and profane days. The Jewish Sabbath is famously introduced by the first biblical story of creation, as God sanctifies the seventh day and rests from his labor of creation. Therefore, some etymologists suggest the Hebrew word Shabbat is derived from rest (Shevita), and some point to its similarity to the number seven (Sheva). However, the information in the Bible regarding the Sabbath is limited and deals mainly with the prohibition of labor. It is only by the Second Temple period and later in rabbinical writings that the Sabbath is seen as a day of communal worship, complex practices, rituals, and limitations that are not directly related to cessation from work. The academic scholarship on the Sabbath, which is the focus of this bibliography, usually concentrates on contextualizing the elements of the Sabbath to specific periods and locations. Thus, academic scholarship does not present the Sabbath as a whole, but instead picture it as a multilayered social institution, gradually developed across thousands of years, with no clear starting point and, of course, as ever changing. Already by the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the “Sabbath question” was an urgent scholarly discussion regarding its Mesopotamian origins, its parallels in other cultures, and the idea of the week. Through these debates, the specific Jewish concept became a universal category for thinking of time, society, and religion. Moreover, the academic scholarship created a direct link between the Jewish concept of Sabbath and the Christian concepts of Sunday and the seven-day week. Therefore, instead of leading to difference and confrontation, as in earlier periods, the Sabbath became a Judeo-Christian idea, separating this group from the rest of the world. In the second half of the 20th century, scholarship shifted from the big question of origin to more minor aspects of it, shading light on the different stages of Sabbath development, like the Second Temple period, classical rabbinic writings, and Kabbalah. It seems that the last centuries present the popular current phase of the Sabbath as a rest day in capitalist and secular modern societies. A unique case here is the formation of the modern State of Israel, which recreated the Sabbath as a national rather than a religious category, being another intriguing turn in the relationship between the Sabbath and Jewish identity.

General Overviews

Several authors in recent years have offered a comprehensive perspective of the Sabbath, different from the academic sliced view of the day. Usually, these broad overviews are arranged around some argument regarding the “essence” of the Sabbath, a notion that helps to explain the “meaning” of the day. Among these, the most foundational was Heschel 1951, which constructed the Sabbath as the counter reality of modernity, a pattern that was adopted by many and enhanced the modern interest in thinking of the Sabbath. The different overviews might offer considerably different concepts of the Sabbath. For example, Eliade 1954 and Zerubavel 1985 offered universal thinking on sacred time and the seven-day cycle that was adopted by scholars of the Jewish Sabbath, whereas many Jewish authors view the Sabbath as a particular Jewish framework that evolved as part of Jewish life, as seen in Barack 1965. Of course, as argued in Bacchiocchi 1977, the Sabbath is central also for Christianity, as many groups cherish aspects of the Sabbath on Sunday, and some even observe the seventh day itself. Ringwald 2007 expands the framework even more and views the Sabbath as a religious concept shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Lastly, the Sabbath can be understood in more personal terms, as in Shulevitz 2011, or as reflecting the story of one community through time, as done in Erlich 1999. This section in the bibliography also offers different paths for writings on Sabbath—prose, rabbinical writings, Christian perspectives—that are different from most of the academic scholarship on the Jewish Sabbath.

  • Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabbath to Sunday. Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977.

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    To a large extent, the global importance of the Sabbath is due to the Christian engagements with the day and the institutionalization of Sunday. As such, for many Christians the word Sabbath might denote Sunday rather than Saturday. In this influential book, Bacchiocchi explores the historical process that led Christianity to abandon Sabbath and adopt Sunday. He argues that the early church did observe the Sabbath, and it is only by the 2nd century that the transformation happened, for some political and social reasons. The author is a Seventh-day Adventist scholar, and his view is definitely not the consensus, but it does reflect the modern Christian scholarship on the relationship between Sabbath and Sunday.

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  • Barack, Nathan A. A History of the Sabbath. New York: Jonathan David Press, 1965.

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    Somewhere between rabbinical sermons and a historical perspective, Barack’s book is a good example of Orthodox Jewish historical narrative of the Sabbath: from the creation of the world, through the commandments, and then shifting to the extensive legal discussions of the sages and their practical implications that continue to nowadays.

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  • Eliade, Mircea. The Myth of the Eternal Return, or, Cosmos and History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954.

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    While rarely focuses on the Sabbath, and despite his sometimes hostile view of Judaism in general, Eliade’s conceptualization of time in religion is in the background of many of the academic texts discussing the Sabbath. His main contribution is the powerful presentation of combining the dichotomy of sacred and profane into the idea of cyclical rhythms.

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  • Erlich, Josef. Sabbath. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1999.

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    Despite many authors describing the Sabbath as creating community, not many write about the Sabbath as a story of community. Erlich’s book is the story of Sabbath in the shtetl of Wolbrom in Poland around the 1930s, where the author grew up. The style is something between prose and ethnographic field notes, including a very detailed description of the extinct shtetl Sabbath. The book was published originally in Yiddish in 1970 and was translated into several languages.

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  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951.

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    Probably the most popular and influential Jewish thought treatise on the Sabbath in the 20th century. Heschel fused here rabbinical texts, theology, philosophy, and academic scholarship to create a highly inspirational concept of Sabbath as “a palace in time.” He views the Sabbath as the spiritual antidote for earthly “low” desires that “enslave” human beings, and with that offers an effective translation of the meaning of the day for modern secular and capitalist societies.

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  • Ringwald, Christopher D. A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    A unique book that combines the Islamic Jumu’ah, the Jewish Sabbath, and the Christian Lord’s Day into one shared framework of a sacred day and a rest day. The journalistic style combines religious chronology of the Sabbath from Genesis to the modern-day United States, along with sporadic descriptions of three contemporary American families: Christian-Catholic (that’s of the author), Conservative-Jewish, and Sunni-Islamic.

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  • Shulevitz, Judith. The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time. New York: Random House, 2011.

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    In recent years, many authors, especially Jewish and Christian ones, used the concept of Sabbath rest as a lever to criticize the contemporary hectic labor culture and the grip of communication technologies. This book is not pioneering this trend, but is unique in offering a personal quest with a highly intellectual one, and in weaving both by great writing. As part of it, though the author is obviously supportive of many aspects of the Jewish or Christian Sabbath, this is not a religious text in the conventional sense and genre.

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  • Zerubavel, Eviatar. The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week. New York: Free Press, 1985.

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    A singular sociological exploration of the Sabbath, and especially the seven-day rhythm it creates. The author offers theoretical analysis for the history of the week, from the question of origins through the challenges of secular modernity. Though it concentrates on the Abrahamic-religions week, he offers a comparative view of “weekly” units in various times and places. The overarching (Durkheimian) argument is that the week is not a natural phenomenon, but an ingenious cultural creation. Zerubavel’s scholarship is complex and rich yet delivered with great brightness and therefore accessible.

