#What-I-Wish-My-Christian-and-Atheist-and-Generally-Non-Jewish-Friends-Knew-about-Judaism Vol. 3 is the first in a few posts about the Shabbat, that will be posted on Fridays.
Yes, I can already hear some of you gasp, "Oh my, you spelled Sabbath wrong!" Actually, I didn't. The word "שבת" is pronounced, and thus transliterated as "shabbat". The stem of this word is "shavat", meaning "ceasing", that is, from work. I personally think that translating it as rest is incorrect: it doesn't imply rest, and the Shabbat is not primarily a day of rest. The English word "Sabath" was derived, possibly by a reading mistake, from the Hebrew word.
Shabbat denotes the seventh day of the week, based on the creation story found in Genesis. Isaac Asimov also wrote an essay about how weeks came to exist, which is a pretty non-Bible based, but absolutely possible approach.
The Shabbat, the seventh day of the week, begins at sunset, like every other day. That is based on the creation story of Genesis 1 as well: " So the evening and the morning were the first day." It goes like this for the whole week, so our days start at sunset and end at nightfall the next day. More about that will be explained in a post about the Hebrew calendar. Observance, of the Shabbat, however, starts before sunset. As the traditional way to usher in the Shabbat is to light candles, and kindling and putting out fires on the Shabbat is forbidden (unless doing so is to save lives), this traditionally happens 18 minutes before sunset. In Jerusalem, however, the tradition is to light the candles 40 minutes before sunset. It can be done at other times, based on local traditions and decisions by local rabbinical authorities.
Since the Shabbat is such a dominant part of the lives of Jews, we have special greetings we use on this day. Starting somewhere around midday Friday it's apropriate to greet someone with "Shabbat Shalom". Another greeting is "Shalom aleichem", meaning peace unto you. The response to that is "Aleichem shalom."
Shabbat is often referred to as "Shabbat haMalka", Shabbat the Queen. Shabbat is this special for us. Of course the levels of observance vary among Jews just as much as keeping the Sabath holy vaaries among Christians. There are two basic things that all the Shabbat mitzvot (laws) come down to: to enjoy and sanctify it.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask. It's a lot easier for me to write about things that my readers would like to know.