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Daily Moroccan Halachot

Rabbi Mordechai Lebhar, author Magen Avot
Redacted by Dr. Emile Amzallag

Daily Halachot Topics

Can One Recite Berich Sheme More Often?

As was discussed yesterday, there are a few customs regarding when Berich Sheme is recited.  A question arises when one is praying in a synagogue where Berich Sheme is recited more ofthen than one’s own custom and whether one is permitted to recited along with them. To answer this question it is important to understand the nature of this prayer. Berich Sheme is a prayer in which one asks Hashem for many things including a long life, the ability to learn and understand the Torah, and for righteous children, among others. As such, Rabbi Ben Zion Mutzafi (Orhot Zion ch. 9, § 31) quotes the Ben Ish Hai (Shu”t Rav Pe’alim, vol. 3, Sod Yesharim § 8) that nothing is lost by reciting it more often than one is used to, such as when one is praying at another synagogue. If one wishes to be strict, one may say that one is reciting Berich Sheme “Bli Neder”, however this is beyond the letter of the law.

Summary:  If one is praying at a synagogue where Berich Sheme is recited more often than one is accustomed to, one may nevertheless recite it.

Opening the Torah Scroll

As was discussed previously, the Arizal explains that two great spiritual lights emerge when the Torah is removed from the ark and when the Torah scroll is shown to the congregation. Some communities raise the Torah scroll and show it to the congregation after is carried to the Teva, while others, mainly Yerushalmim, walk with an open scroll from the Hechal to the Teva.  It is assumed that this latter practice is done in order to benefit immediately from the second of these lights, rather than waiting to show the Torah at the Teva. Rabbi Yaakov Hagiz (Shu”t Hilchot Ketanot, vol. 2, § 255) clarifies, however, that this practice actually developed roughly 350 years ago in Jerusalem. In those days, the typical synagogue was small and not every congregant had room to stand inside and behold the Torah scroll when it was raised at the Teva. As such, it was opened while being carried in procession from the Hechal to the Teva, so that all congregants could see the words of that week’s Parasha. Indeed, the Arizal implies (Sha’ar HaKavanot 48c) that the proper practice is to carry the Torah to the Teva and then open it up to show the congregation, and this is when the second spiritual light emerges. This position is supported by Rabbi Yitzhak Barda (Shu”t Yitzhak Yeranen, vol. 4, § 27). The Moroccan custom and that of most communities follows the Arizal’s opinion.

Summary:   The Moroccan custom is that the Torah is opened and shown to the congregation only after it has been brought to the Teva.

Velvet vs. Case

There are two main types of coverings for the Torah scroll in use today, an embroidered-usually velvetcovering, and a hard case. The latter is used most commonly in the Edot HaMizrah communities, but in recent generations has been used among Moroccans. The original Moroccan practice, however, is to use the velvet covering, just like is used among the Ashkenazim. Rabbi Meir Mazuz (Or Torah, Shana 35) explains that the proper type of covering can be learned from the Gemara (Megila 32a), which says that the scroll should not be rolled while in its covering, . Unlike a hard case, in which the scroll is permanently affixed, the velvet covering is removable and therefore allows the scroll to be rolled outside of its covering. This is also codified in the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 147:6), which states that rolling the Torah scroll whilst in its covering is improper. The Ran also testifies that the custom in Spain prior to the Inquisition was to use a soft  covering like those used today. In light of this, Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul (Or LeZion vol. 2, § 45) questions how a hard case could be used at all. One explanation is that moderate rolling is permitted while the scroll is in its covering, but not extensive, multi-Parasha rolling.

Furthermore, there is a well-known debate regarding the orientation of a Mezuza (Menahot 33a); Rashi says the it should be horizontal, while Rabbenu Tam says it should be vertical. One solution is a compromise between the two, and that is why some communities place the Mezuza diagonally. The same can be applied to the Torah scroll, which has similar laws as a Mezuza. Since the Moroccan custom is to place the Torah scroll on a slant while storing it in the Hechal, this is best achieved by covering it with a soft velvet covering. Conversely, a rigid Torah case is more appropriate for placing the Torah vertically.

