The Tur (Orah Haim 149) explains that there are two customs with regards to returning the Sefer Torah to the Hechal on a weekday. One custom, as followed by many Ashkenzim, is that once the reading is completed, Kaddish is recited by the Hazan, the Sefer Torah is returned to the Hechal, and then “Uva Letzion” is recited. The Arizal supports this custom because he posits that once the reading of the Torah is completed, the spiritual lights that emanate from it are extinguished and the Torah should therefore be returned immediately. The second opinion given by the Tur, which was the custom in Spain, is to return the Torah after the reciting “Uva Letzion”. This latter custom is further subdivided into two practices, with some Sepharadim reciting Kaddish Titkabal after the Torah is returned to the Hechal, and others, based on the Avudraham and the Kolbo, reciting Kaddish Titkabal while the Torah is still out.
Furthermore, the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 25:13) writes that the custom is to avoid removing one’s Tefilin while the Torah is still out. The Mishna Berura (ibid:57) says that this is alluded to in the verse (Micha 2:13) “Vaya’avor Malkam Lifnehem V’Hashem BeRosham” (lit. “and their king passed before them, and Hashem was at their head”), with the Tefilin Shel Rosh being symbolic of Hashem. The ideal state of a Jewish man is to be crowned with the Tefilin, and therefore if one must remove one’s Tefilin while the Torah is still out, it is proper to do so while the scroll is covered up so as not to reveal one’s bare head. Nevertheless, the Ben Ish Hai (Od Yosef Hai, Parashat Haye Sara, § 2) says that this only applies to those scrolls that are covered in a velvet cover, commonly used by Ashkenazim and Moroccans. One, however would be permitted to remove one’s Tefillin beside a Torah that is placed in a hard case since the scroll is permanently covered.
Summary: One should not remove one’s Tefilin while the Torah still out. If one must do so, one should wait until the scroll is covered.
May One Remove Tefilin while the Torah is out
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.
how does one honor 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.
how does one hold 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.
when is the torah scroll shown to the congregation
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-Kohanimare 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 non-Kohen may get a first Aliyah when the Torah is read on Monday, Thursday or Shabbat Minha.
can a non cohen get the first aliyah
There are two main types of coverings for the Torah scroll in use today, an embroidered-usually velvet-covering, 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.
**Dedicated to the Refua Shelema of Dan ben Lina**
The Arizal writes (Sha’ar HaKavanot 48d) that the opening of the Hechal is imbued with immense spiritual light, represented by the Attribute of Bina (lit. insight), and thus it is considered a special honor to be called upon to open the Hechal. Similarly, the opening of the Torah scroll itself involves great spiritual light and is represented by the Attribute of Hochma (lit. wisdom). Some communities, like the Yerushalmim, open the Torah scroll while walking from the Hechal to the Teva, whereas the Moroccan custom is to open and show the Torah scroll after having finished the procession to the Teva. The HIDA (LeDavid Emet 4:6) says that because of the preeminence of opening the Hechal, one should not do so if one’s father or rabbi was honored with an inferior task, such as placing the bells on the Torah, as this would not be considered respectful. Furthermore, it is recommended that only a distinguished member of the community, or at the very least, one with a proper sense of awe and concentration should open the Hechal.
Summary: The opening the Hechal has deep spiritual significance and thus is considered an important honor.
who may open the aron hakodesh
The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 124:7) rules that idle chatter is forbidden during the repetition of the Amida and says that one who speaks is considered to be gravely sinning and is worthy of rebuke. The Shulhan Aruch rarely uses such harsh language and in this case is quoting Rabbenu Yonah, who in turn was quoting the Zohar’s explanation of the severity of speaking in the synagogue. The Zohar (Parashat Teruma) says that one who (flagrantly and consistently, it seems) talks during the repetition is forfeiting one’s portion among the Jewish people as well as forfeiting a resting place for one’s soul, G-d forbid.
Rabbi Haim Palagi (Tochahot Haim, Parashat Teruma) explains that in our current exile, the synagogue functions as a “Mikdash Me’at”, a miniature Bet HaMikdash and is equal to it in sanctity. Thus, just as one would not speak in the Holy Temple, one should refrain from speaking in the synagogue as well. Furthermore he explains that one who is careful not speak idly in the synagogue will merit to have children, a long life, success in one’s endeavors and other blessings.
Summary: It is forbidden to speak unnecessarily during Hazarat HaShatz. The reward is significant for one who is mindful not speak during the Hazara, or more generally, in the synagogue.
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