Triennial Cycle

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TRIENNIAL CYCLE , term denoting the custom according to which the weekly Pentateuchal readings on Sabbaths are completed in a three-year cycle. The triennial cycle was practiced in Palestine and in Egypt as late as 1170 c.e., whereas in Babylonia the reading of the Pentateuch was completed in one year, from Tishri to Tishri. The latter became the accepted traditional custom the world over (Meg. 29b; Maim., Yad, Tefillah 13:1).

The masoretic text of the Pentateuch has 154 divisions, known as sedarim. According to other traditions, however, the Pentateuch consists of 161 and even 175 portions (Sof. 16:10); the Yemenites divide the Pentateuch into 167. It has been suggested that the 154 division corresponds to the minimum number of Sabbaths in the triennial cycle and 161 to the maximum. The difference is due to the occurrence of festivals on Sabbaths when the regular Pentateuch portions were superseded by special Pentateuch readings appropriate to the festivals. The 175 division stems from the practice of completing the reading of the whole Pentateuch within a cycle of three and a half years (twice within seven years). In general, the different Jewish communities arbitrarily divided the Pentateuch, either by joining portions or dividing them. In the triennial cycle, the Pentateuch reading started on Nisan the first, which was regarded as the Jewish *New Year (see: Ex. 12:2); while the reading of each of the five books of the Pentateuch started on one of the New Years mentioned in the Mishnah (rh 1:1), as can be seen in the following list (p. 142):