Summary:  The Moroccan custom is to cover the Torah scroll in a an embroidered velvet covering.

Selling Aliyot

Rabbi Binyamin ben Matitya writes (Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev § 163) that the honors that are given out at the time the Torah is read, such as raising it for the congregation to see or the different Aliyot, should never be a source of discord in the synagogue. He writes that it is the tendency of humble people to relinquish such honors, while those that he describes as “hungry”, try to grab them. He also bases his opinion on the Halacha that one may not answer “Amen” to someone who forcefully imposed oneself to be the Shaliah Tzibbur without the congregation’s approval. Similarly, it is unbecoming for a congregant to seek out one of the Mitzvot associated with the Torah reading. Furthermore, even if one was rightfully entitled to an Aliya, such as one observing a Yahrtzeit, but it was taken by someone else, the former should not quarrel with that person.

One way to avoid such disharmony is the practice of auctioning off these honors, even on Shabbat. The Rama (Orah Haim 306:6) writes that there is an opinion that it is improper to auction off the Mitzvot on Shabbat since it has the appearance of a weekday transaction, and that even if such a sale does take place, the sale amounts should not be mentioned. Nevertheless, the Rama says that that the custom to be lenient in this matter. Indeed, Rabbi Baruch Toledano (Kitzur Shulhan Aruch, Hotza’at Sefer Torah, pg, 125) and Rabbi David Ovadia (Nahagu Ha’am, Hilchot Shabbat § 20) say that since the sale of Mitzvot is for the sake of charity and communal need, it is permitted do so on Shabbat.

Summary:   One should not quarrel over the Mitzvot associated with the Sefer Torah. Auctioning off these Mitzvot is permitted, even on Shabbat.

Israel Getting First Aliyah

There is a passage in  the Torah (Shemot 15:22-27) which describes Bnei Israel’s three-day journey in the desert without finding any source of water. Since water is compared to Torah, the Sages learn from this that three days should not go by without a public reading of the Torah. As such, the Gemara (Bava Kama 82a) explains that Moshe Rabbenu and Ezra HaSofer enacted that the Torah should be read on Monday and Thursday, and on Shabbat Minha, respectively. Part of this enactment was that three people should be called up and that a minimum of three verses be read per person. As is well known, if present, a Kohen is given the privilege of the first Aliyah and the Levi the second.

A situation arises when non-Kohanim need to be honored with first Aliyah, such as at a family celebration. Although the Kohen has the first right to the Aliyah, it is acceptable for him to forego this honor so that others may be called up to the Torah.  The Rama (Orah Haim 135:1) says that a solution is to simply add supplementary Aliyot, such that the Kohen and the honorees may go up.  Rabbi Yosef Benaim (Noheg BeHochma, pg.144) and Rabbi Moshe Toledano (HaShamaim Hadashim § 282) write that the Moroccan custom, however, is not to add Aliyot on the readings of Monday, Thursday or Shabbat Minha, but rather to ask the Kohen to temporarily step out of the sanctuary while the non-Kohanim are called up. This is not the case on Shabbat or the holidays, when it is common to add Mosifim, supplementary Aliyot. The HIDA (LeDavid Emet ch. 5) writes that one need not even ask the Kohen to step out, and that as long as he forwent his honor, he may stay in the sanctuary.

Summary: If necessary, a Kohen may be asked to temporarily leave the sanctuary so that a nonKohen may get a first Aliyah when the Torah is read on Monday, Thursday or Shabbat Minha.

How is One Called up to the Torah?

