Kenneth Cohen

Atonement for Shabbat Violation

The observance of Shabbat is one of the pillars of Judaism. It is considered the one Mitzva that has kept the Jewish people together, during our long exile. Families create a strong bond because of this special day of the week.

The fourth of the Ten Commandments is the requirement to “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” It is obvious that this is viewed by the Torah as having great importance.

The punishments mentioned in the Torah for Shabbat violation, emphasizes how serious we must approach this day. We are told of the “gatherer of sticks,” who was put to death by stoning, for transgressing Shabbat.

It is interesting to note how the Talmud describes the accountability every Jew must have in connection with Shabbat. One who violates this holy day because of lack of knowledge is treated differently, than one who knew about these laws, but accidentally violated a particular Melacha.

The remedy during the time of the Temple, for inadvertently sinning, was the offering of a sin offering. Being that we have thirty-nine Melachot, acts that are considered, “work,” it is possible to owe more than one sin offering.

If a Jew grew up completely ignorant of his Judaism, or he only learned that he was Jewish at a later age, he is in a special category. He only owes one חטאת, sin offering, for all of the Shabbats he did not observe.

The next category is one who simply got mixed up as to the day of the week. When he realizes, it was Shabbat, he only needs one sin offering for all of the forbidden activities he did.

The final category involves an individual who knew it was Shabbat, but did not know that certain activities were forbidden. He needs to offer a separate sin-offering for each forbidden act. Being that the animal offered is a bull, he owes a lot of bull!

It is fascinating to study these detailed laws as explained by the Torah and Talmud. I have been teaching Tractate Shabbat for over two years, five days a week, and we are completing this section of Talmud this week. This demonstrates the importance of Shabbat and how much we need to learn to properly observe this pillar of Judaism.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at