If you have been exposed to Judaism, Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots, or some variant of those branches, then you will most likely be familiar with the weekly Bible readings known as the Torah portion, also referred to as the parashah, which simply means a passage or section of the first five books of the Bible, as well as the Haftarah portion. The Torah and Haftarah portions are typically read publicly and studied each Sabbath. If you are relatively new to hearing such unfamiliar terminology, this brief article has been scribed to give you an overview.
Brief Torah Portion History
The tradition of reading a passage from the Torah, which is also known as the law or teachings or instructions of God and can be found in the first five books of the Bible being Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, is believed to have began in 6th century BC immediately after the Jews were released from Babylonian captivity. Upon being allowed to return to Jerusalem to re-group and re-claim their God-ordained promised land (Ezra 1-2), which they were evicted from by God for failing to obey God’s voice documented throughout the Torah, Ezra, the Levitical priest, “had prepared his heart to the seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10) so as to not repeat history and be cursed by God for failure to heed His written Voice. Once the temple was rebuilt and dedicated unto the LORD, in the seventh month (Tishri, on the Hebrew calendar), “all the people gathered together as one man” so Ezra could read to them the “Book of the Law”. Each day during the Feast of Tabernacles, known as ‘Sukkot’ in Hebrew, also during the seventh-month, portions of the Torah were read to the people (Ezra 8). And so it is believed the custom began in order to prevent the calamity of the curses brought on God’s people for their rebellion in not obeying God’s written voice. At some point, the Torah portions were divided up into 54 weekly parashahs or specific passages. Still today, the entire globe (of those branches) are studying the same Bible passages in unity as “one man”.
Brief Haftarah Portion History
No one knows for certain how the Haftarah, also pronounced Haftorah in Ashkenazi communities, portions began, but many believe the tradition started circa 175 BC when Antiochus Epiphanes conquered the temple. At that tragic time, Antiochus Epiphanes outlawed the public reading of the Torah, replaced the holy artifacts with pagan gods within the temple, slaughtered pig, an unclean and abomination according to Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14, and Isaiah 65-66, as a means to mock God’s ordained sacrificial system, and even tormented and killed Jews for holding to their belief in the one true God and their determination to adhere to His laws. All of this was an “abomination of desolation”, which will happen again according to prophecies found in the Book of Daniel. Consequently, the rabbis of those days researched and prescribed related passages of the Torah found in the Prophets to be read each week instead of the Torah during that tumultuous time. This became known as “Haftarah”, which means “conclude”.
After that horrific time, the practice of reading from the Prophets stuck so today, passages called portions from the Torah and the Haftarah, which are related are read.
The weekly Torah portions as well as various articles and teachings are easy to find online with a quick search of “this week’s Torah portion”.
Shalom and Blessings!