It is written in the Tosefta (Megila 3:13) that the Hazan should not commence his reading  of the Torah until the congregants tell him to begin. From here it is learned that one may go up for an Aliya only when called up and not on one’s own. Furthermore, the Rama (Orah Haim 139:3) states that the custom is to summon congregants by name. The HIDA (LeDavid Emet § 5:30), however, notes that the custom in Israel was that congregants were not called up specifically by name. He explains that if one is called up and refuses the Aliya it is considered a slight on the Torah’s honor and such a person may even be cursed. In order to avoid such a situation, the HIDA says that it is preferable not to call up congregants by name, and indeed, there are communities that summon congregants by simply saying “Bechavod” (“With honor [please go up]”).

Nevertheless, the Moroccan custom is to call up the person receiving the Aliya by name. The original custom was to use one’s name and last name, although some use the first name and the person’s father’s name. Rabbi Matzliah Mazuz (Shu”t Ish Matzliah vol. 3, pg. 428) writes that the well-rooted practice of calling up congregants by name existed even before the Spanish Inquisition, and Rabbi Israel Trunk (Yeshuot Malko § 12) explains that this custom has deep significance.

Summary:  The Moroccan custom is call people up to the Torah by their first and last names.

Holding the Torah

The Yerushalmi (Megila 4:2) learns from the verse (Devarim 31:26) “Lakoah Et Sefer HaTorah Haze” (“Take this Torah”) that one should grasp onto the Sefer Torah while reciting its blessings, and this is codified in the Shulhan Aruch  (Orah Haim 139:1). The Rama (ibid.) notes that another source for this is from Yehoshua bin Nun, of whom it says (Yehoshua 1:8) “Lo Yamush Sefer Haze Mipicha”, that the Torah shall never leave his mouth. Paranthetically, the continuation of this verse is also the source of the expressions associated with reading the Torah “Hazak Ve’Ematz”, “Hazak Ubaruch”, “Hazak Hazak Venithazek”, and in the Moroccan community, when one of the five books are completed, “Hizku Veametz Levavchem Kol Hameyahalim L’Hashem”.

Practically speaking, this is accomplished by holding onto the handles of the Torah scroll or the case in which it is set. Another method is to hold onto the parchment itself, but since touching the parchment is forbidden (Megila 32a), an intervening cover or cloth is used. This is why, especially in the Moroccan community, the entire scroll is wrapped in an underlying cloth, so that one not make contact with the actual parchment. The Arizal (Pri Etz Haim, Keriat Sefer Torah, ch. 2) writes that while reciting the blessing, one should hold the Torah with both hands, and should remove one’s left hand after the blessing and during the reading of the Torah. This, he explains, is so that the Attribute of Mercy, represented by the right hand, overpowers the Attribute of Judgement. The Ben Ish Hai (Shana Alef, Toledot, § 18) and others concur with this approach.

Summary:  One should hold on to the Torah with both hands while reciting the blessing of the Torah, and should continue holding only with the right hand during the reading of the Torah.

Closing the Torah During Birkot HaTorah

Rabbi Yehuda explains in the Gemara that while one recites the opening blessing of the Torah, one should close the scroll since it would appear as though one is reading the blessing from the Torah text. The Rambam explains that this is not a cause of concern, and the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 139:4), following the Rambam, does not say that the scroll should be closed for the opening blessing, but only for the closing blessing.  The Ran (Megila 32b) takes issue with making a difference between the first and last blessings. but the Bet Yosef explains that with the first blessing, closing the scroll is onerous on the congregation, whereas with last blessing it is more respectful to close the scroll between the different Olim. The Rama (ibid.) says that, although one does not close the Torah during the opening blessing, one should turn one’s head to the side so as not to appear to be reading the blessing from the Torah text. The Mishna Berura (O.H. 139:19) writes that turning away one’s head may appear like one is reciting a blessing on something other than the Torah, and therefore it is preferable to simply close one’s eyes.

There are several customs regarding this practice. The Arizal says that the scroll should be closed for both blessings, and this is the practice of certain communities. When asked about the Moroccan custom, Rabbi Shalom Messas explained Torah scroll is not closed when reciting the opening blessing. Furthermore, he says that closing one’s eyes for the blessings is proper and this would be acceptable according to all opinions.