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Anthologies of the Sabbath

Anthologies are often made to facilitate widespread access to a topic, and to broaden the perspective on the subject, while also setting its boundaries. In this manner, Sabbath anthologies and compilations can be read in two ways: as offering a concept of Sabbath, and as signifying the importance of Sabbath for those who created the anthology. Barukh 1936 is a pioneering collection that promoted the Sabbath as a shared framework for Jews in British Palestine according to Hayim Nahman Bialik’s vision, while Millgram 1944, inspired by Barukh’s Hebrew book, offered an alternative English framework for North American Jews. Elkins 1998, in a way, complements Millgram, and instead of focusing on classical texts, it broadens the Jewish conversation to short scholarly treatises, contemporary Jewish poems, and even refers to children’s books. The accessibility is different in the edited collection Blidstein 2004, which frames the Sabbath as an academic subject. Since the anthologies are to a great extent an identity project, many of them offered historical narratives from the bible to modern-day secular society. This is the case of the Christian anthology Strand 1982 and the Christian-Jewish one Eskenazi, et al. 1991. Unique in this view is the anthology Segal 1942, which arranges the text according to the Sabbath chronology itself, from Friday to Havdalah.

  • Barukh, Yehuda Leib, ed. The Book of Sabbath: Its Significance, Exploration, and Effects on the Life of the People of Israel and Their Literature from the Ancient Days till Today. Tel Aviv: Oneg Shabbat Society, 1936.

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    Still the richest and broadest anthology of the Sabbath. The book is organized chronologically, starting from the Bible and continuing up to contemporary Ashkenazi art. The sources are diverse and represent different social groups, like the Bible Apocrypha, medieval Jewish thought, modern Hebrew literature, and ethnographic vignettes of Sabbath among different communities. This conglomerate derived from the “Oneg Sabbath” association ideology, by Hayim Nahman Bialik’s leadership, that the Sabbath is the common denominator of Jewish society, and thus it is urgent to revitalize the Sabbath in the newly established Zionist society in British Palestine. In Hebrew.

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  • Blidstein, Gerald J., ed. Sabbath: Idea, History, Reality. Beer Sheva, Israel: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2004.

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    Research compilation of articles by prominent American and Israeli scholars of Jewish studies. The topics are diverse, from Kabbalah innovations to the State of Israel, but the common subject is Jewish engagement with the Sabbath.

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  • Elkins, Dov Peretz, ed. A Shabbat Reader: Universe of Cosmic Joy. New York: UAHC Press, 1998.

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    This anthology concentrates on the perspectives of 20th-century Jewish authors regarding the Sabbath. The book is divided into four chapters: classical sources, Shabbat as the ultimate Mitzvah, Jews celebrate Shabbat, and Shabbat in modern thought. The various texts are usually short and accessible, whether it is a poem or academic scholarship. Thus, it might serve the reader as a good introduction to modern (mainly Ashkenazi and American) Jewish understandings of the Sabbath. The book also includes a unique list of children’s books on the Sabbath.

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  • Eskenazi, Tamara C., Daniel J. Harrington, and William H. Shea, eds. The Sabbath in Jewish and Christian Traditions. New York: Crossroad, 1991.

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    Interfaith symposium of Jews, Catholics, Protestants, and Seventh-day Adventists in the intersection of scholarship and theology. The papers concentrate mainly on early formations of the Sabbath in Judaism and Sunday in Christianity and the meaning of these for contemporary believers.

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  • Millgram, Abraham E., ed. Sabbath: The Day of Delight. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1944.

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    An accessible and rich anthology, attesting itself as trying to reach American Jewry in general. Significant parts relate to modern Jewish literature, Sabbath in art, and Sabbath poems, in which new voices of women and nonobservant Jews become part of the Sabbath anthology. Though the book declares is indebted to Barukh 1936, its urgency stems from the feeling that “modern times in America are more dangerous to the sabbath than the Medieval persecutions” (p. 349). The anthology proved to be highly popular and was reprinted numerous times, last in 2018.

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  • Segal, Samuel Michael. The Sabbath Book. New York: Behrman’s Jewish Book House, 1942.

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    The book groups various Jewish sources and is written from a Jewish perspective, stressing the importance of the Sabbath in fear of modern challenges. The advantage of the book is its organization of sources not by historical chronology, but according to the order of practicing Sabbath—from Friday evening to the Havdalah.

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  • Strand, Kenneth A. The Sabbath in Scripture and History. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1982.

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    Compilation of articles by different authors, mainly Seventh-day Adventists, offering a historical narrative of Sabbath in Christianity from the bible, through the history of the church, ending in modern theology of the Sabbath.

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The Origins of the Sabbath

The question of the origins of the Sabbath was a burning issue in the formative years of the scholarship of religion, from the end of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th, and it remained inconclusive. Many scholars were preoccupied with the originality of the Sabbath, its relationship with other Fertile Crescent time units and rituals, and the etymology of the word sabbath itself. As in similar cases of the search for “the origins” in studies of religions of this period, we can divide between genealogical studies exploring the chronological development of the Sabbath and assuming direct links between stages, and analogical studies that prefer a synchronic and comparative perspective of the phenomenon (See J. Z. Smith’s rich discussion on a similar case in Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity [London: University of Chicago Press, 1990]). The genealogical approach, here represented by Pinches 1904, argued that the Sabbath emerged from the centrality of the moon in Mesopotamian astrology, and more specifically with the day of šapattu, which marked the full moon. As Kapelrud 1968 argues, it is also related to the use of the number seven as a “complete set” of time that can be found in numerous ancient epics like Atra-Hasis, Gilgamesh, Enûma Eliš, Aqhat, and more. Others, like Gandz 1948, point to the planetary seven-day week interconnected with the Jewish week, and how both influenced the broad adaption of a seven-day week. Against these views, some scholars stressed the ingenuity of the Jewish Sabbath, emphasizing instead its disengagement with lunar rhythms and as differentiating the Jews from their surroundings (e.g., Hallo 1977). The genealogical approach also tended to consider the Jewish Sabbath as the basis for the modern week, as demonstrated by Colson 1926. Differently, the analogical approach explored the comparison between characteristics of Sabbath and other cultures’ special days, like rest days and restricted days, emphasized by Webster 1916, or market days (Weber 1952), and even non-Mesopotamian lunar calendars (Malinowski 1927). For most of the authors, the comparison of the Jewish Sabbath was used to state its uniqueness, whether it was the innovation of a non-astrological time unit, the link between sacredness and trade, or the replacement of the god-kings days for a nonhuman god. Thus, in many of the texts, the reader might sense that the authors were not only looking for the Sabbath origins, but also establishing some broader ideas on the features of Western Judeo-Christian civilization. Furthermore, it is precisely through this discussion in contextualizing the Sabbath that scholars paradoxically turned the Sabbath into a general universal category, ready to be used in the comparative study of religions and cultures.

