Two primary words of instruction are used in the Torah to command the observance of Shabbat: zachor, remember (Exodus 20:8) and shamor (Deuteronomy 5:12). According to tradition, remembering (zachor) refers to all of the positive mitzvot of Shabbat, such as wine/kiddush, challah, the special blessings, etc. Shamor refers to refraining from prohibited activities (m'lachot).
While the term shamor is the command form of the word guard or watch, the noun form is pronounced shomair. One who observes Shabbat according to the halacha, Jewish law, is known as a Shomair Shabbat, one who guards Shabbat. (The feminine version is Shomeret Shabbat.)
Only during the last 100 years, has the the term Shomair Shabbat come into common use as the title for a Sabbath observer. Perhaps this is because, prior to that, those who did not observe Shabbat tended to leave the Jewish community. The phrase itself, however, can be found twice in the 56th chapter of the Book of Isaiah: "Happy is the man that does this, and the son of man that holds fast by it: one who guards Shabbat against its violation, and keeps his hand from doing any evil ... Also the strangers, that join themselves to God, to serve Him, and to love the name of God, to be His servants, every one that guards Shabbat against its violation, and holds fast by My covenant" (Isaiah 56: 2,6).
Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.