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What is a Sabbatical?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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It’s easy to see that the word sabbatical bears relationship to Sabbath and Shabbat. Understanding the connection helps to understand the definition. Sabbath and Shabbat are religiously defined breaks in the Judeo-Christian tradition dating back to the call for a day of rest once weekly. Sabbatical takes this concept further and can be a period of rest, or more often work, that might continue for a year long or longer.

There are certain professions in which sabbaticals are common. In the university system, college professors with tenure can have rights to take a sabbatical every seven to ten years upon application. Note that in the seven-year arrangement, there is still comparison to resting on the seventh day.

In many colleges, people receive full pay for the time they take off, which may exceed or be less than a year. Since the university supports this leave, a job is not in danger when a sabbatical is taken. Instead the employer and employee agree on its necessity.

What a professor might do on a sabbatical may depend on how the university interprets the leave. Some see it as a break time where teachers refuel and avoid becoming burned out in their profession. Others see this time as an opportunity to learn more so they have more to offer the university in which they work.

Thus, the sabbatical could involve research, taking classes, traveling, completing work for publication or other things. Most often, though this break is considered “time off,” it’s really not a vacation or an idle time. It’s used to acquire more knowledge to benefit both the teacher and the college in which he/she works.

While the sabbatical is most often associated with college professors, there are other professions where this break could be offered to employees, especially those employees who have worked a certain amount of years. It’s not uncommon for religious leaders like priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers to occasionally be offered a sabbatical. This, again, could be more than a break, and might be used for the purpose of studying or for spiritual reflection.

Many other professions view sabbaticals as potentially positive things, even though they may cost money upfront for a company. Paying an employee for up to a year’s non-work can be expensive, but some employers feel that it is ultimately a savings. If an employee comes back from a break rejuvenated and full of new ideas, the employer could really benefit. Moreover, in some professions, full pay isn’t offered, and the employer merely guarantees the employee’s job will be held for him or her during the period of leave.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By cmsmith10 — On Mar 11, 2011

@christym- There are several benefits to your pastor taking a sabbatical. Many pastors consider a sabbatical to be a time to refocus on their ministry and focus on spiritual growth.

Many church organizations offer pastors a sabbatical every three to five years. Often times, the congregations will take up an offering throughout the year to contribute to their pastor’s sabbatical.

The pastor, depending on the church, will likely present a written outline or plan for their proposed sabbatical and present it to the church council. Most of the time, the pastor will receive their full salary during their sabbatical.

By christym — On Mar 11, 2011

How does a pastoral sabbatical normally work?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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