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Q. Which is your favourite Shabbat service – Friday night, Shabbat morning, Musaf or Minchah?

A. It’s a matter of personal choice, and every Shabbat worshipper will have his or her own answer.

I know there was a time when I felt my congregation, who habitually only came in time for the Torah reading and Musaf, were missing out on the magnificent Shabbat morning prayers; and I made the radical suggestion (tongue-in-cheek, and probably not very halakhically) that we should start with Musaf, which does not have such majestic content, then proceed to read the Torah and haftarah, and conclude with a Shacharit service.

The only response I got was the question, "But what about the Kiddush? When are we to have the Kiddush?" So I gave up and left things as they were.

There is a very good argument in favour of calling the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service, with its emphasis on the beauties of Creation, the best service of the week.

A Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Chayyim of Tchernowitz, used to say that for him the most important Shabbat service was Minchah, the afternoon prayers. Not only is it short and full of joy and delight, but it begins in the relaxed mood engendered by the preceding hours of Shabbat, and it yearns for the sabbatical unity of soul between God and Israel to continue forever.

Despite this there could even be an argument that the Sabbath-night Havdalah is the best service, because it tells us that it is time, now that our spiritual energies have been re-charged, to move back into the world and get on with enhancing the Creation.


WOMEN & SHABBAT CANDLES

Q. I always thought women lit the Shabbat candles for positive reasons – because the candles bring light and joy to the home, and it is the woman who is regarded as the bringer of light and joy. But someone told me that it is to make up for Eve’s transgression that the candles are lit by women. How can this be?

A. Women have had the mitzvah of kindling the Sabbath lights for at least 1900 years: Mishnah Shabbat 2:6 threatens serious consequences if a woman neglects the practice.

In the G’mara (Shabbat 32a), Rashi quotes a Midrash which says that Eve’s sin caused death to enter the world and thus "put out the light of the world", since King Solomon said, "The soul of man is the light of the Lord" (Prov. 20:27; cf. Gen. 2:7). The Jewish woman who lights Shabbat candles is thus said to be making up for Eve’s sin.

But the more positive view is that it is the woman who usually contributes the emotional and spiritual flavour to the home and says (or implies), in the words of one of the meditations often used on Friday evening, "May the holy and beautiful influence of the Sabbath ever abide with us… As I kindle these Sabbath lights as signs of joy and devotion so may Thy light be kindled within us".

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Applewas for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com