What should we be doing during the lifting of the Torah (Part 1)

לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי הכ’’מ ר’ שאול זעליג בן יהודה הכהן

The lifting of the Torah is known as Hagba, הגבהת התורה. It has become quite accepted, in Ashkenzi circles to point one’s little finger at the sight of the Torah’s lettering; some kiss their little finger afterward. This custom of pointing at the lettering of the Torah, is of Sephardic origin (Meam Loez (Ki Savo, 27:26)). Lifting the Torah is different to rolling the Torah גלילה. The rolling occurs twice: once when the Torah is rolled open to at least three columns, before it is swung around for all to see by the מגביה, and then rolled closed, when the Torah is re-dressed, with its covering mantle and any other adorning silverware.

An early source describing this process is found in Maseches Sofrim. This tractate forms one of the minor tractates of the Talmud (another Minor Tractate is Avos D’ Rabi Noson) and is considered to contain the laws as per the Yerushalmi (as opposed to Babylonian) tradition. Although it is a minor tractate, some Halachos, such as making a Bracha before reading the Megilla, are only found there, and are considered accepted Halacha. It is widely held that this tractate was written between the 6th and 8th centuries by the Geonim, that is, prior to the period of the Rishonim. An example of an early Rishon, is Dunash Ben Labrat, who apparently studied under R’ Saadya Gaon and who is quoted by Rashi (himself a Rishon). In other words, these minor tractates were edited based on practical halachos following soon after the time of the Amoraim and Savoraim. Savoraim are mentioned in the Talmud Bavli (for example Rav Achai) and some contend that the Savoraim put together the final touches of the Talmud, as we know it today. Either way, Minor Tractates such as Sofrim were compiled very soon after and are therefore re-printed at the back of many editions of the Talmud. They have a more halachic feel to them, and are more “ordered” than a standard Masechta of the Bavli.

There is another smaller minor tractate dealing with the same laws of a Sefer Torah, known as Masechta Sefer Torah. The Gaon R’ Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievski (nephew of the Chazon Ish, son of the Steipler Gaon, and son-in-law of R’ Elyashiv) completes a siyum on the entire Torah, including Tanach, Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi, Midrash, Shulchan Aruch, and Rambam each year on Erev Pesach, claims that the Minor Masechta of Sefer Torah preceded Maseches Sofrim, and the latter is simply an expanded version of the former.

In general, Sefardim and the original Chassidim of Israel, perform Hagbah before the reading of the Torah. The Torah is, in the case of Sefardim, a type of enclosing box, and is opened up and sometimes taken around the entire Shule. Everyone approached to see the letters of the Torah. The Aruch Hashulchan claims that there is a special light that emanates from the letters of the Torah (for those who are worthy of receiving such light). Often a Yad, a pointer is used to show the start point from which the Baal Koreh will read the portion of the week. The Aruch Hashulchan claimed ad loc. that in the times of the Gemora this was also the prevalent custom: to perform Hagba before Layning. Ashkenazim, who have a different enclosure for the Sefer Torah, two Amudim/Atzei Chaim (wooden rollers) and a material “coat”, now perform the Hagbah after layning. Some sephardim do another Hagba after layning, but the Sefer Torah is not taken around at that time and is merely lifted and rotated. I saw this practice in the Sefardi Shule in Singapore, for example.

The description of Maseches Sofrim )14:7 (the edited version from Kisvei Yad by Dr Michael Higer) for Hagba is as follows:

 מיד גולל ספר תורה עד שלשה תפין, ומגביהו ומראה פני כתיבתו לעם העומדים לימינו ולשמאלו, ומחזירו לפניו ולאחריו. שמצוה על כל אנשים ונשים לראות הכתב ולכרוע

Immediately he rolls open the Sefer Torah until three columns are visible, and he reveals/shows the lettering to the people who stand to his left and right, and then he swivels to show it to those behind and in front of him, because there is a Mitzvah for both men and women to see the lettering and to bow.

The wording in the Maseches Sofrim is repeated almost verbatim by the Mechaber (R’ Yosef Karo) in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 137.

מראה פני כתיבת ספר תורה לעם העומדים לימינו ולשמאלו ומחזירו לפניו ולאחריו שמצוה על כל אנשים ונשים לראות הכתב ולכרוע ולומר וזאת התורה וגו’ תורת ה’ תמימה וגו’.
הגה: ונהגו לעשות כן אחר שקראו בתורה אבל כשמוציאין אותו אומר השליח ציבור גדלו והקהל אומרים רוממו כו’ אב הרחמים הוא ירחם עם עמוסים וכו’ ויש אומרים לומר על הכל יתגדל (מסכת סופרים פרק י”ג וטור ומהרי”ל) וכן נוהגים ביום טוב ובשבת ויש להחזיק התורה בימין (מהרי”ל). וכשעולה הראשון לקרות אומרים ברוך שנתן תורה כו’ (כל בו)
הלכות קריאת ספר תורה

Now, I don’t recall seeing anybody bow during Hagba, whether they be Sefardim or Ashkenazim. Have you? The Ramo on the spot, does not mention, for example, “and it is not our custom to bow” or anything of that sort.

The question is now obvious: what has happened to the custom of bowing, as recorded in the earliest source of Maseches Sofrim and brought LeHalacha in Shulchan Aruch by the Mechaber?

To be continued in Part 2.

or in Chabad Style (where the person dressing the Torah is described as performing Gelila (which I believe is incorrect, but more on that later)

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

7 thoughts on “What should we be doing during the lifting of the Torah (Part 1)”

  1. I think chassidie chernobel also do hagba before the keria like the sephardim and put down the sefer torah to be read. at the end of keria they do a hagba again like chabad.

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  2. re chabad minhog interesting to note there is a letter from the rebbe to r zevin regarding erech hagbo in encyclopedia talmudis where minhog chabad is mentioned, the rebbe questioned why the aruch hashulchan is not quoted as reference for minhog chabad…

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    1. The Aruch Hashulchan’s question can be answered in other ways than assuming Minhag Chabad. I will get to that. Interesting to know which chassidim were in Navardok

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    1. You are right, I looked it up. He was first Rav in Novozybkov (tongue twister) for 9 years prior to being Rav in Navardok for 34 years. He was, of course, associated with Navardok in the main.

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