  • Colson, Francis Henry. The Week: An Essay on the Origin and Development of the Seven-Day Cycle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1926.

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    Early genealogical monograph on the seven-day week. According to Colson, the worldly common seven-day week should start with the ancient Jewish Sabbath, which by the expansion of Christianity and the Greco-Roman tradition of the planetary week became a universal standard.

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  • Gandz, Solomon. “The Origin of the Planetary Week or the Planetary Week in Hebrew Literature.” In Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 18 (1948) 213–254.

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    The article makes the argument for astrological worship as another source for the week, and especially the link between the seventh day and Saturn, which later turned in Hebrew to Shabtai. The article includes various examples of this planetary nomenclature of time in Jewish tradition.

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  • Hallo, William W. “New Moons and Sabbaths: A Case-Study in the Contrastive Approach.” Hebrew Union College Annual 48 (1977): 1–18.

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    The text summarizes decades of scholarship regarding the relationship between the biblical Sabbath and its Mesopotamian counterparts. Its main argument is that the ancient Israelite Sabbath system is distinguished, especially in its unrelatedness to the moon, which was commonly worshiped in Mesopotamian cultures. Hallo goes further to argue that this unique tradition reflects Israel’s worship of a divine authority with its special days, instead of local kings.

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  • Kapelrud, Arvid S. “The Number Seven in Ugaritic Texts.” Vetus Testamentum 18.1–4 (1968): 494–499.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853368X00384Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    When contextualizing the Sabbath in the Fertile Crescent, one of the most significant pieces of evidence is the common use of the number seven. In this article, Kapelrud demonstrates the use of the number seven both for religious practices and for the general “completeness” of counting. The examples are mainly from the then newly discovered Ugaritic sources, with references to other Babylonian, Assyrian, and biblical sources.

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  • Kraeling, Emil Gottlieb. “The Present Status of the Sabbath Question.” American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 49.3 (1933): 218–228.

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    Kraeling’s article is helpful for two reasons. He discusses “the Sabbath question,” which is the question of the Sabbath’s origins, through a meticulous review of recent decades of academic knowledge. Second, he represents a radical stance, arguing that the Sabbath has nothing to do with astrological aspects, but is rather a kind of a market day, very similar to the Roman nundinae.

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  • Malinowski, Bronislaw. “Lunar and Seasonal Calendar in the Trobriands.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 57 (1927): 203–215.

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    This straightforward and relatively short article carries great importance both for the understanding of the Sabbath and for the understanding of the Sabbath researchers. Based on ethnographic work in the Trobriand Islands (part of today’s Papua New Guinea), where the people are allegedly not connected with the tradition of Abrahamic religion, one can find indications for using the time unit of the week. This results from a strong cultural emphasis on the moon, and the division of its appearance cycle into four parts.

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  • Pinches, Theophilus G. “Sapattu: The Babylonian Sabbath.” Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology 194 (1904): 51–56.

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    In the discussion on the originality of the Israelite Sabbath vis-à-vis its Mesopotamian environment, this article provides one of the boldly argued cases in favor of Mesopotamian influence. It offers testimonies from several cuneiform texts pointing to the šapattu as a cursed day that requires abstention from work, and even the prohibition of fire.

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  • Weber, Max. Ancient Judaism. New York: Free Press, 1952.

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    Weber’s works on the history of religions are profound and detailed yet strive for comparative perspective and use universalistic terminology. In this work, originally published in German in 1921, Weber argues that the Sabbath was developed from the Mesopotamian šapattu, but because of the Israelite agricultural lifestyle, it was both connected to limited interest in astronomy and to the greater importance of the trade market. The result is the nonplanetary Sabbath, which was both a holy day and also a market day like in other cultures.

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  • Webster, Hutton. Rest Days: A Study in Early Law and Morality. New York: Macmillan, 1916.

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    A classic example of the intellectual endeavor of Western academic scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries to create the universal categories for discussing cultures (of course, universal categories and cultures are themselves examples of this process). In this extremely rich book, Webster explores special days around the world. In the chapter dedicated to the Sabbath, he sees it as a social institution that links between the “old world” astronomical worship and taboo days to new concepts that concentrate on humanity and specifically on human welfare.

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The Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible

The biblical text includes some of the earliest and most foundational documentation and notions of the Sabbath. Furthermore, due to the centrality of the text to Jews and its popularity in the world, the Bible is crucial in the process of human construction, education, and interpretation of the image of the Sabbath. In this realm, the academic study of the biblical Sabbath offers a unique perspective, since it is not considering the biblical text or the biblical Sabbath as one fixed entity, but rather as comprised of different layers. Accordingly, scholarship has presented the biblical Sabbath in a chronological manner, arguing that different phases of the development of the Sabbath can be traced in the biblical text itself. The common argument, presented by Robinson 1988, is that the Sabbath starts as a lunar celebration in Judea, and is transformed into the seven-day cycle and a Jewish marker of identity only during the Babylonian exile and the post-exilic period. Many scholars adhere to the centrality of the exile in shaping the Sabbath, and many also stress the importance of priestly agendas in the shaping of the day, as reviewed by Stackert 2016. Against such views, Andreasen 1972 argues that the Sabbath’s essential components can be found in the earliest strata of the text. Among the biblical texts, the two most influential cases are the Sabbath in the creation narrative studied by Weinfeld 1981 and Amit 2000, and the Sabbath commandments, especially in the Decalogue, that provide more restrictions than positive instructions, as reviewed by Lukács 2020. As it is discussed by Guillaume 2009, the temporal-economic framework of Sabbath can also be seen as expended through the concepts of the sabbatical year and Jubilee cycles. Due to the scarce resources, many studies of the biblical Sabbath rest on the combination of rigorous scholarship, with reasoned hypotheses to explain the historical shaping of the Sabbath. However, the comparison of the scarce biblical texts with the diverse and rich details regarding the Sabbath in the Second Temple period, not to mention early rabbinical texts, might suggest that the Sabbath kept evolving. It is also a useful reminder that the Bible is not a comprehensive historical documentation of all Jewish customs in antiquity.

  • Amit, Yairah. Hidden Polemics in Biblical Narrative. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000.

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    Among discussions on biblical hidden polemics, Amit dedicates one chapter to the description of the seventh day in Genesis 2:1–3. An interesting fact that often goes without notice is that the name Sabbath and the names for the planets are not mentioned directly in the first creation story of Genesis. Amit argues that the text reflects the “holiness school” endeavor to disconnect the Sabbath from the shared planetary rhythms and to set it based on separationist rhythms. She locates this process in the Babylonian exile after the First Temple.

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  • Andreasen, Niels-Erik A. The Old Testament Sabbath: A Tradition-Historical Investigation. Missoula, MT: Society of Biblical Literature, 1972.

