SHABBAT HA-GADOL ("The Great Sabbath"):
The Sabbath preceding Passover. The designation "great" for this Sabbath is mentioned by Rashi (11th cent.), and is due to the great miracle of the Sabbath that preceded the Exodus, as related in the Midrash. When God ordered the Israelites to prepare a lamb on the 10th of Nisan for Passover (Ex. xii. 3) they feared the vengeance of the Egyptians, because the lamb was the Egyptian deity (ib, viii. 26). According to one version, the Egyptians fainted when they saw the lamb tied to the foot of the bed in the houses of the Israelites (Pesikṭa Zuṭarti, Bo, xii. 6 [ed. Buber, p. 29a]); according to a second, they were paralyzed and could not prevent the lambs being sacrificed (Ex. 3); and according to yet another, the first-born, learning on the 10th of Nisan that the lamb and the first-born, both regarded as deities by the Egyptians, were to be sacrificed, urged their parents to let the Israelites go and opposed the Egyptians for retarding the Exodus (Tos. to Shab. 87b, s.v. ); the 10th of Nisan in question was a Sabbath (Seder 'Olam R. V.; Mek. p. 46b; Pesiḳ. R., ed. Friedmann, p. 78a). The author of "Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ" (13th cent.) adds the explanation that on this Sabbath there is a "long" service in the forenoon, in which the lecturer explains the laws and regulations governing the coming Passover. In this sense the Sabbath preceding the other festivals are likewise "great." Abudarham gives as another reason that the first commandment of the Almighty to the Israelites as a nation was given on the 10th of Nisan, which on that occasion fell on Sabbath.
Zunz thinks that the designation "great" is of Christian origin, copied from the Church Fathers, who called the Saturday before Easter "great," and that the Greek Jews, who probably first adopted this term, applied it only to the Sabbath falling on the 14th of Nisan and to no other Sabbath preceding Passover. A plausible explanation of the word is that by S. H. Sonnenschein, who bases its use on the phrase "the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Mal. iii. 23 [A. V. iv. 5]), found in the hafṭarah beginning "We-'arebah" for the Sabbath before Passover. But as the hafṭarah, according to some authorities, is read only when the Sabbath falls on the 14th of Nisan, it would appear that the theory is correct that originally such Sabbath only was recognized as "great." One authority thought the word ("great") to be a corruption of ("Haggadah"), because the Haggadah is read on the Sabbath in question.
The service of the "Shaḥarit" prayer of Shabbat ha-Gadol includes "yoẓerot" (see Baer, "'Abodat Yisrael," pp. 706-720); and the Haggadah, to the paragraph beginning "Rabban Gamaliel," is recited in the afternoon. Shabbat ha-Gadol, together with Shabbat Shibah, is the principal Sabbath; on thesedays the rabbi in olden times lectured in the forenoon to the people-especially to those that came from the neighboring villages to celebrate the holy day in the city—and acquainted them with the laws and customs of the approaching festival, while the maggid generally preached in the afternoon, relating the wonderful achievement of freedom from Egyptian bondage and the miracles of the Exodus. In later times the rabbi lectured and preached in the afternoon only, and usually made an effort to deliver his most learned and pilpulistic discourse of the year.
- Rashi, Ha-Pardes, ed. Epstein, § 17, Königsberg, 1759;
- Ibn ha-Yarḥi, Ha-Manhig, ed. Goldberg, p. 73a, Berlin, 1855;
- Vitry Maḥzor, p. 222;
- Abudarham, ed. Venice, 1566, p. 77a;
- Zedekiah ha-Rofe, Shibbole ha-Leḳet, § 205 (ed. Buber, p. 80b);
- Zunz, S. P. p. 9;
- Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 1902, Nos. 18, 23.