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The custom of reading portions of the Pentateuch at the synagogue on Sabbath and holy days and at other stated times of the year; an institution which made Judaism one of the most powerful factors of instruction and education in the world. Through it the Torah became the property of the whole people of Israel; and through it, also, the Gentiles were won for Judaism; even the rise of Christianity and Islam was made possible chiefly through the customary reading from the Law and the Prophets on the various days of rest, inasmuch as it was accompanied by interpretation and application of the Law and the Prophets to the events and needs of the time. The institution dates from the very earliest time of the synagogue; Josephus ("Contra Apionem," ii. 17) ascribes it to Moses himself. "The lawgiver," he says, "showed the Law to be the best and the most necessary means of instruction by enjoining the people to assemble not once or twice or frequently, but every week while abstaining from all other work in order to hear the Law and learn it in a thorough manner—a thing which all other law-givers seem to have neglected." Compare the words of Nicolaus ("Ant." xvi. 2, 3): "The seventh day is dedicated to the learning of our customs and laws"; also Philo ("De Opificio Mundi," p. 48; "De Septennario," p. 6; "Hypothetica" in Eusebius, "Præparatio Evangelica," viii. 7); and the New Testament (Acts xv. 21) as well as the Talmud (Yer. Meg. iv. 75a; B. Ḳ. 82a; Massek. Soferim x. 1, but comp. Mek., Beshallaḥ, Wayassa', i. and notes of I. H. Weiss), which ascribe the institution to Moses; and this view is accepted alike by Isaac Al-Fasi on Meg. iv. and Maimonides, Tefillah, xii. 1. The reason that it has been ascribed to Moses is that the Deuteronomic law (Deut. xxi. 10) prescribes that every seventh year the Law should be read to all Israel when it gathers at the Feast of Tabernacles. According to Josephus ("Ant." iv. 8, 12), the high priest read it before the assembly; the Mishnaic record (Soṭah vii. 8; comp. Yer. Soṭah against the Talmudic emendation) has it that the king read the whole of Deuteronomy on the eighth day of Sukkot, "the chapter of the king" (Deut. xvii. 14-20) having given the name to the whole (comp. Sifre, Deut. 160). From Tosef., Soṭah, vii 17, however, it appears that the whole of Deuteronomy was not always read on that occasion.

Origin of the Institution.

The custom of going to the prophet on Sabbath and holy days for instruction known in ancient times (II Kings iv. 23) may have been specially practised during the Exile, in which the beginnings of the Synagogue must be sought; and consequently readings from the Prophets may have preceded those from the Pentateuch, wherefore the origin of the Hafṭarah is wrapped in obscurity. The reading from the Law can be traced much more clearly. King Josiah was the first to read the Book of the Covenant to the assembled people (II Kings xxiii. 2); and Ezra the scribe, who came back from Babylonia with the complete Pentateuch, read from the same to the assembly on the eight days of Sukkot (Neh. viii. 1-18). How and when this developed into the practise of a regular Pentateuch lesson on each Sabbath-day can not be ascertained. It has been suggested that the Deuteronomic precept mentioned above led to the practise of reading a small chapter from the Pentateuch each Sabbath so that the whole was completed each seventh year. Lengthy readings were originally not favored at all (see Meg. iv. 4; Tosef., Meg. iv. 17). Out of the seven years' cycle, two cycles of three and a half years may have evolved, then one of three years, and finally one of one year with the last day of Sukkot as the Feast of Rejoicing in the Law (see Simḥat Torah), when the last section was read (see Zunz, "G. V." p. 3, note f; Müller, "Masseket Soferim," p. 158; idem, "Ḥilluf Minhagim," No. 48, but compare Rapoport, "Halikot Ḳedem," 1846, pp. 10 et seq., and Herzfeld, "Gesch. des Volkes Jisrael," ii. 209). With the three-and-a-half-year cycle the division of the Pentateuch into 175 sections would correspond (Massek. Soferim xvi. 11; comp. Müller's notes; Yer. Shab. xvi. 15c); with the three-year cycle observed in Palestine and in Palestinian colonies down to the thirteenth century (Meg. 29b; Maimonides, Tefillah, xiii. 1; Benjamin of Tudela, ed. Asher, p. 98), the 155 sections mentioned in Esther R. at the beginning () and preserved in the Masorah as well as in the Midrashim (see Zunz and Rapoport, l.c.); while the generally accepted division of the Pentateuch into 53 or 54 sections found in Babylonia as early as Samuel's time (Meg. 29b, 30a) is based upon the one-year cycle. How these various cycles came into use is a matter of conjecture; Graetz found an intermediary stage between the triennial and the annual cycle in the practise of continuing the reading of the section through the week—that is, at the Sabbath afternoon and the Monday and Thursday morning services (Meg. 31b)—which he calculates to have constituted a two-year cycle. A more complicated theory is proposed at great length by Buechler in "J. Q. R." v. 420-468. From these 54 parashiyyot of the Torah each Sabbath of the Jewish calendar year received its name. (See also Loeb and Derenbourg in "R. E. J." vi. 250-267, vii. 146-149.) As regards the Samaritan cycle, also based upon a one-year cycle, see Cowley, "J. Q. R." vii. 134-140.

