Saturday, April 9, 2016

Torah and Haftarah

I wrote about the Torah, or Pentateuch, a couple years ago, and in a couple other posts about the biblical law. For a long time I've enjoyed the book Torah: A Modern Commentary, edited by Gunther Plaut (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), which wonderfully takes one on a year-long journey through this most sacred part of the Tanakh. Only more recently did I purchase Plaut's helpful book, The Haftarah Commentary (also UAHC Press, 1996). The following is interesting to me because, as a Christian, I'm familiar with the cycles of lectionary readings, but in Judaism, the reading is focused upon the yearly Torah portions (parshahs) with corresponding haftarah readings.

The author of the "Judaism 101" site writes, "Each week in synagogue, we read (or, more accurately, chant, because it is sung) a passage from the Torah. This passage is referred to as a parshah. The first parshah, for example, is Parshat Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah. There are 54 parshahs, one for each week of a leap year, so that in the course of a year, we read the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) in our services. ... We read the last portion of the Torah right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). On Simchat Torah, we read the last portion of the Torah, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.

"In the synagogue service, the weekly parshah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. Contrary to common misconception, 'haftarah' does not mean 'half-Torah.' The word comes from the Hebrew root Fei-Teit-Reish and means 'Concluding Portion'. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week."

This is from , which also has the list of weekly Torah and Haftarah readings. This site, , also provides the daily and weekly readings for recent and upcoming years according to how Simchat Torah falls.

Remember that in Judaism, "the prophets" is not only Isaiah through Malachi, but also Joshua through II Kings, or the later and former prophets, respectively. The Ketuvim, or writings, have no formal cycle of readings, although the Five Megillot (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther) are read on particular festivals, and Psalms are found throughout the Siddur (prayer book).

As reflected on my Journeys Home blog, I enjoy having year-long "projects" in my spiritual life, keeping me focused week to week on some activity that will help me grow. As a Gentile respectful of Jewish traditions, I may undertake a year-long reading and study that will help me understand sections of the Torah which, though part of the Bible, I don't often read.

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