Some communities have a custom of public reading, whereby on each Shabbat afternoon the whole of the mishmarah for the following Shabbat is read out loud. In others, individuals use it as a basis for private study. The usual form of the cycle is set out in the table below.
This cycle is unrelated to that for Ḥoq le-Yisrael, which is a study cycle founded by Rabbi Chaim Joseph David Azulai and includes excerpts from the Zohar as well as the Bible and the Mishnah. This too is often published in book form and is widely popular among Near and Middle Eastern Jews.
In Mishnaic Hebrewmishmarah (or mishmeret) means a "watch", that is to say a division of the night (usually one-third). In Temple times, a mishmar (or mishmarah) also referred to a group of priests whose turn it was to officiate.
In addition to the study cycle described above, the term mishmarah is used for a nocturnal prayer or study session preceding a celebration such as a wedding or a Brit milah or a festival such as Hoshanah Rabba or following a death. This usage was derived either from the above meaning as a watch in the night or from the practice of watching over a corpse. However, by folk etymology the word is sometimes interpreted as a portmanteau of "Mishnah" and "Gemara", to refer to the texts studied.
Ḥoq le-Ya'aqov, which sets out all the readings in book form