The relationship between God and the Jewish people is often compared to a marriage. This is one of the reasons why Lecha Dodi (Come My Beloved)*, the refrain of which refers to greeting Shabbat like a groom greets his bride, is recited on Friday night.
Among many Sephardic Jewish communities, this rich love relationship is also the reason for the weekly recitation of the entire text of the book of the Song of Songs (Shir Hashirim). With authorship attributed to King Solomon, this biblical text is written as an allegory of love spurned, love lost and love found again. Many commentators and scholars have delved into its poetic language, and it is frequently referred to in Jewish prayer. The great sage Rabbi Akiba states: “All the writings [of the Bible] are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies” (Mishna Yadayim 3:5).
While originally recited after the evening service, the Song of Songs is now most often recited on Friday evening between Mincha (the afternoon service) and Maariv (the evening service). Just as the custom is not consistent throughout the Sephardic world, it is not restricted to Sephardim either. The custom of reading the Song of Songs leading into Shabbat has also been adopted by many Chassidic Jews.