Sab·​bath ˈsa-bəth How to pronounce Sabbath (audio)
: the seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians
: Sunday observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship
: a time of rest

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The History of Sabbatical and Sabbath: Take a Break

We tend to think of sabbatical in academic terms, as a school year free from teaching duties that can be devoted to research, travel, and writing. Traditionally, this occurs every seventh year. Because of this scholarly context, we may easily miss what is hiding in plain sight: that sabbatical is related to Sabbath, which refers to the Biblical day of rest, or the seventh day. We trace the origins of both sabbatical and Sabbath to the Greek word sabbaton. Sabbaton itself traces to the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning “rest.”

The Old Testament refers to God’s “day of rest” most famously in Genesis, but Sabbath referring to an entire year of rest is mentioned in Leviticus (25:3-5):

Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;

But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard.

That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.

Sabbatical is also used as an adjective to refer specifically to the rules governing the observance of the Sabbath, as in “sabbatical laws.”

Word History


Middle English sabat, from Anglo-French & Old English, from Latin sabbatum, from Greek sabbaton, from Hebrew shabbāth, literally, rest

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Time Traveler
The first known use of Sabbath was before the 12th century

Dictionary Entries Near Sabbath

Cite this Entry

“Sabbath.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


Sab·​bath ˈsab-əth How to pronounce Sabbath (audio)
: the 7th day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians
: the day of the week (as among Christians) set aside in a religion for rest and worship

Middle English sabat "the seventh day of the week for rest and worship," from early French sabat and Old English sabat (both, same meaning), both from Latin sabbatum "Sabbath," from Greek sabbaton (same meaning), from Hebrew shabbāth, literally, "rest"

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