Kabbalat Shabbat (קַבָּלַת שַׁבָּת; literally "Reception of the Shabbat") designates the inauguration of the Shabbat in general and, in a more specifically liturgical sense, is the part of the Friday evening service which precedes the regular evening prayer and solemnly welcomes the Shabbat.
The Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony begins considerably before nightfall "so as to add from the weekday to the holy day." Much care is traditionally lavished on preparing for the Shabbat. All housework that is forbidden on the Shabbat - for example cooking or baking - is completed beforehand. It is customary to bathe before the beginning of the Shabbat and to put on festive clothes. The Talmud tells that Rabbi Ḥanina used to put on his Shabbat clothes and stand at sunset of Shabbat eve and exclaim: "Come and let us go forth to welcome the Queen Shabbat" and Rabbi Yannai used to don his festive robes at that time and exclaim, "Come, O bride! Come, O bride!"
These stories served as the main motif for the Shabbat hymn "Lecha Dodi" of Solomon ha-Levi Alkabetz and formed the basis of the custom of the kabbalists of Safed, who welcomed the Shabbat by going into the fields on Fridays at sunset to recite special prayers and hymns in honor of the Shabbat amid nature. In traditional synagogues this prayer is recited no later than half an hour after sunset. It opens with Psalm 29 (in the Ashkenazi and some other rites with the six Psalms 95–99 and 29 corresponding to the six days of creation or the six weekdays). The hymn "Lecha Dodi" is then sung, followed by Psalms 92 and 93. In some rituals the evening service is preceded by the recital of the Song of Songs in honor of the Bride (or Queen) Shabbat. In many traditional rituals the hymn "Anna be-Kho'ah" is said before the "Lecha Dodi" (or Psalm 121). Chapter 2 of Mishnah Shabbat (Ba-Meh Madlikin) is recited in some rites before the main evening prayer, in other rites following it. In the Yemenite ritual special piyyutim are also inserted before the evening prayer on those Shabbats which coincide with the New Moon as well as for Shabbats in the Omer period. The major deviations from the regular evening service are the elimination of the petitions of the Amidah and the substitution of blessings in honor of the Shabbat.
In Israel, special Kabbalat Shabbat ceremonies are held on Friday at noontime in schools and kindergartens, and before supper in some kibbutzim, where they consist of lighting the Shabbat candles, reciting poetry, and singing songs in honor of the weekly day of rest. In the United States, many Reform and Conservative synagogues have introduced the late Friday evening service, which starts after the end of the business day in order to enable a greater number of the congregants to participate. The central feature of the service is the rabbi's sermon; after the service an Oneg Shabbat (Shabbat Reception) is usually held.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.