By synecdoche (naming the whole for a part), in Jewish sources by the time of the Septuagint, the term “Sabbath” (Greek Sabbaton, Strong’s 4521) also came to mean an entire “se’nnight” or seven-day week, the interval between two weekly Sabbaths. Jesus’s parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9–14) describes the Pharisee as fasting “twice a week” (Greek dis tou sabbatou, literally, “twice of the Sabbath”).
Luke 18:9-14 (KJV) 9 And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
“High Sabbaths” are observed by Jews and some Christians. Seven annual Biblical festivals, called miqra (“called assembly”) in Hebrew and “High Sabbath” in English and serving as supplemental testimonies to Sabbath, are specified in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy; they do not necessarily fall on weekly Sabbath. Three occur in spring: the first and seventh days of Pesach (Passover), and Shavuot (Pentecost). Four occur in fall, in the seventh month, and are also called Shabbaton: Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets); Yom Kippur, “Sabbath of Sabbaths” (Atonement); and the first and eighth days of Sukkoth (Tabernacles). “High Sabbaths” is also often a synonym of “High Holy Days”, viz., Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Shmita (Hebrew: שמטה, Strong’s 8059 as shemittah, literally “release”), also called sabbatical year, is the seventh (שביעי, Strong’s 7637 as shebiy’iy) year of the seven-year agricultural cycle mandated by Torah for the Land of Israel, relatively little observed in Biblical tradition, but still observed in contemporary Judaism. During Shmita, the land is left to lie fallow and all agricultural activity, including plowing, planting, pruning and harvesting, is forbidden by Torah and Jewish law. By tradition, other cultivation techniques (such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, spraying, trimming and mowing) may be performed as preventative measures only, not to improve the growth of trees or plants; additionally, whatever fruits grow of their own accord during that year are deemed hefker (ownerless), not for the landowner but for the poor, the stranger, and the beasts of the field; these fruits may be picked by anyone. A variety of laws also apply to the sale, consumption and disposal of Shmita produce. When the year ended, all debts, except those of foreigners, were to be remitted (Deuteronomy 15:1–11); in similar fashion, Torah requires a slave who had worked for six years to go free in the seventh year. Leviticus 25 promises bountiful harvests to those who observe Shmita, and describes its observance as a test of religious faith. The term Shmita is translated “release” five times in the Book of Deuteronomy (from the root שמט, shamat, “desist, remit“, 8058).
Jewish Shabbat (Shabbath, Shabbes, Shobos, etc.) is a weekly day of rest, observed from sundown on Friday until the appearance of three stars in the sky on Saturday night; it is also observed by a minority of Christians (as in Messianic Judaism). Thirty-nine activities prohibited on Shabbat are listed in Tractate Shabbat (Talmud). Customarily, Shabbat is ushered in by lighting candles shortly before sunset, at halakhically calculated times that change weekly and geographically.
Judah ha-Levi (12th century) proposed a nascent Jewish date line for dating of Shabbat, later calculated to fall between China and Japan (other lines exist, and travelers are expected to note both personal and local Shabbat); and Pinchas Elijah Horovitz (18th century) stated that polar regions should observe Shabbat based on calculating 24-hour days, although without establishing a date line.
Shabbat is a widely noted hallmark of Jewish peoples. Subbotniks (literally, Sabbatarians) are a Russian sect, categorized as either Jews or Judaizing Christians, that became particularly branded by strict Shabbat observance; (Hungarian-born radical Reform leader Ignaz Einhorn even shifted his congregation’s Shabbat worship to Sundays.) Several weekly Shabbats per year are designated as Special Sabbaths, such as Shabbat haGadol, prior to Pesach (literally, “the High Sabbath”, but not to be confused with other High Sabbaths); and Shabbat Teshuvah, prior to Yom Kippur (“Repentance Sabbath”).
Colloquially, in contemporary Israel, the term Shabbaton or Shaboson means an event or program of education and usually celebration held on Shabbat, or over an entire weekend with main focus on Shabbat. Such events are held by youth groups, singles groups, synagogues, schools, social groups, charitable groups or family reunions, can be either multi-generational and wide-open or limited-group, and can be held where a group usually meets or offsite. “Shabbaton“, rather than just “retreat”, signifies recognition of the importance of Shabbat in the event or program.