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    The book traces and discusses the different mentions of the Sabbath in the Old Testament. The author sees the essence of the Sabbath in the abstention from work, related cultic habits, and also humanitarian reason. He argues all can be found in the earliest strata of the biblical Sabbath, and therefore he views later strata as mere expansion. Whether one accepts this argument or not, the book is a useful overview of the biblical Sabbath.

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  • Guillaume, Philippe. Land and Calendar: The Priestly Document from Genesis 1 to Joshua 18. New York: T&T Clark, 2009.

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    The biblical notion of cessation of human accumulation due to God ownership was significantly attached to Sabbath, but was expended to broader concepts of temporal-economical frameworks as the Shmittah and the Jubilee. Although Guillaume’s primary concern is to establish a quite radical framework of the priestly source, he does so by creating a conceptual network that includes Sabbath, sabbatical, calendar, land, and economics together, and offers an updated reference list for the matter.

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  • Lukács, Ottilia. Sabbath in the Making: A Study of Inner-Biblical Interpretation of the Sabbath Commandment. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2020.

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    The author argues that a layered reading of the Hebrew Bible can teach about the development of the Sabbath into a marker of identity through the seven-day cycle. She does so by concentrating on Sabbath commandments in the Pentateuch and explores their gradual development by details and explanations that attest to the institutionalization of the Sabbath in the Babylonian exile.

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  • Robinson, Gnana. The Origin and Development of the Old Testament Sabbath: A Comprehensive Exegetical Approach. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1988.

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    A bold attempt to provide a coherent chronology of the biblical Sabbath, which stresses the importance of the post-exilic period for the development of the Sabbath as it is commonly known from the Pentateuch. Robinson sees the Sabbath as a Judean lunar practice highly related to agricultural rituals, which only during the Babylonian exile period expanded to be God’s day and incorporated the idea of rest on a weekly basis.

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  • Stackert, Jeffrey. “How the Priestly Sabbaths Work: Innovation in Pentateuchal Priestly Ritual.” In Ritual Innovation in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism. Edited by Nathan MacDonald, 79–111. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110368710-007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A bright and accessible comparison between two priestly conceptions of the Sabbath, based on the state of the research regarding P and H—the Priestly Source and the Holiness Code, respectively—two important textual layers in the Bible recognized by scholars. The author sees H as reorienting P’s Sabbath, shifting the emphasis of the Sabbath from the temple to a temporal frame, and from a sign directed to god to a sign for the people of Israel.

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  • Weinfeld, Moshe. “Sabbath, Temple and the Enthronement of the Lord.” In Mélanges bibliques et orientaux en l’honneur de M. Henri Cazelles. Edited by Albert Caqout and Matthias Delcor, 501–512. Kevelaer, Germany: Butzon & Bercker, 1981.

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    A brilliant and influential paper. Based on the common pattern in Mesopotamia, in which the creation of the world is followed by the enthronement and rest of the god-king in his temple, Weinfeld offers to see the Sabbath day not only as the rest of God, but as his enthronement and dwelling in his temple.

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The Sabbath in the Second Temple Period

The Second Temple period and the years following the destruction of the Temple are crucial times for shaping the Sabbath and the week as we know it. Although the Pentateuch already frames the Sabbath, it is mainly by formal and succinct regulations, so the way the Sabbath was lived is not described. However, the Second Temple period, and especially the Dead Sea, Hellenic, Roman, and early Christian writings, provides us with a much broader picture, as can be seen in Weiss 2003. The most important aspect that emerges is the description of Sabbath observance in small communities, outside the temple. The succession from the Hebrew Bible to the Second Temple period is very clear in the book of Jubilees, which, as Doering 1997 demonstrates, rests on priestly ideology and sets the Sabbath as the center of the world. The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal institutionalized Sabbath liturgy, as Newsom 1985 and Falk 1998 demonstrate, and even evidence for Sabbath practices that predate similar rabbinic discussions of the Sabbath, as argued in Kimbrough 1966 and Jassen 2014. This period also raises a question regarding the role of the synagogue in Sabbath, and while some, like McKay 1994, argue that the Sabbath was celebrated only in congregational meetings and readings of the Torah, the majority of scholars, as in van der Horst 1999, assert that already during the Second Temple period the synagogue is a central venue for special Sabbath worship. These processes can’t be separated from the surrounding Greek and Roman atmosphere, from imperial recognition in the Jewish Sabbath, as described by Goldenberg 1979, to Roman criticism that found a response in later Rabbinic Sabbath as a day of pleasure, as offered by Kattan Gribetz 2016. The Second Temple period is a unique realm where academic knowledge provides the most comprehensive view of the limited sources on the Sabbath, while with the rise of rabbinic Judaism in the 2nd–7th centuries many more texts are produced and become highly influential in shaping the Sabbath, yet challenging the academic presentation of overarching the image of the Sabbath in these texts.

  • Doering, Lutz. “The Concept of the Sabbath in the Book of Jubilees.” In Studies in the Book of Jubilees. Edited by Matthias Albani, J‏örg Frey, and Armin Lange, 179–205. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1997.

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    The author stresses the centrality of the Sabbath in the book of Jubilees, which is the keystone to the 364-day calendar (creating exactly 52 weeks a year, with no regard to the moon), and therefore connects time, the creation of the universe, and the people of Israel. Moreover, he argues for a priestly perspective in the book, which links the Sabbath’s legal requirements to the creation of the world. This article is part of Doering’s broader exploration of the Sabbath in his German-written book.

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  • Falk, Daniel K. Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004350281Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    If Carol Newsom stressed the centrality of Sabbath worship in Qumran, Falk’s main contribution in this context is the creation of the link between the Sabbath worship in Qumran and the prayers that were common in the rabbinic period. He argues that the Qumran prayer reflects institutionalized worship related to Temple worship, and also points to an early form of Sabbath’s Kedushah.

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  • Goldenberg, Robert. “The Jewish Sabbath in the Roman World up to the Time of Constantine the Great.” In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Band 19/2: Religion (Judentum: Allgemeines; palästinisches Judentum). Edited by Wolfgang Hasse and Hildegard Temporini, 414–447. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1979.

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    Accessible introductory paper to the Sabbath in the Roman Empire, from the military exemption for Jews because of Sabbath till the adoption of the seven-day week and the spreading of Christianity.

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  • Jassen, Alex P. Scripture and Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139013871Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Although the author’s main concern is Qumran scripture exegesis, he does so by deepening into Sabbath regulations in Qumran, especially related to those mentioned in scripture, but also to Rabbinic literature. The result is a broad and updated view on Sabbath’s legal aspects of Qumran.

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  • Kattan Gribetz, Sarit. “Between Narrative and Polemic: The Sabbath in Genesis Rabbah and the Babylonian Talmud.” In Genesis Rabbah in Text and Context. Edited by Sarit Kattan Gribetz, David M. Grossberg, Martha Himmelfarb, and Peter Schäfer, 33–61. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2016.

