of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



One should set the table [for Shabbat], make the couches, and set everything in the house in order so that when one returns from the synagogue one will find [everything] arranged and in order.Note: The table should remain set throughout Shabbat: this is the custom and it should not be altered.


In the previous section we determined what is the appropriate time for lighting the candles, which is the last act to be performed before Shabbat begins. We shall return to this topic in Section 263, where the actual lighting of the candles will be treated extensively and comprehensively. But our present section, Section 262, deals with a couple of other matters that should be seen to before lighting the candles.

We have already seen on several occasions that the house or apartment must be thoroughly cleaned in expectation of Shabbat. Indeed, in their commentaries on our present section several poskim [decisors] point out that even cobwebs should be removed from the abode in honour of Shabbat! While that requirement clearly dates from a bygone era, it does give us some indication of the extent to which the preparation of the home should go. Before Shabbat begins our abode should be clean, neat and tidy - as befits the expected arrival of royalty.

Our present section is particularly concerned with two last preparations for Shabbat. It is expected that at least some of the members of the family will attend the evening service in the synagogue. (In modern times, in many households the whole family attends this service.) When they return from the synagogue they should immediately sit down to the first of the three meals - repasts! - which are de rigeur on Shabbat. (That the meal should start immediately will become apparant when we reach Section 271.) In order for it to be possible to start the Shabbat repast with no delay when the family returns from the synagogue the table must already be prepared. What this means in practice will depend on the dining customs of the area in which one lives (or of one's own family). In some cases the table is set with a clean cloth, but the cutlery and other utensils are put in place only as needed during the meal. In other cases the table is set not only with a clean cloth but also with the cutlery and plates that will be used during the meal. What holds good in all cases is that the table be ready for the start of the meal.

In Mishnaic and Talmudic times it was customary to take the festive meals while lying on couches around a low table. (For further comments see explanation #6 on Tractate Pesaĥim 10:1. Nowadays, of course, the requirement that we "make the couches" means that the chairs should be set neatly around the dining table so that each diner will immediately be able to sit down to the meal. (Several commentators also see in this requirement that the beds upon which people will sleep that night should also have been made before the candles are lit.)

The next requirement made in this section is a general one: that before lighting the candles one must make sure that we have "set everything in the house in order so that when one returns from the synagogue one will find everything arranged and in order". This requirement derives from a well-known aggadah to be found in the Gemara [Shabbat 119b]:

Rabbi Yosé bar-Yehudah says that on Friday night two ministering angels accompany a person home from the synagogue - one good and one bad. When one comes home and finds the candles lit, the table set and the couches ready the good angel says "May it be thus [also] on the next Shabbat", and the bad angel has to respond "Amen". If this is not the case it is the bad angel who says "May it be thus [also] on the next Shabbat", and the good angel has to respond "Amen".

The house should remain clean and tidy throughout Shabbat as this is part of "Kevod Shabbat", the honouring of Shabbat. After each meal the dining area should be cleaned and tidied, ready for the next meal. Rabbi Moshe Isserles adds that the table should remain set (i.e. tidy and ready for the next meal) throughout Shabbat - until after Havdalah. This means that the tablecloth should remain in place on the table throught the holy day. For this reason there are many families who have the custom of using two tablecloths: in this way the upper tablecloth can be removed in order to shake it clean of crumbs etc and the table itself will still remain covered. Many modern families simply put a transparent plastic sheet over the tablecloth which can be removed and replaced as necessary.


I wrote: Rabbi Karo states that when the congregation has started reciting the evening service on Friday evening Shabbat must be deemed to have started for the whole community... As Rabbi Karo points out, nowadays it is the recitation of Pslam 92 that marks the onset of Shabbat if it is recited before sunset.

Cheryl Birkner Mack has this question:

Who is included in the "community" which recites Psalm 92 - those who are in the minyan, their families, the neighbors? My husband understand that while Shabbat begins for him when he says Psalm 92 in shul, if I have remained at home Shabbat doesn't begin for me until I light the candles - in any case I should light before he returns home. Is this correct?

I respond:

The Shulĥan Arukh is referring to a small, close-knit community where everybody (or at least, every adult male) in the village or township attends synagogue. Thus, the congregation can determine the time when Shabbat begins for everyone. In such circumstances the time when the evening service begins in the synagogue would also be the time by which the candles should be lit at home. In our modern situation this cannot apply except in very special circumstances - such as on a religious Kibbutz or Moshav. Under normal circumstances the candles should be lit at home no later than the time when Shabbat begins according to the custom of that locality (see the sunmmary in explanation #10 in our last shiur).

I assume that Cheryl's question relates to the long summer evenings when, in most congregations we hold the Friday evening service before the onset of dark. Since we may not begin Kabbalat Shabbat before Plag ha-Minĥah in any case there is no danger that Cheryl would light the candles too early. (Again, see the previous shiur for fuller explanations.) In this case, then, Cheryl's husband is perfectly correct: even if it is not yet dark Cheryl should light the candles (and accept upon herself the sanctity of Shabbat) some time after Plag ha-Minĥah and before her husband returns home from synagogue, so that he will "find the candles lit, the table set and the couches ready".


Even though I am officially on vacation I hope that the next shiur in this series will be on 2nd November 2004, as usual. Forgive me if I should fail in my good intentions .