Folklore: Celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem

February 20, 2017

Daniela Ramos

While in Israel, I got the chance to take part in a traditional Shabbat celebration. While many know what Shabbat is (and if you don’t – Shabbat is Jewish day in which everyone rests, it is observed every week from Friday night to Saturday night), most non-Jewish (me included!) don’t know the many, many wonderful things about this time of the week, especially in Israel.

Shabbat is an important “date” to Jews, because God worked the first six days of the week, and rested on the seventh.

And they take it seriously.

When I read it wasn’t a good idea to cross the border from Jordan during Shabbat, because buses (or any public transportation, including the trams in major cities, for that matter) don’t run from midday Friday until Saturday at 6pm – I had to make a change in my schedule and arrive on Thursday morning instead.

I spent Thursday night partying in Jerusalem with a dear friend of mine (Thursday night in Israel is the equivalent to Friday night in most other countries) and was surprised at how full of life and bustling the city center was.

And the following day – silence.

I walked out of the hostel to see no people on the streets. No noisy tram passing by every five minutes. I felt as though I was in a Twilight Zone episode and I had suddenly been transported to a ghost town.

That evening, I met two Mexican guys who were working at the hostel. They were Jews and had decided to move for a short time to Israel to see if they could see themselves moving them permanently. After finding out that I am also Mexican, they invited me to join them for Shabbat lunch the following day.

It was here when I discovered Shabbat is even quirkier than I had thought.

While walking to their friend’s home – where lunch would take place – I took out my phone to check the time. “Noo!”, shouted Joshua, “you are not allowed to turn things on and off during Shabbat”.

“Oh, and what about my camera?”

“You would have had to turn it on before Shabbat began.”

Damn.

“You’re not Jewish. You don’t have to follow the rules, don’t worry”, said Joshua.

“But I want to.”

And it just got better from then on.

Once at the house, more and more guests began arriving. When I stretched out my hand to greet the first newcomer (a guy), he retracted, looking a bit scared. “We are not allowed to touch women during Shabbat”, he told me once Joshua explained to him that I am not Jewish.

And then the pre-meal ceremony began.

The Kiddush was recited and wine was drunk shot style.

After Kiddush, each person has to wash their hands by filling a cup with water and pouring it over the right hand and then left hand. And before wiping them, a blessing must be recited, while everyone else says “amen” at the end.

Time to eat!

Or not, really. One more blessing is missing.

After washing our hands, the owner (or head of) the household has to remove the cover of the two challah (Shabbat bread) loaves while reciting a blessing. Afterward, slices will be passed around the table, one for each person.

And then the meal begins!

But wait.

Desert comes first – one is not allowed to eat meat after having had dairy.

We enjoyed ice cream and cookies for desert and then proceeded to eat the actual lunch.

After lunch, we drank wine. Lots of it.

Joshua headed to the kitchen and shouted “Dani! Can you come here? It’s very dark.”

“Huh?”

“It’s VERY dark.”

“So?”

“You are not Jewish. And it is very dark in the kitchen”

“Oh!”

He was hinting that I should turn the light on for him since it is against the rules of Shabbat to turn lights (or any appliance on) during this time.

This, however, does not mean that Jews sit in a dark house during this time. They just have to turn on the lights they will need before Shabbat begins.

After enjoying lunch, we headed back and we all took a nap.

Once sunset struck, the streets began filling up with people. Shabbat is over for the week, and it is a Saturday night after all!

 

I was surprised at how ritualistic Shabbat can be, and how Jews really do stick to the rules, even if some seemed quite strict to me. It was a wonderful cultural experience for me that allowed me to learn a lot (and feel quite ignorant at the same time, as I did make a lot of mistakes – my next Shabbat will surely be a more prepared one!).

To end this post, a leave you with some of the rules to follow during Shabbat if you want to feel like a local while in Israel 🙂

 

  • Not allowed to do some type of work, melakhah, (see list on next page).
  • Not allowed to carry or transfer objects between an enclosed domain and a public domain, for example your house to the street. You also shouldn’t carry an object for more than six feet’s. This prohibition includes carrying something in your pocket, in your hand, a gum in your mouth or wheeling a baby carriage or shopping cart.
  • Not allowed to turn on/off the lights
  • Not allowed to turn on/off the any type of a fire
  • Not allowed to turn on/off the power; since it counts as fire according to orthodox Judaism
  • Not allowed to travel (as this usually starts a fire, for example sparks and burns fuel)
  • You are not allowed to cook during Shabbat, or even heat things in order to change them in any way, cook before Shabbat and keep them warm by a cover for the stovetop or by using a slow cooker. You are either now allowed to use your hot water tap for dishes as this counts as cooking (making cold water hot).
  • You also should set aside your moneys, so avoid the shopping or paying your bills during Shabbat.
  • You also should set aside the toys as they shouldn’t be used by kids during Shabbat.
  • Using electronical devices like your telephone, radio, tv, washing machine etc..
  • You are not allowed to unattach things that are attached through glue, sewing or perforation. This means that you can use your toilet paper for example. Instead they either pre-tear the toilet paper before Shabbat or use tissues. You also have to pre-tear plastic or aluminum paper if you think that you are going to need that.
  • You should not water your plants or pick flowers during this period – as causing thing to live, or to die, should be avoided (this does obviously not include humans).
  • You also should avoid writing, drawing, erasing, or tearing through letters on packages. Any caps or packages that will be used during Shabbat should be pre-opened (or carefully opened during Shabbat)

You can only break these rules to save someone’s life.

Some rules for animals during Shabbat:

  • You shouldn’t take your animal out if it doesn’t benefit the animal.
  • You are not allowed toenting out one’s work animal, like a horse or a dog, to a non-Jew as the non-Jew may to work with it.
  • Don’t feed animals which doesn’t live in your house and doesn’t depend on your food.
  • It’s forbidden to kill insects intentionally on Shabbat (as long as there is no real danger, for example you can kill a venomous snake or a yellow scorpion). You may gently remove them, but not place them in a sink or fountain where they may drown.
  • You are not allowed to milk an animal on Shabbat, however you can tell a non-Jew to milk your animals because otherwise it will cause the animal pain, but the milk will be considered muktzeh for the day (useless).

Other

  • According to Jewish law, if someone has no available cash with which to buy food for Shabbat, he should use his assets as collateral to do so.

 

Prohibited tasks in Shabbat:

  • Carrying
  • Burning
  • Extinguishing
  • Finishing
  • Writing
  • Erasing
  • Cooking
  • Washing
  • Sewing
  • Tearing
  • Knotting
  • Untying
  • Shaping
  • Plowing
  • Planting
  • Reaping
  • Harvesting
  • Threshing
  • Winnowing
  • Selecting
  • Sifting
  • Grinding
  • Kneading
  • Combing
  • Spinning
  • Dyeing
  • Chain-stitching
  • Warping
  • Weaving
  • Unraveling
  • Building
  • Demolishing
  • Trapping
  • Shearing
  • Slaughtering
  • Skinning
  • Tanning
  • Smoothing
  • Marking

 

Daniela Ramos

Full time traveller. I left home at 18 to study photography in NYC & journalism in London. Have been in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. Now, I am globetrotting the world visiting all the Green Lion programs to tell you my experiences first-handedly.

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