Westchester Jewish Center

Friday Night Shabbat at Home

A How to Guide with Hebrew, transliteration and translation.

ShabbatWelcoming Shabbat on Friday evening in your home can be one of the most meaningful experiences you give yourself and your family. This brief guide is intended to give you the basics.

Some people grow up with a traditional Friday night; others don’t. No matter where you start from, there are places to go. It may seem daunting or complicated at first, like any ritual. But once you are comfortable with it, the calm of Shabbat takes over. If the basics are comfortable and familiar, look for other ways to enhance your Shabbat such as discussions of the weekly parsha, or if you have younger children, let everyone say what they are grateful for in the previous week.

There are also many books on Shabbat. A brief recommended list includes:

Isaacs, Rabbi Ron. The How to Handbook for Jewish Living

For families with younger children:

Rouss, Sylvia. Sammy Spider's First Shabbat
Rauchwerger, Diane Levin. Dinosaur on Shabbat
Wasserman, Mira. Too Much of a Good Thing
Simpson, Lesley. The Shabbat Box
Schwartz, Amy. Mrs. Moskowitz and the Sabbath Candlesticks

Lighting Shabbat candles as evening approaches marks the beginning of Shabbat. Traditionally, two candles are lit, representing the two times that the fourth Commandment is cited in the Torah: "Remember – Zachor (Ex. 20:8) and Observe – Shamor (Dt. 5:12) the Sabbath Day."

Please consult a Jewish calendar for candlelighting times or go to the website calendar. If you don't have a Jewish calendar, you can get candlelighting times on line from sites such as hebcal.com. Choose a place for the candles to stay throughout Shabbat. Set your candles in the candlesticks and have a match and matchbook set beside them. In some families, everyone gathers to light candles; in others, the woman and/or her daughters light privately. If it is not possible for you to light candles at the specific time, please consult Rabbi Segelman at [email protected]

Normally, a blessing (brakhah) is said immediately before doing a mitzvah (fulfilling a commandment) and then we do the mitzvah, without further interruption. But since we usher in Shabbat by the act of saying the blessing, we can’t light the candles after saying the blessing because it is already Shabbat. Instead we light candles in the following way:

  1. Light the candles. Note: every Jew is obligated to light candles. When both a man and woman are present, the woman has traditionally lit candles for all present because it is one of the mitzvot specifically assigned to women. If there is only an adult male present, then the man is obligated to light for those present. 
  2. Hand Motions: There are different customs regarding the hand movements that are done after lighting the candles but before the blessing. Some follow the custom of drawing their hands to their faces three times in a circular motion to bring Shabbat in; others do the circular motion in the opposite direction to push away any “evil spirits” that may seek to disturb the peacefulness of Shabbat.
  3. Blessing: After the third circle, the person who will say the blessing closes his or her eyes or shields the eyes with their hands and says the blessing. In this way, upon opening one's eyes, one first “sees” the candles and welcomes Shabbat. Many people offer silent personal prayers after saying the blessing. It is customary for everyone to wish each other Shabbat Shalom.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of candle-lighting blessings.

Singing Shalom Aleichem
The Midrash says that when a person comes homes from shul on Friday night, he is accompanied by two angels -- a good angel and a bad angel. If the table is beautifully set and there is a peaceful atmosphere in the home, then the good angel says, "So may it be next week" and the bad angel is forced to say, "Amen -- so may it be!" But if the house is a mess (both physically and emotionally), then the bad angel says, "So may it be next week" and the good angel is forced to say, "Amen!"

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of Shalom Aleichem

Eishet Chayil
In some families, the husband will read or sing a biblical poem expressing his love and admiration for his wife. While this tradition is less common in non-Orthodox families, it is probably because it is unfamiliar and we no longer think it usual for husbands to recite poetry to their wives.

Click here for Hebrew and Transliteration of Eishet Chayil.
Click here for Translation of Eishet Chayil.

Blessing the Children
Following candlelighting, many people bless their children. Blessing our children is another way of expressing our love, our hope that they are blessed with health and happiness, and that God has a presence in their lives. The father and/or the mother place their hands upon their child’s head and recite the blessings. The first part is gender-specific, asking God to make our children like Ephraim and Menashe or Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. The second part is the three-part priestly blessing.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration


Kiddush is the formal sanctification of Shabbat and it is recited over a full cup of wine. Kiddush tells how God completed creation on the sixth day and then gave us the seventh day as a day of rest. So we bless God for giving us Shabbat to remember both creation, the day of rest, and the Exodus from Egypt.

While the Kiddush blessing is fixed, customs vary. Anyone over Bar/Bat Mitzvah age may recite Kiddush on behalf of all those present. Often it is the father, but it doesn’t have to be. In some families, everyone sings together. In many families, everyone joins in towards the end. In some homes, everyone stands; in others, everyone sits; in still others, the person reciting Kiddush stands and everyone else sits. There are also variations in how Kiddush wine is handled. In some families, everyone has their own Kiddush cup filled with wine (or grape juice); in others it is poured from the main cup and some people use a Kiddush fountain to accomplish the same thing.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of Kiddush

Hand Washing

Following Kiddush, those present ritually wash their hands. This can be done with a cup and bowl at the table or at the kitchen sink. The handwashing is symbolic of the ritual washing in the Temple and it conveys the idea that the dinner table is like an alter and deserves respectful behavior. The ritual is done as follows: with a cup (it can be a special washing cup but does not need to be): With the left hand, pour water over the right hand and then do the reverse. This is done two or three times and then the blessing is recited. It is customary to refrain from talking after you’ve washed your hands until the challah is blessed and eaten. It’s always interesting to see who likes to wash last to talk longest.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of the blessing for washing your hands


When everyone is back at the table, the challah cover is removed from the two loaves. We traditionally use two loaves to remind us of the double portion of manna that the Jews received each Friday while they were in the desert. The two challahs are held together and blessed and then the challah is distributed. Some families cut and pass, others tear and pass; some even tear and toss. Another traditions are to dip the challah in salt.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of Motzi (blessing over the challah)

Birkat HaMazon

After the meal is completed, everyone joins to sing Birkat HaMazon or grace after meals. This is also called bentsching.

Click here for Hebrew, English and Transliteration of Birkat HaMazon from the Hillel website.

Click here for a more traditional translation

Material from this section is drawn from:

Greenberg, Blu. How to Run a Jewish Household. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.
Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. Jewish Literacy. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1991