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I am trying to understand the context of a passage from the Christian gospels. Luke 4:16 says that Jesus went into the synagogue and started reading from the book of Isaiah. At that time could anybody just walk in and read such a passage during a service? Was this the torah reading or something else? Was it different from modern practice?

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    IIRC In former times when all were literate, the portions of the Torah reading (aliyot) were divided among all. In the middle ages, to avoid embarrassing those who couldn't read properly, (the Torah scroll contains no vowels, punctuation, or cantillation marks) the custom developed for one person to read the whole thing. Nevertheless, individuals are still summoned to the Torah to make the blessings, but unlike in former times, they do not read the Torah. (I believe that the Yemenites preserved the original custom whereby those summoned read). – mevaqesh Jun 23 '15 at 20:05
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    @Danno Nothing in those verses is inconsistent with the idea of reading a haftara. (Who said anything about reading three verses; the linked verse of Luke didnt mention that) I do not, however, have any reason to assume that the presentation in Luke is accurate. – mevaqesh Jun 23 '15 at 21:17
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    @mevaqesh the portion quoted in Luke not only isn't from any haftorah but is only 3 verses long (Yeshyahu 61:1-3). – rosends Jun 23 '15 at 22:25
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    @Danno I fail to see such an opinion? We know for a fact that Haftara section choices have been very very fluid over the centuries (some communities would even switch out the "regular" haftara for unrelated special occasions, like Sheva Brachot!), and there's no reason to think it wasn't like that back then too. – Double AA Jun 24 '15 at 3:08
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    @Danno You must grant though that our verse breaks are not guaranteed original. judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/20337/… judaism.stackexchange.com/a/13528/759 – Double AA Jun 24 '15 at 18:46
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There's nothing in the verse you link to about reading aloud or as part of a prayer service. People nowadays study the Bible in synagogues all the time, and this was undoubtedly true in those days. (An almost contemporaneous account of this is in the Babylonian Talmud M'gila, in the middle of column 2 of folio 28 in the name of R. Ashi ("א״ל רב אחא בריה דרבא לרב אשי אי אצטריך ליה לאיניש למיקרי גברא מבי כנישתא מאי א״ל אי צורבא מרבנן הוא לימא הלכתא ואי תנא הוא לימא מתני׳ ואי קרא הוא לימא פסוקא ואי לא לימא ליה לינוקא אימא לי פסוקיך א״נ נישהי פורתא וניקום").)

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