What is the weekly Torah portion?
The Pentateuch, Torah , also known as the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), is the single most important Jewish religious text. As such, it is read as part of the prayer services. The Torah
is divided into portions, each called a parasha , for every Sabbath of the year, with possible adjustments based on the number of Sabbaths that year - two portions can be joined together at times. This system of reading ensures that the entire torah is read in a yearly cycle.
Following the weekly Torah portion, a portion from the prophets is also read, called the Haftarah , literally: the conclusion. Each Torah portion is designated its own Haftara, which is read in a different melody than the portion but based on the same system of te'amim . The Haftarah is usually a prophetical story reminiscent in some way of the Torah portion read.
The torah is also read on Mondays and Thursdays, when the beginning of the upcoming Sabbath's portion is read, and on festivals and fast days, which are designated their own portion. For example: on Passover, the portion from the Book of Exodus describing the Exodus is naturally read as part of the festival services. This is despite the fact that the same chapters are read as part of the regular Torah portions on the Sabbath.
The Reading of the weekly portion is the center of the Sabbath prayer services. The portion is read out loud, according to a special musical and punctuation system called te'amim. Virtually every Jewish community in the Diaspora had a slightly different way of pronouncing and sounding the te'amim, but all are based on the same ancient system, which was put into writing in the 9th century CE but reflects an even more ancient oral tradition.
If you are to open a Hebrew Bible, you will find two systems used for marking the text on the actual letters so that the text includes instructions for vocalization, punctuation and melody: The niqud , or vocalization marks, and the te'amim.
Here is an example of the te'amim (marked in red), on the first verse of the Torah:
However, it is important to realize that the person reading the portion in the synagogue does not have the te'amim in front of him or her - s/he must memorize them in advance, and read from a scroll that contains only the unpunctuated text.
Reading the Torah