Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The street - Rather, "the square" or "court." So in Neh 8:16 (compare Ezr 10:9). The court seems to have been one between the eastern gate of the temple and the watergate in the city-wall. It would thus lie within the modern Haram area.
Ezra the scribe - This is the first mention of Ezra in the present book, and the first proof we have had that he was contemporary with Nehemiah. Probably he returned to the court of Artaxerxes soon after effecting the reforms which he relates in Ezra 10, and did not revisit Jerusalem until about the time when the walls were completed, or after an absence of more than ten years. It was natural for the people to request him to resume the work of exposition of the Law to which he had accustomed them on his former visit Ezr 7:10, Ezr 7:25.
Upon the first day of the seventh month - The day of the "Feast of Trumpets" (see the margin reference note). The gathering together of the people, spoken of in Neh 8:1, was probably to observe this feast.
The 13 persons mentioned were probably the chief priests of the course (shift) which was at the time performing the temple service.
Stood up - The attitude of attention and respect. Compare the existing practice of the Christian Church at the reading of the Gospel for the day.
The names here (and in Neh 9:4, Neh 9:5; Neh 10:9) seem not to be the personal appellations of individuals, but rather designations of Levitical families, the descendants respectively of Jeshua, etc., who lived not later than the time of Zerubbabel Neh 7:43; Neh 12:8.
Gave the sense - Either by rendering the Hebrew into the Aramaic dialect, or perhaps simply by explaining obscure words or passages.
Caused them to understand - Either "they (the people) understood what was read;" or, "they (the Levites) expounded as they read."
Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha - Hereto, Nehemiah has called himself פחה pechâh Neh 5:14-15, Neh 5:18, which is the ordinary word for "governor." Now for the first time he is called 'the Tirshatha'" (see Ezr 2:63 note.)
The people wept ... - Because the Law brought vividly before them their sins of omission and commission. In Neh 8:10 the Jews were not forbidden to be sorry for their sins, but they were only prohibited from marring a festive occasion with the expression of their sorrow.
The "sending of portions" to the poor is not distinctly mentioned in any but the later historical Scriptures (compare the margin reference). The practice naturally grew out of this injunction of the Law Deu 16:11, Deu 16:14.
To understand - Rather, "to consider."
The Feast of tabernacles had fallen into abeyance either entirely, or as regarded the dwelling in booths Neh 8:17, since the time when it was kept by Zerubbabel Ezr 3:4. It is evident that the observance of the Law, impossible during the captivity, was restored slowly and with difficulty after the return.
The mount - The "mount of Olives" is probably intended.
Pine branches - Rather, "branches of the wild olive." The actual trees named by the Law may have become scarce. It was probably considered that the spirit of the command was kept if branches of trees similar in general character to those named in Leviticus were employed.
It is not the intention of the writer to state that the Feast of tabernacles had not been kept from the time of Joshua until this occasion (see Kg1 8:2, Kg1 8:65; Ezr 3:4); but that there had been no such celebration as this since Joshua's time. Compare Kg2 23:22; Ch2 35:18.