1:1Isa. 42:512:29Isa. 21:116:22(not extant)
2:4(not extant)13:1Isa. 46:38:1Zech. 4:14
3:24(not extant)13:21Isa. 45:249:22(not extant)
5:1Isa. 30:8–1515:21Isa. 49:1011:1(not extant)
IYYAR6:9Isa. 54:9–1016:25Isa. 58:2312:1
8:1Hab. 3:1–518:1Isa. 6; 61:6–1013:1Josh. 2:1; Judg. 18:7
8:15Isa. 42:7–2121:1Jer. 34:114:1
9:18Isa. 49:9–1322:26Isa. 49:315:1
11:1(not extant)16:1I Sam. 11
SIVAN12:1Josh. 24:3–824:1Isa. 60:17–61:917:16Ezek. 44:15
14:1Isa. 41:2–14; I Kings 10:925:1Isa. 6618:25Ezek. 44:29
15:1Zeph. 3:9–19; Isa. 1:1–1726:31Ezek. 16:10–1920:14Judg. 11
16:1Isa. 64:127:20Hos. 14:7; Ezek. 43:1022:2Micah 5:6
29:1Isa. 61:6
TAMMUZ17:1Isa. 63:10–1130:1Mal. 1:11–2:723:2(not extant)
18:1Isa. 33:17–34:12; II Kings 430:12II Kings 12:525:10Mal. 2:5
19:1Isa. 17:14–18:731:1Isa. 43:7–2126:52Josh. 17:4
20:1Isa. 61:9–1032:14II Sam. 22:10–5128:1Ezek. 45:12
21:1I Sam. 2:21–28
AV22:1Isa. 33:7–2234:27Jer. 31:33–40; I Kings 18:27–3930:1Jer. 4:2
23:1I Kings 1:137:1I Kings 8:8–2232:1Jer. 2
24:1Judg. 19:2038:21Jer. 30:1833:1(not extant)
24:42Isa. 12:3–14:239:1Isa. 33:20–34:8; I Kings 7:1334:1Ezek. 45:1; Josh. 21:41
25:1II Sam. 5:17–6:1Josh. 20:1
27:1Isa. 46:3–61:1Isa. 43:21; Jer. 21:19; Micah1:1Jer. 30:4; Amos 2:9
27:28Micah 1:1; 5:7–133:1Ezek. 44:11; 20:412:1(not extant)
28:10Hos. 12:134:1Ezek. 18:4–173:23Jer. 32:16
29:31Isa. 60:155:1Zech. 5:3–6:194:1(not extant)
6:1Jer. 7:21
TISHRI30:21I Sam. 1:116:12Mal. 3:95:1(not extant)
31:3Jer. 30:10–16; Micah 6:3–7:208:1Ezek. 43:276:4I Kings 10:39
32:4Obad. 1:19:1I Kings 8:56–588:1Jer. 9:22–24
33:18Nah. 1:12–2:512:1Isa. 66:79:1Jer. 2:1; II Kings 8:30
ḤESHVAN35:9Isa. 43:1–713:29II Kings 510:1II Kings 13:23
37:1Jer. 38:814:1II Kings 7:811:26Isa. 54:11–55:6
38:1Isa. 37:31–3715:1(not extant)12:20Jer. 23:9
39:1Isa. 52:3–916:1Ezek. 44:115:7Isa. 61:1–2
KISLEV40:23Amos 1:3–15; 2:617:1(not extant)17:14I Sam. 8:1
41:1Isa. 29:818:1Ezek. 22:117:24I Sam. 10:24
41:38Isa. 11:2–919:1Amos 9:718:1Jer. 29:8
42:18Isa. 50:10–52:1121:1Ezek. 44:2520:10Josh. 24:1
TEVET43:24Jer. 42:12–17; 43:12–14; I22:1(not extant)21:10Isa. 54:1–10
Kings 3:15
44:18Josh. 14:6; Ezek. 37:1024:1(not extant)(not extant)(not extant)
47:28I Kings 13:1425:1Jer. 36:6; Ezek. 34(not extant)(not extant)
48:1I Kings 2:125:39Isa. 24:226:1Isa. 60:1–22
49:1Isa. 43:2
SHEVAT49:27Zech. 14:1; Micah 2:1226:3Jer. 16:19; Ezek. 12:2029:9Isa. 55:6–58:8; Micah 7:18–20
1:1Isa. 27:6; Ezek. 16:1; 201:1Hos. 2:131:14Judg. 2:7
3:1Isa. 40:11; II Kings 20:82:14(not extant)32:1Ezek. 17:22
4:14Isa. 55:123:14Isa. 43:9
6:2Ezek. 28:25–29:21
ADAR7:18Joel 3:34:17I Sam. 6:1033:1Josh. 1:1–18
8:16Isa. 34:114:21Judg. 13:2–2534:1(not extant)
10:1Isa. 19; Jer. 4:6; I Sam. 6:65:11Hos. 4:14Shekalim
12:13Jer. 46:13–286:1Judg. 13:2Zakhor

The reading of the book of

Genesis started on Nisan the 1st1st
Exodus started on Shevat the 15th1st
Leviticus started on Tishri the 1st2nd
Numbers started on Shevat the 15th2nd
Deuteronomy started on Elul the 1s3rd

The above division corresponds with biblical events narrated in aggadic legends:

(1) The creation story was read in the month of Nisan (in the first year of the cycle) as it was held that the world was created in this month (R. Joshua's view, in rh 11a).

(2) The sin of Cain (Gen. 4) was always read on the third Sabbath in Nisan (on Passover) which tallies with the legend that Cain offered his sacrifice on Passover (pdre, sect. 21).

(3) The story of Rachel giving birth to Joseph after having been barren for years (Gen. 30:22ff.), was always read at the beginning of Tishri (in the first year) which corresponds to the legend that Rachel, Sarah, Hannah, etc., were remembered by God on Rosh Ha-Shanah (rh 10b).

(4) Exodus 12, whose subject is the exodus from Egypt and was read in Nisan (second year), coincides with the Passover festival.

(5) The reading of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1–14) on the 6th of Sivan (second year) tallies with the *Shavuot festival.

