> Shabbat > Shabbat How To > Before Shabbat

Shabbat Checklist and Basic Laws

May 9, 2009 | by Lori Palatnik

Your handy guide to prepare and organize for a spectacular Shabbat.

Preparing for Shabbat is a matter of learning and experience, which, in time, become as natural as breathing. Hang in there, and find the rhythm that's best for you.

As you go through this list, click on the links for more detailed "how-to" articles.


1) Plan your Shabbat menu early in the week. If you've invited guests, be sure to find out if they have dietary or health restrictions.

2) Make a list of what to buy and what to do, and cross things off as you do them.

3) Do the "heavy" chores early in the week. Leave only the surface cleaning for Friday.

4) If you find yourself with some extra time on your hands (an unexpected long phone call, kids playing quietly), check grains, sift flour, etc. Then put them in a bag and freeze.

5) Double the recipe for challah, cakes, kugels, gefilte fish. Use half one week and freeze the other half. Be sure to label each item.

6) Give each of your children their own special task to be done in honor of Shabbat.

Create a "before Shabbat" checklist to make sure all tasks are finished by candle lighting. This list may include any or all of the following:


1) Ambient Lighting. Since Shabbat is to be a "delight," make sure your home is comfortable. Sufficient light should be available, so decide which lights will be left on and off.

2) Timers. You can use timers so that lights will come on and off automatically throughout Shabbat. Simple timers that your lamps plug into can be picked up at most hardware or department stores and are quite affordable. Set them to go off Friday night about 11:30 or so (depending on your own sleeping schedule), and have them come on in the late afternoon Shabbat day, perhaps around 5:00, or whenever it begins to get dark.

For overhead lighting such as chandeliers, wall timers can be easily installed in your light switches.

3) Switches. Many people put a piece of tape over the light switches in high-traffic areas such as bathrooms, so that there is no involuntary switching on and off. Jewish bookstores sell special decorative light-switch covers.

4) Fridge. The most important light is the one in the refrigerator and/or freezer. Unscrew the light bulb inside, so that it is off during the whole Shabbat. Otherwise, opening the fridge will be just like turning on a light, which is not permitted on Shabbat.

5) Thermostat. Set heat or air conditioning at the right temperature.

6) Fans. They can be moved without unplugging them during Shabbat, but they can't be turned on or off, so set the levels before Shabbat. Same with humidifiers.


1) Preparing. On Friday afternoon, taste the food. If you taste the food before Shabbat begins, it will whet your appetite for the coming feast!

2) Complete. Is all cooking complete? Anything that will remain hot (on a blech or in a slow-cooker) should be cooked before Shabbat begins. Even though cold salads can usually be prepared on Shabbat, it's often nice to have everything done ahead. Also: Open all cans, bottles and containers of food.

3) Warming Tray. Cooking is not allowed on Shabbat, but keeping cooked food warm during Shabbat (and in some cases, warming up cooked food that is cold) is not only permissible, but considered part of the mitzvah of making Shabbat a delight.

However, since there is a possibility that one may adjust the controls to regulate the degree of heat reaching the food, a reminder that this is not permitted on Shabbat is required. An electric warming tray is good for this; others cover their stovetop with a blech (a simple piece of sheet metal). It is placed, before Shabbat, over the four burners. Usually one or two of the burners are left on fairly low underneath, and the food that you wish to serve hot that evening (or the next day) is placed on the blech to remain at a warm-to-low simmer until it is ready to be eaten. Also it's a good idea to heat up your food 30 minutes before Shabbat, so that things are hot before placing them on the blech to simmer.

The beauty of a blech is that you can move the food around on top, either closer or farther away from the source of heat, depending on how hot you wish that dish to be. For example, if you have a vegetable soup in a pot on the blech that you served soup from for the Friday night meal, and you wish to serve it the next day for lunch, you simply leave it on the blech slightly off the area of immediate heat. That way, it will stay hot without boiling away. For more detailed laws, see our Guide to the laws of Shabbat.

4) Oven Technique. If you do not wish to use a blech, or you have too much food to fit on the stovetop, you can use the inside of the oven in the following way:

Heat up your prepared food ahead of time inside the oven (15 to 30 minutes). If you are serving this food Friday night, you may have at least a 1-hour delay between candle lighting and the time you actually sit down and eat (to say nothing of the preliminaries: songs, kiddush, washing, appetizers, and so forth).

To be able to serve the food hot, here's a good trick: Time the 15-to-30-minute reheating period to be just before candle lighting. At the last minute, put a challah wrapped in foil into the oven with the rest of the food, close it up, and turn the heat up very high for one minute. Then turn it off. Do not open it again until you're ready to serve the food.

Everything inside should remain hot, if well wrapped to ensure minimal heat loss. It is also a good idea to make your meat with sauces, so they won't dry out. If you are serving hot vegetables, undercook them, because this warming period will do most of the cooking for you.

5) Slow cooker. This can be used instead of, or in addition to, a blech. Your soup or chollent stew can simmer effortlessly overnight in these "crock pots." As a reminder that we don't cook on Shabbat, it is proper to cover the controls with foil.

6) Water urn or large thermos. Because you can't boil water (which is cooking) on Shabbat, use a hot-water urn, such as the kind you see at parties, which is plugged in before Shabbat and will keep the water hot the whole Shabbat. (Or use a large thermos that was filled with hot water before Shabbat, or simply a large pot that will keep warm on the blech.)

