I was raised in a not-very-observant home. I understand Friday dinner, blessing over Sabbath candles, blessing over bread, and blessing over wine, and I know that Havdalah comes at the end. But what else? Basically, what does a typical Jewish USA-ian household do to celebrate Sabbath?

I understand it varies between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. I'd like to understand what is normative or typical. I'm corresponding with a fiction author who uses Jewish characters but never has them do anything religious, and now he's asking for "traditional family observances of the sabbath". So assume if you will the typical conservative family Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night activities.

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    Feb 1, 2019 at 4:39
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    – mbloch
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  • I am not sure the question is so clear. What exactly do you wish to know? What is the typical order of the day on Shabbat in a US household? You understand this will vary a lot. Also this is likely to be a bit bland when seen in writing: meals, prayer, Torah learning, family and friend discussions, nap, etc. Can you make it clearer what exactly you want to know?
    – mbloch
    Feb 1, 2019 at 4:41
  • @mbloch - basically, what does a typical Jewish USA-ian household do to celebrate Sabbath? For me growing up it was a terrible chicken or steak dinner w/ blessings on candles, wine, and bread and not much more beyond that. But I find myself sending a message to a fiction author who uses a few Jewish characters, saying "hey, they'd probably say the Shehecheyanu" and now he's asking for "traditional family observances of the sabbath"
    – ivanivan
    Feb 1, 2019 at 4:49
  • 2
    Please edit the question to focus on the relevant information. If you ask about an average Shabbos, your experience is irrelevant. The question is long and repetitive.
    – Al Berko
    Feb 1, 2019 at 10:20

2 Answers 2


Note: Orthodox

Shabbat begins with Kabbalat Shabbat, the Friday evening "pre-Shabbat" prayer service to welcome the Divine Presence into the home.

Following this is Ma'ariv (also called Arvit) which is the evening prayer service.

The traditional hymns "Shalom Aleichem" and "Eishet Chayil" are sung before the Friday night meal.

The Friday night meal opens with Kiddush, the benediction on wine, and the cutting of the Challah, the bread. A hot meal prepared before Shabbat is served, and the family spends time together usually with Divrei Torah, small thoughts on the weekly Parsha.

Many people will sing Zemirot, hymns, at the Shabbat table. There are many traditional Zemirot printed in most prayer books.

On Shabbat day, the day is opened with Shacharit, the morning service, which includes the Torah Reading in synagogue. This service can last a long time. Not long after Shacharit is Mussaf, the additional mid-afternoon service recited only on Shabbat and the holidays. Most congregations recite Shacharit and Mussaf back-to-back, for convenience. (Also, Shacharit tends to be scheduled for a later time on Shabbat, so people have a chance to sleep in a little and rest.)

Between Shacharit and Mincha, the afternoon service, people will do a number of things: learning Torah on their own, attending Torah classes and/or Shiurim, taking naps, or playing board games with their family and friends. If there is an Eruv, a "Shabbat walk" is not uncommon.

It is the custom to have three hot meals on Shabbat: one Friday night, one Shabbat morning, and one Shabbat day. Each of these meals have their own rituals accompanying them (for instance, the Shabbat morning Kiddush), and there are Zemirot to be sung as well.

Most congregations pray Mincha later in the afternoon towards evening, so Mincha and Ma'ariv can be back-to-back (again for convenience).

Havdalah is made, and many people have a "Melaveh Malka" meal, a meal in honor of the Shabbat's departure on Saturday night.

  • You might want to mention the kiddush -- socializing over food after musaf and then people usually go home to lunch and do the other stuff you mentioned for Shabbat afternoon. (Somebody who doesn't already know might think the hot meal you refer to is breakfast, before shacharit.) Feb 1, 2019 at 20:54
  • I would note, minimum 2 candles lit before sundown, some add one more per child. Sep 8, 2022 at 20:48

Note: Reconstructionist

I attend a small Reconstructionist synagogue in Northern California. We are not able to afford to pay our Rabbi full time so we have Friday night services twice a month and Saturday morning services once a month, plus a Friday night chant circle (think Shefa Gold), the occasional B'nai Mitzvah, and various other events.

Friday night: Tonight we will attend services (not sundown yet here), which we drive to, as does almost everyone there. They last about 2 hours and include a lot of singing, chanting, and speaking of prayers in both English and Hebrew. The Rabbi gives a drosh (which are always wonderful). Our siddurim have both languages plus transliteration. Everything is 100% egalitarian.

The service starts with candle lighting. After the service we go into what we call the oneg room for a kiddish (we just call it oneg). A light buffet dinner provided by whatever person/family volunteered that week. We pray over the wine (with grape juice and water for kids and non-drinkers) and then the bread. Then we eat and chat.

If we're home Friday night, we light shabbat candles and have a sit down dinner. I don't know what most of my fellow congregants do regularly but at least some weeks we all try to make Friday night dinner special, and sometimes get together with others (sometimes we have a potluck dinner at shul).

Saturday morning, if there is a service we drive to shul and attend. We wear talliot (tallism? I often mix the Yiddish with the Hebrew) and bring out the Torah for a reading or 3. We do not have designated readings and do not make any distinction between someone who is a Cohen or Levite vs not, though readers are chosen in advance so they can practice. We have a full service that runs about 2 hours, along with the usual singing, etc. We sometimes do Storahtelling or have a drosh, but those are usually for special occasions. People who have had a B'nai Mitzvah can sometimes lead a service and we have guest leaders too (also on Fridays). Saturday morning services are also followed by a kiddish, or at least the wine.

Occasionally, our shul will have a Saturday night service for Havdalah. I admit we rarely do that at home, though we have all the materials. And of course we have services for various holidays, not just High Holy Days, plus other holiday events (a Passover seder, a Chanukah party, late night Shavuot study) throughout the year.

People differ greatly on what they do and don't do on Shabbat. The shul's board and other leadership do not do shul business on Shabbat. Many congregants do not do their usual work on Shabbat, or at least try not to (not everyone gets to pick their schedules).

Some people try to make Shabbat family time and go for walks or play games that aren't electronic. Some try to do some Torah study or other religious study. Some families with young children get together to do outdoor activities, weather permitting.

Most of the prohibitions just aren't part of our lives though. I don't know anyone aside from Orthodox friends/family who won't drive, use electricity, cook, etc. Two Conservative Rabbis I know will not write on Shabbat, but I don't know anyone Reconstructionist who doesn't write. Setting the day aside as "different" is common, but we are not frum.

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