Sabbath or a sabbath is generally a weekly day of rest and/or time of worship that is observed in Abrahamic religions and other faiths.[1] Many viewpoints and definitions have arisen over the millennia. The term has been used to describe a similar weekly observance in any of several other traditions; the new moon; any of seven annual festivals in Judaism and some Christian traditions; any of eight annual festivals in Wicca (usually "sabbat"); an annual secular holiday; and a year of rest in religious or secular usage, originally every seventh year.

Biblical tradition

Sabbath as day

The term "Sabbath" derives from the Hebrew shabbat (שבת), "to cease", which was first used in the Biblical account of the seventh day (Saturday) of Creation (Genesis 2:2-3). Observation and remembrance of Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments (the fourth in the original Jewish, the Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant traditions, the third in Roman Catholic and Lutheran traditions). Most people who observe Biblical Sabbath regard it as having been instituted as a "perpetual covenant [for] the people of Israel" (Exodus 31:13-17), a sign in respect for the day during which God rested after having completed the Creation in seven days. ; Sabbath desecration was originally officially punishable by death (Exodus 31:15).

Sabbath as week

By synecdoche (naming a part for the whole), the term "Sabbath" also came to mean simply a seven-day week in Jewish sources by the time of the Septuagint, namely, the interval between two Sabbaths. Jesus's parable of the Pharisee and the Publican describes the Pharisee as fasting "twice a week" (Greek dis tou sabbatou, literally, "twice of the Sabbath").

Annual Sabbaths

Seven annual Biblical festivals, called by the name miqra ("called assembly") in Hebrew and "High Sabbath" in English, serve as supplemental testimonies to the plan of Shabbat. These are recorded in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and do not necessarily occur on Shabbat. They are observed by Jews and a minority of Christians. Three of them occur in spring: the first and seventh days of Pesach (Passover), and Shavuot (Pentecost). Four occur in fall, in the seventh month, and are also called shabbaton: Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets); Yom Kippur, the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" (Atonement); and the first and eighth days of Sukkoth (Tabernacles).

Seventh-year Sabbatical

The year of Shmita (Hebrew שמיטה, literally, "release"), also called the Sabbatical Year, is the seventh year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by the Torah for the Land of Israel. During Shmita, the land is to be left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity—including plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting—is forbidden by Torah law. In traditional interpretation, other cultivation techniques—such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming, and mowing—may be performed as preventative measures only, not to improve the growth of trees or plants; additionally, any fruits which grow of their own accord are deemed ownerless and may be picked by anyone, and a variety of laws apply to the sale, consumption, and disposal of Shmita produce. A second aspect of Shmita concerns debts and loans: when the year ends, personal debts are considered nullified and forgiven. In similar fashion, the Torah required a slave who had worked for six years to go free in the seventh year.

Jewish tradition

Weekly Sabbath

Jewish Shabbat (shabbos, shabbes, shobos, etc.) is a weekly day of rest, observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night; it is also observed by a minority of Christians. Thirty-nine activities prohibited on Shabbat are listed in Tractate Shabbat (Talmud). Customarily, Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles shortly before sunset, at halakhically calculated times that change from week to week and from place to place. Judah ha-Levi in the 12th century proposed what amounted to a Jewish date line for dating of Shabbat, later calculated to fall between China and Japan (other lines exist, and travelers are expected to note both personal and local Shabbat); and Pinchas Elijah Horovitz in the 18th century stated that polar regions should observe Shabbat based on calculating 24-hour days, though without establishing a date line. Shabbat is a widely noted hallmark of Jewish peoples: the Subbotniks (literally, Sabbatarians) are a Russian sect, categorized as either Jews or Judaizing Christians, that became particularly branded by strict Shabbat observance; the Sabbateans are followers of Sabbatai Zevi, the most notable holder of the name form "Shabbethai"; sabesdiker losn (Shabbat speech) is a feature of the Northeastern Yiddish language that merges to "sh" and "s" sounds; and the Sambation is the Shabbat-observant river in rabbinic literature, beyond which the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were exiled by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V. Several weekly Shabbats a year are designated as Special Sabbaths, such as Shabbat Teshuvah (Repentance Sabbath), prior to Yom Kippur. (Radical Hungarian-born Reform rabbi Ignaz Einhorn even shifted his congregation's Shabbat worship to Sundays.)

