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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hagbah and Gelila


The Gemara (Megilla 32a) tells us that the “golel,” he who rolls the Torah, has a reward equal to the sum of all the other participants in the Torah reading. Although often not recognized as such, this is the most important honor one can be given.

This is conventionally understood to be referring to what we commonly call Hagbah, the lifting of the Torah. The reason this is called golel is because in the times of the Gemara the one who would lift the Torah would be the same one who would roll it, and it was one honor.

Now the custom is to split it into two, however in some communities the custom is that instead of the lifter sitting down, he replaces the Torah on the bimah and rolls the Torah himself and ties and wraps it, thus fulfilling the way the Gemara seems to describe the procedure. This practice is endorsed by the Aruch Hashulchan as well.

Before or After?

The ShulchanAruch (OC 134:2) writes that before reading from the Torah the writing in the Torah is shown to the people. This is indeed the custom of most Sefardim, as well as the Boston Chassidim.

The Rema notes that our custom is to do it after the Torah reading, and this is the custom in most Ashkenazi communities.
Who does Hagbah?

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 147:1) writes that Hagbah (more precisely what he calls Galilah) should be given as the greatest honor as per the Gemara, the Mishna Berura writes that nowadays we aren’t so careful about this and give it even to the regular folk.

If two people have yahrtzeit on a particular day and only one of them can get an aliyah (e.g. they are both a kohen/levi/yisrael) then the second should be given hagbah. (MB Ibid)

It should be given to someone who has the strength to lift and turn the Torah without needing to sit immediately (Ibid). If one knows they do not have the strength to do it properly they should decline the honor. Although generally one should not turn down an invitation for an Aliyah, we don’t find this with Hagbah, albeit the greater honor.


The following is a mixture of practical and halachic advice to ensure a smooth and Halachically appropriate Hagbah.

The Torah should be opened so that three columns are visible. It should be opened at least three columns so that people can easily see the writing of the Torah, however it is unclear whether one should open the Torah specifically three columns or at least three columns (Magen Avraham). The Mishna Berura writes (OC 134:8) that it depends on the strength of the lifter. Rabbi Tropper suggests that, based on the laws of one who is appointed a shomer watching over a scroll, where the halacha is that the guardian should never open the Sefer more than three columns (CM 267:20) lest he cause it damage, here too one should refrain from opening the Sefer Torah more than three columns so as not to cause any damage to the scroll.

The seam between the two pages of the Torah should be visible in the middle of the open section (OC 147:3)

So you have the scroll open three columns with the seam in the middle. Turn the atzei chaim (handles)to tighten the scroll on either side.

Now, this next part doesn’t require great strength, rather knowledge of technique. Holding the Torah by the atzei chaim, moves it down atop the reading desk (lifting the Torah over the lip of the bimah) so that the mid-point rests upon the edge of the bimah. Using the bimah as a fulcrum, he then rotates the Torah to a vertical position and with knees bent (to save the back muscles, not for religious reasons), lifts the Torah with his hands at approximately the height of his shoulders. Make sure to keep your arms rigidly spread out, this will greatly enhance your balancing and turning. [For the physics student this may be easier to understand, for everyone else probably not].

After lifting the Sefer Torah one should turn around so as to show the words of the Torah to the entire congregation. There are various customs as to how to accomplish this. The more common minhag is to turn 90 degrees to the right and then do a full circle to the left in order that everyone should see the letters of the Torah. The Chabad minhag, as well as the minhag of the German Jews is to turn only to the right, similar to the Kohanim turning during the Priestly Blessing – to the right. This seems to be the opinion of the Mishna Berura as well. These customs are based on various readings of the Meseches Sofrim quoted by the Shulchan Aruch (134:2).  The main objective is to allow all the congregants to see the writing in the Torah and he should turn slowly and patiently and make sure to cover all directions.

The Congregation

The members of the congregation, both men and women, should endeavor to see the writing of the Torah. The Kabbalists write that one should ideally be able to read the letters in the Torah and this causes a great spiritual light to shine on the viewer.

Upon seeing the writing one should bow slightly toward the Torah and exclaim “vzos haTorah …” as printed in the siddur.

Many have a custom to point at the Torah as it is being shown. This is not based in Halacha, but does have sources in Midrashic and Kabbilistic sources. According to those sources one should point with the right index finger of their right hand. (see Sefer Hachaim from Rav Chaim Palagi 3:6).

There is a common custom to point with the pinky. Many struggle to find a source for this, the earlies source seems to be the Meam Loez (Ki Savo). Interestingly הזרת has the numerical value of 613.

The Rolling, Wrapping and Tying

After the scroll is shown to the congregation the lifter sits down and the golel or roller steps in. he rolls the two sides together, preferably finishing with the seam in the middle. The lifter should ideally assist him in this, to fulfill the Talmudic dictum of the lifter and roller being one and the same. He then ties the ‘gartel’ or belt of the Torah. Often this is easy with Velcro or buckle clasps which should be clasped in the front of the Torah. In Germanic and some other communities a long and ornate cloth is used, the gabbai will most probably assist you in tying this (it often requires two people to get started). It should be completed by tucking in the remainder of the cloth in the front of the Torah.

Although one may tie a standard shoelace tie on Shabbos, the Mishna Berura (317:29) explains that this is only permitted if it will be untied within 24 hours. Therefore at Mincha on Shabbos, where the Torah will not be used until Monday, one must be careful not to tie the belt at all, rather he should just tuck it in. if this isn’t possible there are lenient opinions if the Torah will be used within a week, (see Biur Halacha 317)

One is also not allowed to untie a permanent knot on Shabbos, so one should be careful on Thursday not to tie it either. If this was done, the common custom is to rely on the lenient opinion (see Ketzos Hashulchan 123:9)

He then completes the process by slipping on the cover and any other decorations, such as a breastplate, pointer and crown.

On Shabbos the blessings for Maftir should not begin until after the entire process has finished, or at the very least until the tying has been completed.

One should be careful while receiving maftir not to stand with their back directly to the Sefer Torah. This can easily be achieved by moving the fellow holding the Torah or by moving the Maftir/Chazzan slightly off to one side.

On a Shabbos that the Rosh Chodesh Blessing is said, the fellow who does hagbah will hand the Torah scroll to the Chazzan for the duration of the blessing, and then take it back from him and sit down with it for Ashrei, thus allowing the congregation to sit.
Based in part on an article by Rav Dov Tropper in Torah veHorah

Posted on 01/13 at 07:41 PM • Permalink
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Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch HaberRabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber is sought after by all who know him for his Halachic and practical advice. His keen ability to put complicated matters into a digestible perspective coupled with his ability to get the facts, make him the perfect blogger to help us all “Do It Right”.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Haber spent his childhood globetrotting with his family. His pioneering spirit first surfaced in Melbourne, Australia, where he was excited to be a member of the opening class of Mesivta Bnei Torah. From Australia the Haber family settled down in Monsey, NY. Ever the maverick, Tzvi promptly left home to study in Yeshiva Ohr Hameir in Peekskill, where he became a mainstay of the Yeshiva, and inspired his younger brothers as well as several friends from the Mesivta in Melbourne to follow him. He then joined his chaburah in Jerusalem, first at the Mir Yeshiva and then at the Bais Medrash of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik, a senior scion of the famed Brisk dynasty. As his globetrotting family returned to Jerusalem, Tzvi returned to the US, to freeze in the famed, yet comparatively chilled Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood.

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