Special Shabbatot are Jewish Shabbat days on which special events are commemorated. Variations in the liturgy and special customs differentiate them from the regular Sabbaths and each one is referred to by a special name; many communities also add piyyutim on many of these special shabbatot. Two such Sabbaths, Shabbat Mevarchim, which immediately precedes a new month, and Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, which coincides with the new month, can occur on several occasions throughout the year. The other special Sabbaths occur on specific sabbaths before or coinciding with certain Jewish holidays during the year, according to a fixed pattern.
Shabbat Shuvah or Shabbat T'shuvah ("Sabbath [of] Return" שבת שובה or "Sabbath [of] Repentance" שבת תשובה) refers to the Shabbat that occurs during the Ten Days of Repentance, but is between (i.e. not including) the two consecutive Days of Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Yom Kippur. The name Shabbat Shuvah comes from the first word of the Haftarah that is read on that day; the main haftarah consists of Hosea 14:2–10 and this is all that is read in Yemenite communities; other communities add Joel 2:11–27 and/or Micah 7:18–20, and literally means "Return!" It is alternately known as Shabbat T'shuvah owing to its being one of the Aseret Y'may T'shuvah (Ten Days of Repentance).
Shabbat Shirah ("Sabbath [of] song" שבת שירה) is the name given to the Shabbat that includes Parsha Beshalach. The Torah reading of the week contains the Song of the sea (Exodus 15:1–18). This was the song by the Children of Israel after the Passage of the Red Sea. There is no special Torah reading. The haftarah includes the Song of Deborah. There is an Ashkenazi custom to feed wild birds on this Shabbat, in recognition of their help to Moses in the Desert.
These are four special Sabbaths, each of which derives its name from the additional Torah portion that is read that day. Two of the Sabbaths occur in the weeks leading up to Purim and two in the weeks then leading up to Passover.
Shabbat Shekalim ("Sabbath [of] shekels" שבת שקלים) requests each adult male Jew contribute half of a Biblical shekel for the upkeep of the Tabernacle, or mishkan (משכן). The Torah portion Exodus 30:11-16 (the beginning of Parashah Ki Tisa) is read. This Shabbat takes place on the Shabbat before or on 1 Adar. In leap years of the Hebrew calendar, when there are two months of Adar, Shabbat Shekalim is on the Shabbat before or on 1 Adar II.
Shabbat Zachor ("Sabbath [of] remembrance שבת זכור) is the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (at the end of Parasha Ki Teitzei), describing the attack on the weakest by Amalek, is recounted. There is a tradition from the Talmud that Haman, the antagonist of the Purim story, was descended from Amalek. The portion that is read includes a commandment to remember the attack by Amalek, and therefore at this public reading both men and women make a special effort to hear the reading.
Shabbat Parah ("Sabbath [of the] red heifer" שבת פרה) takes place on the Shabbat preceding Shabbat HaChodesh, in preparation for Passover. Numbers 19:1-22 (the beginning of Parasha Chukat) describes the parah adumah ("red heifer") in the Jewish Temple as part of the manner in which the kohanim and the Jews purified themselves so that they would be ready ("pure") to sacrifice the korban Pesach.
Shabbat HaChodesh ("Sabbath [of the] month" שבת החודש) takes place on the Shabbat preceding the first of the Hebrew month of Nisan (or on the 1st of Nisan itself if it falls on Shabbat), during which Passover is celebrated. A special maftir, Exodus 12:1-20 (from Parashah Bo) is read, in which the laws of Passover are defined. On the first day of Nisan, God presented the first commandment of how to "sanctify the new moon" (kiddush hachodesh) for the onset of Rosh Chodesh and thus Nisan becomes the first month of the Jewish year (counting by months).
Shabbat HaGadol ("Great Shabbat" שבת הגדול) is the Shabbat immediately before Passover. The first Shabbat HaGadol took place in Egypt on 10 Nisan five days before the Israelite Exodus. On that day, the Israelites were given their first commandment which applied only to that Shabbat, "On the tenth day of this month (Nisan)... each man should take a lamb for the household, a lamb for each home (Exodus 12:3). There is a special Haftarah reading on this Shabbat of the book of Malachi. Traditionally a lengthy and expansive sermon is given to the general community in the afternoon.