Weekend Sabbath

The modern Hebrew term shabbaton or shaboson also means a retreat or program for education, and usually celebration, that is held on Shabbat or over a weekend with special focus on Sabbath.

Christian tradition

In Christianity, both those who observe the seventh day as Sabbath and those who observe the first day as Sabbath consider themselves "Sabbatarian" and regard Sabbath as "Lord's Day", each group believing its position to be taught by the Bible; similarly for others who hold to strong Sabbath principles.

First-day Sabbath

In most Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, some Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestant), "Sabbath" is a synonym of "Lord's Day" (which they believe to be Sunday), and is kept in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, and often celebrated with the Eucharist. It is often the day of rest, and usually the day of communal worship. Sunday is considered both the first day and the "eighth day" of the seven-day week (or, in some calendars, Sunday is designated the seventh day of the week as also in the ISO 8601 standard). Relatively few Christians regard first-day observance as entailing all of the ordinances of Shabbat. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) faith [1] generally follow the stronger of Christian Sabbatarian traditions, avoiding shopping, leisure activities, and idleness on the first day, and avoiding work unless absolutely necessary; in Tonga, all commerce and entertainment activities cease from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday, and the Constitution declares Sabbath to be sacred forever. The Lord's Day is observed on Saturday by those who believe Sabbath corresponds to Saturday. In Oriental Orthodoxy, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has observed both Sunday Lord's Day and Saturday Sabbath in different ways for several centuries, as have other Eastern Orthodox traditions. As another minority view, some modern Christians uphold Sabbath but do not limit its observance to either Saturday or Sunday, instead advocating rest on any chosen day of the week, or advocating Sabbath as instead a symbolic metaphor for rest in Christ.

Seventh-day Sabbath

Several Christian denominations observe Sabbath in similar manner as in Judaism, but observance ends at Saturday sunset instead of Saturday nightfall. Seventh Day Baptists have observed Sabbath on Saturday since the mid-17th century, and influenced the similar but larger Seventh-day Adventist group toward that doctrine in the mid-19th century. They and others believe that keeping seventh-day Sabbath is a moral obligation arising out of the Ten Commandments that honors God as Creator and Deliverer. They also use "Lord's Day" to mean the seventh day, based on Scriptures in which God calls it "my day" and "of the LORD". Adventists popularized the question of defining Sabbath worldwide on a round earth; some seventh-day Sabbatarians make use of the International Date Line, while others (such as some Alaskan Adventists) observe Sabbath according to Jerusalem time. Many of the Lemba in southern Africa, like some other African tribes, are Christians yet claim common descent from the Biblical Israelites, keep one day a week holy like Shabbat, and maintain many beliefs and practices associated with Judaism.

Monthly Sabbath

The new moon, occurring every 29 or 30 days, is an important separately sanctioned occasion in Judaism and some other faiths. It is not widely regarded as Sabbath, but some native messianic Pentecostals, such as the New Israelites of Peru do keep the day of the new moon as Sabbath or rest day, from dusk to dusk. Their new moon services can last all day.

Annual Sabbath

In South Africa, Christian Boers have celebrated December 16, now called the Day of Reconciliation, as annual Sabbath (a holy day of thanksgiving) since 1838. Commemorating a famous Boer victory over the Zulu, the anniversary and its commemoration are intimately connected with various streams of Afrikaner and South African nationalism.

Millennial Sabbath

Since Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century, Christians have often considered that some thousand-year Sabbath, expected to begin six thousand years after Creation, might be identical with the millennium described in the Book of Revelation. This view was also popular among 19th and 20th century dispensational premillenialists. The term "Sabbatism" or "Sabbatizing" (Greek sabbatismos), which generically means any literal or spiritual Sabbath-keeping, has also been taken in Hebrews 4:9 to have special reference to this definition.

Other religious traditions

Babylonian rest days

Counting from the new moon, the Babylonian calendar celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as "holy-days", also called "evil days" (meaning "unsuitable" for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to "make a wish", and at least the 28th was known as a "rest-day". On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess. Tablets from the sixth-century BC reigns of Cyrus the Great and Cambyses indicate these dates were sometimes approximate. The lunation of 29 or 30 days basically contained three seven-day weeks, and a final week of nine or ten days inclusive, breaking the continuous seven-day cycle. The Babylonians additionally celebrated the 19th as a special "evil day", the "day of anger", because it was roughly the 49th day of the (preceding) month, completing a "week of weeks", also with sacrifices and prohibitions. Further, reconstruction of a broken tablet seems to define the rarely attested Sapattum or Sabattum as the 15th day of the lunation: this word is cognate with Hebrew Shabbat, but is monthly rather than weekly; it is regarded as a form of Sumerian sa-bat ("mid-rest"), attested in Akkadian as um nuh libbi ("day of mid-repose").