In Eastern Christianity and Catholicism, the Sabbath is considered still to be on Saturday, the seventh day, in remembrance of the Hebrew Sabbath. In most of Protestantism also, the “Lord’s Day” (Greek κυριακός) is considered to be on Sunday, the first day (and “eighth day”). Communal worship, including the Holy Mysteries, may take place on any day, but a weekly observance of the resurrection is made consistently on Sunday. Western Christianity sometimes refers to the Lord’s Day as a “Christian Sabbath”, distinct from the Hebrew Sabbath, but related in varying manner. Many Christians affirm commonly that communal worship is not limited to Sabbath (Acts 2:45), and that “Sabbath was made for man”, meaning all mankind (Mark 2:27).
Since Puritan times, most English-speaking Protestants identify the “Lord’s Day” (viz., Sunday) with a “Christian Sabbath”, a term Roman Catholics in those areas may also use informally. Kept in commemoration of the resurrection of Christ, it is often celebrated with the Eucharist. For many it is the day of rest, and of communal worship in remembrance of Resurrection Day. It is considered both the first day and the “eighth day” of the seven-day week. Relatively few Christians (as in the Church of Scotland) regard first-day observance as entailing all of the ordinances of Jewish Shabbat in a more rigorous abstention from “worldly” activities. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints generally follow the stronger of first-day Christian Sabbatarian traditions, avoiding shopping, leisure activities, and work unless absolutely necessary. In Tonga, all commerce and entertainment activities cease on Sunday, starting at midnight and ending the next day, at midnight. Tonga’s constitution declares this Sabbath sacred forever. Sometimes Lord’s Day is observed by those who believe Sabbath corresponds to Saturday but is obsolete. In Oriental Orthodoxy, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has observed both Sunday Resurrection Day and Saturday Sabbath in different ways for several centuries, as have other Eastern Orthodox traditions.
Puritan Sabbatarianism or Reformed Sabbatarianism is strict observance of Sabbath in Christianity that is typically characterized by its avoidance of recreational activities. “Puritan Sabbath”, expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, is often contrasted with “Continental Sabbath”: the latter follows the Continental Reformed confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism, which emphasize rest and worship on Lord’s Day, but do not forbid recreational activities.
Several Christian denominations observe Sabbath in a similar manner to Judaism, though with observance ending at Saturday sunset instead of Saturday nightfall. Early church historians Sozomen and Socrates cite the seventh day as the Christian day of worship except for the Christians in Rome and Alexandria. Many Sabbatarian Judeo-Christian groups were attested during the Middle Ages; the Szekler Sabbatarians were founded in 1588 from among the Unitarian Church of Transylvania and maintained a presence until the group converted to Judaism in the 1870s. Seventh Day Baptists have observed Sabbath on Saturday since the mid-17th century (either from sundown or from midnight), and influenced the (now more numerous) Seventh-day Adventists in America to begin the practice in the mid-19th century. They believe that keeping seventh-day Sabbath is a moral responsibility equal to that of any of the other Ten Commandments, based on the example of Jesus. They also use “Lord’s Day” to mean the seventh day, based on Scriptures in which God calls the day “my Sabbath” (Exodus 31:13) and “to the LORD” (Exodus 16:23) and in which Jesus calls himself “Lord of Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8). The question of defining Sabbath worldwide on a round earth was resolved by some seventh-day Sabbatarians by making use of the International Date Line (i.e., permitting local rest-day adjustment, Esther 9:16–19), while others (such as some Alaskan Sabbatarians) keep Sabbath according to Jerusalem time (i.e., rejecting manmade temporal customs, Daniel 7:25). Many of the Lemba in southern Africa, like some other African tribes, are Christians and claim common descent from the Biblical Israelites, keep one day a week holy like Sabbath, and maintain many beliefs and practices associated with Judaism.
The new moon, occurring every 29 or 30 days, is an important separately sanctioned occasion in Judaism and some other faiths. It is not widely regarded as Sabbath, but some messianic and Pentecostal churches, such as the native New Israelites of Peru and the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church, do keep the day of the new moon as Sabbath or rest day, from evening to evening. New-moon services can last all day.
Day of the Vow or Dingane’s Day (Afrikaans Geloftedag or Dingaansdag, December 16) was the name of a religious public holiday in South Africa commemorating a famous Boer victory over the Zulu. Celebrated as annual Sabbath (a holy day of thanksgiving) since 1838, it was renamed Day of Reconciliation in 1994. The anniversary and its commemoration are intimately connected with various streams of Afrikaner and South African nationalism.
