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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775
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Torah Aliyot and Readers
The below postings include discussion about:
  • Number of People for a Torah Aliyah
  • Who is Called Up for an Aliyah?
  • Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Aliyot
  • Large Group Aliyot
  • Horizontal Hagbah

  1. For the High Holy Days the worship committee chair and senior rabbi assign aliyot. We solicit input from all committee chairs, the board and the clergy/professional team. High Holy Day aliyot go to people who are active in the congregation. We also give an aliyah to the kids who are confirmed and the b?nei mitzvah students (adult and kid) each year. One entire standing committee, the sisterhood and men's club board, and congregant teachers get large group aliyot. Also board members get a group aliyah. Our past presidents hold the torahs during the Kol Nidre. The cantor assigns torah and haftarah readers for Yom Kippur. Our senior rabbi always chants on Rosh Hashanah.

    For Shabbat evening, the kid who is having the bar or bat mitzvah does Kiddush along with all other kids under 13. The mother/other female relatives light the candles.

    For Shabbat morning when we have a bar or bat mitzvah, each family gets 4 aliyot, one of which must go to the kid. We also add a congregant torah reader and torah blesser each Shabbat, even when there is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and these go to anyone who wants them. 2 ark openings go to the family. An English reading and an ark opening go to congregants (usually assigned the same morning).

    We have about 4-6 Shabbat mornings a year when there is no bar or bat mitzvah. On these occasions congregants get all of the honors and anyone who wants can do one. We have a committee of 1-3 people who take charge of making sure that honors are assigned ahead of time for Shabbat morning. This Shabbat morning aliyah system has been in place for about 6 months and it has been well accepted by the families of bar and bat mitzvah kids and has sent a strong signal to the congregation that everyone is welcome on Shabbat morning.

    1300 Units

  2. At the high holy days our aliyot are assigned by the service coordinators who also line up Torah readers and readers for other parts of the service. Potential candidates for aliyot are identified by myself and the ritual committee prior to beginning of this process. Our candidates typically are: board members, active volunteers, major donors, and long time members -- pretty much in that order.

    Regarding b'nei mitzvah services, there's a little more flexibility. Generally 3, 5, or 7 plus, including the bat/bar mitzvah child. The number tends to be decided by the size of the family and the number of people the family wishes to be honored. All aliyot are only given to Jewish family members above bar/bat mitzvah age.


  3. For the High Holy Days, the worship committee chair and I, meet with the President of the congregation to decide who should be offered honors during the High Holy Day services. We then show the list to the Rabbi to make sure no one has been left out that should be included. We try to offer honors to people who have contributed a lot of either time or money to the Temple. That would include the board of the Temple, the sisterhood and brotherhood officers, and the youth group president as well as other very active people. The worship committee then calls everyone on the list and asks him or her if they would like a part. If so, whether they want an English reading, a Torah or haftarah blessing, or a non-speaking part (dressing the Torah, holding it for Kol Nidre, holding it while the haftarah is being read). We have two morning services on both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur so people are also asked which services they will attend. I then put all of the information together and make a draft of scheduled parts. I then send the draft to the Rabbi to review. Once approved, I send people their parts and then revise the drafts as people call me and tell me they can't do the part that I assigned. This year both Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur went through 5 drafts.

    The Torah reading on the High Holidays is done primarily by our young people who are post Bar and Bat Mitzvah. The woman who tutors all of the kids for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah gives out the parts and trains the kids. If there are additional parts that need to be read, she asks adults who can do it. If one of the kids can't do it at the last minute or can't do all of what she assigned, she steps in and does that part.

    For Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, the number of aliyot vary depending on how much of the Torah the kid can read and how many people the family wants to give this part to.

    360+ Members

  4. For the past 4 years we have had congregants volunteer to read a bit of Torah each Shabbat morning. Limited to 3-7 lines, it has been a "doable" honor that has empowered many to do something they never thought they could do!

    750 Families

  5. At my Temple it is common to have more than one person go up for an aliyah. On a Shabbat with 2 b?nei mitzvah each child?s family has only one aliyah. Usually two people come up for this aliyah, but there have been more on occasion. Our seventh aliyah is reserved for a member of the congregation.

    650 members

  6. In order to allow greater numbers of people to participate in the honor of an aliyah, but at the same time not to extend the length of the Torah reading, our custom has been to allow multiple participants. It is common for us to offer three aliyot to a family for a bar/bat mitzvah - one Friday night (if we read Torah that night) and two on Saturday morning, plus the child.

    With each aliyah there are four parts: opening blessing in the Hebrew, opening blessing translated, closing blessing in the Hebrew and closing blessing in the English. Often four people, one for each part will be involved. This allows for those who do not know the Hebrew to enjoy the honor as well. There are some occasions where we even have more than four participants. At those times, one or more people will read or chant together.

    500 families

  7. At our "regular" Shabbat morning service we allow two people to be called together for an aliyah. This works very well for us for a couple of reasons. Most Shabbat mornings we have two students called to the Torah as b'nei mitzvah, and this allows the family to honor more family members in the four aliyot that each student reads.

    Basically, Mom and Dad (or Grandma and Grandpa) can share an aliyah, and they both have the honor. In addition, we require that the person reciting the blessings be Jewish. We allow a non-Jew to go to the bimah and have the honor, but the Jewish person recites the blessing. One interfaith family in particular took advantage of this by having an aunt and uncle from each side of the family share each aliyah--this way both sides of the family had honors, and the blessings were always recited by a Jew.

