Only two (types of) days of the year are called Shabbas Shabbason–Yom Kippur and the weekly Shabbos. Their status, as described by this unique title, is clearly special in contrast to the mere Shabbason used for other holidays. However, the precise meaning of this double term requires explanation.
The phrase “Shabbas Shabbason” appears in relation to Shabbos in Ex. 31:15, 35:2; Lev. 23:2 (cf. Ex. 16:23) and regarding Yom Kippur in Lev. 16:31, 23:32 (and regarding the Sabbatical year in Lev. 25:4). Two questions surround this term: 1) Shabbason on its own is a noun (see Ramban, Lev. 23:24), but when used in this phrase is it still a noun or an adjective modifying Shabbos? 2) Does the word Shabbason intensify, maintain or diminish the Shabbos it modifies? The answers to these question are disputed in a way that I believe is partially linked. As we look at the Medieval and Modern commentaries, as well as English translations, we will see different understandings of the term “Shabbos Shabbason.”
II. Noun or Verb
Ibn Ezra (Lev. 16:31) states that both words are nouns whose placement is interchangeable. “Shabbas Shabbason” is the same as “Shabbason Shabbos.” Elsewhere (Ex. 16:23, peirush katzar), Ibn Ezra explains that the suffix “on” is possessive. Shabbason means “your Shabbos.” However, I believe that others understand Shabbason to be an adjective.
There are three ways to understand this unique term:
- The Bible uses double words as a form of emphasis. As we saw in last week’s Torah portion, “Hasteir astir” (Deut. 31:18) is often translated as “I will surely conceal.” The second appearance of the word, even in a slightly different form, serves to emphasize the word. That is how Ibn Ezra understands Shabbason in our context, it repeats and thereby emphasizes the rest as if to say “You must surely rest.” More recently, Shadal (Ex. 31:15) adopts this approach.
- A halakhic reading of the phrase is slightly different. On other holidays, work related to cooking is permitted. “Shabbas Shabbason” teaches us that the rest on Shabbos and Yom Kippur is complete, without exception. Rashi (Ex. 31:15) calls “Shabbas Shabbason” a “restful rest (margo’a),” which R. Menachem Kasher (Torah Shelemah, Ex. ch. 31 n. 81) points out echoes the wording or R. Menachem Ben Saruk (Machberes Menachem, sv. nefesh). Rather than emhpasizing the rest, the doubling maintains it. It is a rest without exception. In this reading, “Shabbason” may be an adjective, describing the rest as restful. “You will have a restful rest,” as opposed to the more active rest on other holidays.
- R. Sa’adia Gaon, as quoted by Ibn Ezra (Ex. 16:23, peirush katzar), takes the opposite approach. He explains that “Shabbason” comes to limit Shabbos, a lesser term that somehow diminishes the requirement of Shabbos. I do not know where R. Sa’adia Gaon says this but Radak (Ps. 17:8) also adopts this approach, as does the Netziv (cf. Chavos Yair 1 #12). In his Ha’amek Davar (Ex. 31:15; Lev. 23:32), the Netziv explains that the extra word Shabbason teaches some limiting aspect about the day. It is less than a complete Shabbos because of the Shabbason modifier.
I suggest that if you understand Shabbason as a noun, you must take the first approach. The phrase takes the common form of the double term, which implies strengthening. However, if you see it as an adjective, you can take any of the three approaches. Therefore, those who adopt approaches 2 and 3, and possibly some of those who adopt the first, understand Shabbason as an adjective.
Here is how some major Jewish and Christian translations render the term:
- JPS, RSV, NKJV – “a sabbath of solemn rest”
- KJV, NIV – “a sabbath of rest”
- Net Bible, NJPS – “a sabbath of complete rest”
- Living Torah – “a sabbath of sabbaths”
The Living Torah, like Onkelos, chooses to render the term literally, essentially without explanatory translation. The first translation is difficult because there is no indication that Shabbason means “solemn.”
The second and the third take the second approach above, that Shabbason maintains the rest. The third seems to particularly follow Rashi, as explained above.
Interestingly, Victor P. Hamilton (Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary, pp. 337, 523-524, 595) reads Shabbason as an adjective but still takes the first approach, translating the phrase, “a most restful rest.”