Swear to God, if we had a nickel for every time we heard, “I wish I had done Shabbat with my kids when they were growing up,” we’d have... well, a shit ton of nickels. The reason is that Shabbat is a perfect time for a restful dinner after a busy week. Shabbat comes with easy-to-follow instructions and somehow between the candles, the bread and the wine, it creates a sacred space. This might sound corny, but we don’t care, cause it’s true.

Print the whole thing or create your own from our readings, songs, etc.

JewBelong Shabbat: the perfect excuse to stay in, kick back and have a glass of wine on Friday night. You’re welcome.

Shabbat

There Are No Shabbat Police

Do NOT, we repeat, do not get overwhelmed by the idea that your Shabbat has to be fancy. The traditional Shabbat celebration starts with four blessings (before dinner): candles, wine, challah and one for the people that we love. (JewBelong has beautiful blessings for children, friends and family.) Some people like to bake a challah or set the table with the good china (is that still a thing?) but that’s not for everyone. No challah? Use whatever bread you have in the house. No bread? Use a pretzel!

Warning: don’t attempt to do the whole Shabbat Playbook in one sitting. It’s too long. But we made it this way intentionally. Flip through the playbook and see what touches you that week. Yes, Friday is fabulous because it is the end of the work week, but Shabbat makes it more than that. If you want to go all-out, here’s a checklist list of things to have on hand:

  • Challah (for the challah blessing).
  • Wine and kiddush cup (for the blessing over the wine). Or, use grape juice or a juice box. Hell, use a margarita. (If you haven’t figured this out yet, we are desperately trying to emphasize that you can’t do it wrong. The only way to do it wrong is to not do it.)
  • Candles (for the candle blessing).
  • Dinner: You can go old-school and roast a chicken, but maybe you feel like Pad Thai instead? Fabulous! Busy week? Kick Shabbat off with a martini.
  • Readings: We have lots to choose from, but this blessing for kids, and this blessing for interfaith homes are extra special. Our hilarious skits, written by Lin Manuel Miranda, are the perfect way to get everyone involved. (JK. We wrote them.)

And, if one week your Shabbat isn’t as inspirational or warm as you like, just wait seven days and try again!

Sign up for free prizes and a chance to win our grand prize trip to Cancun. Not really, but JewBelong's Shabbat booklet will knock your socks off.

A Little Shabbat Goes a Long Way

You Can Still Go To The Soccer Game!

The point of Shabbat is to rest. Resting isn’t lazy; it’s restorative and gets you ready for the week to come. Staying away from the mall and other hectic places makes that easier. If you want to go big, you can follow stricter rules, like not driving, carrying money, emailing or watching TV. Some people observe Shabbat rules until sundown on Saturday. But for most of us, it’s not practical, and honestly, we don’t want to. The important thing is to set Friday nights apart and make them special. Try one of JewBelong’s skits! Or go to a synagogue. Friday night services often include singing, are on the shorter side, and you might really enjoy it. (Pro tip: Saturday morning services tend to be longer.)

Our hilarious skits, written by Lin Manuel Miranda, are also the perfect way to get everyone involved. (JK. We wrote them.)

Saturday Morning Services

We're Not Gonna Lie. Saturday Services Are Kind Of Long.

Saturday services at most synagogues take about two hours, sometimes longer. They follow a similar order. It might help if you know what’s coming:

The Warm-Up:

The service starts out with a few Hebrew hymns. The songs are pretty, and it’s a good way to get yourself in the right mindset, kind of like the first few poses in a yoga class.

Blessings:

Next are the core Jewish prayers, which include the Sh’ma (one of the most common Hebrew blessings, and, some say, most important) and the blessings that go with it, like the V’ahavta and Mi Chamocha. (These are all in Hebrew, so there are going to be a lot of those throat-clearing sounds). There may be readings and other blessings too; we’re just trying to hit the highlights here. (Side note: If there’s a B mitzvah, the child might help lead a lot of these prayers. It all depends on the synagogue, the rabbi, and the kid.)

The Torah Service:

This is the main event, and it starts with some prep work. (Again, if you’re at service for a B Mitzvah, the person having the B mitzvah has a starring role.)

  • The first step is taking the Torah out of the ark and then walking around the synagogue with it in a processional. Lots of people kiss the Torah when it comes past, usually by kissing their prayer book or the corner of their tallit and then touching it to the Torah. It’s also a good time to give a wink to your friend who’s carrying the Torah, shake hands with the rabbi (for some reason, people really like that), and honestly, chat for a few minutes with your friends while you’re waiting. Once the Torah makes it back to the bimah it’s unwrapped of its fancy covering and placed on the platform to be read.
  • Next comes the actual Torah reading. (There’s a blessing before the Torah reading called an Aliyah. We’ll tell you more a little later.) The Torah is divided into weekly portions, and each week has a corresponding parasha, which is basically the lesson to be learned from the Torah reading. Once the Torah is read in Hebrew, the B mitzvah kid or the rabbi typically makes a short speech translating what was just read (this is called the D’var Torah) and giving their own take on the lessons within it. It’s the part of the service that is typically the most interesting because each person has their own interpretation and people can get creative or funny with it.
  • The Torah is then rolled back up and put away, or sometimes someone sits with it on the bimah.

The Haftorah:

  • Seriously, we grew up under the assumption that the Haftorah is simply half the Torah. Makes sense, right? Ah, if it were only that easy. Actually, the Haftorah is a selection from the Books of Prophets (Nevi’im) about a bunch of well, prophets, including Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. Only selected passages make it into the Haftorah cycle. There’s a portion to match each week’s Torah reading. The Haftorah is part of a book, not a scroll, and, also unlike the Torah, it has vowels, which makes the Hebrew infinitely easier to read. (Don’t worry – there’s no quiz on this.)

More Prayers:

  • The next few parts, the Musaf service, then the Amidah, and then Repetition go pretty quickly.

Kaddish:

Before the service is over, there is also the Mourner’s Kaddish, which is a prayer for those who have died. First, the rabbi generally announces who in the congregation is observing yahrzeit and in whose memory they’re saying it.

Yahrzeit marks the anniversary of someone’s death. So, if your dad died in August, it is common to go to synagogue on the anniversary of his death to say Kaddish for him. The rabbi might say, “Today we remember Stanley Green, father of Jim, grandfather of Ben.” And if Jim is at services, he will stand during Kaddish. Chances are that Ben (who, in this example, is the grandson) won’t stand, because usually you just say Kaddish for your parents, brother, sister, or children, but it’s still a free country, so if Stacy wants to stand, she can. Also, if your parent died within the past year, you always stand for Kaddish. This is not a hard and fast rule, but in Reform synagogues, it is generally the custom for everyone to stand during the recitation of Kaddish. Some people like to do this to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust and have no one to say Kaddish for them. In Conservative and Orthodox synagogoues, only those in a period of personal mourning or observing a yahrzeit usually stand. This is also nice because the community can see who is standing, and perhaps give them an extra hug later.

Healing Prayer:

Another popular prayer that you may see at Shabbat services is the Mi Shebeirach, which is the Jewish prayer for healing. It is often sung to a sweet tune that was written by a fabulous singer-songwriter, Debbie Friedman. The Mi Shebeirach prays for a physical cure, as well as spiritual healing, and it asks for blessing, compassion, restoration, and strength within the community and for others who are ill, as well as for all Jews and all human beings. Often, before the Mi Shebeirach is sung, the rabbi asks the congregation if they would like to name someone who is in need of healing. Then people say the name out loud. This is another touching time when the community can see who among them might need a little extra TLC.

The End (Almost):

Then there’s usually another reading or two, then announcements, then the service is over. There’s usually an oneg, a little post-service reception, which is formally a celebration in honor of the Sabbath, but informally, it’s the time when you get to have a cookie for sitting through the service!

Our favorite part is called the D'var Torah. Not sure what we mean? You're not alone! Keep reading...

More About The Torah

A Little More Torah Trivia

A little more about the Torah while we’re on the topic:

  • It’s made of parchment, and we’re not supposed to touch it because the natural oil in our hands can harm these often very old scrolls. Instead, there’s a cool pointer called a yad – it’s shaped like a little hand, because yad is hand in Hebrew – and the person reading the Torah uses the yad to keep his or her place. This is easier said than done because the writing is super small and the Torah is in Hebrew, with no vowels, which makes it tough to read.
  • Reading the Torah is, well, complicated. The Torah is chock full of laws and stories. It takes a year to read the whole thing. We start on Rosh Hashanah and finish on Simchat Torah. Every year. Same book. So, if you had a book to get through every year, and you knew that on Saturday Shabbat services they would read one section, you’d split up the book into 52 sections. One per week and let it rip. Which is almost how it works with the Torah. The catch is that there are 54 sections instead of 52, and each section is pretty long, so most synagogues split each section into three parts, and cycle through the Torah every three years.

