Jewish Rabbis on the Sabbath and the Gentiles

20140219-123759.jpgBy Leif L.

Is the Sabbath intended for the Gentiles? The answer to this question is an essential starting point for dealing with the Sabbath issue.

This is the second part of a series about the Sabbath. Click here for a list of our Sabbath articles.

Gentiles and the Sabbath

Recently, I contacted a number of Jewish rabbis with the following questions. If anybody understands the Sabbath, it is the Jewish people, who have kept and guarded this observance for over 2500 years. The Torah was given to them, and they speak and read in its original tongue.

1. Was Sabbath observance ever required of Gentiles (non-Jewish people)?
2. Is the Sabbath a creation ordinance (that is, was it established at creation for all of mankind)?
3. Was the command to keep the Sabbath in effect before the giving of the law, and was it observed by Adam, Enoch, Noah and Abraham?

Here are the replies I received from these experts in Jewish law:


Gentiles are not meant to keep Shabbat…including all the people you’ve mentioned as well as all Gentiles today. Based on the Talmud it seems that Abraham did observe the Shabbat.
If by creation ordinance you mean A Noahide Commandment, then no it is not a creation ordinance.
Rabbi David Fredman, Aish Minnesota
Thank you for your insightful question. The answer is; it is written in the Torah that Shabbat is G-d’s special gift “between me and the Jewish people, a sign forever”. Shabbat is only for the Jewish people. I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Chanosh Rosenfeld, Chabad Lubavitch of Hamilton
Shabbat is only given to the Jewish people or those converts to Judaism that will join them. Before the giving of the Torah there was no obligation to observe Shabbat, and gentiles don’t need to observe Shabbat.
Rabbi Chaim Sunitsky
Hi Leif,
The commandment to observe Shabbos was given specifically to the Jewish people. There is no reference in the Torah for it applying to other nations. I hope this helps.
All the best,
Rabbi Eliezar Zalmanov.

To the best of my knowledge:

  1. Sabbath observance was not expected of Gentiles. In the list of the 7 commandments that the rabbis determined were obligatory by Gentiles, Sabbath observance is not one of them.
  2. Seemingly although the Sabbath is derived from the six days of God’s creation followed by a seventh day of rest, also mentioned as the reason for observance in the Decalogue in the book of Exodus, Sabbath observance may not have been observed from earliest times.  Rashi, the famous medieval commentator, claims in his comment on the first verse in Genesis that there are no laws in Genesis or the first 11 chapters of Exodus.
  3. Answered in the previous response.

Hope that helps.
Daniel Isaak, rabbi

The answered they gave to these inquiries are clear, simple, and unambiguous:

1. “Gentiles are not meant to keep Shabbat” “Shabbat is only given to the Jewish people”
2. “It is not a creation ordinance”
3. “Before the giving of the Torah there was no obligation to observe Shabbat”

This is the traditional Jewish view of the obligation of Sabbath keeping, and the basis for their belief that the Sabbath was intended for the Jew only, and not for other nations, is based on the Torah. As Rabbi Zalmanov states, “There is no reference in the Torah for it applying to other nations.”

Justin Martyr, in his discourse with Trypho the Jew in AD 150, wrote:

Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned [Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah, Melchizedek, and Abraham], though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God; and after them Abraham with all his descendants until Moses… And you [fleshly Jews] were commanded to keep Sabbaths, that you might retain the memorial of God. For His word makes this announcement, saying, “That you may know that I am God who redeemed you.” (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 204)

And again:

“But if we do not admit this, we shall be liable to fall into foolish opinion, as if it were not the same God who existed in the times of Enoch and all the rest, who neither were circumcised after the flesh, nor observed Sabbaths, nor any other rites, seeing that Moses enjoined such observances… For if there was no need of circumcision before Abraham, or of the observance of Sabbaths, of feasts and sacrifices, before Moses; no more need is there of them now, after that, according to the will of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God has been born without sin, of a virgin sprung from the stock of Abraham.” (Dialogue With Trypho the Jew, 150-165 AD, Ante-Nicene Fathers , vol. 1, page 206)

This shows that it was known in the second century among Jews and Christians that the Sabbath was not kept before Moses, even by Israel before the Exodus.

Messianic (Christian) Jewish Rabbi Derek Leman has an article on his website that agrees with the Orthodox Jewish statements above.

Our next article on the Sabbath examines the evidence from Scripture that the Sabbath was indeed intended for the Jews.

Addition, August 18, 2018:

Here is another quote from a Jewish Rabbi I was in touch with. Don’t misunderstand what he is saying regarding the link between the Sabbath and creation. The Sabbath commandment is patterned after God’s rest at creation (which is clear from Exodus 20). What Rabbi Schwartz is communicating is that the Sabbath institution, as a commandment or requirement, did not begin until Moses, when it was given as a sign between the people of Israel and their God.