Various reasons are given for the name of this Shabbat:
Shabbat Chazon ("Sabbath [of] vision" שבת חזון, also Shabbat Hazon ) is named for the "Vision of Isaiah over Judah and Jerusalem" (Book of Isaiah 1:1-27) that is read as the Haftarah on this Shabbat at the end of the three weeks between dire straits, which precede the mournful fast of Tisha B'Av. It is also called black sabbath due to Isaiah's prophecy of rebuke predicting the destruction of the first temple in the siege of Jerusalem and its status as the saddest shabbat of the year (as opposed to the white sabbath, Shabbat Shuvah, immediately preceding Yom Kippur).
Shabbat Nachamu ("Sabbath [of] comfort/ing) takes its name from the haftarah from Isaiah in the Book of Isaiah 40:1-26 that speaks of "comforting" the Jewish people for their suffering. It is the first of seven haftarot of consolation leading up to the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It occurs on the Shabbat following Tisha B'Av. Shabbat Nachamu is traditionally celebrated with singing, dancing, eating, and musical performances that extend into the early hours of the following morning. Many customs ordain that the celebration should last until the earliest time for Shacharit(morning prayer services). It is also customary to lead into Shabbat Nachamu on Erev Shabbat/Friday with lively musical performance and dance, as well as to resume musical performances after Shacharit on Sunday until Mincha/evening prayer services.
See also: Rosh Chodesh § Announcement
Any Shabbat that precedes and begins the week during which there will be a day or days of a new Hebrew month (Rosh Chodesh) is known as Shabbat Mevarchim (mevarchim means "they [the congregation] bless" [the forthcoming new month].")
This prayer is recited after the Torah reading before the Torah scroll is carried back to the Torah ark, where it is stored in the synagogue.
Ashkenazi Jews refer to a Shabbos (Shabbat) like this as having Rosh Chodesh bentschen or bentschen Rosh Chodesh. (In Yiddish, bentschen means "(the act of) blessing". derived from Latin benedictio .) It is a custom that women make an extra effort to attend synagogue to hear and recite this prayer.
There are Hasidic communities, such as the Chabad community, who wake early in the morning on Shabbat to recite the entire Tehillim in shul, and who hold a gathering of extra rejoicing (known as a farbrengen), in honor of Shabbat Mevarchim.
If the day following Shabbat is Rosh Chodesh, a special haftarah ("Machar Chodesh" - I Samuel 20:18-42) is generally read; if Shabbat itself falls on Rosh Chodesh, both a special maftir and haftarah (Isaiah 66) are generally read, along with Hallel and a special Mussaf. These haftarot may be overridden by another special Shabbat, such as Shabbat Shekalim or Shabbat HaChodesh. Even so, in some communities the haftarah is concluded with the first and last lines of the haftarah of Machar Chodesh or Rosh Chodesh.
Each Shabbat during Chol HaMoed, the "intermediate days" of Passover and Sukkot, is known as Shabbat Chol HaMoed ("[the] Shabbat [of the] intermediate days" שבת חול המועד) which occurs up to twice a year during the week-long festivals. It can occur once during Passover and once during Sukkot ("Tabernacles") or in both.
The regular weekly Torah portion is not read on these Sabbaths and instead there are special Torah readings based on the uniqueness of each holiday and the Three Pilgrim Festivals. There are also special maftirs ("additional Torah readings") and Haftarot (readings from the prophets.) See Haftarot for special Sabbaths, Festivals, and Fast Days.
The Shabbat during Chol HaMoed on Passover is known as Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach and in addition to the designated Torah reading, maftir, and haftarah readings for that day, the Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim) is read aloud in synagogue in its entirety with special cantillation prior to the Torah reading during services.
The Shabbat during Chol HaMoed on Sukkot is known as Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot and in addition to the designated Torah reading, maftir, and haftarah readings for that day, Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) is read aloud in synagogue in its entirety with special cantillation prior to the Torah reading during services.
Main article: Shovavim
The word Shovavim is a Hebrew acronym for the Torah portions:
The word Shovavim also means "mischief-makers".
One of each of the first six parashot of the Book of Exodus are read in the synagogue on Shabbat, typically during the Hebrew months of Tevet and Shevat (around January to February in the civil calendar). Kabbalah teaches that it is auspicious to repent of sins. Some people have the custom of fasting (ta'anit) and giving extra tzedakah during this time, and of reciting Selichot and other Kabbalistic prayers and tikkunim.
When it is a leap-year, two more weeks are added: