What is Meant by – 'Welcoming the Shabbat'?
In its source 'Greeting the Shabbat' is part of a public prayer recited in synagogues. It includes psalms, chants and portions of the Talmud and the Zohar, recited when Shabbat sets in, between the prayers of Mincha and Maariv of Shabbat.
The roots of the custom may stem from the age of the Talmud: Rabbi Chanina would cover himself standing up at the arrival of Shabbat and would say, "Let us go out to greet the Shabbat Queen" and Rabbi Yanai would put on his Shabbat garments and say, "Come, bride, come bride".
(Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 119-1)
The welcoming of Shabbat as it is practiced nowadays has its source in Safed from the 16th century. At that time, the Ari and his students would cover themselves in white and would go out and welcome the Shabbat in the field, out of the city, in song and prayer.
The famous chant, 'Lecha Dodi' composed by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz is one of the special passages dedicated to the welcoming of Shabbat.
The custom of Safed was embraced by Ashkenazi communities and by most Sephardi communities. In some communities it is customary to precede the Shabbat Welcoming by reciting the 'Song of Songs'.
In kibbutz's and in non-observant Jewish communitys alternative 'Kabbalat Shabbat' traditions have ensued; these ceremonies of dedicating the Shabbat generally focus on the three primary symbols of welcoming the Shabbat: candle lighting, Kiddush on the fruit of the vine and the blessing over Challah. The ceremony includes also singing, music, reading passages, thoughts of the portion of the week, discussions and family or community shared events. Every community or group has devised and continues to formulate its ceremonies that reflect its philosophy, its values and its vision in a way that meets its needs.