Summary:  The Torah scroll is not closed for the opening blessing (“Asher Bahar Banu”), but one should preferably close one’s eyes while reciting the blessing. The Torah scroll should be closed for the closing blessing (“Asher Natan Lanu”).

Te’amim and Pronunciation

The Shulchan Aruch (Orah Haim 142:1) explains that if one makes a mistake, even involving only one letter, while reading the Torah, he must repeat the word correctly. The Rama (ibid.) modifies this approach by saying that the reader need be corrected only if his mistake changed the meaning or context of the word. Furthermore, the Rama states that a mistake in the cantillation (“Te’amim”) or in punctuation (“Nikud”) is not grounds for correcting the one reading the Torah, however, he should be reprimanded. According to Rabbi Avraham Buchach (Eshel Avraham), the the Rama’s intention of “reprimanded” means that the reader should be told in a gentle manner of his mistakes after the Torah reading so that he may correct them in the future. Certainly, publicly reprimanding the reader in a harsh tone is forbidden. Although not grounds for correcting the reader at the time of the Torah reading, the Zohar gives tremendous importance to the proper singing of the cantillation, and the Bet Yosef explains that even on a practical level, they are useful in setting the rhythm and pauses in each verse.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo, ch.18 § 24) gives practical guidelines as to what does and does not require a reader to be corrected at the time of the Torah reading: a) Confounding Mil’el and Milra’ (placing emphasis on the penultimate, versus the final syllable of a word, respectively); b) repeating a word; c) Confounding Shva Na and Shva Nach (when the Shva is pronounced like an “e” vowel, versus not being pronounced at all, respectively) are example of errors which need not be corrected. On the other hand, mistakes in emphatic cantillation notes such as Shalshelet, or even Sof Pasuk, which have contextual significance, should be corrected at the time of the reading.

Interestingly, the Brisker Rav (Shu”t Teshuvot VeHanhagot, vol. 5 § 37) was particular that one should hear the Torah being read according to one’s tradition. Nevertheless, the overwhelming consensus is that one fulfills one’s obligation to hear the Torah in any rite, be it Ashkenazic, Sephardic, etc.

Summary:  Certain errors, which do not change the meaning or ontext of a word or verse, do not need to be corrected when the Torah is being read.

Honoring the Sefer Torah

It is written (Masechet Sofrim 14:1) that the pious people of Jerusalem had the practice of showing great honor to the Torah when it was being brought out to be read. Similarly, the Rama writes (Orah Haim 149:1) that it is a Mitzvah to accompany the Torah when it is being brought from the Hechal to the Teva, or vice versa, as a sign of respect. Furthermore, the Maharil applies the concept of “Berov Am Hadrat Melech” to accompanying the Torah, meaning that the greater the multitude of people involved in a Mitzvah, the more the Torah, and by extension, Hashem, is glorified. The Mitzvah of accompanying and walking behind the Torah is incumbent on those before whom the Torah passes. Those who are further away, however, do not have accompany it, although it is praiseworthy to do so.

Additionally, Rabbi Avraham Azoulay (Sefer HaLevush 149:1) says that there is a Mitzvah to kiss the Sefer Torah. He learns this from an a fortiori (“Kal Vahomer”) logic; just as one is obligated to kiss one’s Tefillin, which only contains portions of the Torah, one is certainly obligated to kiss the entire Torah. This is also written by the Arizal (Sha’ar HaKavanot, pg. 48), who was known to kiss the Torah itself, not simply by touching it and then kissing his hand.

Furthermore, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer vol. 12, § 40) disapproves of the practice of bringing the Torah towards people, or lowering it for children, so that they may kiss it, as this does not show honor to the Torah. Rather, people should themselves go towards the Torah to kiss it. Rabbi Benzion Mutzafi (Orhot Zion, pg. 315) says that the Torah may be lowered slightly for someone who is wheelchair-bound for example, in order to touch or kiss the Torah.

Summary:   There are several forms of honor accorded to the Sefer Torah such as accompanying it or kissing it.

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