Shabbat Tzovot

High Priestess at DoorwayThere are four tradtional “special” Shabbats during the year:  Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat haChodesh.  All of these occur during or near the month of Adar.  There is another special Shabbat that the women of Kohenet have identified and are figuring out ways to honor: Shabbat Tzovot.

The traditional special Shabbats are when an extra Torah portion is read on a non-festival day.  In this case there is no extra Torah portion, but rather a special section of a Torah portion that we choose to honor in a unique way.  In this way it is more like Shabbat Shirah, when the “Song of the Sea” is read as part of the Torah portion, or one of several other notable named Shabbats.   I actually like that it would be the the sixth named Shabbats that do not have an extra Torah portion.  That means there is one for each point on the Magen David.  [note: this section of the post was added after the discussion in the comments from 2009]

The Tzovah (singular form of Tzovot)  is one of the Netivot, or paths, of Shekhinah that we study at Kohenet. She is the priestess at the doorway; the sacred serving woman, the “temple keeper.”  The Tzovot is mentioned by name in the Torah and it is the Shabbat where this portion is read that we are identifying as Shabbat Tzovot.  The Tzovot is mentioned during the reading of Vayakhel (Ex 38:8).  The Tzovot are the ones who give over their sacred mirrors to create the wash basins for the priests.

Here are several translations of this text:

He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. (jtsa.edu)

He made the copper washstand and its copper base out of the mirrors of the dedicated women who congregated at the entrance of the Communion Tent. (bible.ort.org)

And he made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting. (mechon-mamre.org)

Tzovot (צֹּבְאֹת) is translated in many ways, but it is clear that these were not ordinary women.

Here is the basic description of the Tzovah from the Kohenet website:

The tzovah, or “one of many hosts of women,” once served at the entrance to the mishkan. In the Torah, we learn that the priests used the mirrors of the tzovot to make the priestly basin for handwashing. The tzovot are associated with water, with divination , with sexuality, and with the affirmation of the self. In midrash, they are the Hebrew slave women in Egypt who seduce their tired husbands with games and mirrors. We see the archetype of the tzovah in Eve, who chooses the fruit of knowledge, and Lilith, who flies away from Eden. We also find her in Ruth, the stranger who lies down with her lover on a threshing floor. We know her in the women who bake bread and pour out wine for the Queen of Heaven. The tzovah embodies the life-spirit. Her gifts are self-awareness, sensuality, the keeping of the body and the keeping of sacred space, and the performance of ritual and ceremony. She brings the sacred into earthly reality.

Shabbat Tzovah is a time to honor the service of women mysticals and spiritual leaders over the centuries.  Truthfully, I would include any women who has been given the responsibility for ensuring a Shabbat dinner “magically” appears on the table every Friday.  Shabbat Tzovah is the time to honor the work of women in ensuring Jewish tradition has continued through the centuries in traditional and untraditional ways.

For more about the Netivot, see Kohenet.org or Ashe Journal of Experimental Spirituality, Winter 2007.

How can you help honor Shabbat Tzovot in your community?

4 Replies to “Shabbat Tzovot”

  1. How fascinating! There is a faintly similar idea in Hellenismos, although the associations are rather different than what is described here – the neokoros, or "temple keeper", basically a shamash… but see Neokoroi.org for a group of folks who have spiritualized the concept in what I take to be a similar manner to what you are proposing here. A good idea never goes unexplored forever!

  2. Shabbat Shirah actually coincides with Parsha Beshalach http://www.ou.org/chagim/roshchodesh/shevat/shira… and was a couple of weeks ago. But it's a good question. Technically, Shabbat Shirah is not included as one of the "big four" because nothing special happens.

    To qualify as one of the "special shabbatot" it must be a Shabbat that does not coincide with a festival, but "two Torah portions are read, and hence two Torah scrolls are taken out."

    Lots more on this at: http://www.ou.org/chagim/fourshabbatot/default.ht

    Now, considering this, Shabbat Tzovot would fall into the same category as Shabbat Shirah as no special portion would be read. So thanks for asking the question!

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