Playing Catch-Up

Shalom from Jerusalem!

This morning in synagogue, I gave a D’var Torah (short teaching) regarding Parashat (Torah Portion) Emor (Leviticus 21:1-25:23). I look forward to sharing it with you next week.  Why not this week?  Because whereas it is Shabbat Emor here in Israel, everywhere else in the world it is Shabbat Acharei Mot – Kiddoshim (a double portion), which we here read last week. This difference in reading cycles occurs only for a few weeks every couple of years. 

Why? The reason, like much of Jewish practice, combines historical, pragmatic, and “religious” considerations.

Whenever a “Jewish holiday” falls on Shabbat (I use quotation marks because Shabbat is actually the most important holy-day, though it occurs weekly), we interrupt the weekly Torah reading progression to substitute a special reading relating to the theme of the holiday. 

But, whereas in Israel most holidays are celebrated for just one day, “Chutz la’aretz” (outside of Israel), holidays are often celebrated for two days. This is because the Temple priests would declare the commencement of holidays based upon eyewitness reports of the commencement of the new moon.  Without instantaneous communication, word of their declaration couldn’t reach Diaspora Jews in time for its residents to avoid desecrating the Divine law of observing the holiday.  So, the custom developed of celebrating two days in the Diaspora to provide them a safety window for necessary observance.   Although precise calendrical calculations have long since replaced eyewitness testimony, we continue the ancient custom. 

This year, Passover was celebrated for seven days in Israel, as the Torah prescribes.  Since the first day happened to be Shabbat, a special holiday reading was substituted and the normal Torah reading sequence resumed the following Shabbat -- by which time the seven days of Pesach had ended.  But it had not yet ended outside of Israel, which celebrated eight days of Pesach covering two Shabbatot.  Therefore, the next Torah reading in the Diaspora -- but not here -- was held over a second time until the following week. That’s why it’s still Acharei Mot-Kiddoshim outside of Israel, but already Emor in Israel.

Don’t worry, though.  In two weeks, Diaspora Jews will read another double portion to catch up with Jews in Israel, just in time for the next holiday of Shavuot.  Since Shavuot (one day here, two there) doesn’t fall on a Shabbat this year, its special holiday Torah portion will be read during the week and won’t affect the Shabbat reading cycle.  We’ll be together again for the next few years.     

Now you know! 

Shabbat shalom!  

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