Shabbat Starts When?
June 14, 2013
Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Shabbat message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, June 14, 2013 and Friday, June 13, 2014.
So . . . Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday, right? People celebrating the Sabbath rush home on Friday afternoons so they can be ready when the sun sets. The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, and other Jewish periodicals, publish lists of “Candle Lighting Times” which are calculated 20 minutes before sunset. There are Shabbat sirens just before sunset, and candle lighting before sunset, and on and on. But why? Why does the Sabbath Day start at night – in fact why do all Jewish holidays start at night? Doesn’t it make sense to start in the morning? Or perhaps at midnight? Doesn’t our American (Gregorian) calendar start each new day at midnight? Don’t we ring in the new secular year at midnight between December 31 and January 1? Why sunset for Jewish days?
The answer is at the very beginning of the Torah in Genesis, chapter one. Genesis recounts the story of creation. God creates light, and then we are told, “And there was evening and there was morning . . . the first day. Evening, and Morning. Not Morning and Evening. The Rabbis thousands of years ago assumed that since the creation account describes the evening first – it was God’s will that we start our account of the days with the evening. For that reason, we say the Sabbath Eve Kiddush (the blessing over wine) immediately after the sun sets, putting an end to the sixth day and commemorating God resting on the seventh day. We begin with the following words:
Vayehi erev, vayehi voker, Yom Shishi . . .
And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.