Cooking on Shabbat??: Exodus 35:3 as evidence that we are not to cook on the Sabbath
The Nature of Shabbat
The Sabbath (or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew) is one of the best known and least understood of all Jewish observances. People who do not observe Shabbat think of it as a day filled with stifling restrictions, or as a day of prayer like the Christian Sabbath. But to those who observe Shabbat, it is a precious gift from G-d, a day of great joy eagerly awaited throughout the week, a time when we can set aside all of our weekday concerns and devote ourselves to higher pursuits. In Jewish literature, poetry and music, Shabbat is described as a bride or queen, as in the popular Shabbat hymn Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah (come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride). It is said “more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel.”
In the Hebrew language, six out of the seven days of the week do not have names. They are, rather, “the first day,” “the second day,” and so on, up to “the sixth day.” Only the seventh day has a name—Shabbat, the Sabbath. The root of Shabbat is resting, refraining from work. But the traditional Shabbat is much more than simply a day off.
A comparison of Genesis 2:1-3 (the first Sabbath) with Exodus 20:7-10 (the Commandment to remember the Sabbath), reveals that the Shabbat is an act of testimony to God’s Creation of the World, as well as a kind of imitatio dei (emulating God’s example of rest.) For traditionally observant Jews, the Shabbat involves a fairly complex series of restrictions on “work,” defined in the Talmud in ways that far exceed what we today might perceive as work—any kind of creative intervention in the natural world. Thus, a religious Jew can not ride, write, cook, handle money, use electrical appliances, speak on the telephone, and do many other things that intuitively don’t seem to involve all that much physical effort. The framework thus created is one of rest and relaxation, but is also infused with sanctity through prayer, Torah study and both home and synagogue rituals.
Is it acceptable to cook on the Sabbath? Can one light a fire or even maintain a fire on the Sabbath?
Exodus 35:3 says, “You shall not kindle a fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.” Some say that this verse indicates that we are not allowed to light a fire and therefore not allowed to cook on the Sabbath. Others say that this verse is given in the context of the instructions for building the tabernacle immediately following the verse. Are there any other verses to support one position or another?
Exodus 16:23 says, “…Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath to YHWH. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and that which remains over, lay up for you to be kept until the morning. This verse can be interpreted two ways: first, bake or boil everything today, and whatever you don’t consume today, you can consume tomorrow; second, bake or boil what you will consume today, and you can bake or boil tomorrow whatever is left over. Obviously this is still no help.
Exodus 16:5 “And it shall come to pass that on the sixth day they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” This verse speaks of preparing everything that is brought in on the sixth day. The word, prepare, Strong’s number H3559, kun, is used in Genesis 43:16, “And when Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the ruler of his house, ‘Bring these men home and slay and make ready (#H3559), for these men shall dine with me at noon.’” In this context, it speaks of the process by which something is prepared to eat.
The day before the Sabbath is called the “day of the preparation,” Matthew 27:62. Mark 15:42 “And now when even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath…” Luke 23:54 “And that day was the preparation, and the Sabbath drew on.” What is there to prepare? If it is not food, the only remaining thing would be one’s self. However, we should be also prepared for the other holy days, but it is specifically described as the day before the Sabbath. A side note – no day is called “Shabbat” by YHWH in scripture except for the weekly Sabbath and Yom HaKippurim. Only man ascribes the term to the other holy days.
In Leviticus 23, the feast days are described:
Seventh day: Shabbat shabbaton; do no work (melacha)
Passover: work day
First day of Unleavened bread: do no service work (melachet avda)
Seventh day of Unleavened bread: do no service work (melachet avda)
First fruits: work day
Shavuot: do no service work (melechet avda)
Yom Teruah: shabbaton; do no service work (melechet avda)
Yom HaKippurim: Shabbat shabbaton; do no work (melacha)
First day of Succot: shabbaton; do no service work (melechet avda)
Eighth day of Succot: shabbaton; do no service work (melechet avda)
Exodus 12:16 elaborates on what is acceptable on the first and last days of Unleavened Bread: “And in the first day is a holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them save that which every man must eat; that only may be done of you.” This is the description of “no work of service.” Avda is a form of the word avodah (employment work) from the word eved (servant/slave).
So, if “do no service work” means don’t do anything except cooking, what does “do no work” mean?