Spice of Shabbat

We will read a rabbinic story to discuss the various elements that create a special atmosphere on Shabbat.

Resource Ages: 6-8, 9-11


Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and Antoninus

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi hosted a Shabbat meal for his friend, the Emperor Antoninus.


Rabbi Yehuda prepared all of the food before Shabbat and, since it was his practice not to light fires on Shabbat, he served the food cold. However, this did not bother the Emperor – he ate the food and enjoyed it. 


Time passed and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi once again invited Antoninus to a meal. This time, the meal was on a weekday and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi served the Emperor hot food. At the end of the meal, Antoninus said: “The food we ate at the previous meal was much tastier than this food, even though at the previous meal the food was cold.” 


Rabbi Yehuda said to him: “You’re right. This is because the food you ate today is missing one spice.” 


Antoninus was angry: “The Emperor’s kitchen is missing something? Why didn’t you ask me to bring you the spice?”


Rabbi Yehuda said to him: “You could not have brought me this spice. The name of this spice is ‘Shabbat’”. 


This angered Antoninus even more: “Shabbat? I’ve never heard of that spice.” 


Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi calmly explained: “The previous meal was a Shabbat meal, and the special atmosphere of Shabbat gave the food a special flavor; but today is just a regular weekday, and that’s why the food tastes ordinary  and not special.” 

Bereishit Raba 11:4

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • Why are holiday, rituals, customs, values and traditions important to me, to my family and to my family?
  • How do Jewish rituals and practices enrich the way I experience my life and the world?
  • Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • How do we create a special atmosphere on Shabbat?

Background for Teacher

According to Jewish tradition, it is a mitzvah to enjoy Shabbat – oneg Shabbat. Among other things, Jewish law dictates that one must enjoy three meals throughout Shabbat. The story (aggadah) brought here is based on the idea that the special atmosphere of Shabbat...

Read more

According to Jewish tradition, it is a mitzvah to enjoy Shabbat – oneg Shabbat. Among other things, Jewish law dictates that one must enjoy three meals throughout Shabbat. The story (aggadah) brought here is based on the idea that the special atmosphere of Shabbat influences our enjoyment of Shabbat, and even increases it. The same activities that happen throughout the week will be more enjoyable on Shabbat because of the special food, songs, prayers, clothes and overall slower pace that are unique to Shabbat.  

Additional information can be found in the Oneg Shabbat resource (for 6th-9th grades). 

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, also known as “Rabbi” or “Rabbeinu”,  lived during the 2nd-3rd centuries in Israel and served as president (nasi) of the Sanhedrin. His most important work was editing the mishna as we know it today. Rabbi was extremely wealthy and, according to different Talmudic legends, developed a friendship with the Roman Emperor Antoninus, who ruled in the land of Israel at this time.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • Bring spices to class and ask the students if they know what they are used for. Then explain to the students that they will soon hear a story about an extremely special spice. 
  • Take out a spice box labeled with a question mark, show it to the students, and tell them that the story they are about to hear is about spice “X”. This is certain to pique the students’ curiosity and is a good time to begin telling the story. Towards the end of the story, you can ask them if they know what the spice is.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. What was different about the food in the two cases, and why? 
  2. What added such a good and special flavor to the cold dishes served to the Emperor on Shabbat? 
  3. Have you also experienced a situation in which the same food tasted better because of the circumstances? What made it different? (For example: Who you ate with, where and when you ate, what mood you were in, etc.)
  4. How is “the spice of Shabbat” different from other spices? What senses are engaged? Which “spices” make up your family’s Shabbat?
  • Act out the story with the students (you can add characters: i.e. the Emperor’s entourage, Rabbi Yehuda’s children, his wife, his students, etc.)
  • Continue the conversation between Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and the Emperor: How will he explain to him what the “spice of Shabbat” is? Incorporate examples in your explanation, including those that are relevant today. 
  • “Spice of Shabbat” box: Suggest that the students make a spice box. They can re-use plastic or glass jars and decorate them with words or pictures that “add spice” to their family’s Shabbat. (Ideas: Who will be at the meal, where will the meal take place, how will the table be set, etc.)
  • Mordecai Kaplan’s A Gift of Shabbat discusses Shabbat’s additional qualities and its effect on the rest of the week.
  • For older students: The Feeling  of Shabbat resource (intended for 6th-9th grades) presents a Hasidic story that centers on a discussion about what creates a Shabbat atmosphere. 
  • Learn about Kiddush, which brings in the Shabbat meal.