Shabbat Table Setting Preparation Checklist
On Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, we recount God’s rest following six days of creation and we observe this time by resting ourselves. It’s a time in which we take a conscious break from the routines of everyday life, eat a festive meal around the Shabbat table, and reconnect with family and friends after a long week of work and school. Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday night and lasts until there are three stars in the sky on Saturday evening, when the Havdalah ceremony begins.
For most families, the central observance of Shabbat takes place at the dinner table on Friday night. So how would one prepare for the Friday night meal? By setting the Shabbat table, which we are told to do before Shabbat begins at sunset. On Shabbat, every house becomes its own little sanctuary, or a miniature version of the Holy Temple. And, therefore, the Shabbat table that we eat on can be compared to the Altar that once stood in the Holy Temple. Important ritual items are then placed on the Shabbat table to assist us with various Shabbat traditions.
Orthodox Jews keep Shomer Shabbos, meaning that they observe all of the commandments associated with Shabbat. This includes refraining from turning lights on yourself, watching TV, and driving a car to allow time for prayer, rest, and reflection. This post is geared for those who aren’t observing all of these commandments as there would be much more to do to prepare for Shabbat. You would need to consider purchasing a hot water urn, hot plate, and a refrigerator that has a Sabbath mode — just to name a few items– to best prepare you for the Shabbat meal.
Read More: Shabbat Blessings: Learn the Shabbat Prayers
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Shabbat Table Checklist
- Candlesticks + Candles
- Kiddush Cup
- Wine and/or Grape Juice
- Cup for Hand Washing + Towel*
- Challah Cover
- Challah Board
- Challah knife
- Saltshaker + Salt
Shabbat is a weekly tradition, but it’s still important to distinguish this particular dinner from others during the week. Having a beautiful tablecloth to place on your Shabbat table, is one critical way of doing that. And unlike other holidays where you might only use your fancy tablecloth once a year, you can use a Shabbat tablecloth over 50 times a year. The Sabbath itself is likened to an honored guest and is referred to as queen or the bride, so it’s common to use a white tablecloth. I have included some of the best tablecloths for Shabbat below. Many are beautifully embroidered or hand-painted. And here’s a link for Shabbat candles should you need to purchase some.
Broderies de France Shabbat Tablecloths and Runners
Shabbat Candlesticks, Candles + Matches
Shabbat begins with a candle lighting ceremony, so you will need to prepare with two candlesticks, a set of candles, and have matches on hand. It is customary to light two candles on Shabbat –although there are varied practices and some families light more– because of the following two commandments. You should remember “shamor” Shabbat and keep or observe “zakhor” Shabbat. Traditionally, the female head of household lights the candles; she waves her hands around the flame three times in a circular motion and recites the blessing. Click the link for a guide to the Shabbat blessings.
Candlesticks will be used weekly on Shabbat and during many other Jewish holidays, so you’ll want to own ones that you love and complement the rest of the ritual items on your Shabbat table. These candlesticks might be a family heirloom, in which case, you probably have a strong connection to them and the person who passed them down to you. Candlesticks are oftentimes made of silver, but there are a plethora of beautiful candlesticks created by phenomenal designers. I’ve included some of my favorites here.
Kiddush Cup + Wine and/or Grape Juice
The Kiddush cup is an integral item on the Shabbat table. After the candles are lit, the Kiddush cup is raised and the blessing over the wine is recited to sanctify Shabbat. After the blessing is recited, the Kiddush cup is passed around so that everyone can take a sip of wine or grape juice from it.
Many Kiddush cups are passed down from generation to generation. It is also common to receive a Kiddush cup from the synagogue you belong to when you become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.The Kiddush cup is used frequently, for Shabbat and for Jewish holiday meals like Passover, so you’ll want to make sure that the cup that you have is special. If you’re looking for timeless pieces, here are a few of my personal favorites from the Michael Adam collection:
* At this point in the Shabbat meal, some families invite their guests to wash their hands by using fresh water from a washing cup. This practice dates back to the time of the first and second Temple when the Israelites washed their hands and recited a blessing before making special offerings on Shabbat. Ritual hand washing isn’t commonplace in every Jewish denomination, and it’s not a personal custom, but I wanted to include it here for those that wish to participate in this Shabbat tradition.
Challah Cover, Challah Board, Challah Knife + Challah
When the Jewish people left Egypt and wandered in the desert for 40 years, manna (a bread-like substance) would fall from the heavens. Because our Jewish ancestors could not gather new manna on Shabbat, they were given a double portion on the sixth day. For this reason, you will find two loaves of challah rather than one placed on many Shabbat tables. But customs vary and I, for example, have always ever only had one.
There is typically a cover placed over the challah that is removed once you are ready to say the Hamotzi prayer. The challah cover has multiple symbolic meanings. The manna in the desert that fell from the heavens was covered with dew to preserve its freshness; we recreate this by covering our challah with a cloth. We also choose to spare the challahs feelings because we say the Kiddush, the blessing over the wine, before saying the Hamotzi, the blessing over the challah. We use a non-transparent challah cover that is large enough to cover the two braided loaves so that the challah can’t see that the wine is blessed first. Yair Emanuel designs some of the most beautiful challah covers. Etsy also has some wonderful handmade pieces.
Challah Board and Knife
The challah board placed underneath the challah can be used as a cutting board once the Hamotzi has been recited. Many people also have a dedicated challah knife to cut the bread, while others prefer to tear off pieces of challah by hand. Either way, the bread is then distributed for everyone at the Shabbat table to eat.
There is a tradition of dipping your challah bread into salt, so you can have a saltshaker filled with salt placed on your Shabbat table too. Some of those challah board and knife sets actually come with one included.
Why is challah dipped in salt on Shabbat? There’s actually quite a few reasons. The first– and this is quite practical — is to give the bread some flavor so that it isn’t bland. There is also a Kabbalistic custom to dip the bread in salt three times. Salt is also mentioned in the Torah many times like in Genesis 3:19, which says that “by the sweat of your brow, shall you get bread to eat” and sweat contains salt. In Leviticus 2:13, God instructs us to use salt on all the offerings.
And with that, you may now begin the festive Sabbath meal!
Do you include any other items on your Shabbat table? Or do you have any Shabbat traditions we should adopt? Let us know in the comments below! And, if you are looking for more Shabbat content, make sure to check out these other BMA blog posts.