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What are the laws of Shabbat?

The Torah mentions that one should refrain from doing any melachah (work) on the day of Shabbat. The word melachah refers to any creative activity and is not limited to difficult physical activity. By relinquishing all constructive, creative work on Shabbat, we acknowledge that G-d is the true and ultimate Master of the world, and we humans have limited creative abilities. 

The only two forbidden acts that the Torah specifies are kindling a fire (which means no electricity or cooking on Shabbat) and carrying in the public domain. Our Sages have explained that melachah refers to any activity that replicates or resembles the work that was done in preparation for building the Mishkan (the temporary Sanctuary) in the desert. Altogether, this makes up the 39 melachas (categories of forbidden acts on Shabbat).

The 39 melachas are grouped into different categories for the different activities that the Jews engaged in preparation for building the Mishkan. The first group of 11 melachas is based on the process of making bread, from plowing and sowing the land to kneading and baking. The next 13 melachas are the method of producing garments, from shearing and dying the wool to tearing thread. The third set of melachas is based on the process of using parchment to write, from trapping an animal to writing and erasing. The final set of melachas involves other creative activities such as building and destroying, burning and extinguishing, finishing a product and transporting objects in the public domain.

These are all called ‘av melachas’- the ‘father’ laws. Under each of these laws, there are many ‘toladot melachas’– the ‘children’ laws, which are similar to the av melachah and, therefore, equally forbidden. Then, there are the laws of muktzeh that were enacted by our Sages to further protect the sanctity of the day. Muktzeh refers to the prohibition of moving or handling objects on Shabbat. The idea behind the laws of muktzeh is that one should not come close to actually performing the forbidden acts. For example, writing is forbidden on Shabbat, so touching a pen or any other writing instrument is muktzeh. Read more about muktzeh here.

Crucial Shabbat Safety Tips

How to prepare for Shabbat:

Since many of the basic day-to-day activities are forbidden on Shabbat, there has to be some preparation in advance so that you can enjoy the day fully.

  • Cooking- One may not kindle a fire on Shabbat (no cooking, baking, boiling, roasting, or frying) nor perform many other activities related to cooking, such as peeling, mashing, grinding, shredding, or creating a dough. All cooked food must be prepared in advance, and since warming up food is also forbidden, the food must be placed on a warming tray (called a hotplate or blech) before Shabbat. A blech is a thin sheet of aluminum that is placed over the stovetop. You turn on a low flame under the blech and place all the food on top. The food keeps warm until it is served at the meal. Some people also use a slow cooker or a Crock-Pot for a hot stew, called cholent, which is eaten on Shabbat day.

PLEASE NOTE: These methods of keeping food warm from the start of Shabbat may cause burns or fire if not handled properly. Download our FREE e-book for more awareness and Shabbat safety tips here.

  • Hot water- One may not operate a kettle or warm up water using the stove. Instead, one can put a kettle of preboiled hot water on the blech before Shabbat or use a special electric urn that is Rabbinically approved for Shabbat.
  • Electricity- It is forbidden to turn on or off the lights in the home. For this reason, one should ensure that all the lights in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathrooms are on before Shabbat and that the lights in the bedrooms are switched off. Although the heating may be turned down, it may not be switched on, so make sure that the heating is prepared before Shabbat comes in.
  • Toilet paper- It is forbidden to tear the perforated line to separate toilet paper or paper towels. You can either prepare some toilet paper and paper towels before Shabbat or just use tissues and napkins instead.
  • Plants- Watering or picking plants on Shabbat is forbidden, which includes placing already cut flowers into a vase of water. Make sure that your plants are watered, and cut flowers have their leaves removed and placed in water before Shabbat begins.


Find more information on how to prepare for Shabbat in advance here.

Shabbat safety tips for the whole family

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Crucial Shabbat Safety Tips

Learn everything you and your family need to know to stay safe on Shabbat.