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    Original offer to read some of the rabbinic descriptions of the qualities of Sabbath as a response to Greek and Roman criticism on the Sabbath as a day of idleness. Thus, it creates a link between the Roman atmosphere, where Sabbath was observed for centuries, and the rise of rabbinic Sabbath literature.

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  • Kimbrough, S. T., Jr. “The Concept of Sabbath at Qumran.” Revue de Qumrân 5.4 (1966): 483–502.

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    Early assessment of the importance of Sabbath in the Qumran scrolls and its similarities to the rabbinic Sabbath. The author focuses on the Damascus Document and shows clear parallels with some regulations found in rabbinic texts, like avoiding idle talk on Sabbath or the limited distance for walking.

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  • McKay, Heather A. Sabbath and Synagogue: The Question of Sabbath Worship in Ancient Judaism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004295834Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this book, the author argues that there is no evidence for communal Sabbath worship in synagogues, at least until the 2nd century. She does so by reviewing various sources, from the Bible and Apocrypha, through Greek and Roman writers (a unique chapter), the New Testament, Mishnah, and archeology. Although the main argument has been disputed, the book still offers a useful compilation of texts on early components of the Jewish Sabbath.

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  • Newsom, Carol. Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice: A Critical Edition. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004369405Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Groundbreaking and detailed exploration of Sabbath worship in Qumran, offering some early nonsacrificial worship uniquely on the Sabbath. The book is a critical edition of Songs of the Sabbath. It presents each text separately, transcribed (in Hebrew) and translated to English, with notes and comments.

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  • van der Horst, Pieter W. “Was the Synagogue a Place of Sabbath Worship before 70 CE?” In Jews, Christians, and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue. Edited by Steven Fine, 18–43. London: Routledge, 1999.

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    Straightforward review of the evidence that leads to the argument that Sabbath worship in built synagogues was happening already during the Second Temple period. In doing so, the article claims to refute the main argument of McKay 1994.

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  • Weiss, Herold. A Day of Gladness: The Sabbath among Jews and Christians in Antiquity. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.

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    Based on several articles already published by the author, the book explores the different perspectives and meanings of the Sabbath by various authors and communities in antiquity. It includes Hellenistic Jews, early Christian writings, and even a chapter on the Samaritan Sabbath, a topic rarely discussed. The author is prone more to questions of the meaning of the day, and therefore stresses more the idea of rest and eschatological aspects of the Sabbath, instead of the different Sabbath practices.

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The Sabbath in Classical Rabbinic Sources

While the Sabbath research of the Bible and the Second Temple period included sparse evidence and substantial academic research, in the post-Temple period it is the rabbinical texts themselves that speak extensively on the Sabbath. Hence, the explosion of rabbinical writings of the 2nd–7th centuries provides enormous new perspectives on the Sabbath. The centrality of these texts, like the Mishnah, Tosefta, Halakhic and Aggadic Midrashim, and the Talmuds, is crucial in shaping the legal, practical, historical, philosophical, and theological developments of the Sabbath in years to come. This revolution in the textual performances of the Sabbath made the topic extremely broad, and there is no academic study that attempted to encompass “the Sabbath in rabbinic studies” as a whole. Instead, scholars tended to explore the rabbinic development of specific legal fields regarding Sabbath, like Gilat 1992 and Kretzmer-Raziel 2018. Others strive to unpack specific textual units, like Mishnah tractates such as Neusner 1981 or Babylonian Talmud’s chapters in Talmud Haigud, as in Stollman 2008. However, as Goldenberg 1978 importantly notes, the rabbinical innovation of the legal discourse of the Sabbath does not necessarily mean that early rabbis had authority regarding the way people practiced the Sabbath. Besides the focus on the texts themselves, and as in other “layers” of the Sabbath, scholars also contextualized the rabbinic Sabbath to its places and times. As such, Doering 2010 discusses the rabbinic Sabbath as both innovative yet continuing other aspects of the Sabbath from earlier periods. Kattan Gribetz 2020 offers to understand some of the rabbinic Sabbath ideas on the background of Roman society and the rising power of Christianity and its claims regarding the Sabbath day. As Gilat notes, in this period, the idea of reading the Torah on the Sabbath is expanding to include also “learning”: “Sabbaths and holidays were given only for being occupied with words of the Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sabbath 15:3, translated by Guggenheimer). Thus, we can see the rabbinical writings and the rabbinical Sabbath as mutually reinforcing each other.

  • Doering, Lutz. “Sabbath and Festivals.” In The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine. Edited by Catherine Hezser, 566–586. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    The short introductory article reviews the transformation of the Sabbath from the Second Temple period to the rise of rabbinic texts. Doering demonstrates how the rabbinic Sabbath is revolutionary in many aspects, yet continues other Sabbath elements from earlier periods.

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  • Gilat, Yitzhak Dov. Studies in the Development of the Halakha. Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan University Press, 1992. [Hebrew]

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    A study of the institutionalization of the Halakha, focusing, inter alia, on the evolution of Sabbath laws in various fields, like fasting and eating in on Sabbath, or the formation of legal Sabbath categories as the “39 labors.” Gilat usually starts every topic with its place in the Bible and Second Temple sources, then discusses at length Tannaitic or Talmudic sources, and sometimes alludes to the Geonic literature and legal decisions of medieval rabbis.

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  • Goldenberg, Robert. The Sabbath Law of Rabbi Meir. Brown Judaic Studies 6. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978.

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    Goldenberg gathers seventy-six pericopes from the Mishnah, Tosefta, and the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, where the Tana Rabbi Meir is shown discussing issues relating to the Sabbath, and translates and comments on each case. Due to the challenges of the redacted texts and the versions of the pericopes, Goldenberg does not claim that there is a coherent view of the rabbinic Sabbath nor even of Rabbi Meir. Still, the book well reflects the rich and complex legal aspects of the Sabbath in early rabbinic writings. According to Goldenberg, it also teaches us the limited evidence for rabbinic authority over the public regarding the practice of these Sabbath laws.

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  • Kattan Gribetz, Sarit. Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctv11vcdsxSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In a book that argues for the rabbinical use of time to construct a social difference, Kattan Gribetz dedicates the second chapter to the Sabbath. She presents how the rabbinic polemics with Christianity is reflected in rabbinic writings, where the texts emphasize various elements unique to the Jewish Sabbath.

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  • Kretzmer-Raziel, Yoel. “Revolution or Evolution: Mental Criteria in Amoraic Laws of Handling on the Sabbath.” Journal of Ancient Judaism 9.3 (2018): 386–420.

    DOI: 10.30965/21967954-00903006Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The rabbinic legal discourse on the Sabbath established influential categories, like Muqtse, literary “set aside” an object that is not supposed to be used on the Sabbath. Kretzmer-Raziel discusses the topic with particular emphasis on the idea of “Intention” in Sabbath laws. Thus, the article provides an example of the development of a Sabbath legal category by examining intra-rabbinic legal discourse.

