Triennial Torah Reading Cycle
A Chart of the Breakup of Prashiot and Aliyot
Copyright © 1998-2000 Jewish Theological Seminary
Many congregations pattern their weekly Torah reading cycle after a system similar to the one used in ancient Israel during the rabbinic period. In this system, the traditional parashiot are each divided into three shorter segments, and the whole Torah is completed once every three years. The system has both advantages and disadvantages, but its ability to shorten the length of Torah reading without sacrificing the complete reading of the Torah on a regular basis has made it the choice of some synagogues in the Conservative Movement.
Click here to view the Chart of Triennial Torah Readings.
The responsum of the Committe on Jewish Law and Standards
of the Rabbinical Assembly follows:
A Complete Triennial System for Reading the Torah
RABBI RICHARD EISENBERG
This paper was adopted by CJLS. The vote and the names of those voting are not available. Several improvements were recommended in a paper by Rabbi Judah Kogen on June 14, 1995. They are incorporated in this responsum on the triennial cycle and noted by an asterisk*. The original recommendations are found in Rabbi Kogen's paper.
Many Conservative congregations in America are currently utilizing a triennial cycle for the reading of the Torah. There are several ways of implementing such a cycle, and all sorts of variations are practiced in different congregations. As such, an atmosphere of confusion now exists with regard to Kriat Ha-Torah in our movement.
Rabbi Lionel Moses, in a paper which he submitted to the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards entitled "Is There an Authentic Triennial Cycle of Torah Readings," provided a clear direction by suggesting a return to the original Palestinian triennial concept. The Torah would be divided into 154 Sedarim which would be read consecutively over a three year period. Rabbi Moses's excellent and thorough critical analysis was an attempt to provide an authentic and halakhically justifiable triennial approach. Although his specific recommendation was ultimately not accepted by the Law Committee, Rabbi Moses's efforts led to a re-evaluation of the triennial cycle and a call for an approach which would be true to Halakha, to the purpose behind the public reading of the Torah and to the needs of contemporary synagogues and worshippers.
An alternative approach was recommended to the Law Committee by Rabbi Elliot Dorff in a paper entitled "Annual and Triennial Systems for Reading the Torah." Rabbi Dorff suggested the first third of the Sidrah be read in one year, the second third the second year and the third on the third year. He also followed Rabbi Moses's lead in ruling out the practice of skipping from one section in the Sidrah to another on the same day (though Rabbi Moses further argued against skipping from one week to the next). Rabbi Dorff's recommendation was approved by the Law Committee.
It is the purpose of this paper to provide a complete triennial system according to the model provided by Rabbi Dorff.1 Each Sidrah has been subdivided into thirds, and each third has been subdivided into seven Aliyot and Maftir. The following halakhic guidelines have been observed:2
The Sidrot are divided into three roughly equal Sedarim usually following the traditional Ashkenazic divisions of Aliyot.3 In some Sidrot, the flow of the narrative or the dialogue would be interrupted until the following year when the reading in the Parasha would be resumed. For example, in year II of Lekh Lekha, it would be convenient to conclude at Genesis 15:6, which is the end of the fifth Aliyah in the Ashkenazic system. However, 15:6 does not conclude a literary unit; rather, it stands in the middle of a divine revelation to Abraham which includes the Brit ben ha-Betarim (Covenant of Between the Pieces). It was decided, therefore, to extend the reading in year II to 15:21, the conclusion of the revelation account and a logical place to stop.5
Various problems and solutions emerged during the preparations of this triennial system. The following examples are outstanding:
Let us take Vayakhel-Pekudei as an example. If the reader is beginning a triennial cycle in 1989, he or she will find that the Sidrot are separate in 1989, combined in 1990 and combined in 1991. Therefore, the reader will turn first in the chart below to Section 1, Triennial Cycle Variations, and select option F (Separate-Together-Together). On the first year (1989) the selection from Vayakhel will be Exodus 35:1 - 37:16; the selection from Pekudei will be Exodus 38:21 - 39:21. Section III (Aliyot Divisions for Separate Sidrot) is then consulted for the divisions of Aliyot; in this instance, the divisions are listed under F.1. on p. 16 ("F" refers to the option and "I" refers to the year in the triennial cycle). On the second year of the cycle (1990) Section 11 (Aliyot Divisions for Combined Sidrot, p. 14) is consulted for the divisions of Aliyot in Exodus 37:17-39:21 listed under column II On the third year (1991) Section II (p. 14) is once again referred to; in this case, the division of Aliyot in Exodus 39:22-40:38 is found under column III.
The application of this system in each instance of combined Sidrot will be discussed in the Appendix. The reader is advised to make no changes or adjustments which would lead to the omission of any section of the Torah. There is bound to be some overlapping of sections from year to year, but less so than if the separate Sidrot were to be read in their entirety.7
A congregation which adopts this triennial system may be assured that the entire Torah will be read in a three year cycle in an orderly and coherent way. This system reflects a deep sense of reverence for the sanctity of the Torah text as well as a respect for the needs of our congregations and worshippers. It is my recommendation that those congregations which already use a triennial cycle consider adopting the system proposed in this paper.
A uniform effort to begin utilizing this system on the same year ought to take effect in our Movement. All congregations which use the triennial cycle would then be reading the same selections at the same time. Thus will a greater uniformity of practice for the reading of Torah be achieved in the Conservative Movement.