 

(Honestly, this part is like Torah 2.0, and here at JewBelong, we think Torah 1.0 is plenty. But go for it.)

How To Do An Aliyah

I Thought Aliyah Was Just A Pop Singer.

An Aliyah is the honor of going up to the bimah and saying or singing a short two-line prayer, before and after, a small section of the Torah is chanted. The prayer is about thanking God for the blessing of learning Torah. An Aliyah is chanted in Hebrew and, wouldn’t you know it, there are a few rituals around it, which we explain below. If someone chooses to give you an Aliyah, it means you really mean a lot to them. So our advice is to practice it and don’t phumpher around, and not know it once you get on the bimah. You don’t need to learn it by heart, but practice. It won’t take that long to get it down, and you’ll save yourself some nerves when you’re actually reading. Most synagogues usually have a helpful card or sign beside the Torah that gives you the words phonetically, too — it’s a huge help. But still — be prepared.

Typically, when you’re given an Aliyah, you’ll be asked your Hebrew name and the Hebrew names of your mom and dad. If your mom and dad do not have Hebrew names, then just use their English names. The reason you need this is because the rabbi will call each Aliyah with the person’s full Hebrew name, which is basically their name and the name of their parents. So, if someone’s Hebrew name is Rachel and her parents are Abraham and Sara, the rabbi would chant in Hebrew, “c’mon up Rachel, daughter of Abraham and Sara.” Follow the instructions below to pull off an Aliyah like a champ. (And, seriously, you need this advice. If we had a dollar for every time we witnessed some family member think that they can wing their Aliyah — after all, it’s only a two-line prayer, right? — and then royally screw it up, well, we could throw a pretty nice party.)

Step 1: Know which Aliyah you are going to have. There are usually seven of them, although that varies again by the synagogue and degree of observance. You should know so you’re ready and not out to the bathroom or something.

Step 2: Wear a tallit and a kippah. This is not a hard and fast rule, and you can check out what is happening at the particular synagogue, but as we said, it’s an honor to have an Aliyah and if you are going to be up on the bimah, you should have the proper accouterments. It’s all about accessorizing! You may also need the tallit, because you are not supposed to touch the Torah with your bare finger, so lots of people use the edge of their tallit. Keep reading.

Step 3. Let’s stick with our example of Rachel as the one being honored with an Aliyah. When the rabbi calls her name, up she goes. Once Rachel is up on the bimah, she stands to the right of the Torah reader. The gabbai is also up on the stage. This is the person who follows along and makes sure the Torah reader gets it right. It is pretty hard to read the Torah, so that’s why all the fuss. But back to Rachel. The Torah reader points to the spot in the Torah that she is about to read. Rachel then takes her tallit, touches it to that spot, kisses it, and chants or says the first part of the Aliyah. We have never been to a synagogue that does not have a copy of the Aliyah on the bimah, but bring your prayer book up with you if it makes you more comfortable.

Step 4: Then, after the first part of the Aliyah is chanted, Rachel remains there while the Torah reader chants a section in Hebrew. When the Torah reader finishes the section (usually about three minutes tops), he or she will point to the spot where they finished. Rachel then touches the spot where the Torah reader just ended with her tallit, and sings the second part of the Aliyah. Then, phew, she’s done with the hard part.

Step 5: Rachel will then want to rush away, nerves frayed, but job done. But not just yet. At this point, unless Rachel had the final Aliyah (which she probably won’t, because usually the B mitzvah kid does that one themselves), she should move over to the left side of the Torah reader and just stay up on the bimah. Forever? No, not forever. Just until the next Torah reader finishes his or her part, and then they take Rachel’s spot and she can sit back down.

Step 6: There’s a lot of shaking hands. It’s good manners to congratulate the person who had an Aliyah by shaking their hand. Even when Rachel goes back to her seat, there are people who will shake her hand in congratulations. They might also say “yasher koach,” which means, basically, “way to go!”

You'll need to practice a bit if you want to do your Aliyah like a champ. And you do, right?

Shabbat Prayers And Blessings

Lighting Shabbat Candles

-Author Unknown

Lighting Shabbat candles is one of the oldest Jewish traditions. It’s also one of the most beautiful. Here is an explanation of not only how, but some of the beautiful traditions behind it.