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  • Neusner, Jacob. A History of the Mishnaic Law of Appointed Times: Translation and Explanation. 5 vols. Vols. 1 and 2. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1981.

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    The project includes Neusner’s English translation and scholarly explanations for Seder Moed, the Mishnah tractates concentrating on the special days and festivals. Neusner’s explanations are structural and relate to the surface level of the text itself. He presents every Mishnah chapter as one unit and discusses the relationship between the different sections in the chapter and even the specific verses in each section. The result is a relatively light and accessible English guidebook to the two Sabbath-centered tractates—Shabbat and Erubin. Vol. 1, Shabbat; Vol. 2, Erubin, Pesachim.

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  • Stollman, Aviad A. BT Eruvin, Chapter X, with Comprehensive Commentary. Talmud Ha-Igud. Edited by Shamma Friedman. Jerusalem: Society for the Interpretation of the Talmud, 2008.

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    The project of Talmud Ha-Igud published several academic companions for Babylonian Talmud chapters, two of them are preoccupied with Sabbath issues, the one mentioned here by Stollman and another one on tractate Shabbat by Stephan Wald. Although the authors and chapters are significantly different, the concept is similar: each book is divided by “Sugiyot” (thematical debates), and the authors expand each discussion and compare with relevant texts and manuscripts, Jewish religious commentary, and academic scholarship. The books are published in Hebrew yet include a substantial introduction and synopsis of each Sugiya in English.

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The Sabbath in Kabbalah

The rise of Kabbalah in the 12th century brought a spiritual revolution, in which the Sabbath had a prominent role as the weekly spiritual climax. Tishby 1989 sees it as a counter form of Sabbath on the background of “rationalistic” tendencies in medieval Judaism. Many of the Kabbalistic concepts were rooted in early rabbinic literature, although they took a distinct reappreciation. As Ginsburg 1989 thorough work demonstrates, while the Sabbath was understood as remembering God’s rest at the beginning of time, with Kabbalah God was present, both in this world and in this time. Thus, the spiritual “active” Sabbath of Kabbalah had a role in fixing its contemporary world, as demonstrated in Wolfson 1997, and thus was highly related to eschatological ideas, as can be seen in Idel 2011. The Kabbalistic religious revolution transformed the Jewish Sabbath in the vast majority of Jewish communities, introducing some popular spiritual Sabbath liturgies as the Kabalat Shabat (welcoming of the Sabbath), reviewed by Kimelman 2003, or the more esoteric Tkhinah, discussed by Weissler 1991. These new spiritual ideas were bound to myriad old and novice practices of the Sabbath, hundreds of them described by Hallamish 2006. Another important aspect is the unique approach of academic scholarship on Kabbalah, which is closely related to the academic disciplines of history of religions, anthropology, and sociology, and therefore frames the Kabbalistic Sabbath in universal and theoretical terms like ritual, rational versus mystic, Sabbath as axis mundi, rites de passage, and more. This can be seen as closely related to scholarship effects on the origins of Sabbath and the academic endeavor for creating the Sabbath, as also Judaism, as a comparable unit.

  • Ginsburg, Elliot Kiba. The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.

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    Comprehensive and analytical review of the Sabbath in Kabbalah from the 12th century until the ascendance of the Safed school in the 16th century. Though the author underscores the rabbinic literature as deeply nurturing Kabbalistic concepts of Sabbath, he argues that Kabbalah brings a new vision of the Sabbath, especially concerning the link between the human living of Sabbath and aspects of the godhead. Ginsburg integrates scholarship from religious studies, literature, sociology, and anthropology, resulting in broad theoretical observations on the Kabbalistic Sabbath.

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  • Hallamish, Moshe. Kabbalistic Customs of Shabbat. Jerusalem: Orhot, 2006.

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    Extremely broad treasury of Kabbalistic Sabbath customs, with many references to Jewish religious writings (academic scholarship is less referenced in this book). The expansive variety of customes manifests the main argument of the author, that the Kabbalah revolutionized the Jewish Sabbath, by introducing new ideas and practices but also in revitalizing and reinterpreting older customes. Besides the two opening chapters of the introduction to Sabbath and praxis in Kabbalah, the book is more encyclopedic in nature and not designed to be read as one literary treatise. In Hebrew.

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  • Idel, Moshe. “Sabbath: On Concepts of Time in Jewish Mysticism.” In Sabbath: Idea, History, Reality. Edited by Gerald J. Blidstein, 57–93. Beer Sheva, Israel: Ben Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2004.

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    Clear and theoretical overview of Sabbath in Kabbalah and its linkage to broader models of religious time. Could be useful also as a teaching resource.

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  • Idel, Moshe. Saturn’s Jews: On the Witches’ Sabbat and Sabbateanism. London: Continuum, 2011.

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    Exploratory treatise on the nexus of Sabbath and Saturn (Shabtai). Though it is known from old times (see Gandz 1948, cited under Origins of the Sabbath, on the planetary week in the section on the origin of Sabbath), and is even manifested today by the name Satur-day, the connection between the seventh’s day star and the seventh’s day people is rarely discussed. Idel collects the historical mentioning of this nexus, which culminates in the case of Shabtai Tzvi. In doing so, the book links Jewish mysticism with broader contemporary circles of astrology and mysticism.

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  • Kimelman, Reuven. The Mystical Meaning of “Lekhah Dodi” and “Kabbalat Shabbat.” Los Angeles: Cherub Press, 2003. [Hebrew]

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    Although this is a full book dedicated only to one poem, it is one of the most common Sabbath poems in various Jewish communities around the globe. The author contextualizes the poem in the innovative intellectual environment of 16th-century Safed and the institutionalization of “welcoming the Sabbath.” The majority of the book deals in unearthing the esoteric meaning of the seemingly simple poem.

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  • Tishby, Isaiah. “Sabbath and Festivals.” In The Wisdom of the Zohar: Anthology of Texts. Vol. 3. Edited by Fischel Lachower and Isaiah Tishby, 1215–1325. Oxford: Littman Library by Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    A considerable part of this volume is dedicated to a scholarly review of Sabbath in the Zohar and associated texts and to the compilation and translation of Zoharic excerpts on the Sabbath. The author argues that the rise of Kabbalistic apprehension of the Sabbath is to be understood on the background of the “rationalist” medieval Jewish understanding of the Sabbath. Unlike them, the Kabbalists saw the Sabbath as containing a different quality of the sacred. Hence, we move here from mere remembrance of the divine rest to a new concept of Sabbath that relates to God in present times.

