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  • Writer's pictureBelinda Cassettari

Shabbat Dinner : what to expect

A big part of the “delight” of Shabbat is the enjoyment of three Shabbat meals.

The first two—Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch—that are elegantly prepared, preceded by the sipping of ceremonial Kiddush wine and the breaking of traditional challah bread.

Continue visiting over songs, inspiring thoughts and camaraderie. (The third meal, eaten late on Shabbat afternoon, is normally lighter.) If you are joining as a guest, the first thing for you to know is that guests are considered an integral part of any Shabbat meal. Your hosts are very happy to have you—their meal just would not feel right otherwise! What to Expect?

After everyone has arrived and indulged in a few minutes of chit-chat, family and friends will move to the table and find their seats. At this point on a Friday night, your host (often accompanied by others) will sing two hymns: 1.The “Shalom Aleichem” hymn, with which we welcome the angels who visit every home at the start of Shabbat, request their blessing and bid them farewell. 2.The song of “Eishet Chayil,” which is a tribute to the Jewish woman, written by King Solomon, extolling her for the wisdom and hard work with which she makes her home the lovely and nurturing place it is. Typically everyone stands for the singing of these hymns, but if it is difficult for you for any reason, you may certainly sit down. At the Shabbat day meal, most begin immediately with Kiddush. Kiddush Your host will recite Kiddush holding a cup of wine, and everyone will receive a few sips of wine to drink. The recitation of this blessing over a cup of wine is a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of sanctifying the day of rest (the word Kiddush translates as “sanctification”). On Friday night all typically stand for the recitation of Kiddush, while on Shabbat day some people sit. Take your cues from those around you. Challah Immediately following Kiddush, everyone will leave their chairs and go to the sink for the ritual hand-washing for bread.

If you are not familiar with this procedure, your hosts will be happy to guide you through

it and help you recite the blessing. After washing hands, we don’t speak until after we’ve eaten some challah, so just return to your chair and wait quietly. Hand motions and facial expressions are often used for necessary communication at this point. When everyone is seated again, your host will recite the blessing over bread and then distribute challah, first dipping each piece in salt. After you’ve eaten a bite, feel free to talk again.

The Food:

The traditional Friday night Shabbat meal features a fish course (with gefilte fish as an Eastern European classic, often nowadays accompanied by salads inspired Israeli cuisine), followed by a soup course (most classic is chicken soup), and then a

meat or chicken course. Shabbat day generally features a fish course and then a meat course containing a hot

stew called tcholent. Since it is forbidden to cook food on Shabbat, the tcholent has been

slowly cooking since Friday afternoon before sundown, either on the stovetop or in a crockpot. (Tcholent is the Eastern European term; in Sephardic parlance, the equivalent, often spicier, dish is known as chameen.) These multi-course menus are traditional but not mandatory, and it is increasingly common to serve a one-course Shabbat meal, but be prepared . . . what seems like an entire meal may be just the first course. All that, of course, followed by dessert! Don’t worry, you are not obligated to eat or even taste everything. If your hosts have children, they may share their knowledge of the weekly Torah portion and enjoy some positive attention. There will also likely be some singing, of traditional Shabbat hymns as well as other Jewish songs of a joyful or spiritual nature. You can feel comfortable discussing all the usual topics that might be discussed a dinner party—politics, recent experiences, the weather . . . and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If anything seems mystifying or unclear to you, don’t be shy. Your hosts or fellow guests will be happy to explain. If you lend a hand with clearing plates or carrying serving dishes, it will likely be appreciated. What Not to Do When you come, don’t ring the doorbell. Knock instead. Don’t take pictures. Don’t use your phone. When using the bathroom, avail yourself of the tissues or pre-torn toilet paper, rather than tearing toilet paper. Important: Please don’t turn off any lights, as there will be no Shabbat-permissible way to turn them back on. (If you have already mistakenly turned off the light in the bathroom, you can at least know that you are not the first one to have made this mistake . . . even those who have observed Shabbat for many years may unthinkingly do this.) Don’t worry, there is no problem at all with flushing the toilet. Grace After Meals As the meal is winding down, someone will suggest bentching. This Yiddish word means “blessing,” and is a reference to the Grace After Meals. Small booklets will be brought to the table containing the text of the Grace After Meals. There are sure to be some booklets with an English translation, so you can read it comfortably yourself.

When in Israel we attended a Shabbat Meal , It was in a hotel. Our host told us that in Israel many attend in hotels as it is easier for the family, and many families get together to celebrate.

It was quite a celebration!

For information about a trip to Israel please contact us.

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