With the hot-water urn, making coffee and tea is quite simple. Just fill a clean, dry cup or mug with hot water, and pour that water into a second mug where you will add instant coffee, tea, and so forth. The reason for the intermediary mug is to cool the water down slightly so that again you don't transgress the law against cooking on Shabbat.

If you choose to use the thermos, no intermediary mug is needed, as the water was already poured from the kettle to the thermos, an act that serves the same purpose. Just be sure to boil the water before Shabbat and fill the thermos full.

7) Washing dishes. Since you can't use the hot-water tap (falling under the prohibition of cooking, since hot water removed from the hot-water tank is replaced by cold water, which then becomes hot), here's a good trick to have hot water for washing dishes: Just before candle lighting, fill one kitchen sink with hot water. Squeeze in some dishwashing soap and cover the whole sink with foil. After dinner (even hours later), simply remove the foil, and, voila, hot water to wash it all up!


1) Ready. Some make a point of covering the table with a special Shabbat tablecloth early in the day, as well as placing the candles and challah on the table in advance to usher in a Shabbat atmosphere.

2) Clean. One should wash the floor, vacuum the carpet, take a shower, don special clothing, and even change the bed sheets -- all in honor of Shabbat.

3) Flowers. It's a nice custom to buy flowers to adorn the Shabbat table. They should be placed in water before Shabbat begins. Plants should also be watered, if necessary, ahead of time.

4) Candlesticks. It's nice to have special candlesticks to light candles on, especially if they were candlesticks handed down in the family. But in a pinch, melt the candles on the back of a plate. It's nice to have extra candlesticks for guests to light as well.

Polish your silver candlesticks and kiddush cups and set them out on a white tablecloth to give your home a beautiful Shabbat atmosphere.

5) Devar Torah. Set aside an hour on Thursday night or Friday to review the weekly Torah portion, and prepare a few words that can launch a discussion of a relevant spiritual topic.

6) Make-up. All makeup should be applied before Shabbat begins, as it falls under the prohibition of "dyeing." There is special Shabbat makeup available that can be applied on Shabbat (very loose powders, eye shadows, and others).

7) Muktzah (literally, "set aside"). These are things that have no use on Shabbat and therefore shouldn't be handled, for example: money, pens, Palm Pilot. Place these items out of reach so you won't come to use them. Some people have a "muktzah drawer," into which things get thrown at the last minute.

Also: Unplug the phone, and put away (or cover) the toaster, telephone, stereo, etc.

8) Toys. Crayons, modeling clay, scissors, etc., shouldn't be used by children on Shabbat. Try to put them away to avoid any problems.

9) Last-minute phone calls. Call someone and wish them "Good Shabbos!" -- "Shabbat Shalom!"


1) Kerchiefs. When a married woman lights candles, it is proper for her to cover her head when saying the blessing. So have pretty kerchiefs available for yourself and for guests.

2) Kippot. Men and boys should wear a kippah at the Shabbat table, so it's nice to have some extras around, in case your guests didn't come with their own. (BYOK-Bring Your Own Kippah) Also called yarmulke (in Yiddish). Learn more at: Kippah: A Blessing On Your Head.

3) Kiddush cup. It's nice to have a special cup to make kiddush with. This can be an expensive silver goblet, or an affordable yet attractive wine glass, or anything in between. The cup must hold a minimum of 4 ½ ounces.

4) Small kiddush cups. After the blessing over the wine, the wine is poured into smaller glasses to be passed around to all those seated at the table. Sets of these (in silver or glass) can be purchased at local Jewish book or gift stores, or simply substitute small "shot glasses" or plastic cups.

5) Washing cup. Two-handled cups can be purchased at Jewish book or gift stores, or a quick substitute can be a large mug or glass.

6) Washing sign. You can print out a sign with the blessing for washing hands in Hebrew and phonetics. It simplifies the washing process and helps those who may not know the blessing.

7) Challah board. There are bread boards and knives made especially for the Shabbat table, often made out of olive wood or stone. Or use any kind of cutting board.

8) Challah cover. This can be a pretty napkin, or it can be a specially made challah cover, which is draped over the challah before and during ha-motzi. This is symbolic of the dew that covered the manna that fell for the Jewish people in the desert.

9) Mayim Acharonim. This is the "final water" that is passed around to wash your fingertips with. You can purchase a cup and saucer designed especially for this, or simply use a cup in a small bowl.

10) Bentchers. These are small books that contain blessings for candles, Kiddush and Grace After Meals. Many bentchers also contain songs for the Shabbat table. It's good to have enough for each person to have his or her own.

11) Havdalah candle. A braided candle is used for the Havdalah ceremony that officially ends Shabbat. They can be purchased at most Jewish bookstores and come in decorative colors and varied lengths. If you don't have one, simply use two candles, putting their wicks together while they burn.

12) Spice box. Cloves or sweet pepper used in the Havdalah ceremony can be beautifully encased in a decorative spice box made of silver, ceramic, wood, or other materials (available at Jewish book and gift stores). If you don't have one, just use the bottle that the spice came in.

Complete Havdalah sets -- kiddush cup, candle holder, and spice box -- are often purchased together. Makes a terrific gift!

13) Facial tissues. Make sure there are tissues or pre-torn toilet paper in all the bathrooms.

14) Foil and paper towels. You may want to pre-tear plastic wrap, foil, and /or paper towels, if you think you'll be needing them on Shabbat. Foil can actually be purchased in pre-torn sheets in a large boxed dispenser. For a neat paper-towel substitute, just use inexpensive paper napkins.

Adapted from "Friday Night and Beyond" by Lori Palatnik (Jason Aronson Pub.)

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