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  • Weissler, Chava. “Woman as High Priest: A Kabbalistic Prayer in Yiddish for Lighting Sabbath Candles.” Jewish History 5.1 (1991): 9–26.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF01679790Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Original and thought-provoking article that probes women Jewish mysticism on the Sabbath through a specific Tkhina (petition) for the kindling of Sabbath candles. The author traced the link from the popular prayer to Zoharic passages, and by doing so manifest the way women are involved in the process of developing and integrating Kabbalistic concepts in the Sabbath.

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  • Wolfson, Elliot. “Coronation of the Sabbath Bride: Kabbalistic Myth and the Ritual of Androgynisation.” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 6.2 (1997): 301–343.

    DOI: 10.1163/105369997790231766Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Though personification and gender attribution of the Sabbath as female, bride, and queen can be traced to early Midrashic sources, with Kabbalah these attributes received many more details and visualizations. Wolfson organizes the relevant material and argues for the Sabbath as a redemptive time for the unification of the female and male aspects of the godhead.

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The Sabbath in Practice

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Sabbath is more about what not to do, and similarly modern Jewish thinkers like Heschel describe the Sabbath as transcendent abstention from world of matter and praxis into spirit and rest. However, the Mishnah text already reflects that “[t]he laws of the Sabbath . . . are like mountains hanging by a hair, for its scripture is scanty but the Halakhot are many” (Hagigah 1:8). Since then, layers of traditions, customes, meanings, and institutionalized Halakha made Sabbath a day full of “doing.” In recent centuries, the rich information on “doing” Sabbath enables examining the complex and dynamic relationship between ideas, laws, and practices of the day. For example, Katz 1989 shows how the social and economic transformations in Jewish life led to flexibility in Sabbath laws, which he demonstrates by the case of the “Shabbes Goy.” These practices also developed to be an integral part of the Sabbath while offering opportunities for innovations, as in the case of the Sabbath candles reviewed by Nashman Fraiman 2017. Modernity brought new challenges like recreation culture that was not exactly Sabbath desecration or observance, but a real challenge to the community, as Kahana 2013 argues. Another example is the modern Eruv, as studied by Cousineau 2005, which spatializes the Sabbath in a new urban way of living. The endeavor to keep “doing the Sabbath’ right,” considering the numerous legal requirements, led to popular practical Halakhic guides like Neuwirth 1984, and to many ingenious and sometimes twisted ways to settle these challenges, as reviewed by Dundes 2002. The portrait of the Sabbath coming from this cluster is a day shaped by Jewish traditions of laws and customes and the prices and emotions involved in trying to align with all of them. It also offers a different portrait of the scholarship of Sabbath, one that focuses on the real life rather than the transcendental ideas it represents or dichotomies of sacred and profane.

  • Cousineau, Jennifer. “Rabbinic Urbanism in London: Rituals and the Material Culture of the Sabbath.” Jewish Social Studies 11.3 (2005): 36–57.

    DOI: 10.2979/JSS.2005.11.3.36Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Sabbath is not merely a “Palace in time,” but also the demarcation of space, as in the case of Eruvin. In this article, Cousineau offers an understanding of the Sabbath from unique urban, spatial, and material perspectives. To do so, she uses ethnographic methods and some historical data on the formation of the Eruv in London. More Eruv items are offered in the extensive Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies article “Eruv” by Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert.

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  • Dundes, Alan. The Shabbat Elevator and Other Sabbath Subterfuges: An Unorthodox Essay on Circumventing Custom and Jewish Character. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

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    Folklore research on living with the restricting Sabbath customes and the ingenious ways to circumvent them. Dundes offers that Jews have a complex relationship with their customes, but that their circumventions are not meant to delete the custome but to keep it alive by letting them live their life. Halfway through the book, the elaborated portrait of living the Sabbath is replaced by Dundes’s Freudian theory of the anal-erotic realm of Judaism, which is less convincing, to say the least. The dedication on the first page of the book is exceptional too.

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  • Kahana, Maoz. “The Shabbes Coffeehouse: On the Emergence of the Jewish Coffeehouse in Eighteenth-Century Prague.” Zion 78.1 (2013): 5–50.

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    The Sabbath laws might be strict about what not to do, but it does not mean that rabbinic leaders saw every nonprohibited Sabbath activity as permissible. Kahana brings the story of 18th-century coffeehouses in Prague and, based on the community documentations, constructs the challenges that this modern institution set before the community and its rabbinic leadership. Although it is a small story, it offers food for thought regarding the private and public sphere in modern Sabbath and the distinction between Sabbath rest and Sabbath pleasure, an early instance of the transformation of the Jewish Sabbath from a day of rest into a day of (modernist) recreation.

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  • Katz, Jacob. The “Shabbes Goy”: A Study in Halakhic Flexibility. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

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    Between the strict image of Sabbath law and the ever-changing social situations, rabbinic arbitrators had to decide on the right action in their responsa. By rigorous examination of the rabbinic legal use of “Shabbes Goy” from medieval times to early modernity, Katz shows the challenges of Sabbath practices and the flexibility of Halakha in general. He also shows that for many years, Jews’ use of assistance by non-Jews on the Sabbath was not sporadic, but a foundational aspect of the Sabbath. Thus, despite the frequent effect of the Sabbath in separating the Jews, in practice it sometimes created surprising results.

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  • Neuwirth, Yehoshua Y. Shemirath Shabbath: A Guide to the Practical Observance of Sabbath. 4 vols. Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1984.

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    Might be the most popular Halakhic book on the Sabbath, mainly for Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews, but its accessibility paved its way for recognition in other Jewish congregations. The author covers enormous possible practices, from health emergencies to the using of refrigerator, and gives a concise ruling for each act. An important aspect of the book is the straightforward writing, which is separated from the Halakhic references, and makes it a simple Sabbath manual and so eases the implementation of Halakhic ideas in every practice. The book was initially published in Hebrew in 1965, but due to its popularity and treatment of new challenges, rabbinic criticism led to a revised edition.

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  • Nashman Fraiman, Susan. “Jewish Women, Jewish Light.” In Light in a Socio-Cultural Perspective. Edited by Ruth Lubashevsky and Ronit Milano, 77–91. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2017.

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    The article reviews the history of the tradition of Sabbath candle kindling by Jewish women. Although the practice is not mentioned in the Bible, it has been developed over the years to be a complex and meaningful ritual, enabling women to participate in the spiritual acts of the Sabbath.

