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Shabbat: Special Shabbats

Special Shabbat's are those Shabbat's on which special events are commemorated - they are distinguished from the regular Shabbat through variations in the liturgy, the torah reading and other special customs.

Shabbat M'Vorchim (Blessing) - The Shabbat that immediately precedes a new month. In Ashkenazi ritual, a special petition is recited in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah. The name of the new month and the day on which Rosh Chodesh occurs are then also announced. This is the most common special shabbat, as it occurs approximately twelve times each year.

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (New Month) - The Shabbat which coincides with Rosh Chodesh. The reading of the Torah for the New Moon is added and a special haftarah is also read. This is also the most common special shabbat, as it occurs approximately twelve times each year.

Shabbat Shuvah (Return) - Refers to the ten days of repentance that falls in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The name “shuvah” comes from the first word of the week’s Haftorah portion. This Shabbat is sometimes called Shabbat Teshuvah (Shabbat of Repentance). Traditionally on this Shabbat, rabbis deliver sermons to their congregation to awaken the congregation to recall their malevolent conduct of the past year, and begin to repent for the coming of Yom Kippur (the day of Repentance).

Shabbat Shirah (Song) - The name given to the Shabbat that includes in the Torah reading Shirat ha-Yam (The Song at the Sea; Exod. 15:1-18). This was the song by the Israelites, as they safely crossed the Sea of Reeds in the Exodus. This Shabbat falls on or before Tu B’shevat (the celebration of trees). It is customary on Shabbat Shirah to disperse seeds on the ground outside one’s house. During the Israelites’ Exodus out of Egypt, some rebellious Israelites, who attempted to defy Moses’ authority, left a trail of breadcrumbs for the Egyptian soldiers to trace. Yet, it is recalled that hundreds of birds swooped upon the land and ate all the crumbs before the Egyptians could arrive. Therefore, today we disperse seeds in symbolic gratitude for the birds in the Exodus.

Shabbat Shekalim (Shekels) - The Shabbat that instructs the Jews of every community to give a half shekel for the upkeep of the Temple. The Torah portion Exodus 30:11-16 is read on this Shabbat to remind the congregation of one's duty to pay a half shekel. Today, Jews give a donation to their synagogue. This Shabbat takes place on or promptly after the First of Adar, the month of Purim.

Shabbat Zakhor (Remembrance) - The Shabbat preceding Purim in which the Torah portion Deut. 25:17-19, describing the tribe of Amalek, is recounted. The tribe of Amalek attacked the weak Israelites at the back of the Israelite tribe, shortly after their Exodus from Egypt. It is told in Megillat Esther that Haman was a descendant of Agag, the king of the Amalekites.

Shabbat Parah (Red Heifer) - Precedes the Shabbat ha-Hodesh leading up to Passover. The Torah reading, Num. 19:1-22, mentions the purification of the Red Heifer in the Temple, thus establishing the Shabbat of purification. It is the first indication of the preparation Jews make for the arrival of Passover. During the times of the Temple, Shabbat Parah was an indication for those Jews preparing to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to ritually cleanse their bodies. Today, this Shabbat is the time to clean one’s house and remove all hametz before Passover. This purification of oneself and belongings is a suggestion of Passover’s premise of liberation.

Shabbat ha-Hodesh (The Month) - This is the Shabbat that takes place on or promptly precedes the First of Nissan, the month of Passover. This Shabbat is analogous to an instruction of the principals and preparations of the upcoming Passover holiday. The weekly portion Exodus 12:1-20, recalls the laws and traditions of observing Passover. The first day of Nissan is also important to the Jewish people, as it was the day that God presented his first commandment to observe the new moon. Therefore, Nissan is considered the first month bestowed upon the Jewish people.

Shabbat ha-Gadol (Great Shabbat) - Occures at the start of the week when the laws of Passover will be put into affect. It is during this week’s haftorah that God reveals that he will one day send the prophet Elijah to the Jewish people in preparation for the Messiah and redemption. Every year on Passover during the Seder, Jews open their doors in hope of Elijah’s return and the fulfillment of the prophecy. The term “Great” relays the approaching holiday’s importance among the Jewish people.During the Shabbat afternoon service, mincha, many Ashkenazi congregations read a portion from the Haggadah.

Shabbat Chazon (Vision) - Comes directly before observed holiday Tisha b’Av. This holiday takes place in the course of the nine days of sorrow for the destruction of the Temple, on Tisha b’Av. It is on Shabbat Hazon that the prophet Isaiah envisages the awful suffering that God will inflict upon the Jewish people for their transgressions against God, each other, and the Temple.

Shabbat Nachamu (Comfort) - This is the week immediately after Tisha b’Av. This week’s haftorah is the first of seven consoling haftarot leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashana, celebrating the Jewish New Year. These haftarot bring words of redemption, peace, and hope for the future of the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

Sources: Eisenberg, Ronald L. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions. PA: Jewish Publication Society, 2004; "Special Shabbatot"; Wigoder, Geoffrey , Ed. The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia. NY: Facts on File, 1992. Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.