On the Jewish calendar, every Shabbat is known by name of the Torah portion read that week. Some weeks—often related to a special haftarah (selection from Prophets) or Torah reading added to that day’s service—the Shabbat is given an additional, unique name. Here are the 13 Shabbat names to know:

1. Shabbat Shuvah (or Shabbat Teshuvah)

The week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time of intense introspection and repentance—teshuvah in Hebrew. This is the theme of the haftarah, which starts with the words, Shuvah Yisrael (“Return, oh Israel”).1

This week is a most auspicious time to rectify the failings and missed opportunities of the past and positively influence the coming year. The master kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (“Ari”) taught that the seven days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which will always include one Sunday, one Monday, etc.) correspond to the seven days of the week. The Sunday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur includes within itself all Sundays of the year; the Monday embodies all Mondays, and so on. Shabbat Shuvah is thus the archetypal Shabbat—the juncture in time at which we are empowered to influence every Shabbat of our year.

Read: The 10 Days of Repentance

2. Shabbat Bereishit

The annual cycle of Torah readings ends and begins anew on the joyous holiday of Simchat Torah, when we read the final portion of V'Zot HaBerachah and the opening lines of the first portion, Bereishit. On the following Shabbat, the full portion of Bereishit is read from the Torah. It is said in the name of the third Chabad Rebbe (known as the Tzemach Tzedek), that the way one conducts oneself on Shabbat Bereishit sets the tone for the entire year. Like a caboose following a long railroad train, this Shabbat helps us collect the spiritual energy of the past month, ensuring that we remain on track for the long haul ahead.

Read: What Is Shabbat Bereishit?

3. Shabbat Chanukah

The eight days of Chanukah will always coincide with at least one and sometimes two Shabbats. When this happens, there are special haftarah readings, and Chanukah candles are lit earlier than usual on Friday afternoon and later on Saturday night, since fire may not be handled on Shabbat itself.

In the event that Shabbat Chanukah coincides with Rosh Chodesh Tevet, this is one of the rare occasions when three Torahs are removed from the ark for the Torah readings.

Read: Shabbat Chanukah Haftarah Companion

Illustration by Sefira Ross
Illustration by Sefira Ross

4. Shabbat Shirah

The portion of Beshalach tells of our ancestors’ miraculous trip through the Red Sea and how Moses and Miriam led them in songs of praise. Our sages tell us that the birds in the sky joined their singing. For this reason, it is customary to put out food for the birds for this Shabbat, which is known as Shabbat Shirah, the “Sabbath of Song.” (To avoid the possibility of transgressing the laws of Shabbat, the food should be put out on Friday, before the onset of Shabbat).

Read: The Parting of the Red Sea

5. Shabbat Shekalim

When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, each Jew contributed an annual tax of one half-shekel which was due on Nissan 1. The collection was announced one month prior, on Adar 1, so the Torah reading on the Shabbat which falls on or before Adar 1 is supplemented with the verses that relate G‑d’s commandment to Moses regarding the first giving of the half-shekel.2 This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shekalim.

The Shekalim haftarah continues on the same theme, discussing the efforts of King Jehoash (9th century BCE) to earmark communal funds for the upkeep of the first Holy Temple.3

Read: All About Shekalim

6. Shabbat Zachor

On the Shabbat before Purim, the holiday when we celebrate the foiling of Haman the Amalekite's plot to destroy the Jewish people, the weekly Torah reading is supplemented with the Zachor (“Remember!”) reading in which we are commanded to remember the evil of Amalek and to eradicate it from the face of the earth.4

According to many Halachic authorities, there is a Biblical requirement (for all men) to hear the Zachor reading.

The special Zachor haftarah discusses G‑d’s command to King Saul to destroy the people of Amalek.5

Read: Who Was Amalek and the Amalekites?

7. Shabbat Parah

The Torah reading of Parah is added to the weekly reading on the penultimate Shabbat of the month of Adar (or on the last Shabbat when Rosh Chodesh Nissan is on Shabbat). Parah details the laws of the red heifer and the process by which a person rendered ritually impure by contact with a dead body was purified.6

When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, every Jew had to be in a state of ritual purity in time for the annual Passover offering. Today, though we're unable to fulfill the Temple-related rituals in practice, we fulfill them spiritually by studying their laws. As such, we study and read the section of Parah in preparation for the upcoming festival of Passover.

Read: What Was the Red Heifer?

8. Shabbat Hachodesh

A special reading called “Hachodesh” is added to the regular Shabbat Torah reading the week of or before Nissan 1. Hachodesh recounts G‑d’s historic communication to Moses two weeks before the Exodus regarding the Jewish calendar, the month of Nissan, and the Passover offering.7

9. Shabbat Hagadol

The Shabbat before Passover is called Shabbat Hagadol (“The Great Shabbat”) in commemoration of the miracle that occurred in Egypt on this day, heralding the Exodus five days later. Fearing the impending death-of-the-firstborn plague, the Egyptian firstborns rose up against Pharaoh and demanded that Israel be set free. In this way, G‑d smote Egypt from within.

Shabbat Hagadol customs include reading a portion of the Haggadah (from Avadim hayinu... to ..lechaper al kol avonotainu), which tells the story of the Exodus; it is also customary for the rabbi of the community to deliver a lecture in which he elaborates on the laws of Passover and their significance, in preparation for the festival.

Read: All About Shabbat Hagadol

10. Shabbat Chazon

The most somber period on the Jewish calendar is the nine days leading up to (and including) the Ninth of Av, when we mourn the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem. The Shabbat before the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Chazon (“Shabbat of Vision”) after the opening words of the day’s haftarah, which is the third of the series of readings known as “The Three of Rebuke.” On this Shabbat, say the Chassidic masters, we are granted a vision of the Third Temple; we may not see it with our physical eyes, but our soul sees it and becomes empowered to break free of our present state of galut (exile and spiritual displacement) and bring about the Redemption and the rebuilding of the Temple.

Watch: The Story Behind Shabbat Chazon

The Third Temple: © Haya Berkowitz
The Third Temple: © Haya Berkowitz

11. Shabbat Nachamu

The Shabbat after the Ninth of Av is called Shabbat Nachamu (“Shabbat of Consolation”) after the opening words of the day’s haftarah, Nachamu, nachamu ami (“Comfort, comfort My nation).8 This is the first of the series of readings known as “The Seven of Consolation” read in the seven weeks between the Ninth of Av and Rosh Hashanah.

Watch: Isaiah’s Double Vision

12. Shabbat Chol Hamoed

The intermediate days of Passover and Sukkot are quasi-holidays known as Chol Hamoed. Shabbat Chol Hamoed has an added layer of festivity; the weekly Torah reading cycle is suspended, and a selection related to the holiday is read instead.

13. Shabbat Mevarchim

The Shabbat before the start of a Jewish month (Rosh Chodesh) is known as Shabbat Mevarchim, “the Shabbat when we bless.” On this day, during the synagogue service, we recite a blessing for the new month and announce the timing of Rosh Chodesh.

Read: More About Shabbat Mevarchim

(Woman In Prayer - by Sefira Lightstone)
(Woman In Prayer - by Sefira Lightstone)