Shabbat is the day of rest. The day that, if you are Jewish, you take off and spend in prayer and celebration with your family. Shabbat starts on a Friday evening and ends on a Saturday evening, and for Jews, it is a very special time of the week. It's a good time to get dressed up and forget worldly worries. Food during Shabbat is also special, and extra delicious because time is spent eating. Meals are leisurly and family is all present. However, implicit in Shabbat is that it is a day of REST. Work is not indulged during Shabbat, and in fact, Jewish law lays down thirty nine malakhot or thirty nine categories of work that may not be done on Shabbat.

For anyone who isn't actively Jewish and observing the Sabbath, the rules can seem rather far reaching and almost too much to bear. But for Jews, looking at it as prohibition is the wrong way to go - the shabbat is for celebrating and the laws are there to merely remind us to put God and family and community before everything else, for without those, we are in fact nothing.

When these thirty nine malakhot were drawn up, times were very different obviously - society was far more agriculturally based and many of the laws would seem antiquated to the majority of today's office workers. So much so that in fact many of the laws have been re-interpreted and commented on extensively to take into account our modern era. As an aside, while the concept of a day of rest makes sense to many of us these days, with all the talk about work life balance and five day working weeks and such, imagine how revolutionary it would have been in a more agriculturally based community. Ask any farmer and they will tell you how much hard work it is - they often work seven days a week, starting at sunrise and not finishing until after sunset. The life of a farmer is hard work with more hard work piled on top. So you can imagine how the idea of taking a day off would have been seen back in those days.

It's also true that many Jews, while observing the Sabbath and attending Temple to pray and spending the day with their families resting, many do not interpret the idea of doing no work in the same way. There are, of course, several strands of Judaism and not all of them see eye to eye on the interpretation of the thirty nine malakhot. For the most Orthodox of Jews though, the law is rigid and unbending and indeed in our modern time of electricity and automation, there can be a fair amount of difficulty in obeying the laws. For example, one of the laws is that you shall not light a fire. This sounds ridiculous to us, but in earlier times, lighting a fire was a very labour intensive task - wood needs to be gathered - found, chopped, brought back to the home and only then could lighting begin. These days, some Jews and strands of Judaism will not operate an electric switch during the Sabbath because when a switch is flipped a spark may be created and so it could be considered that you have light a fire. In a similar way, the same law of lighting no fires during shabbat would prohibit you from driving a car because starting it would be lighting a fire (as the internal combustion engine causes a small explosion).

Of course rules are made to be broken aren't they? Well no not really. However if someone's life is in danger, you can break the rules of Shabbat. And of course some allowances have to be made for people who are disabled or need to rely on things like mobility scooters or stair lifts or other such devices that help them get around. After all, you have to decide if it is better that they should not be able to get to Temple to pray and so be cut of from the community or if they should be allowed to use these miracles of modern convenience that give them their freedom and at least get to spend the day praying and celebrating with their families as they should. And of course, where there is a problem there is an entrepreneur. Special Shabbat module mobility scooters and other mobility aids have been developed especially for this sort thing

Anyone who isn't Jewish will immediately ask, how do you cook on the Sabbath then? Well, one of the most traditional recipes for Shabbat is cholent which is similar to a casserole or a stew and is slow cooked and made on Friday and kept warm in the oven overnight. Cholent makes an excellent dish because it is filling and delicious and meat based versions render the meat tender and succulent, which kind of fits in with the idea of "leisure" that is inherent in the Shabbat celebrations. Of course this doesn't fully answer the question of how to keep it warm - well the preparations for Shabbat includes many things - like taking the bulb out of the refrigerator and setting timers for appliances and lightbulbs (of course, some people think even using a lightbulb on the Shabbat even if it is on a timer is a no-no). So, for cooking - well we cannot light fire on the Sabbath, but we can light it before the Sabbath begins. In fact the marking of the start of the Sabbath is the lighting of two candles by the women of the house. So, we can light a gas flame or turn on an oven before the sabbath begins and leave it on. Of course, the use of an oven with a thermostat should not happen because opening the oven door would cause the temperature to drop and the thermostat to cause the flame or element to heat up more. It is also necessary to cover the source of heat with something and we usually use a thin piece of aluminium to do so. We also cover the control knobs for the burners so we cannot accidentally change or control the flame on the Sabbath. So basically we set a low flame and cover the stove top. The whole piece of aluminium (or blech) will warm up even if we only leave one burner on and any food we put on top will continue to slow cook. So stews are perfect for Sabbath meals and some even say it is a mitzvah to eat hot meals on the sabbath. Of course you don't cook from scratch on the Sabbath, the preparation is the key and stews are usually two thirds ready before sundown on the Friday night. Seasoning is also added before the Sabbath begins.

Wow...that was something eh? Anyway Shabbat comes to a close after sunset on Saturday night when 3 stars are visible. The end of the Sabbath is always a touch poignant for me. As the day of rest ends and you know tomorrow people will once again be embroiled in their worldly affairs. Still I hope you had a small insight into Shabbat from my article.