    While I'm sure we would allow two people to share an aliyah at Erev Shabbat, we just don't usually do that. At our Shabbat morning minyan service, everyone in attendance chants the blessing together (we usually read just one aliyah). Once in a while we will honor one person and ask him/her to chant the blessing alone, and those weeks we may read two aliyot so that we still have our "group" blessing.

    500+ families

  8. At our temple we allow up to two persons for an aliyah. The two, rather than one, is necessity in our egalitarian age - a husband and wife come up for an aliyah where in former times the male alone would have been called up.

    We oppose calling more than two persons for an aliyah. Group aliyot, it seems to us, denigrate what is essential in favor of secondary concerns. The aliyah becomes a way to honor "guests" rather than recognize the sanctity of the Torah reading through blessing. This makes the service into a private party for the honor of the bar mitzvah guests rather than a sacred service of worship, study and Scripture reading in which the bar mitzvah, family and guests attend and participate.

    Also, the gabbai calling out group aliyot may come to take on the undignified aspect of a game-show host. Let the Torah be the center of attention at the Torah service.

    492 members

  9. At my congregation in suburban Buffalo, calling a group of people up to the bimah for an aliyah in no way denigrates the sanctity or importance of the Torah reading. We do not only do it for the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony -- we use it at regular Friday evening services. We don't do it every single time, but it is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary. And I stand strongly by my viewpoint that it is an inclusive, solemn, honorary, worshipful moment.

    On a personal note, when my daughter became a bat mitzvah last Spring, she specifically requested that all her friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, be asked to stand around her as she was called to chant the Torah blessings for the first time. This is something that she had seen our rabbi do at a bar or bat mitzvah a number of times before. Obviously, the group of people standing close to her did not themselves "do" the aliyah, but they had the opportunity to see a Torah scroll up close and to feel the sanctity and importance of the moment. At this particular service, several adults, Jews and non-Jews who had never come close to a Torah before, took advantage of this special moment. Following my daughter's blessings and readings, the rabbi spoke briefly and informally to the group about what they had just seen and heard and invited their questions. Yes, it lengthened the service by maybe 5 minutes, but what a valuable 5 minutes -- bringing the Torah closer to the people. How marvelous to teach Jews and non-Jews alike, young and old alike, about this magnificent living document!

    810 members

  10. In our congregation, we have begun the practice of having everyone who has a yahrzteit come up together for a group aliyah. I find it empowers the women, who may not know the blessing, to come forward. As well, we know that even when there is a bar/bat mitzvah that our congregants saying Kaddish will have an opportunity to come up. The families of our b?nei mitzvah understand that this aliyah is something you do when you worship as a community. While it was not initially our intention to create a learning experience, I think it has become one for our b'nei mitzvah children. They take great pride in reading for this group, and gratitude for their chanting is always shown by the recipients of the aliyah. All in all, I think it has been successful.

    400 members

  11. I've been intrigued to follow the thread of conversation about group aliyot. We'd rather be more inclusive than not so we often have two or more people for each aliyah (ok, 11 was a bit much but they had a really BIG family!). Usually, it's just two.

    I read about Beth Steinberg's "friend aliyah" with great interest because we've done something similar. A few years ago, a congregant mused aloud that it's a shame that all their non-Jewish friends couldn't see the Torah up close to marvel at the beauty of the scroll and the awe of a child mastering this sacred skill. What I did in response to her question was to create a "horizontal hagbah."

    We open the scroll as wide as possible and as soon as the reading is complete, I invite anyone who wants to, to come up to the bimah and see the Torah scroll. As I stand there, I offer to the people who have gathered there, a few words about the making of a Torah scroll and the history of our particular Torahs. Many people have availed themselves of this opportunity and I have been touched each time someone reveals that it's the first time he or she (most often, she) has ever been so close to a Torah. Yes, it's noisy and disruptive and I love it. It's like our seventh inning stretch and it has created a familial, warm and intimate sense in the sanctuary.

    Often the bar/bat mitzvah student's friends come up first and after they have seen the scroll, they surround their friend to offer words of support and mazel tov. What often results is the most relaxed haftarah reading I have ever encountered.

    Each family gets the choice to have this part of the service; they also have the option for a traditional hagbah which was not part of this congregation's minhag [i.e. custom] until we started this. It's definitely unorthodox but then again, so are we!

    390 members

  12. Since many members of our congregation are getting older, climbing the three tall steps to the bimah is getting difficult. We put a card table up off the bimah on the floor and the Torah is read there. All congregants, especially children, are invited to come up and watch the rabbi read from the Torah. Most people seem happy with this. We also have hakafah with lots of singing. The president or other board member carries the Torah and the rabbi follows and shakes hands and greets congregants. I like it. My son always kisses his siddur, touches my siddur, and then we touch the Torah with my siddur. My son doesn't really enjoy services but since about age nine he sits and reads the Plaut commentary during most of the service.

    I believe aliyot are given out randomly by our president, usually to older members and those who do a lot of volunteer work. It seems mostly men are asked but usually two to three women are invited up each year. I have been asked to read the haftarah and blessings many times but only twice in eighteen years to Torah blessings.


  13. May 2005 Digest 085

                [Re: Having a valid Torah reading with just three verses]

    This is actually a bit of a stretch in terms of current, traditional halakhah. The Mishnah rules that three verses are a minimum number for each aliyah (of which there are seven on Shabbat).  But this goes back to a period when each oleh latorah READ the verses, rather than simply reciting the berakhot (which were recited then only ONCE at the beginning and end of the entire sequence of readers). Also this presumes a practice of reading the entire Torah over a period of three and half to four years, which was the early custom in Erets Yisrael. There have been those in the liberal community who have seized on this Mishnaic ruling as a precedent.


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