Sabbath (Heb. shabbath, day of rest), the name of the seventh day of the week among the Hebrews, dedicated to an entire cessation from worldly labor. It began on Friday evening, and extended to the evening following. Whether it was instituted by Moses or was of ante-Mosaic origin is disputed. A wilful violation of the sabbath was punished with death. In later times the provisions of the Mosaic law respecting the sabbath were greatly extended by the Jews; travelling was forbidden, and only "a sabbath day's journey" (2,000 paces beyond the limits of one's town or village) allowed. In the time of the Maccabees many zealous Jews permitted themselves to be slaughtered by the enemy rather than defend themselves on the sabbath. Christ reproached the sect of the Pharisees for the stress they laid on a mere external strictness in observing the sabbath without corresponding purity of heart and life. The Mishnah enumerates 39 principal sorts of business which must not be performed on the sabbath, and each of them has again its subdivisions. Stated meetings for worship seem not to have been connected with the sabbath until after the exile. The sabbath before the passover was called the great sabbath.
Every seventh year was called the sabbatical year, in which the fields remained uncultivated and debts could not be collected. The great majority of the Christian churches celebrate the first day of the week, Sunday, instead of the seventh (sabbath); but a few small denominations, as the Seventh Day Baptists, the adherents of Joanna Southcote, etc, maintain that the change was made without Scriptural warrant, and therefore adhere to the religious celebration of the seventh day. There is also a small sect of Sabbatarian Christians in Transylvania. (See Lord's Day).