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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776


  1. Feb 2006 Digest 030

    I know that this may not be traditional, but our congregation loves it. We open the ark when we rise for the Barechu, the Amidah and the Aleynu. We honor folks by asking them to be ark openers. When asked why they like opening the ark, congregants will give three reasons.

    1. It is a chance to participate.
    2. The inside of the ark is very beautiful and they love seeing it and having our guests see it.
    3. It increases their sense of reverence for the Torah.

    Often when we have guests for b’nei mitzvah, they will comment on how much they like this custom. Unless I am wrong, there is no issue of halachah (Jewish law) here, only the issue of minhag hamakom (local custom).

    Fred G.

  2. Feb 2006 Digest 030

    [RE:]…opening the Ark. Traditionally, whenever the doors/curtain are open, one stands in respect to God. I'm guessing this is probably ancient ritual. As Reform grew and the minhag changed to reflect more modern sensibilities (both in Germany and here) in the mid- and late 19th century, we stopped doing it. But as we have returned to more formal rituals over the past few decades we have returned to the old ways.

    And for those who want to know the prayer, the Va'anachnu does say "we bow the knee and bend".

    Fred I.

  3. June 2007 Digest 119
    [At our congregation] Jewish adults, Jewish children, non-Jews who are usually relatives of the B'nei Mitzvah candidate are permitted to open the ark.

  4. June 2007 Digest 119
    In our temple we stand when the ark is opened--although our original beautiful velvet ark cover was replaced with glass and wrought iron door many years ago…This allows the Torah to be seen and feel "present" during services yet maintains the "sanctity" of the ark space and allows the "separation" of standing when it is opened. Since our congregation is…generally somewhat older than younger--standing through an entire service would not be possible--and many would try it….

  5. June 2007 Digest 119
    As far as the opening and closing--we have had non-Jews do this if there is an inter-marriage situation for a bat/bar mitzvah service; otherwise, I can't remember any other time that one would even consider assigning this to a non- Jew. Haggbah/Gelilah is always done by someone Jewish--at times we may allow a sibling under the age of thirteen to dress the Torah with the assist of an adult.
    120 Families

  6. June 2007 Digest 120

    Our ark door is raised to open and lowered to close by an electric motor actuated from a button on the bimah reading table. The door is a heavy slab of latticed carved wood, so light and color show through, and is affectionately known in some quarters as the guillotine. Since the door is heavy, its up and down progress tends to be slow. Old-timers tell me that, two rabbis ago, the spiritual high point of the service was when the house lights were dimmed, and the ark door was lifted by a discreet push of the button to reveal the drama of the Torah scrolls.

    Although nowadays we don't dim the house lights, the ark is opened to remove the scrolls, closed while they are read, and opened again to return them --so we don't have an issue of sitting when the ark is open. However, the previous rabbi thought that the up-downs of the door slowed down the service. In addition, before we had effective wireless lavalier microphones, the door had to be open for a benediction in front of the ark because the on-off for the microphone there was tied to the open door. So the rabbi would often announce that the congregation should be seated although the ark was open.

    Since there was apparently some discomfort with this, the rabbi got an idea. We would install a fabric parochet behind the wooden guillotine--lift the guillotine at the start of the service, and open/close the curtain-parochet to take out and return the scrolls. Moreover, the design on the parochet would introduce another element of Jewish art into the sanctuary…[There were some, however, who thought] we were taking away the magic moment when the door was lifted and the scrolls revealed. Although the rabbi never ducked a fight over something he believed in, he did not think the parochet was worth battling for.

    …The short answer, yes, for a time we sat in front of the open ark…

    1000 units

  7. June 2007 Digest 121

    Our Ark doors are inlaid with the first sentence of the V'ahavta. They were created some years ago by a congregant. They are operated by a button under the lectern.

    The doors are left closed when we do not read Torah (Friday nights). On Saturday mornings they are opened during the entire service. Our inner curtain is thin, and works by a pulley system.

    975 units

  8. Oct 2007 Digest 218

    I think it's fairly standard for the congregation to stand while the ark is open, but that is certainly a call that the rabbi can make for his or her congregation.

    Particularly if there is a sizable number of geriatric congregants, for whom standing might be a burden, inviting people to remain seated seems considerate…

    I also don't know where it is written that benedictions need to be pronounced in front of the open ark. Yiv'verachacha is from the Torah but is not recited to the Torah or in the name of the Torah. It's the Torah that dwells in the ark, not God. (Build for me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.) If we're standing because the Torah is visible, that brings us back to the avodah zarah that we discussed a few weeks ago. If we're standing because we're in God's presence, we should be on our feet 24/7.


  9. Oct 2007 Digest 218
    A good example of minchag shel makom. We typically do not open the ark during a wedding blessing or baby naming. During the passing of the Torah the Ark is, of course, open because that is done at the beginning of the Torah Service. On other occasions (can't remember which, it may be the blessing of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah) the congregation is reminded to rise by either the cantor or the rabbi. When the rabbi blesses the confirmands individually on Shavuot, even though the Ark is open, the congregation is allowed to remain seated because of the time involved.
    400 member units

  10. Oct 2007 Digest 218

    We have an inner, transparent curtain, which is closed when the congregation is expected to sit. Our baby namings are usually done right at the start of the service--babies and young children are better behaved then, and both the inner and outer curtains (we have no doors) are closed. Wedding blessings are usually done after the Torah reading, so the outer curtain is open and the inner one is closed, and the congregation is seated.

    Conversions are done in front of the open ark, everyone stands, same as for passing the Torah.

    When the ark is open (both curtains), we try to get people to wait at the door rather than entering the sanctuary and finding a seat. Of course, there are always some who prefer to sneak in or out at those times, thinking they won't be noticed, though in actually fact they disturb and distract those who are praying. On Yom Kippur we experimented with leaving both curtains open while the congregation sat during the Torah and haftarah readings, so that individuals could approach the Ark for a private moment. Interestingly enough, several people hesitated at the door and needed to be urged to find seats; it seems that they have been very well trained that an open ark means stand, and needed reassurance that it was OK to enter even though they could see that the congregation was seated.

    1200 Families

  11. Oct 2007 Digest 218

    …There are two problems here. One is that the ark is used as a prop. I believe the person doing the "blessing" likes it because it is exciting/moving to see a child blessed with this beautiful, spiritual backdrop. But then we, the congregation, should respond appropriately by standing up, as tradition dictates.

    The other, more serious, problem is that by asking the congregation to sit in front of the open ark (and surely someone has to ask every time, or many people would assume they should stand) suddenly those attending are no longer a congregation, but just an audience. They are asked to disconnect from the action--"the ark is open, but it's not for you."

    Most probably, there have been complaints that these "blessings" go on too long for many people to stand through them. I agree. Either the speechifying should be shortened, or it should be done first from the podium, and then the action should move to the ark for the actual blessing part, in which the congregants are participants who rise and share the joy.

    Our current practice is that when the ark is open, the congregation is invited to stand.

    1700 units


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