What is the Meaning of Shomer?

These Are the Guardians of Jewish Tradition

Shomer Shabbat

If you've ever heard someone say they're shomer Shabbat, you might be wondering what exactly that means. The word shomer (שומר, plural shomrim, שומרים) derives from the Hebrew word shamar (שמר) and literally means to guard, watch, or preserve. It is most often used to describe someone's actions and observances in Jewish law, although as a noun it is also used in modern Hebrew to describe the profession of being a guard (e.g., he is a museum guard).

Here are some of the most common examples of the use of  shomer:

  • If a person keeps kosher, they are called shomer kashrut, meaning that they follow Judaism's vast array of dietary laws.
  • Someone who is shomer Shabbat or shomer Shabbos observes all the laws and commandments of the Jewish Sabbath. 
  • The term shomer negiah refers to someone who is observant of the laws that concern refraining from physical contact with the opposite sex. 

Shomer in Jewish Law

Additionally,  shomer in Jewish law (halacha) is an individual who is tasked with guarding someone's property or goods. The laws of the shomer originate in Exodus 22:6-14:

(6) If a man gives his neighbor money or articles for safekeeping, and it is stolen from the man's house, if the thief is found, he shall pay twofold. (7) If the thief is not found, the homeowner shall approach the judges, [to swear] that he has not laid his hand upon his neighbor's property. (8) For any sinful word, for a bull, for a donkey, for a lamb, for a garment, for any lost article, concerning which he will say that this is it, the plea[s] of both parties shall come to the judges, [and] whoever the judges declare guilty shall pay twofold to his neighbor. (9) If a man gives his neighbor a donkey, a bull, a lamb, or any animal for safekeeping, and it dies, breaks a limb, or is captured, and no one sees [it], (10) the oath of the Lord shall be between the two of them provided that he did not lay his hand upon his neighbor's property, and its owner shall accept [it], and he shall not pay. (11) But if it is stolen from him, he shall pay its owner. (12) If it is torn apart, he shall bring witness for it; [for] the torn one he shall not pay. (13) And if a person borrows [an animal] from his neighbor and it breaks a limb or dies, if its owner is not with him, he shall surely pay. (14) If its owner is with him, he shall not pay; if it is a hired [animal], it has come for its hire.

Four Categories of Shomer

From this, the sages arrived at four categories of a shomer, and in all cases, the individual must be willing, not forced, into being a shomer

  • shomer hinam: the unpaid watchman (originating in Exodus 22:6-8)
  • shomer sachar: the paid watchman (originating in Exodus 22:9-12)
  • socher: the renter (originating in Exodus 22:14)
  • shoel: the borrower (originating in Exodus 22:13-14)

Each of these categories has its own varying levels of legal obligations according to the corresponding verses in Exodus 22 (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 93a). Even today, in the Orthodox Jewish world, the laws of guardianship are applicable and enforced. 

Pop Culture Reference to Shomer

One of the most common pop culture references known today using the term shomer comes from the 1998 film "The Big Lebowski," in which John Goodman's character Walter Sobchak becomes outraged at the bowling league for not remembering that he's shomer Shabbos.

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Pelaia, Ariela. "What is the Meaning of Shomer?" Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-shomer-2076341. Pelaia, Ariela. (2020, August 26). What is the Meaning of Shomer? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-shomer-2076341 Pelaia, Ariela. "What is the Meaning of Shomer?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/what-is-the-meaning-of-shomer-2076341 (accessed May 29, 2023).