Hebrew For Dummies
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If you’re attending a Shabbat dinner, familiarizing yourself with the common rituals of the special event is a great idea to help you thoroughly enjoy the night. The information below will help you understand what Shabbat is, common Jewish traditions, Hebrew phases and language to know, and what to expect from the night of festivities!

What is Shabbat dinner?

Shabbat is the weekly day of rest and is considered the holiest day on the calendar of the Kabbalist. This important day is observed weekly on Friday nights at sundown and lasts until Saturday sundown. The celebration begins in Jewish households in Israel and around the world during the Friday night dinner,

Aruchat Shabbat is the focal point of the week and families often take extra measures to ensure the dinner and evening is special for family and friends. The table will often be decorated and set with a Mapah Levanah (mah-pah leh-vah-nah; white tablecloth) and their prettiest dishes. Atop the table sits the Kos L'Kiddush (kos leh-kee-doosh; Kiddush cup), which is held when the blessing over the Sabbath day is said. Before the meal, Jewish people sing a song to welcome Sabbath angels and follow it with Brachot (brah-choht; blessings) over the Yayin (yah-yeen; wine) and Lechem (leh-chehm bread).

In some traditional households, people ritually wash their hands — this act is called Netilat Yadaim (neh-tee-laht yah-dye-eem) — before consuming bread. Traditionally Sabbath dinner foods include Of (ohf; chicken), Tzimis (tzi-mehs; a stew made with carrots), and sometimes Basar (bah-sahr; red meat). Eating Dag (dahg; fish) on Shabbat is also a traditional practice. One of the reasons for this custom is connected to the Gematria (geh-mah-tree-ah; numerology) of the fish. In Gematria, each Hebrew letter is assigned a numerical value. And the numerical values of the letters in the Hebrew word for fish total seven. And Shabbat is the seventh day of the week!

On a typical Shulchan Aruch L'Shabbat (shool-chahn ah-rooch leh-shah-baht; a table set for Shabbat), you may also find:
  • Kapit, Kapiot (kah-peet, kah-pee-oht; teaspoon, teaspoons)
  • Kos, Kosot (kohs, kohs-oht; cup, cups)
  • Kos L'Kiddush (kohs leh-kee-doosh; the Kiddush cup over which a special blessing for the Sabbath is recited)
  • Mapah Levanah (mah-pah leh-vah-nah; white tablecloth)
  • Mapit, Mapiot (mah-peet, mah-pee-oht; napkin, napkins)
  • Mazleg, Mazlegot (mahz-lehg, mahz-lay-goht; fork, forks)
  • Prachim (puh-rah-cheem; flowers)
  • Sakin, Sakinim (sah-keen, sah-kee-neem; knife, knives)
  • Tzalachat, Tzalachot (tzah-lah-chaht, tzah-lah-choht; dish, dishes)
People often say HaShulchan Haya Amus Be'Ochel (hah-shool-chahn hah-yah ah-moos beh-oh-chehl; The table was loaded with food!) on Friday nights because of the sheer amount of food present.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Jill Suzanne Jacobs is a fluent Hebrew speaker having picked up the language through study, three years of living in Israel, and multiple extended visits. She holds graduate degrees in Jewish and Israel education, and she taught in the classroom for ten years before moving into leadership roles in educational nonprofits. She is the author of the first edition of Hebrew For Dummies and mom to a second generation diaspora Hebrew speaker.

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