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Who Divided the Torah Into Weekly Readings, Chapters, and Verses?

Who Divided the Torah Into Weekly Readings, Chapters, and Verses?



When G‑d taught Moses the Torah, He also taught him the proper pronunciation and punctuation of its words: vowels, grammar, and sentence set-up—i.e. verses (pesukim). Similarly, the authors of the respective (divinely inspired) books of Prophets and Holy Writings orally transmitted to their students the division of their books into verses.


The division of the Scriptures into chapters (perakim) was done by non-Jews in the thirteenth century. They did so to facilitate their bible study, to make it easier to recall the exact source for any given verse.1

Torah Readings:

Moses established the custom to publicly read from the Torah scroll every Shabbat—although the entire Torah was not necessarily completed in a yearly cycle.

The custom to complete the weekly public reading of the Torah every year (on the holiday of Simchat Torah) finds its root in Babylon of the Talmudic Era. The Torah was then divided into fifty-four sections (Parshiyot) to allow for the completion of a yearly cycle with the reading of one Parshah per week.2

(Incidentally, the word "parshah" can also refer to a grouping of words or verses in the Torah. These parshiyot – which the dividers of the Torah into chapters barely took into consideration – can be as brief as two words, or as long as an entire weekly Torah reading. These parshiyot are separated in the Torah Scroll by a blank space. There are a total of 669 such parshiyot in the Five Books of Moses.)

All the best,

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson


According to some, they also had sinister intentions, such as to assist them in their theological debates against the Jews, and, in certain instances, the chapters were divided in a manner that would allude to non-Jewish beliefs.


Because of the fluctuations in the length of the Jewish calendar years, and due to the fact that the weekly Parshah can be "usurped" at times in favor of a holiday reading— a double Parshah is read on certain weeks.

Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson is a writer who lives with his family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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Shel Haas Fort bLee NJ USA November 5, 2016

Torah reading Ezra was the first to publicly read the Torah. He read it, translated it, interpreted it from sun up to noon! All else is commentary! Reply

Shaul Wolf November 17, 2015

Re: Vayeshev Simply put, I would assume this division is because of the story that comes in between - the dreams of Pharaoh. This story separates between Joseph being in prison and the butler remembering him.
On a deeper level, I think this adds to emphasize the fact that ״The chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, and he forgot him". By ending the portion there and only introducing the fact that he was remembered in the next portion, it is stressed the extent of him being forgotten. Joseph ended up spending an extra two years in prison, expectantly awaiting to be released, before he was finally remembered by the butler. Reply

Ellen Mendel New York November 4, 2015

Who Divided the Torah into Weekly readings and how were those chapters set up I was especially interested in Vayeshev. The ending leaves us thinking that Joseph was left in prison and forgotten by the butler who was restored to his position. It's only in the next Chapter - Mi-ketz, that we learn that it took 2 years until when the chief butler mentioned to the Pharaoh Joseph's ability to interpret dreams that we learn he was after all remembered.
I'm wondering why Vayeshev didn't end with that comment instead. Reply

Baruch S Davidson NY July 28, 2015

Re: A Discrepancy The number 669 that I gave in the article reflects the opinion of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillin Mezuzah vSefer Torah, Chapter 8), which is the standard followed in most Torah scrolls.

The division by non-Jews is noted in the article, and their possible sinister or misleading intentions are noted in footnote 1. Reply

Shmuel Goldstein Miami July 27, 2015

A Discrepancy on Number of Parshiot (Paragraphs) in the Torah You mentioned 669, yet on the website it counts 673. Where is your source?
PS. Stephen Langton (c. 1150 – 9 July 1228) is credited of dividing the bible into the chapters that we use. He was an English Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and Archbishop of Canterbury.

Sinister Intentions
Chapter divisions sometimes reflect Christian beliefs. For example, the first chapter of Bereishis ends at the end of the sixth day, leaving Vayechulu for chapter two, in order to deflate the significance of Shabbos as the end of the week. This is a reflection of the Christian shifting of the Sabbath day to Sunday and in contradiction to the Mishnah, (Taanis 4:1) which tells us that when the anshei ma’amad (Jews present during the sacrificial avodah in the Bais Hamikdosh) read ma’aseh Bereishis, Vayechulu was included as well."

Sha;ul David New Jersey November 23, 2012

I've been under the impresion that Ezra, Daniel, and some of their peers put the parshiyot together under guidence from HaShem. Reply

shlomo plano, tx January 17, 2012

who divided the Torah into parshas?? i still dont know who divided the torah into the parshas? Reply

sammy ekol February 13, 2009

nice one! You really know your stuff, giving exact citations and all that! Reply

Brian Scottsbluff, NE via February 21, 2008

Re: Chapter III See for example: Likutei Sichot vol. 34 p. 221, footnote 40 Reply

Anonymous February 21, 2008

Proof Please Please substantiate this claim Brian. Reply

Brian Scottsbluff, NE via February 21, 2008

chapters III There are places in the Rebbe's writings where the number of the chapter and verse is mentioned as hinting to the idea being conveyed in that verse. Although this division was made by non-Jews, EVERYTHING is by Divine Providence. Reply

Anonymous February 21, 2008

chapters ll The Rebbe's comments were made in relation to the names of the Parshios as given by Jews. Unless you can support your point otherwise the Rebbe's words were limited to the Jewish names of the Parshios of which we are unsure of their origin. This does not include the non-jewish chapter order.
(correct me if i'm wrong) Reply

Anonymous January 30, 2008

Names of the parshiyot Although it is not known to us exactly who chose the names of the Parshiyot and at what point in history this naming took place, we do know that these names have been used for over one thousand years, as they are mentioned by name in the writings of Rav Saadya Gaon (882-942). Some point to the Talmud, in which some of these names are mentioned, but this has been contested by some who suggest that this was not necessarily referring to the division of the Parshiyot as we know them. Reply

yaakov January 22, 2008

Chapters I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that the Rebbe always said that the very fact that Divine Providence arranged for dividing parts of Torah or certain names to be given, etc., even by non-Jews - and that these actions then became widely accepted throughout Jewry - shows that they carry significance. Nothing is by chance, especially something as fundamental as G-d's Torah. Reply

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