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    Double sidrot – Vayakhel-P’kudei

    In the solar calendar there are 52 weeks. The synagogal lectionary – based on a lunar system – has 54 sidrot (weekly readings), creating a discrepancy between the solar and lunar years.

    To reconcile them, there are times when two sidrot are combined on a given Sabbath, according to the following pattern:

    Genesis: no double sidrot.

    Exodus: sometimes Vayakhel and P’kudei are combined, making this combination the longest reading in Exodus and the second longest of the year, second only to MattotMass’ei in the Book of Numbers.

    Leviticus: three combinations are known – Tazria and M’tzora; Acharei-Mot and K’doshim; B’har and B’chukkotai.

    Numbers: sometimes Chukkat and Balak, and Mattot and Mass’ei are combined.

    Deuteronomy: sometimes Nitzavim and Vayelech are combined.

    The shortest possible number of Sabbaths in the year is 48. Such a year is called “regular” (i.e. not a leap year). In such a year the phenomenon of several double sidrot enable the synagogue to encompass the whole Torah within 12 months.

    The longest possible number of Sabbaths in the year is 54. Such a year is called a leap year because it has an extra month which keeps the lunar (Jewish) and solar (civil) calendars in tandem. In such a year double sidrot are less essential.

    The Diaspora has more festival days than Israel, i.e. the 2nd and 8th days of Pesach and the 2nd days of Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret, the 2nd day of which is Simchat Torah. In Israel, Simchat Torah combines with Sh’mini Atzeret.

    If one of these extra days falls on a Sabbath the Diaspora has a separate festival Torah reading that day, whilst Israeli synagogues read the next weekly sidra according to the regular system.

    The discrepancy between the Diaspora and Israel is removed by the insertion of extra double sidrot in Diaspora synagogues. In such a year the Israel/Diaspora lectionaries are out of tandem for some weeks.

    Prior to the advent of Adar (to which in a leap year the calendar adds an extra month called Adar Sheni), no double sidrot are inserted. As a result there are no double sidrot during the reading of Genesis or the early part of Exodus. This pre-Adar phenomenon might reflect an early stage in the history of the Jewish calendar.

    There is an alternative view that it is the first, not the second, Adar which is added to the calendar in a leap year.

    Congregants do not always enjoy the combination of sidrot because it prolongs the service and in some cases, notably Vayakhel-P’kudei, the content seems repetitive, reiterating material about the building of the Tabernacle which has already been covered in the preceding weeks, though in the combination the verbs are in the past (“they made”), not the future tense (“they shall make”).

    This change in tense indicates that the instructions in the previous chapters have been faithfully carried out.

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