Number of Those Who Read.

While the reading from the Law at the morning service of the Sabbath and holy days was generally assumed to be a Mosaic institution, the practise ofreading from the Law on Sabbath afternoon, when people have leisure, and on Monday and Thursday mornings, for the villagers who then came to the city for the market and court days, is ascribed to Ezra (Yer. Meg. iv. 75a; B. Ḳ. 82a; comp. Mek., Wayassa', i.; see notes of I. H. Weiss, p. 53). Only the first section of the week's parashah is read on Sabbath afternoon and on Monday and Thursday. This was different in earlier times (see Meg. 29b). The reading, which was originally done by one priest or elder (see Philo in Eusebius, "Præparatio Evangelica," l.c., ed. Mangey, ii. 630; and Yer. Meg. iv. 75a), was afterward done by several, each of whom was called up by the head of the synagogue to read a few verses (Yoma vii. 1; Rashi, see 'Aliyah). On Sabbath morning seven were called up—which number seems to have been selected in order to give each of the seven elders of the synagogue, "sheba' ṭobe ha-'ir," who sat on the platform (Matt. xxiii. 2; see Almemar) an opportunity of reading, while the chief among them dismissed the congregation with words of comfort and monition from the Prophets (see Hafṭarah and Prophets). On the Day of Atonement six were called up, on holy days five, on half holy days four, on Sabbath afternoon and week-days three; the last number implied the great historic principle that the Law was no longer the privilege of the priest and the Levite (comp. Neh. viii. 7-8), but that in the Soferic period the layman also was counted a student and teacher of the Law (Giṭ. v. 5, 59a; B. ḳ. 82a; see Müller, l.c. p. 145). Originally no one was called up to the Law who could not himself read; consequently where there was but one able to read in the assembly he read the whole portion (see Yer. Meg. iv. 75b; comp. Maimonides, l.c. xii. 5; Abudarham, "Tefillah shel Ḥol"); in the course of time the ignorant members of the congregation had to be considered also, and it became the custom to have the Ba'al Ḳore read the chapter for all (Rashi Shab. 12b; Tosafot Meg. 28b). Regarding the mode of reading from the Law, see Cantillation.

For the fifty-four parashiyyot of the Torah, see Pentateuch.

The chapters selected for the various feasts and fast-days, part of which were fixed in the Mishnaic time (see Meg. iii. 4-6), others in the Babylonian schools with a view to the second day of each festival, which was likewise regarded as a holy day (Meg. 29-31), are:

Passover:first day, Ex. xii. 21-51;
second day, Lev. xxiii. 1-44;
third day (half holy day), Ex. xiii. 1-16;
fourth day, Ex. xxii. 24-xxiii. 19;
fifth day, Ex. xxxiv. 1-26;
sixth day, Num. ix. 1-14;
seventh day (holy day), Ex. xiii. 17-xv. 27;
eighth day, Deut. xv. 19-xvi. 17.
Shabu'ot:first day, Ex. xix. 1-xx. 17;
second day, Lev. xxiii. 1-44.
Sukkot:first and second days, Lev. xxii. 36-xxiii. 44;
from the third to seventh days (half-holidays), Num. xxix. 17-39;
eighth day, Lev. xxiii. 1-44;
Simḥat Torah, Deut. xxxiii.-xxxiv. 12.
first day, Gen. xxi.;
second day, Gen. xxii. 1-19.
Day of Atonement:
morning, Lev. xvi. 1-34;
afternoon, Lev. xvi. 1-34.

All these are followed by the reading of the respective portions relating to the sacrifice for the day, from Num. xxviii.-xxix.

New-Moon, Num. xxviii. 1-15.
The eight days of Ḥanukkah, portions from Num. vii. 1-viii. 4 are successively read.
Purim, Ex. xvii. 9-15.
SabbathSheḳalim, Ex. xxx. 1-10.
"Zakor, Deut. xxv. 17-19.
"Parah, Num. xix. 1-22.
"Ha-odesh, Ex. xii. 1-20.
Ninth of Ab, Deut. ix. 25-40.
Ordinary fast-day, Ex. xxxii. 11-xxxiv. 11.

For the order in which the reading of the Law is taken, see 'Aliyah, and for the nature of the manuscripts see Scroll of the Law.

  • Büchler, in J. Q. R. v. 420-468;
  • Grätz, Monatsschrift, 1869, pp. 385-399;
  • Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Jisrael, ii. 209-215;
  • Müller, Masseket Soferim, 1878, pp. 143-222;
  • Schürer, Gesch. ii. 3, 455;
  • Zunz, G. V. p. 5.
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