July 18, 2024
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The Names of the Parshiyot

The purpose of this article is to point to variations in the name of the 54 parshiyot. In the past few centuries, the names have been largely consistent throughout the world. This is, probably, due to the printing of the Mikraot Gedolot and the name choices made there. The first Mikraot Gedolot was printed in the early-16th century. But, when we go to the period before printing, one can find much variety. Today, most of the names are one word only. It was not like that in earlier times.

(Today, 16 of the names are the first word of the parsha. On the other hand, 12 of the names come from the second verse in the parsha! These are: Vayera, Terumah, Ki Tisa, Tzav, Tazria, Metzora, Kedoshim, Naso, Beha’alotcha, Shelach, Chukat and Pinchas.)

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Let us start with the few names found in the Babylonian Talmud. In Babylonia, at the time of the Talmud, they read the Torah on a one-year cycle, as we do today. (This is in contrast to the three year, or three-and-half-year cycle in Eretz Yisrael.) Accordingly, in Babylonia, they—probably—had the same parshiyot divisions that we have today.

But, only 9 of these names are found in the Babylonian Talmud. I am going to list the ones found in the standard Vilna edition, and I am bolding the ones that are not identical to ours:

  • Vayehi Beshalach (Megillah 31a),
  • Veatah Tetzaveh (Megillah 29b),
  • Ki Tisa (Megillah 30a),
  • Vayakhel (Megillah 30a),
  • Acharei Mot (Megillah 31a, Gittin 60a),
  • Kedoshim Tihiyu (Zevachim 28b and 29a),
  • Naso (Nazir 45a),
  • Balak (Brachot 12b),
  • Vezot Habracha (Megillah 31b). (I am including this as the name of a parsha, but it is never read on a regular Shabbat.)

I believe none of our parsha names are found in the Jerusalem Talmud, due to the longer reading cycle in Eretz Yisrael with shorter individual readings. (But in Eretz Yisrael, they had many more haftarot in play!)

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What happened after the Talmud? We can check the Geonim and Rishonim to see what names they used. Most of these sources do not have a comprehensive list. We would have to go through their entire works. Fortunately a scholar named “Ilana Katzenellenbogen,” has already done this in an article in Sinai, volume 122, “Shemot haparshot shebeTorah besifrut haGeonim ve’haRishonim.” I am going to cite just a small portion from this article. (I would like to thank Rabbi Mordy Friedman for referring me to it.)

Before we go through a few of the Rishonim, I will discuss the names in Rambam. Although we do not have an official list of the parsha names by Rambam, we effectively have such a list. In his “Seder tefillot kol hashanah” (at the end of Sefer Ahavah), he lists the haftarah for each parsha. When he does this, he names each parsha first.

Here is what we find:

  • In the book of Bereshit, every parsha—except for Bereshit—has at least a two-word name. Thus, we have the following names that do not match the present convention: Toldot Noach, Vayera Elav, Vayehiyu Chayei Sarah, Toldot Yitzchak, Vayetzei Yaakov, Vayishlach Yaakov, Vayeshev Yaakov, Vayehi Miketz, Vayigsash Elav and Vayechi Yaakov.
  • In the book of Shemot, every parsha—except for Vayera and Vayakhel—has at least a two-word name. Thus, we have the following names that do not match the present convention: Ve’eleh Shemot, Bo el Pharaoh, Vayehi Beshalach, Vayishma Yitro, Va’eleh Hamishpatim, Veyikchu Li, Veatah Tetzaveh and Ve’eleh Pekudei.
  • In the book of Vayikra, every parsha except for Vayikra has, at least, a two-word name. Thus, we have the following names that do not match the present convention: Tzav et Aharon, Vayehi Bayom HaShemini, Ishah Ki Tazria, Zot Tihiyeh, Kedoshim Tihiyu, Emor el HaKohanim, Behar Sinai and Im Bechukotai.
  • In the book of Bamidbar, every parsha except for Naso, Beha’alotcha and Pinchas has at least a two-word name. Thus, we have the following names that do not match the present convention: Bamidbar Sinai, Shelach Lecha, Vayikach Korach, Zot Chukat HaTorah, Vayar Balak, Roshei HaMatot and Eleh Maasei.
  • In the book of Devarim, every parsha except for Vaetchanan, Shoftim and Ha’azinu, has at least a two-word name. Thus, we have the following names that do not match the present convention: Eleh HaDevarim, Vehaya Ekev, Re’eh Anochi, VeHaya Ki Tavo and Atem Nitzavim.

A few other remarks on the Rambam’s names:

  • Aside from calling the parsha “Toldot Noach” above—at Hilchot Tefillah 13:1—he calls it, “Eleh Toldot.”
  • As to the parsha of “Lech Lecha,” at Hilchot Tefillah 13:1, he calls it “Vayomer Hashem el Avram.”
  • As to the parsha listed above as “Zot Tihiyeh,” at Hilchot Tefillah 13:2, Rambam calls it, “Zot Tihiyeh Torat HaMetzora.”
  • In Devarim, Rambam does not list “Vayelech” as a parsha. “Atem Nitzavim” is viewed as one long parsha, which is—sometimes—divided. Many others have shared this view.
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Now, we will cite from a small portion of Katzenellenbogen’s article and refer to the names that she found in several of our Rishonim:

  • Rashi on the Torah: Ve’eleh HaMishpatim, Vayehi Miketz, Eleh Pekudei and Veatah Tezaveh.
  • Rashi on the Talmud (standard Vilna edition): Shelach Lecha Anashim, Emor el HaKohanim, Kedoshim Tihiyu, Im Bechukotai, Ve’eleh HaMishpatim, Tzav et Aharon and Re’eh Anochi.
  • Rashbam: Eleh Toldot Noach, Eleh Toldot Yitzchak, Eleh Shemot, Vayikchu Li Terumah, Ekev Tishme’un and Vehaya Ekev. (In the last two, he is referring to the same parsha by different names in different places.)
  • Ibn Ezra: Ve’eleh Shemot, Vayikchu Li Trumah, Vayishma Yitro, Vayar Balak and Zot Chukat HaTorah.
  • Ramban: Vayetzei Yaakov, Eleh Maasei, Vayigash Elav and Vayehi Bayom HaShemini.

A few Geonic sources and numerous additional Rishonim are cited in her article.

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In part 2 of this article (also in Sinai, vol. 122), Katzenellenbogen listed each parsha and all the variant names she found for each, and cited where they were found. For example:

  • Bereshit: Bereshit, Bereshit Bara and Bereshit Bara Elokim.
  • Noach: Noach, Eleh Toldot, Toldot Noach, Eleh Toldot Noach and Eleh Toldot Noach Noach.
  • Lecha Lecha: Avram, Lech, Lech Lecha, Lech Lecha Me’artzecha, Vayomer Hashem, Vayomer Hashem el Avram and Vayomer Hashem el Avram Lech Lecha.
  • Vayera: Vayera, Mamrei, Vayera Elav and Vayera Elav Hashem.
  • Chayei Sarah: Vayihiyu, Chayei, Sarah, Vayihiyu Chayei, Chayei Sarah and Vayihiyu Chayei Sarah.

Her list continues with all the fascinating variants for each! Most fascinating is the name for “Tazria” found in the siddur of Rav Saadiah Gaon, page 364: אשה.

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Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected]. His bar mitvah parsha was Ki Tetzei. Here the variants she lists are: “Tetzei, Ki Tetzei, Tetzei LaMilchamah, Ki Tetzei LaMilchamah and Milchamah.” (The last was by the same person who called the third parsha “Avram,” the fourth “Mamrei” and the fifth “Sarah.” She points out that this little-known figure had a unique way of naming the parshiyot.)

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