Shabbat Requirements from the Torah

There are numerous passages throughout the Torah, Prophets, and Writings which address Shabbat and its requirements. The most expansive is generally regarded to be found in Parashat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20; esp. 35:11-19), which is also repeated in Parashat Pequdei (Exodus 38:21 – 40:38; esp. 39:33-41). In the former, the text begins:

“… These are the things that HaShem has commanded you to do…. and every person wise of heart shall come and do that which God commanded” (Exodus 35:1b, 4)

Between these two phrases, the text emphasizes the priority of the Sabbath, decreeing that the Tabernacle work may only be done six days of seven, with every seventh day (Shabbat) being marked by the 39 works which follow ceasing. No work associated with any aspect of Tabernacle construction is permitted, in any form, on HaShem’s Shabbat. HaShem takes this very seriously, as evidenced in Exodus 35:2 —

“… anyone who does a melacha (work) on [Shabbat] shall be executed.”

There are some false teachers in the Hebrew Roots Movement who call these 39 Sabbath prohibitions a “tradition of man” teaching that they are not to be found in Torah. These teachers err on two fronts: (1) in that they neglect these very passages, and (2) in that they deny that Torah has to it two parts – the Written and the Oral. The Written Torah even commands us to keep the Oral Torah:

“You shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the L‑rd will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not diverge from the word they tell you, either right or left.” (Deuteronomy 17:10-11).

Not surprisingly,  Yeshua haNotzri reiterates this same command, very specifically in fact, in Matthew 23.

“Yeshua then spoke with the crowds and with his disciples. And he said to them, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on the throne of Moshe. Therefore, everything that they say to you that you, should keep and do. But, not according to their deed, for they talk, and do not.” (Matthew 23:1-3 AENT)

Messianic Jewish scholar par excellence John Fischer reflects on the passage thus:

“Yeshua condemns not the oral law, not the Pharisees, but only the hypocrites among some Pharisees…Furthermore, in the beginning of Matthew 23 (verses 2-3), Yeshua pointedly instructs his followers to practice all that the Pharisees teach!” [1]

Thus, any teacher who instructs his or her audience to disregard the Talmud is him or herself violating the Written Torah, i.e. Deuteronomy 17:10-11 and Matthew 23:1-3. The Oral expands on the Written, and Exodus 35 does not escape the inspired explanation provided in the Oral portion; and b. Shabbat 70a addresses them thus:

“These are the things… For six days you may labor…”’ ‘things’ ‘the things’ ‘these are the things’ – these are the 39 forms of melacha which were taught to Moses at Sinai.”

The same thought is echoed in b. Shabbat 97b:

“‘things’ ‘the things’ ‘these are the things’ – these are the 39 forms of melacha.

The phrase “these things” is explained in Midrash haGadol:

“These 39 commands [to create these items for the Tabernacle in Exod. 35:11-19] correlate with the 39 categories of labor forbidden on Shabbat. From where do we know that the Israelites were commanded to create these 39 items? The commands were stated earlier (in the parashiyot of T’rumah and Tetzaweh):

1. The Tabernacle – as it says (26:10): “As for the Tabernacle, make it of ten strips of cloth.”
2. its tents – as it says (26:7): “You shall them make cloths of goats’ hair for a tent over the Tabernacle.”
3. and its coverings – as it says (26:14): “And make for the Tent a covering.”
4. its clasps – as it says (26:6, 11): “And make fifty gold clasps,” and “Make fifty copper clasps.”
5. and its planks – as it says (26:15): “You shall make the planks for the Tabernacle of acacia wood.”
6. its bars – as it says (26:26): “You shall make bars of acacia wood.”
7. its posts – as it says (26:32, 37): “Hang it upon four posts of acacia wood,” and “Make five posts of acacia wood for the screen.”
8. and its sockets – as it says (26:19): “Make forty silver sockets.”
9. the ark – as it says (25:10): “They shall make an ark of acacia wood.”
10. and its poles – as it says (25:13): “Make poles of acacia wood.”
11. the cover – as it says (25:17): “You shall make a cover of pure gold.”
12. and the curtain for the screen – as it says (26:31): “You shall make a curtain.”
13. the table – as it says (25:23): “You shall make a table.”
14. and its poles – as it says (25:28): “Make the poles of acacia wood.”
15. and all its utensils – as it says (25:29, 37:16): “Make its bowls…” and “He made the utensils…”
16. and the bread of display – as it says (25:30): “And on the table you shall set the bread of display.”
17. the lampstand for lighting – as it says (25:31): “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold.”
18. its furnishings – as it says (25:39): “It shall be made with all these furnishings.”
19. and its lamps – as it says (25:37-38): “Make its seven lampstands… and its tongs and fire pans of pure gold.”
20. and the oil for lighting – as it says (27:20): “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of
beaten olives for lighting.”
21. the altar of incense – as it says (30:1): “You shall make an altar for burning incense.”
22. and its poles – as it says (30:5): “Make the poles of acacia wood.”
23. the anointing oil – as it says (30:25): “Make of this a sacred anointing oil.”
24. and the aromatic incense – as it says (30:35): “Make them into incense.”
25. and the entrance screen for the entrance of the Tabernacle – as it says (26:36): “You shall make a screen for the
entrance of the tent.
26. the altar of burnt offering – as it says (27:1): “You shall make the altar of acacia wood.”
27. and its copper grating – as it says (27:4): “Make for it a grating of meshwork in copper.”
28. its poles – as it says (27:6): “And make poles for the altar.”
29. and all its furnishings – as it says (27:3): “make all its utensils of copper.”
30. the laver ­– as it says (30:18): “Make a laver of copper.”
31. and its stand ­– as it says (30:18): “Make [a laver of copper and] a stand of copper.”
32. the hangings of the enclosure – as it says (27:9): “You shall make the enclosure of the Tabernacle.”
33. its posts – as it says (27:10, 16): “with its twenty posts,” and “for the gate of the enclosure, a screen… with their four posts.”
34. and its sockets – as it says (27:10, [16]): “and their twenty sockets,” [and “with their four sockets.”]
35. and the screen for the gate of the enclosure – as it says (27:16): “for the gate of the enclosure, a screen.”
36. the pegs for the Tabernacle – as it says (27:19): “as well as all its pegs”
37. the pegs for the enclosure – as it says (27:19): “and all the pegs of the court.”
38. and their cords – as it says (27: 19): “and all the utensils of the Tabernacle for all its service.”[20]
39. the service vestments for officiating in the sanctuary – as it says (28:2): “Make sacral vestments.”

Moses heard these 39 commandments from the mouth of the Holy One, and Moses then relayed these commandments to the Israelites. He did not add nor did he subtract. When God describes Moses, God says (Num. 12:7): “In all my house he is the most loyal,” for he did not add or subtract anything when overseeing the building of the Tabernacle.”

These 39 mandates recorded in the Written Torah, given the wording in Exodus 35, dictate that any activities involved in carrying them out would produce a list of 39 things prohibited on Shabbat. The specific verbs comprise the remez level of interpretation, correlating to them were transmitted orally (and eventually transcribed in the pages of the Oral Torah).


  1. John Fischer, “Response: Yes, We Do Need Messianic Congregations!”, in Louis Goldberg, ed., How Jewish is Christianity? 2 Views on the Messianic Movement (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 64.

About Prof. Brian Tice, B.Sci., M.Sci.

Brian Tice is currently a Hebraica research scholar and education facilitator with Manuscript Research Group in Michigan and a Jewish Studies and Ancient Languages professor with MJR Yeshiva. He received his rabbinical semikha in 2000. His formal education includes studies in Music and Modern Languages (Kalamazoo Valley Community College); Bible, Youth Ministry, and Ancient Languages (Cornerstone University); Divinity and Practical Ministry (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary); Higher Education and Classical Hebrew Andragogy (Purdue University Global/Kaplan); and Jewish Studies (Tel Aviv University/Coursera)... culminating in B.Sci. and M.Sci. degrees. Professor Tice has been an avid volunteer with Little Mary's Hospitality House critically-ill children's camp, Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, several schools, and several homeless outreach ministries. In 2001, he was awarded a Governor's Commendation for service to the community and extraordinary academic contributions. View all posts by Prof. Brian Tice, B.Sci., M.Sci.

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