HAKHEL (Heb. הַקְהֵל; "assemble"). The Bible enjoins that "At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles" there is to take place an assembly of the whole people, "men, women, children, and the stranger that is within your gates." The purpose of this assembly is "that they may hear and so learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching" (Deut. 31:10–13). This ceremony, called Hakhel ("assemble") after the opening word of verse 12, is mentioned only once in the Talmud (Sot. 7:8), but in great detail and includes an interesting historical incident. The Mishnah lays it down (ibid.) that the date referred to is on the first day of the festival of Sukkot after the close of the seven-year period of *shemittah, i.e., on the 15th day of the first month of the eighth year.
The Mishnah connects this ceremony with another passage which deals with an entirely different subject, namely the duties of the king as laid down in Deuteronomy 17:14–20 and which it calls "the Chapter of the King." According to the Mishnah it was at the Hakhel ceremony that the king read that and other passages. It is possible that the coalescing of these passages is due to the similarity of wording between the two, the passage quoted above, and the passage with regard to the king "that he may learn to fear the Lord his God to keep all the words of this law and these statutes to do them" (ibid., 17:19).
The Mishnah states that a wooden platform was set up in the Temple court upon which the king sat. "The minister (ḥazzan) of the synagogue used to take a scroll of the Torah and hand it to the chief of the synagogue, and the chief of the synagogue gave it to the deputy high priest who handed it to the high priest who handed it to the king. The king received it standing and read it while seated." The passages read were not "all the words of the Torah" but selected passages from Deuteronomy; from the beginning to 6:19, the last verses of which are the first paragraph of the *Shema, the second paragraph of the Shema (11:13–21), 14; 22–27; 26:12–15; 17:14–20 ("the Chapter of the King"), and 27:15–26. He concluded the reading with eight benedictions, of which seven were identical with those pronounced by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (see Sot. 7:6) and the eighth (the fourth in number) for the festival instead of the one for pardon of sin pronounced by the high priest.
The continuity of the description of the ceremony in the Mishnah is interrupted by the information that despite the rule that the king read the passages while seated, "King Agrippa read it standing, for which he was praised by the rabbis," and continues with the moving story of the king, conscious of his mixed descent, bursting into tears when he read "thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee who is not thy brother" (Deut. 17:15) and the assembled people called out "thou art our brother." Most scholars identify this Agrippa who was so beloved of the people with *Agrippa I, who reigned from 41–44 C.E., the first of which years coincides with the year of shemittah. Others, however, ascribe it to *Agrippa II. In recent years in Israel an attempt has been made to revive a symbolical form of the Hakhel ceremony.
ET, 10 (1961), 443–52; A. Beuchler, in: II. Jahresbericht der Israelitisch-Theologischen Lehranstalt in Wien (1895), 11–14; S. Goren, Torat ha-Mo'adim (1964), 127–38; S.J. Zevin, Le-Or ha-Halakhah (19572), 135–45.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.