(6) Exodus 34, read on the last Sabbath of Av, records Moses receiving the two tablets of the law for the second time (80 days after the 6th of Sivan). This is in accordance with the tradition that Moses spent twice 40 days on Mount Sinai. With the first two tablets he descended on the 17th of Tammuz but broke them because of the sin of the Golden Calf (Ex. 32); he then ascended for another 40 days and returned with the second two tablets on the 29th of Av.

(7) The reading of Leviticus always started (second year) at the end of Elul. Leviticus 8:1; 10:7, whose subject is the sacrificial cult of the priests in the Temple, was read on the *Day of Atonement on which the high priest performed the most sacred ritual in the Holy of Holies.

(8) Numbers (6:22ff.), always read at the beginning of Nisan (in the third year), corresponds to the biblical date of Moses' inauguration of the tabernacle.

(9) Deuteronomy 34, on the death of Moses, always read at the beginning of Adar (third year), tallies with the tradition that Moses died on the 7th of Adar.

The intention behind the triennial cycle was that the weekly portions correspond to the character of the festivals on which these are read (as may be seen from the above examples). This thematic coincidence was not always possible and did not always occur. There is, for example, no thematic correspondence between the portions to be read in Tishri (the first year) with the festivals in this month. The Mishnah (Meg. 3:5), therefore, ordered for all festivals special readings from the Pentateuch dealing with the commandments, etc., of each particular festival. Since the reading of the whole Pentateuch ended in Adar of the third year of the cycle and a few Sabbaths were left until Nisan (when the cycle started anew), the particular portions for the Four Sabbaths (Arba Parashiyyot; Shekalim, Zakhor, Parah, and Ha-Ḥodesh) were read as is customary nowadays (see *Torah, Reading of and *Sabbaths, Special).

In traditional synagogues, the Pentateuch is read in one year. *Reform Judaism (and some *Conservative synagogues) has, however, reverted to the ancient Palestinian custom of a triennial cycle. It was done in response to the spiritual need of the congregants most of whom do not understand Hebrew, and consequently, cannot follow – with proper attention – the lengthy reading in Hebrew of the entire weekly *sidrah. The weekly reading was shortened to approximately one third. In order that the portion should not be different from that read in traditional synagogues, the first part of each weekly sidrah is read in the first year, the second in the next, and the third in the last year of this triennial cycle. Consequently, three different haftarot were provided for every standard Pentateuch portion to correspond to the central theme of the particular part of the portion read. (See Union Prayer Book, 1 (1924), 399–406.)

The accompanying Table: Triennial Cycle is based on a number of hypotheses, first developed by Buechler and later taken up, with significant modification, by Mann (see bibl.). According to Buechler, the triennial cycle began in Nisan. According to Mann, it began in Tishri. Both of them worked with references in the Midrash and with genizah fragments. There is, however, no lectionary extant which, with any certainty, can be ascribed to either the tannaitic or the amoraic period. On the contrary, all available evidence seems to point in the direction of a complete absence of a definite triennial cycle in the talmudic period – although a number of such "cycles" were definitely in existence in the post-talmudic period. During the talmudic period – whence comes the ruling that each one of the seven people, "called" to read from the Torah, must not read "less than three verses" – various congregations seem to have begun and completed the reading of the Pentateuch at different times of the year.


A. Buechler, in: jqr, 5 (1892/93), 420–68; 6 (1893/94), 1–73; Jacobs, in: je, 12 (1905), 254–7 (with tables); J. Mann, The Bible as Read and Preached in the Old Synagogue, 1 (1940); 2 (1966; completed by I. Sonne); Ḥ. Albeck, in: L. Ginzberg Jubilee Volume (1946), 25–43 (Heb. pt.); L. Morris, The New Testament and the Jewish Lectionaries (1964); L. Crockett, in: jjs, 17 (1966), 13–46; J. Heinemann, in: Tarbiz, 33 (1963/64), 362–8; idem, in: jjs, 19 (1968), 41–48; J.J. Petuchowski, Contributions to the Scientific Study of Jewish Liturgy (1970), xvii–xxiii.