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The Sabbath in the State of Israel

If Heschel stressed the Sabbath as time more than space, with the formation of the State of Israel, the Sabbath has a modern state as its realm. However, formulation of the Sabbath as part of a modern state brought radical changes and challenges derived from the secular ideologies of the state along with the practical challenges of running an independent Jewish country. Already for pre-state secular Zionists like Ahad Ha’am, the Sabbath was a keystone in the creation of national identity (see Ahad Ha’am 1898), but as in the case of Hayim Nahman Bialik’s Oneg Sabbath, described by Avneri 2007, the Sabbath shifted to a more “cultural” Jewish celebration. Some Zionists had visions of the Sabbath that were much further from religious traditions, like the urban and modern recreation of Tel-Aviv discussed by Helman 2008, or the socialist vision of the Sabbath in the Kibbutzim reviewed by Marx 2020. Eventually, by the 1951 “Hours of Work and Rest” law, the Sabbath became the official weekly rest day in Israel, while non-Jews can choose either Friday or Sunday as their rest day. This law is part of a broader “status quo” regarding the religion in the State of Israel, an obscure consent that rests on insufficient historical evidence, as argued by Friedman 1990. In recent years, Ben-Porat 2013 differs, with the influences of global capitalism, Americanization, and neoliberalism processes in Israel, more and more Israelis use the Sabbath as the main consumerism day, thus fostering a secular Sabbath not by a vocal antireligious campaign but by nonreligious economic rights. Albeit the long clashes and the different views of the day, many Israeli Jews still conceive the day as a shared tradition of the nation, as manifested by the anthology Gerzi and Zimmerman 2001. As Handelman and Katz 1998 suggest, the Israeli national calendar sets common rhythms, involved with narratives and political claims. In this manner, the Sabbath is a crucial pulse in setting Israel as a Jewish state, with the challenging implications it entails.

  • Ahad Ha’am. “Shabbat and Zionism.” Hashiloah 3.6 (1898).

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    A sharp and emotional short essay on the nationalization of the Sabbath. Ginsberg is differentiating here between the religious Sabbath and the general rest day acceptable by some secular Zionists. He offers the seventh-day Sabbath as what unites the nation, and in this context powerfully stresses that “more than the Jews kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept the Jews.” Although it seems a secular-national claim that shifts the importance of Sabbath from religious observance to the creation of a nation, the ambiguous wording of this sentence made it constantly cited by various authors, from Orthodox rabbis to secular leaders. In Hebrew.

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  • Aronovsky, David, and Gideon Sapir. “Halakah Scholars’ Positions Regarding the Activity of Security Forces and Essential Services on the Sabbath.” Dinei Israel 31 (2017): 197–247. [Hebrew]

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    Comparative legal survey of the various Halakhic discussions and decisions regarding essential national work on the Sabbath. The authors concentrate on the army, police, and production of electricity; all illustrate the challenges of the intersection of modernity, national Jewish independence, and Jewish Halakha.

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  • Avneri, Shmuel. “How Bialik’s Oneg Shabbat Electrified the Yishuv.” Maim Medlayav 18 (2007): 357–370.

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    Like Ginsberg, Hayim Nahman Bialik saw the Sabbath as the national common denominator, which predated even the Torah. Moreover, he saw the Sabbath as the foundation for creating original national Jewish culture, and for this reason he formed the Oneg Shabbat group, which convened every Saturday for intellectual debates and cultural performances that attracted various social groups. The article by Avneri is not a comprehensive inspection of the Yishuv society, as the title might promise. Still, it does offer an appropriate location for Oneg Shabbat in Bialik’s far-reaching endeavor in creating national culture. In Hebrew.

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  • Ben-Porat, Guy. Between State and Synagogue: The Secularization of Contemporary Israel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Ben-Porat argues that the status quo between the national republican secularity and the different Orthodox groups in Israel had changed since the 1990s due to the effect of neoliberalism and globalization along with the migration of nonreligious citizens from the former Soviet Union. As a result, a new kind of secularism set new claims for individual freedom of choice and especially commerce. In the chapter “Live and Let Buy,” he argues that these processes shaped a new form of Israeli secular Sabbath which is based on consumerism and erodes the status quo.

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  • Friedman, Menachem. “And This Is the History of the Status Quo: Religion and State in Israel.” In The Transition from Yishuv to the State 1947–1949: Continuity and Changes. Edited by Varda Pilowski, 47–80. Haifa, Israel: University of Haifa and Herzl Institute for Zionist Studies, 1990.

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    The status quo regarding religious aspects in the state is a powerful argumentation in many discussions on state and religion in Israel. Of interest to us here, the status quo sets the Shabbat as the weekly sabbatical day of the state to come. Though many consider the agreement to be directly expressed by a letter of David Ben Gurion to Agudat Israel, Friedman argues that both sides did not understand the specific letter as such, and that the status quo was institutionalized and detailed during the first years of the state. The special status of the Sabbath was formally legalized only by the “Hours of Work and Rest” law of 1951. For more legal aspects, see the Oxford Bibliographies in Jewish Studies article “Religion and State in Israel” by Gideon Sapir.

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  • Gerzi, Mirik, and Beeri Zimmerman, eds. The Seventh Day: Israeli Writers Writes on Their Sabbath. Tel Aviv: Yediot Aharonot, 2001. [Hebrew]

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    Anthology of Sabbath texts, from the most personal memoirs, through research, and even a treatise for religious and secular Sabbath. The compilation illustrates how emotionally the Sabbath is used to weave various Jewish Israeli identities into a narrative of a nation.

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  • Handelman, Don, and Elihu Katz. “State Ceremonies of Israel: Remembrance Day and Independence Day.” In Models and Mirrors: Towards an Anthropology of Public Events. By Don Handelman, 191–235. New York: Berghahn Books, 1998.

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    Anthropological analysis of the formation of the State of Israel rhythms and the narrative they represent and construct. Though it is focused mainly on new national events, it also incorporates the Sabbath into the overall picture of the Israeli calendar.

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  • Helman, Anat. “Sport on the Sabbath: Controversy in 1920s and 1930s Jewish Palestine.” International Journal of the History of Sport 25.1 (2008): 41–64.

    DOI: 10.1080/09523360701701663Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Helman argues that there was harsh disagreement regarding the public sphere already in the growing Jewish society in British Palestine. In this context, sports activity on the Sabbath involved not only a modernist notion of recreation, much in conflict with more traditional Sabbath activity, but also the ideological Zionist revolution of the Jewish body. Thus, the shift from rest to recreation expresses deep disputation regarding the desired Zionist subject, which the national movement fostered as the opposition of the listless exilic Jewish body.

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  • Marx, Dalia. “Welcoming the Sabbath on the Kibbutzim: Secular Religiosity.” In The Oxford Handbook of Ritual and Worship in the Hebrew Bible. Edited by Samuel E. Balentine, 505–522. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

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    The socialist and mainly secular movement of the kibbutz never involved the majority of Jews in Israel, but it was highly influential politically and symbolically in the Zionist project. Quite different from the secular recreational Sabbath that was promoted by the Zionist bourgeoisie, the kibbutzim cherished the socialistic perspective of hard physical labor during the week and resting on the Sabbath. In this context, of secularizing and cherishing the Sabbath, Marx reviews the efforts of kibbutzim to create some ritualistic aspects of the Sabbath, especially in Friday night gatherings of communal family-like dinners. As such, it also challenged the typical division between the domestic aspects of the Sabbath and the communal ones.

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