The pentecontad calendar, thought to be of Amorite origin, includes a period known to Babylonians as shappatum. The year is broken down into seven periods of fifty days (made up of seven weeks of seven days, containing seven weekly Sabbaths, and an extra fiftieth day, known as the atzeret), plus an annual supplement of fifteen or sixteen days, called shappatum, the period of harvest time at the end of each year. Identified and reconstructed by Hildegaard and Julius Lewy in the 1940s, the calendar's use dates back to at least the third millennium B.C. in Western Mesopotamia and surrounding areas; it was used by the Canaanite tribes, thought by some to have been used by the Israelites prior to King Solomon, and related to the liturgical calendar of the Essenes at Qumran. Used well into the modern age, forms of it have been found in Nestorianism and among the Palestinian fellaheen. Julius Morgenstern believed that the calendar of the Jubilees had ancient origins as a somewhat modified survival of the pentecontad calendar.

Buddhist rest day

The Uposatha has been observed since Gautama Buddha's time (500 BC), and is still being kept today in Theravada Buddhist countries. It occurs every seven or eight days, in accordance with the four phases of the moon. Buddha taught that Uposatha is for "the cleansing of the defiled mind", resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, disciples and monks intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge, and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.

Thai Chinese likewise observe their Sabbaths and traditional Chinese holidays according to lunar phases, but not on exactly the same days as the uposatha. These Sabbaths cycle through the month with respect to the Thai solar calendar, so common Thai calendars incorporate Thai and Chinese calendar lunar dates, as well as uposatha dates, for religious purposes.

Sabbath as Saturday

One folk tradition is the widespread use of "Sabbath" and cognates as synonyms of midnight-to-midnight "Saturday" (in English, literally, Saturn's day): this is a simplification of the use of "Sabbath" in other religious contexts, where the two do not coincide. In over thirty languages other than English, the common name for this day in the seven-day week is a cognate of "Sabbath". "Sabbatini" (originally "Sabbadini", often "Sabatini", etc.) is a very frequent Italian name form, indicating a family whose ancestor was born on Saturday, Italian sabato ("Domenico" indicated birth on Sunday), and Sabbatos is the Greek form. In vampire hunter lore, people born on Saturday were specially designated as sabbatianoí in Greek and sâbotnichavi in Bulgarian (rendered in English as "Sabbatarians"). It was also believed in the Balkans that someone born on a Saturday could see a vampire when it was otherwise invisible.

Islamic rest day

Jumu'ah (Arabic: جمعة ), also known as "Friday prayer", is a congregational prayer (salat) that Muslims hold every Friday, just after midday, in place of the otherwise daily dhuhr prayer; it commemorates the creation of Aadam on the sixth day. The Quran states: "O ye who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday [the Day of Assembly], hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business [and traffic]: That is best for you if ye but knew" (62:9). Attendance is strictly incumbent upon all free adult males who are legal residents of the locality.

Most Muslims do not consider Friday to be a rest day; because of the Quranic verse "And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land and seek of Allah's bounty, and remember Allah much, that ye may be successful (Qur'an 62:10). However, in many Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Friday is considered a rest day and in others like Pakistan half a rest day (after friday prayer is over).

Wiccan sabbat

The annual cycle of the Earth's seasons is called the Wheel of the Year in Wicca and neopaganism. Eight sabbats (occasionally "sabbaths", or "Sun sabbats") are spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. Samhain, which coincides with Halloween, is considered first sabbat of the year.

An esbat is a ritual observance of the full moon in Wicca and neopaganism. Some groups extend the esbat to include the dark moon and the first and last quarters. "Esbat" and "sabbat" are distinct and are probably not cognate terms, although an esbat is also called "moon sabbat".