Since Hippolytus of Rome in the early third century, Christians have often considered that some thousand-year Sabbath, expected to begin six thousand years after Creation, might be identical with the millennium described in the Book of Revelation. This view was also popular among 19th- and 20th-century dispensational premillennialists. The term “Sabbatism” or “Sabbatizing” (Greek Sabbatismos), which generically means any literal or spiritual Sabbath-keeping, has also been taken in Hebrews 4:9 to have special reference to this definition.
As another minority view, some modern Christians uphold Sabbath principles but do not limit observance to either Saturday or Sunday, instead advocating rest on any one chosen day of the week as following the spirit of Sabbath, or advocating Sabbath as instead a symbolic metaphor for rest in Christ. These look upon Sabbath as a principle to be observed in spirit rather than in letter, regarding the rest offered in Jesus as the only New Testament admonishment containing the root word of “Sabbath” (Matthew 11:28) and sometimes as a more permanent rest than a day could fulfill (Hebrews 4:9).
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe the Lord has commanded them to continue to observe the Sabbath. He has promised them that if they obey this commandment, they will receive “the fullness of the earth.” Mormons are taught that they should keep it a holy day and it should be reserved for holy activities. In a revelation given to founder Joseph Smith in 1831, the Lord commanded:
“That thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; for verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High.”— D&C 59:9–10
In harmony with this revelation, Mormons attend sacrament meeting each week. Other Sabbath-day activities may include: praying, meditating, studying the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets, writing letters to family members and friends, reading wholesome material, visiting the sick and distressed, and attending other Church meetings.
Sapattu and Shappatum
Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as “holy-days”, also called “evil days” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”. On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess. Tablets from the 6th-century BC reigns of Cyrus the Great and Cambyses indicate these dates were sometimes approximate. The lunation of 29 or 30 days basically contained three seven-day weeks, and a final week of nine or ten days inclusive, breaking the continuous seven-day cycle. The Babylonians additionally celebrated the 19th as a special “evil day”, the “day of anger”, because it was roughly the 49th day of the (preceding) month, completing a “week of weeks”, also with sacrifices and prohibitions. Difficulties with Friedrich Delitzsch’s origin theory connecting Hebrew Shabbat with the Babylonian lunar cycle include reconciling the differences between an unbroken week and a lunar week, and explaining the absence of texts naming the lunar week as Shabbat in any language. Reconstruction of a broken tablet seems to define the rarely attested Babylonian Akkadian word Sapattum or Sabattum as the full moon: this word is cognate or merged with Hebrew Shabbat, but is monthly rather than weekly. It is regarded as a form of Sumerian sa-bat (“mid-rest”), attested in Akkadian as um nuh libbi (“day of mid-repose”). This conclusion is a contextual restoration of the damaged Enûma Eliš creation mythos, which is read as: “[Sa]pattu shalt thou then encounter, mid[month]ly.”
The pentecontad calendar, thought to be of Amorite origin, includes a period known to Babylonians as Shappatum. The year is broken down into seven periods of fifty days (made up of seven weeks of seven days, containing seven weekly Sabbaths, and an extra fiftieth day, known as the atzeret), plus an annual supplement of fifteen or sixteen days, called Shappatum, the period of harvest time at the end of each year. Identified and reconstructed by Hildegaard and Julius Lewy in the 1940s, the calendar’s use dates back to at least the 3rd millennium BC in Western Mesopotamia and surrounding areas; it was used by the Canaanite tribes, thought by some to have been used by the Israelites prior to King Solomon, and related to the liturgical calendar of the Essenes at Qumran. Used well into the modern age, forms of it have been found in Nestorianism and among the Palestinian fellaheen. Julius Morgenstern believed that the calendar of the Jubilees had ancient origins as a somewhat modified survival of the pentecontad calendar.
In relating to the seventh and other days of the month, the Zoroastrian calendar contributed to the Jewish calendar. A number of writings by early Christians in the New Testament apocrypha (Zostrianos, Marsenes and Allogenes) describe God’s revelation received by a man named Zostrianos. Further evidence of Zoroastrian influence on Judaic tradition is demonstrated through Nehemiah, the Priest in the Book of Nehemiah, a book of the Neviim contained in the Tanakh. With the support and protection of Artaxerxes I of Persia (445/444 BC), Nehemiah purified the Temple and the priests and Levites and enforced the observance of the law of Moses.
For exemplar, the observance of Passover coincides with Nowruz, the Zoroastrian New Year which marks the first day of spring or vernal Equinox.
