What is Oneg Shabbat?

In the student world, an Oneg Shabbat (or oneg for short) is a post-dinner program on Friday night, usually involving candy, snacks, and making l’chayims.

In fact, Oneg Shabbat is a halachic term for the sheer physical enjoyment we should take in Shabbat. (Oneg literally means pleasure or delight.) Isaiah 58 says: You shall call the Shabbat a delight (oneg) and the holy thing of God shall be honored.

How is this sublime requirement of oneg to be fulfilled, the Talmud wonders. Rabbi Yehudah answers, through eating spinach, large fish and heads of garlic. Rav Pappa says that it may be fulfilled even with something small like little fish fried in oil and flour (Talmud Shabbat 118b). Its typical of the halachah to seek such mundane physical expression for lofty values.

Today, we fulfill oneg Shabbat by eating three meals and buying and preparing the best food and drink we can afford. Sexual intimacy (for a married couple) is also a part of oneg Shabbat (Maimonides, Laws of Shabbat 30:14).

The Talmud promises lavish spiritual rewards to those who make Shabbat an oneg, a delight. Throughout the ups and downs of our history, Jews have made sacrifices in order to make Shabbat special, creating a weekly oasis of joy and delight.