European records from the Middle Ages to the 17th century or later also place Witches' Sabbaths on similar dates to sabbats in modern Wicca, but with some disagreement; medieval reports of sabbat activity are generally not firsthand and may be imaginative, but many persons were accused of, or tried for, taking part in sabbats.

Bahá'í weekend

The Bahá'í week ends on Istiqlál (literally, Independence). It begins at sunset on Thursday and ends at sunset of Friday.

Unification Sabbath

The Unification Church has a regular day of worship on Sunday, but also has a Family Pledge service every eight days on the day of Ahn Shi Il, considered as Sabbath but cycling among the weekdays. The Family Pledge, formerly recited at 5:00 a.m. on Sundays, was moved to Ahn Shi Il in 1994. The pledge recited at this event includes eight verses containing the phrase "by centering on true love".

Secular traditions

Rest day in seven-day weeks

Secular use of "Sabbath" for "rest day", while it usually refers to the same period of time (Sunday) as the majority Christian use of "Sabbath", is often stated in North America to refer to different purposes for the rest day than those of Christendom. In McGowan v. Maryland (1961), the Supreme Court of the United States held that contemporary Maryland blue laws (typically, Sunday rest laws) were intended to promote the secular values of "health, safety, recreation, and general well-being" through a common day of rest, and that this day coinciding with majority Christian Sabbath neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes nor prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days. Massachusetts, uncharacteristically, does not specify the weekday in its "Day of Rest" statute, providing only that one day off from work is required every week; an unspecified weekly day off is a very widespread business production cycle. The Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. (1985) and R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd. (1986), found some blue laws invalid for having no legitimate secular purpose, but others valid because they had no religious purpose.

Rest day in other weeks

State-mandated rest days are widespread. Laws of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) required imperial officials to rest on every mu (every fifth day), within a ten-day Chinese week. The rest day was changed to huan or xún (every tenth day) in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

From 1929 to 1931, the Soviet Union mandated a five-day week, with each day designated by color as a state rest day for a different 20% of the workforce; families usually did not share rest days. Three weeks a year were six or seven days, because interrupted by holidays. From 1931 to 1940, the Soviets mandated a six-day week, with state rest days for all upon the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, and 30th of each Gregorian month, as well as upon March 1. This also necessitated varying weeks of five to seven days over the year.

Among many calendar reform proposals that eliminate the constant seven-day week in exchange for simplified calculation of calendrical data like weekday names for given dates, some retain Sabbatical influences. The Hermetic Lunar Week Calendar uses moon phases, resulting in weeks of six to nine days. The International Fixed Calendar and World Calendar both consist of 364-day years containing exactly 52 weeks (each starting on a day designated as Sunday), with an additional one or two intercalary days not designated as part of any week (Year Day and Leap Day in the International Fixed Calendar; Worldsday and Leapyear Day in the World Calendar). Reform supporters sought to accommodate Sabbatical observance by retaining the modified week and designating the intercalary days as additional Sabbaths or holidays; however, religious leaders held that such days disrupt the traditional seven-day weekly cycle. This unresolved issue contributed to the cessation of reform activities in the 1930s (International Fixed Calendar) and again in 1955 (World Calendar), though supporters of both proposals remain.

Work day in seven-day weeks

The subbotnik is a weekly day of volunteer work on Saturday in Russia, other (former) Soviet republics, the Eastern Bloc, and the German Democratic Republic, sporadically observed since 1919. The voskresnik is a related volunteer workday on Sunday. They focus on community service work; "Lenin's Subbotnik" was also observed annually around his birthday.

Russia and Hungary, and formerly the Soviet Union, also have declared Saturday a workday in lieu of a nearby Friday or Monday, if the contiguous Thursday or Tuesday is a public holiday. Poland has declared a working Saturday as an unofficial monthly occurrence. Many other working-Saturday practices are unorganized.

Annual rest days

Many sovereign nations, territories, regions, and international entities observe holidays based on events of significance to their history, most of which are public holidays from work.

Rest-year sabbatical

From the Biblical Sabbatical Year came the modern concept of sabbatical, a prolonged, often one-year, hiatus in the career of an individual (not usually tied to a seven-year period). Such a period is often taken in order to fulfill some goal such as writing a book or traveling extensively for research. Some universities and other institutional employers of scientists, physicians, or academics offer paid sabbatical as an employee benefit, called "sabbatical leave"; some companies offer unpaid sabbatical for people wanting to take career breaks.


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