Shabbat – A Day of Rest and Holiness

This unit discusses the uniqueness of Shabbat as a day of rest from work and a day that is different from other days of the week.

Unit Ages: 9-11, 12-14 | 3-5 lessons


Shabbat is defined in the Torah as “Yom Shabbaton” – a day of sabbatical, or taking time off to rest: God took time off from the work of creating the world, and to commemorate this, we too are commanded to rest from work on Shabbat. The concept of rest applies to all members of the family, as well as to the slaves and even animals who live with us. In addition to being a day of rest, Shabbat is also defined as a day of holiness and thus, in addition to avoiding work, we are asked to engage in activities that honor the holiness of Shabbat – making kiddush, eating three festival meals, and more. This unit discusses the essence of Shabbat as a day of rest and holiness.

Desired Outcomes

Big Ideas

Shabbat is “a day of rest and holiness”: A day in which we avoid doing work and at the same time, engage in activities that commemorate the sanctity of the day and its unique nature.

Essential Questions
  • Why are holidays, rituals, customs, important to me, my family, and my community?
  • Why/how might Jewish practices be meaningful for me even if I don’t define myself as “religious”?
  • What makes time holy? 
  • Students will understand the connection between Shabbat and the creation of the world. 
  • Students will be familiar with different ways that one can rest on Shabbat. 
  • Students will understand the meaning of Shabbat holiness, and the practical ways in which this holiness is expressed. 
  • Students will be familiar with various images of Shabbat in Jewish thought.
  • Students will be able to connect between different aspects of Shabbat (customs, rules, etc.) and the concepts of rest and holiness from which they stem. 
  • Students will be able to suggest their own images to express the concept of Shabbat as a day of rest and holiness.
  • Students will be able to consider for themselves what Shabbat means for them, and connect between the way they and their family celebrate Shabbat and the concept of Shabbat in Jewish culture.

Assessment Evidence

What evidence will students provide to demonstrate that they:
Know the knowledge; Can do the skills; Can respond thoughtfully to the EQs and BIs

The teacher will determine a means for assessment before beginning to teach the curriculum module.

Learning Experiences

Possible Unit Plan

Possible Unit Opener:

  • Write the words “rest” and “holiness” on the board. Divide the students into pairs and have each pair write down at least three associations for each of these words. Ask each pair to share with the class at least one of the words that they chose. List them on the board, around the words “rest” and “holiness”. Now add the title: “Shabbat”. Which of the words chosen suit the word “Shabbat”? Ask the students to come to the board and circle the words that they think are appropriate. Are any of the words that they associated with “rest” not suitable in this context? Are any of the words that they associated with “holiness” not suitable in this context?  How is the concept of “rest” expressed on Shabbat?

Content Study:

  • Open with the Shabbat Bereishit resource, which discusses the Biblical source for resting on Shabbat.  We will understand how Shabbat became a symbol of a day of rest and how it impacts the rest of our week (as well as for other religions and nations). 
  • Study the Biblical passage cited in the Shabbat – Rest for All resource, which focuses on the scope of rest on Shabbat, according to Jewish tradition. This passage teaches us about the value of social equality that is inherent in Shabbat.
  • Choose passages from Jewish thought that relate to this topic using resources which refer to the writings of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel (Shabbat – An Island in a Tumultuous Ocean and Shabbat – A Palace in Time) and Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (Shabbat – Time to Contemplate Anew).
  • Learn about aspects of rest and holiness on Shabbat as expressed in various imagery – a day of respite, renewing energy, detaching from everyday life, etc.
  • For older students: Teach about the holiness of Shabbat, and time in general, using the Kiddush and Kedusha resource. 

Unit Closing/Assessment:

Consider the main questions of the unit in light of what was studied. Examine with the students: What is the significance of resting on Shabbat – for society as a whole and for each person individually? What aspects of Shabbat can be adopted into our lives so that we may feel rest and holiness in them?