Kiddush (Blessing Over The Wine)

-Author Unknown

The blessing recited over wine or grape juice. Some families just do the first line (up to “Amen”) and others do the full blessing. As always, do whatever feels right to you!

First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p’ree hagafen. Amen. Last line: Blessed are You, who sanctifies the Shabbat. Amen…

Blessing To Our Children (Version 1)

-Author Unknown

This Shabbat blessing is a highlight for many families, and one of our faves at JewBelong. It gets right to the point of how deeply we love our children, no matter what stage of life they are in. Try putting your hand on your child’s head or your arm around him or her as you read out loud. Or, read it over FaceTime if you must. Children of all ages love to hear it, even if they say they don’t.

Blessing To Our Children (Version 2)

-Author Unknown

This beautiful blessing is a favorite, especially for family Shabbats. It’s short and sweet, and your kids will appreciate it, even if they try to wiggle away at first.

See All 9 Prayers And Blessings

Pushy co-workers, passive-aggressive boss? Shabbat to the rescue.

Shabbat Skits

Lasagna: A Shabbat Skit

-A JewBelong Original

A family that, face it, most of us can relate to, learns a little about why it’s actually kind of awesome to celebrate Shabbat…

How We Really Got Shabbat: A Skit For The Whole Family

-A JewBelong Original

A group of time travelers goes way, way, way, waaaay back… to the first Shabbat ever. The group learns an important lesson on why Shabbat was created (and no, it wasn’t so we could invent Flaming Hot Cheetos or YouTube…).

See Both Shabbat Skits

Don't miss the skits! Just print copies and assign roles. You can thank us later.

Shabbat Songs

Friday Night

-Lyrics by Adam Sank

Singing adds to the joy of Shabbat! Sing this funny song to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

Shalom Aleichem

-Author Unknown

Sing this traditional Hebrew psalm about peace toward the beginning of Shabbat. A beautiful way to set the tone for a joyous and loving experience.

What A Wonderful World

-Robert Thiele and George David Weiss

This popular song is always a crowd hit (especially for those of us born after 1960). It’s been re-recorded many times since then. A beautiful addition for your celebration.

First line: I see trees of green, red roses too. Last line: What a wonderful world…

See All 3 Shabbat Songs

Even if you think you can't sing.

Shabbat Jokes

Shabbat Jokes

-Author Unknown

Take your Shabbat fun up a notch with these jokes! Feel free to add your favorites too. Extra Shabbat points when your whole table is laughing and having a great time! (JK. There’s no such thing as Shabbat points. Just have fun!)

See Shabbat Jokes

Get ready for a lot of ba dum tss...

Shabbat Readings

Blessing For Anyone Who Wasn't Born Jewish ('Cause We Know This Is A Lot)

-Rabbi Janet Marder

So here is the thing, half of the Jewish families that we know are headed by a couple where one of them is not Jewish. And we think eureka! That is great! Why isn’t there a blessing for that person who is not Jewish but participating in a Jewish home/life! And… there is! And we love it and hope you do too!

First line: May everyone who shares in a Jewish life feel welcomed and integrated. Last line: We pray with all of our hearts that the gifts and blessings you have given to your family, to the community, and to the Jewish People, will come back to you and fill your life with joy and fulfillment…

Another Prayer For Our Country

-Rabbi Ayelet Cohen

Chances are, if you are reading this for your family’s reunion or Thanksgiving celebration, you are living in the US and to be honest, your country could use a prayer right now. But, this reading is not specifically for the US, in fact, there probably isn’t a country in the world that could not use a little or lot of prayer right now. This one is a beauty.

First line: Our God and God of our ancestors, bless this country and all who dwell within it. Last line: Let justice well up like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream…

The Sabbath Renews Us

-Mordecai Kaplan

Taking time to rest on Shabbat doesn’t make us lazy. It’s a time for renewal, which we all need at the end of a busy week.

First line: An artist cannot be continually wielding a brush. Last line: This applies to the individual and to the community alike…

Between Memory And Hope

-Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, a well-known Jewish writer, activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor shares his memories of the feeling Shabbat evoked in him as a child in this short reading. It’s the same feeling we want for our children today.

First line: I shall never forget Shabbat in my town. Last line: As it enveloped the universe, the Shabbat conferred on it a dimension of peace, an aura of love…

See All 26 Shabbat Readings

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