The Word "Shabbat"

March 6, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, March 6, 2015.

The Word “Shabbat”

Our word “Sabbath” in English comes directly from the Hebrew word, “Shabbat.” In fact, it probably is closer to the way Hebrew sounded thousands of years ago... it was probably pronounced “Shabbath” with a sibilant final letter. As a result of the ceaseless wanderings of the Jewish people, the Hebrew word morphed over the centuries: Shabbát in the Middle East and the Mediterranean (“Sephardic” Hebrew),  and Shábbos in the Yiddish speaking lands of Europe (“Ashkenazic”) Hebrew. The 3 letter root of the word, can be used as a verb too! In fact in the description God’s actions (or inactions) of the first Shabbat in Genesis says: Vayishbot bayom ha-shvi’i which has been translated in so many ways. Here are three of them.

A. King James: And He rested on the seventh day from all His work.

B. Jewish Publication Society: And He ceased on the seventh day.

C. Artscroll: and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work.

So... what’s the story? What does the verb really mean? The best answer is...

“B”  - The verb actually has to do with stopping, ceasing. Even the Rabbis 2,000 years ago were in agreement that God, unlike human beings, doesn’t need rest. But the idea of just not working is the core idea of Shabbat. In fact, the same Hebrew root is used in modern Hebrew for the concept of a labor strike! Strike: Shvitah. Striker: Shovet.

Shabbat Shalom