The Triennial Torah Cycle

October 25, 2013

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, October 25, 2013.

The Triennial Torah Cycle

Most synagogues world wide read Torah according to an annual cycle – the Torah is divided into 54 parashot (sections) each one read on Shabbat. The whole cycle begins on the Shabbat after Simchat Torah in the fall. The whole complicated system allows for a different section each Shabbat. There are more than enough sections to go around because in a Hebrew leap year, there is an extra month. So . . . in a non leap year, double portions are read on some Sabbaths. However, the yearly cycle wasn’t always the standard procedure!

In ancientIsrael, the complete Torah was read in a cycle of three years! It’s unclear how exactly it was divided – scholars claim it was 141 sections, or 154, or 167, or 150! One favorite theory is that each week, the Torah portion was read, then a “Haftorah” (a reading from the prophets), and a Psalm. Some scholars believe that the reason there are 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms is because those were the 150 psalms that constituted the weekly readings for the triennial cycle.

By the time Maimonides codified the readings of the annual cycle in the 12th Century, the triennial cycle was no longer used. In modern times, however, many Conservative and Reform congregations have reinstated the triennial cycle. Unlike the ancients, however, this modern cycle reads one third of each yearly section each year. That is . . . the first year on the first Shabbat of the cycle, for example, they will read the first third of Parashat Breishit (the first section in Genesis), the next year the second division in the section, and the third year the third division. That way, all synagogues would still be in the approximate same place each Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom