Herzog presides over quasi-biblical gathering revived by his grandfather

Every 7 years, the people of Israel are commanded to hear their king read from the Bible; in the absence of a monarch, thousands turn out for a presidential reenactment

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

President Isaac Herzog reads from the Bible during the septennial Hakhel ceremony at the Western Wall on October 12, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO(
President Isaac Herzog reads from the Bible during the septennial Hakhel ceremony at the Western Wall on October 12, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO(

Once every seven years, during the week-long Sukkot festival, the people of Israel are commanded to gather in Jerusalem to hear the king read portions of the Torah from a specially constructed wooden platform on the Temple Mount.

Known as Mitzvat Hakhel (from the word kahal, or gathering), it is the 612th of the 613 commandments listed in the five books of the Torah, and this year was one of those years when the septennial event was meant to be held.

But it’s a commandment that can’t actually be performed today. For one thing, there currently is no king of Israel, and for another, it is a commandment that is only in effect when all of the Jewish people are living in Israel, which is not the situation today.

And yet, on Wednesday night, tens of thousands of people gathered at the Western Wall to hear those sections read aloud.

This has been the case every year since 1945, save for 1973 (due to the Yom Kippur War).

In a quirk of history, men named Isaac Herzog were present at both the first reading in 1945 and the eleventh and latest one on Wednesday night.

The modern homage to Mitzvat Hakhel was the work of then-Ashkenazi chief rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, the grandfather and namesake of the current president, Isaac Herzog. The rabbi Herzog read the required sections of the Torah — several verses from the Book of Deuteronomy — while the president Herzog read from the book of Psalms and Isaiah.

“As a proud son of the Jewish people and as president of the State of Israel, I am moved to open this important event, founded by my late grandfather Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog, which all chief rabbis of Israel have had the privilege of observing,” the latter Herzog said on Wednesday night before beginning the reading.

“My late father, Chaim Herzog, sixth president of the State of Israel, also observed this occasion in 1987. From here I pray that the spirit of this occasion remains before our eyes at all times, as a nation and as a state. May we and the whole house of Israel — together — merit a good and blessed year, and happy holidays,” he said.

The required sections were read by current and former chief rabbis, with one notable exception. Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef canceled his appearance at the high-profile event at the last minute, with some speculating that this was due to Herzog’s visit to a Masorti movement event the day before.

No cabinet ministers appeared at the Hakhel event, but opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — the Orthodox parties’ preferred candidate for the premiership — was invited on-stage to lift the Torah scroll at the end of the reading. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides also attended the ceremony.

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