The Sabbath was only ever an obligation to the nation of Israel after the Exodus (“throughout their generations” Ex. 31:16); not even Abraham was under obligation to keep the Sabbath. Based on Talmudic writings, Jews believe Abraham observed not only the Sabbath, but all 613 of the Jewish laws, as a forefather and example to the Jews that were to follow.

Dear Leif,
Shabbat is definitely built into Creation, and therefore there is an idea of resting, contemplating, learning, thinking on this special day. However, it is only an obligation for the Jewish people. Even Avraham [Abraham] who kept all mitzvos [613 commandments], did so of his own, but was not obligated to do so. 
Best wishes,
Avraham Tzvi Schwartz”

(Edited and expanded Aug. 13, 2014, March 15, 2015 and August 18, 2018 – L.L.)

7 responses to “Jewish Rabbis on the Sabbath and the Gentiles

  1. Pingback: The Sabbath, I: Blessing or Curse? | Solus Christus | In Christ Alone·

  2. Hi Leif, Thanks for the insights. I never would have considered this had you not brought it to light.

  3. Hi Margaret,

    Thanks for the kind response. I am from a Sabbatarian background that harshly condemns any and all who do not rest and worship on Saturday. It is an unfortunate reality that I must continually deal with, and increases my appreciation for the freedom we have in Christ from the condemnation that originates with those who place their faith in ritual observances.

    The apostles wrote plainly that there is no place for such in the New Testament church.

  4. This was a brilliant action on your part, to correspond directly with some rabbis. This is a good example for anyone to follow: do your own research; go to the source; ask questions. While their responses were brief, they gave you some of their precious time. How many rabbis did you contact initially and what was the response rate?

  5. I probably asked 20 different rabbis. I posted all but a couple, which were either too short to be useful, or too generic to answer the questions I asked.

    I was amazed at how clear and uniform the answers of these rabbis were, and they spawned a lot of further inquiry on my part. Hence the chain of articles here, in which I try to provide facts and points of view that were unknown to me just a few years ago.

    Do your own research. Don’t confine it to one particular source (author, church organization) that supports your personal point of view. All reliable facts will lead to the truth, and truth has nothing to fear.

  6. Leif, one other thing to consider which I’ve been unable to get a good answer from anyone teaching against gentiles keeping the sabbath is, just who was judging the uncircumcised Colossians? Most Protestants will tell you that the same ones from Acts 15, believers from the Pharisee party were judging them for not keeping the sabbath but that makes no sense, for as the Rabbi’s whom you’ve question reveal that Jews never required uncircumcised gentiles to keep the sabbath or feasts. That’s why Acts 15 is about circumcision and coming under the whole law, and to the Pharisees the whole law meant the written law as well as the oral law.

    Since the Colossians were not circumcised, no Jew would judge them for not keeping the sabbath and feasts until they were circumcised.

    So, who was judging them in regards to eating, drinking, sabbaths, feasts, and when to keep the feasts (new moons)? Consider the possibility that the Colossians were indeed keeping the sabbaths and the feasts while uncircumcised, the believing Pharisees would most certainly be judging them for that, especially if the Colossians were only obeying the written law and not the oral traditions.

    Honestly that’s the only explanation of Col. 2 that makes any sense. They were keeping the sabbath and feasts, just like the Corinthians were keeping the days of unleavened bread 1Cor. 5:8.

    Kevin McMillen

    • Hello Kevin,
      Thank you for your comment. The answer is pretty simple and obvious, given the message and context of the letter to Colossians.
      Certain gnostic teachers had a lot of influence among the believers in Colossae; they set themselves up as sources of hidden salvific truth – the necessity of keeping certain Jewish laws, heeding visions, worshipping angels, ascetic practices, diminishing the deity of Jesus, etcetera. They were pointing people to such practices and beliefs to bring them closer to God, rather than holding to the Head, Jesus.
      Paul is warning the church not to fall under the condemnation of these false teachers, nor to heed their deceptive doctrines that draw attention away from the cross, where their debt was paid in full, and from the blood that has made peace between them and God, by which means alone can sinners be transferred to the kingdom of his dear Son.
      As with the Galatians, the Colossians were turning to works to try to mend the breach because of sin. If that were at all possible, Jesus died in vain. Those works and ceremonies pointed to the only One who can give us life, but as fallen humans, we always want to return to dead works to please the living God. This is probably the greatest error the church has fallen into through the centuries.
      I hope that helps.

Please let me know what you think! I learn from your comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s