One Torah Reader, Not Seven!

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Only around 100 A.D. did it become the custom to have the weekly Torah portion read by seven persons.

Revised: 25-Aug-2012

Every Saturday morning in synagogues throughout the world the Torah is read aloud. Following ancient practice, seven men in turn read the weekly Torah portion. However, Professors Shmuel and Chana Safrai have recently discovered that a different custom prevailed until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

Rabbinic sources inform us that on the Sabbath the Torah was read aloud in the synagogue by seven persons, a custom that has continued until this day.[1] Scholars have assumed the custom was the same in the time of Jesus.[2]

An Israeli boy reading from a Torah scroll during his Bar Mitzvah ceremony held in the ruins of the ancient synagogue at Masada (Jan. 1967).
An Israeli boy reading from a Torah scroll during his Bar Mitzvah ceremony held in the ruins of the ancient synagogue at Masada (Jan. 1967).

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This article originally appeared in issue 52 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

  • [1] Tosefta, Megillah 3:11; Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 23a. Notice that both sources transmit the tannaic halachah that women can be included among the seven Torah readers.
  • [2] Chana and Shmuel Safrai also had made this assumption (cf. Shmuel Safrai, “Naming John the BaptistJP 20 [May 1989]: 1-2).

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  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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