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Kiddush (literally, "sanctification") is a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat or a Jewish holiday. The Torah refers to two requirements concerning Shabbat - to "keep it" and to "remember it" (shamor and zakhor). Jewish law therefore requires that Shabbat be observed in two respects. One must "keep it" by refraining from thirty-nine forbidden activities, and one must "remember it" by making special arrangements for the day, and specifically through the kiddush ceremony.

Reciting kiddush before the meal on the eve of Shabbat and Jewish holidays is thus regarded as a commandment from the Torah (as it is explained by the Oral Torah). Reciting kiddush after morning prayers on Shabbat and holidays, however, is a requirement of rabbinic origin.

To honour the mitzvah of reciting kiddush, a silver goblet is often used (about 150 ml). After the person reciting the kiddush drinks from the wine, the rest of it is passed around the table or poured out into small cups for the other participants.

Before reciting kiddush, the challah (special bread), which will be the next food item eaten in honour of the Shabbat or holiday, is first covered with a cloth. According to the religious Law (Halakhah), the blessing over bread takes precedence to the blessing over wine. However, in the interests of beginning the meal with kiddush, the challah is covered to "remove" it from the table. Some interpret the covering of the challah allegorically, explaining that this action reminds one to be sensitive to others.

The text of the Friday night kiddush at the meal begins with a passage from Genesis 2:1-3 ("Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made"), testifying to God's creation of the world, and His cessation of work on the seventh day.