Torah Readings (Parshas)
Reading in the Synagogue from the Torah, the Prophets and the B’rit Hadashah
*Every Saturday morning, in synagogues all over the world, Torah scrolls are ceremoniously removed from arks, carried through the aisles to be touched reverently by the congregants (the custom symbolizes devotion to the Word of God), and then placed on the bimah (pulpit). Seven persons are called up to recite blessings before and after they or more experienced readers read the sacred Hebrew text of the Torah from the scroll. The practice of public reading from the Torah dates back at least to the time of Ezra1, if not to King Y’hoshafat2 or King Yoshiyahu3; and the B’rit Hadashah4 attests it as well. The portion (parashah) read each week, anywhere between one and six chapters long, is not picked on the spur of the moment but follows a prescribed sequence tied to the Jewish year. Fifty-four parashot are read in order, commencing with B’resheet (Genesis) 1 on the autumn holiday Simchat-Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah) and ending with D’varim (Deuteronomy) 34 on Simchat-Torah the following year, when with great joy the scroll is immediately re-rolled, and B’resheet 1 is read again.
Moreover, the reading from the Bible does not end with the Torah portion. After the Torah, a related section from the Prophets is read; this is called the haftarah (completion), since it completes the prescribed synagogue Scripture reading. The B’rit Hadashah reports that in Natzeret (Nazareth) Yeshua was invited to read the haftarah, which that week was from the book of Isaiah, and he daringly applied the passage to himself5. In times past there was also a reading from the Writings section of the Bible, but this custom has fallen away.
Being called up to the bimah for the Torah reading is an honor. The Hebrew word for such an invitation is ‘aliyah; it means “going up.” (The same word, ‘aliyah, means “immigrating to Israel,” since it is a spiritual “going up” for a Jew to return to the land God gave to our people.) The first ‘aliyah is given to a cohen (priest) if one is present, the second to a Levi (Levite) if present, and the rest to any Jew. The ‘oleh (the person called up for an ‘aliyah) recites the blessing, stands at the bimah while he or the ba’al-kore (pronounced ba’al ko ray—the master reader) reads from the scroll; he then recites the closing blessing, remains standing there during the following ‘aliyah, shakes hands all around, and then returns to his seat. In Orthodox Judaism only men are given ‘aliyot; in Conservative and Reform Judaism both men and women may be called up.
*Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers & Resources, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029.