The Uposatha has been observed since Gautama Buddha’s time (500 BCE), and is still being kept today in Theravada Buddhist countries. It occurs every seven or eight days, in accordance with the four phases of the moon. Buddha taught that Uposatha is for “the cleansing of the defiled mind”, resulting in inner calm and joy. On this day, disciples and monks intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge, and express communal commitment through millennia-old acts of lay-monastic reciprocity.
Thai Chinese likewise observe their Sabbaths and traditional Chinese holidays according to lunar phases, but not on exactly the same days as Uposatha. These Sabbaths cycle through the month with respect to the Thai solar calendar, so common Thai calendars incorporate Thai and Chinese calendar lunar dates, as well as Uposatha dates, for religious purposes.
The first day of the new moon, beginning at sunrise, is a holiday of quiet reflection and prayer among the Cherokee. Monthly fasting is encouraged, for up to four days. Work, cooking, sex and childbirth were also prohibited during the empty moon days, called “un-time” or “non-days”; childbirth during these days was considered unlucky. The Cherokee new year, the “great new moon” or “Hunting Moon”, is the first new moon in autumn, after the setting of the Pleiades star cluster and around the time of the Leonids meteoric shower.
One folk tradition in English is the widespread use of “Sabbath” as a synonym of midnight-to-midnight “Saturday” (literally, Saturn’s day in at least a dozen languages): this is a simplification of the use of “Sabbath” in other religious contexts, where the two do not coincide. (Using midnight instead of sundown as delimiter dates back to the Roman Empire.) In over thirty other languages, the common name for this day in the seven-day week is a cognate of “Sabbath”. “Sabbatini”, originally “Sabbadini”, often “Sabatini”, etc., is a very frequent Italian name form (“Sabbatos” is the Greek form), indicating a family whose ancestor was born on Saturday, Italian sabato; “Domenico” indicated birth on Sunday. In vampire hunter lore, people born on Saturday were specially designated as sabbatianoí in Greek and sâbotnichavi in Bulgarian (rendered in English as “Sabbatarians”). It was also believed in the Balkans that someone born on a Saturday could see a vampire when it was otherwise invisible.
The Quran acknowledges a six-part Creation period (32:4, 50:38) and the Biblical Sabbath as the seventh-day (yaum as-Sabt: 2:65, 4:47, 154, 7:163, 16:124), but Allah’s mounting the throne after Creation is taken in contradistinction to Elohim’s concluding and resting from his labors, and so Muslims replace Sabbath rest with jumu’ah (Arabic جمعة ). Also known as “Friday prayer”, jumu’ah is a congregational prayer (salat) held every Friday (the Day of Assembly), just after midday, in place of the otherwise daily dhuhr prayer; it commemorates the creation of Adam on the sixth day, as a loving gathering of Adam’s sons. The Quran states: “When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday, hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business: That is best for you if ye but knew” (62:9). The next verse (“When the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land …”) leads many Muslims not to consider Friday a rest day, as in Indonesia, which regards the seventh-day Sabbath as unchanged; but many Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, do consider Friday a nonwork day, a holiday or a weekend; and other Muslim countries, like Pakistan, count it as half a rest day (after the Friday prayer is over). Jumu’ah attendance is strictly incumbent upon all free adult males who are legal residents of the locality.
Sabbat, Esbat and Witches’ Sabbath
The annual cycle of the Earth’s seasons is called the Wheel of the Year in Wicca and neopaganism. Eight sabbats (occasionally “sabbaths”, or “Sun sabbats”) are spaced at approximately even intervals throughout the year. Samhain, which coincides with Halloween, is considered the first sabbat of the year.
An esbat is a ritual observance of the full moon in Wicca and neopaganism. Some groups extend the esbat to include the dark moon and the first and last quarters. “Esbat” and “sabbat” are distinct and are probably not cognate terms, although an esbat is also called “moon sabbat”.
European records from the Middle Ages to the 17th century or later also place Witches’ Sabbaths on similar dates to sabbats in modern Wicca, but with some disagreement; medieval reports of sabbat activity are generally not firsthand and may be imaginative, but many persons were accused of, or tried for, taking part in sabbats.
Ahn Shi Il
The Unification Church has a regular day of worship on Sunday, but every eight days Unificationists celebrate the day of Ahn Shi Il, considered as Sabbath but cycling among the weekdays of the Gregorian calendar. The Family Pledge, formerly recited at 5:00 a.m. on Sundays, was moved to Ahn Shi Il in 1994 and includes eight verses containing the phrase “by centering on true love”.
