Chapter Twenty-two

About the joyful Feast of the Completion of the Law, and how they distribute their Synagogue [lit: Church] Honors

You will find nothing about this Feast in the Law. However, their Rabbis ordained it, in order to rejoice that God had let them learn and involve themselves in his Law for yet another year, and further that it should be completed and restarted in a gracious manner in the synagogue. [lit: church]

They have divided the five books of Moses into fifty-two parts, and on each Sabbath they read one piece, and therefore the last reading is on the day right after the Feast of Tabernacles, which is approximately the 23rd day of the autumn month.

In their Talmud they write about the most incredible and idiotic rejoicings which the High Priest and all the people engaged in on this day, with dancing, leaping, and all kinds of antics which would be too lengthy to report.

On this day, when they are in church, they take all the books of the Law from the Ark with a special procession, then they read from it the last and first portions, dance around the pulpit with them, and then put them back again with great pomp.

While all the books are out of the Ark, they put in a burning light, because the Ark is never to be empty, and therefore it is just as if the Law were still in there, because the Law is also called a light, as it is written Prov. 6.23: For the commandment is a lamp, and the Law is a light. They throw a lot of fruit and the like at the young people in shul: apples, nuts, pears, so that they may have reason to be happy too. It sometimes happens, though, that they squabble over it.

Besides finishing the reading of the Law and completing it, they also arrange anew certain church [synagogue] honors on this day, especially those belonging to the reading of the Law. These honors are publicly announced and sold in shul, and whoever bids the most when they are offered for the third time acquires the honor.

The man who wakes the people for shul in the morning, or the custodian, calls out the honors:

  1. The honor of kindling the synagogue lights throughout the year.
  2. The one who provides the wine with which the Sabbath and other feasts are ushered in and out. Although the master of each house should usher in the Sabbath with wine at his house, as previously mentioned, it was nevertheless ordered that the Sabbath should be ushered in and out publicly, and for everyone, because there are some Jews who are too poor to buy wine. This wine is then given to the young boys to drink, and thereby they will grow up to be pious Jews.
  3. The one who wants to buy Gelilah. ["rolling or unrolling"] It is his honor to unwind and wind the book of the Law.
  4. The one who wants to buy Hagb├│hah ["elevation"] This is the honor of carrying the book around the pulpit, and lifting it up over his head so that everybody may see the writing. This has to be someone with strong arms, who can carry the book opened as wide as possible, with arms outstretched. Should he stumble or slip with his foot, the whole congregation would have to fast, and it would be a sign of great misfortune.
  5. The one who wishes to buy Etz chajim. ["tree of life"] He has the honor to grasp the wooden sticks to which the Law written on parchment is fastened, and to hand over the cloth with which it is wrapped, so that it may be wrapped up expeditiously. This honor is usually bought by young boys, who hope to become more pious and understanding if they grasp the wooden sticks often, and to live longer, because the sticks are called Etz chajim, tree of life, as it is written Prov. 3.28: It is a tree of life for all who grasp it. When the book is wrapped, only the wooden sticks are supposed to be touched. It would be a sin to touch the parchment with bare hands.
  6. The one who wants to buy Acheron. ["last"] He has the honor to read the concluding portion on the feast day.
  7. The one who wants to buy Schehia. ["delay"] He has the honor to substitute for someone who missed his honor, or could not finish it, and he takes his place for him.

The money collected from the sale of these honors is used to support the church and the poor Jews.

Sometimes great enmity, jealousy, and brawls occur at these auctions. Very often blasphemies ensue because the influence and reputation of a person may intervene, and a rich man may get preference over a poor man, a young man over an old, an unlearned one over a learned, an evil one over a pious. Sometimes quarrels and aversion to one other take such proportions that the Christian authority gets involved too. There is no more hostile, envious, and implacable people under the sun than the Jews.

And this is the final fruit of the devout reading of the Law of God in the synagogue. Without they glitter wondrously, but within they are full of malice.

Since no joy is complete without Basar vejajin, meat and wine (as they say) they therefore end this joyous feast with a sumptuous meal. They prepare all kinds of food, and enjoy themselves to the full.

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Alan D. Corré