Secular use of “Sabbath” for “rest day”, while it usually refers to the same period of time (Sunday) as the majority Christian use of “Sabbath”, is often stated in North America to refer to different purposes for the rest day than those of Christendom. In McGowan v. Maryland (1961), the Supreme Court of the United States held that contemporary Maryland blue laws (typically, Sunday rest laws) were intended to promote the secular values of “health, safety, recreation, and general well-being” through a common day of rest, and that this day coinciding with majority Christian Sabbath neither reduces its effectiveness for secular purposes nor prevents adherents of other religions from observing their own holy days. Massachusetts, uncharacteristically, does not specify the weekday in its “Day of Rest” statute, providing only that one day off from work is required every week; an unspecified weekly day off is a very widespread business production cycle. The Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Big M Drug Mart Ltd. (1985) and R. v. Edwards Books and Art Ltd. (1986), found some blue laws invalid for having no legitimate secular purpose, but others valid because they had no religious purpose.
The weekend is that period of the week set aside by custom or law for rest from labor. In many countries it is Saturday and Sunday and often includes Friday night. This five-day workweek arose in America when labor unions attempted to accommodate Jewish Sabbath, beginning at a New England cotton mill and also instituted by Henry Ford in 1926; it became standard in America by about 1940 and spread among English-speaking and European countries to become the international workweek. China adopted it in 1995 and Hong Kong by 2006. India and some other countries follow both the international workweek and a more traditional Saturday half-workday and Sunday weekend. While Indonesia and Lebanon have the international workweek, most Muslim countries count Friday as the weekend, alone or with Thursday (all or half) or Saturday. Some universities permit a three-day weekend from Friday to Sunday. The weekend in Israel, and parts of Malaysia, is Friday (all or half) and Saturday. Only the one-day customary or legal weekends are usually called “Sabbath”.
Blank day, Chinese week, Décadi and Soviet week
State-mandated rest days are widespread. Laws of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) required imperial officials to rest on every mu (every fifth day), within a ten-day Chinese week. The rest day was changed to huan or xún (every tenth day) in the Tang Dynasty (618–907).
The reform calendar of the French Revolution was used from 1793 to 1805. It contained twelve months of three ten-day weeks; the five or six extra days needed to approximate the tropical year were placed after the months at the end of each year. The tenth day of each week, décadi, replaced Sunday as the day of rest and festivity in France.
From 1929 to 1931, the Soviet Union mandated a five-day week, with each day designated by color as a state rest day for a different 20% of the workforce; families usually did not share rest days. Three weeks a year were six or seven days, because interrupted by holidays. From 1931 to 1940, the Soviets mandated a six-day week, with state rest days for all upon the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, and 30th of each Gregorian month, as well as upon March 1. This also necessitated varying weeks of five to seven days over the year.
Among many calendar reform proposals that eliminate the constant seven-day week in exchange for simplified calculation of calendrical data like weekday names for given dates, some retain Sabbatical influences. The Hermetic Lunar Week Calendar uses moon phases, resulting in weeks of six to nine days. The International Fixed Calendar and World Calendar both consist of 364-day years containing exactly 52 weeks (each starting on a day designated as Sunday), with an additional one or two intercalary “blank” days not designated as part of any week (Year Day and Leap Day in the International Fixed Calendar; Worldsday and Leapyear Day in the World Calendar). Reform supporters sought to accommodate Sabbatical observance by retaining the modified week and designating the intercalary days as additional Sabbaths or holidays; however, religious leaders held that such days disrupt the traditional seven-day weekly cycle. This unresolved issue contributed to the cessation of reform activities in the 1930s (International Fixed Calendar) and again in 1955 (World Calendar), though supporters of both proposals remain.
The subbotnik is a weekly day of volunteer work on Saturday in Russia, other (former) Soviet republics, the Eastern Bloc, and the German Democratic Republic, sporadically observed since 1919. The voskresnik is a related volunteer workday on Sunday. They focus on community service work; “Lenin’s Subbotnik” was also observed annually around his birthday.
From the biblical sabbatical year came the modern concept of sabbatical, a prolonged, often one-year, hiatus in the career of an individual (not usually tied to a seven-year period). Such a period is often taken in order to fulfill some goal such as writing a book or traveling extensively for research. Some universities and other institutional employers of scientists, physicians, or academics offer paid sabbatical as an employee benefit, called “sabbatical leave”; some companies offer unpaid sabbatical for people wanting to take career breaks.