What should we be doing during the lifting of the Torah (Part 3)

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

There is a Gemora in Kiddushin 33B, after discussing the laws of standing up for an Talmid Chacham asks whether one needs to stand up for a Sefer Torah. The Gemora answers (with incredulity) that it’s obvious one stands for a Sefer Torah, a fortiori. If one stands for those who learn Torah, surely one must stand for the Torah itself!

The Shiltei Hagiborim (1500’s) has a commentary on the Rif (14B) on this Gemora where he quotes the Riaz, ריא’’ז, a Rishon from the (1200’s). The Riaz states that the Gemora is giving license to stand before a Sefer Torah, but not to prostrate oneself (להשתחוות) in front of the Sefer Torah. He goes onto further state that we have not seen anywhere in Torah that we prostrate ourselves, except in front of the Aron HaKodesh. Prostrating is the act of going down completely and extending one’s feet and hands (as we do on Yom Kippur during certain parts of Musaf) as opposed to לכרוע to bow (eg one’s head or head and back)

The Riaz, seeing that he is a Rishon, could also possibly be interpreted to imply that is not be comfortable with bowing either. If so, then this might be a source to prohibit bowing during Hagbah and perhaps explains why we don’t seem to see bowing at Hagbah much.

The Riaz is discussed at length in the Chida’s (1700’s) Birkei Yosef, Orach Chaim 144:3 who quotes the Knesses Hagedola in Yoreh Deah רפ’’ב. One implication from that discussion is that we don’t follow the Riaz, and people do prostrate themselves (I mentioned the Maharil in the earlier post, as an example). The Birkei Yosef states that it’s impossible: even if we follow the Riaz, that the Halacha should be interpreted as also forbidding mere bowing, this contradicts the Gemora in Sofrim (as quoted in Shulchan Aruch) where it clearly states that we do bow.

Normally, we don’t pay halachic attention to the Ramban on Chumash (as this is his Drush) and defer to his Sifrei Halacha (eg תורת האדם) for Halacha, but on Parshas Ki Savo on the words “אשר לא יקום” the Ramban explicitly quotes Sofrim that one does a bow to a Sefer Torah during Hagba and says וכן נוהגין … and this is the Minhag. Accordingly, the Chida states that the Riaz is not at all discussing the issue of bowing during Hagba when the Sefer Torah is open, rather, the Riaz refers to a situation where the Torah is closed and clothed and someone wishes to fully prostrate themselves.

In his own Sefer לדוד עבדו on Hilchos Krias Shma, the Chida states 4:3 this clearly להלכה

אין לכרוע ולומר וזאת התורה אלא כשהספר תורה פתוח נגדו ואז יכרע נגד הכתב ויאמר וזאת התורה

One should not bow and say Vezos HaTorah until the Sefer Torah has been opened up in front of him and then he should bow towards the lettering and say Vzos HaTorah

In the Sefer Chesed Loalofim (135:4) the author, R’ Eliezer Papo, (late 1700’s) who is famous for his Sefer Pele Yoetz, states that the Mitzvah to bow as per the Chida, is for both men and women, and

ומצווה לנשק הספר תורה

It’s a Mitzvah to kiss the Sefer Torah.

So where are we? Most communities that I have seen rush to the Sefer Torah and kiss it when it is brought out, and yet, despite all the evidence and opinions, I haven’t seen anyone bow during Hagba.

Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank also wrote in his commentary on the Tur (134)

I have seen many people are not careful about this (bowing during Hagba) and I do not know on what basis they are not bowing until I saw the Shiltei Hagiborim (ad loc) This, however, contradicts the Shulchan Aruch as stated, and isn’t how others have understood the Riaz. Furthermore, based on the Zohar, those who say Brich Shmei explicitly say דסגידנא קמיה which means that we definitely do bow to the Torah.

Now, I haven’t done a comprehensive search on the Bar Ilan CD and there may be much more to this. After all, it seems that in Ashkenazi Shules people don’t bow. If people don’t do something there is likely to be a good reason. Jews have a habit of doing the right thing. There are at least two possibilities to explain this conundrum:

  • the halacha is like the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, as I mentioned in the earlier post, where he would Pasken like the Siddur Derech HaChaim from the Chavas Daas or
  • the halacha remains that one does need to bow, but people have become lax

I’d like to suggest, though, a different reason why this practice isn’t seen much now. I believe that it centers on how one reads the words of the authoritative Siddur Derech Hachaim who writes in 134

שמצווה על כל האנשים לראות הכתב, ויש מדקדקים לראות האותיות עד שיכול לקרותם ולכרוע

It is a mitzvah to see the lettering (of the Sefer Torah during Hagbah) and there are those who are careful to see the letters to the extent that they can (actually) read the words and bow

In my opinion, the simple meaning is that it’s not those who are careful who bow (period), rather it’s those who are careful to get close enough to read the letters who should bow. I believe that this was natural at the time of the Gemora when they did Hagba before Layning, and like the Sephardim either carried an open Sefer Torah around the Shule pointing to the spot where they were going to begin the layning, or stood up close to the people in front of the Aron with the Sefer Torah open as everyone filed past and approached. I certainly saw this happening in Sephardi shules where I davened. I didn’t notice the bowing, but I did notice the better accessibility that everyone had to actually seeing the lettering of the Sefer Torah, and as per my reading of the Siddur Derech Chaim, would be obliged to bow as per the Shulchan Aruch based on Maseches Sofrim.

Ashkenazim, however, do Hagbah now differently. The Torah is lifted up in a fairly brisk manner and rotated 360 degrees after leyning. Unless you are on the Bima, or very close, it’s nigh on impossible to make out the actual lettering from one’s seat, and perhaps in such a situation one does not bow. My understanding is that bowing is intrinsically linked to seeing the words, which Holy Seforim tell us emit their own special light.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, however, perhaps read the Siddur Derech Chaim differently. I assume that he held that מדקדקין was a general statement that the concept of bowing was only for the punctilious, and his Kitzur Shulchan Aruch wasn’t in the business of noting down anything other than the mainstream. For this reason, he perhaps omitted the need to bow.

That’s my understanding. I’d be interested in hearing other opinions, or practices in other Shules around the world. I’m told that R’ Chaim Kanievsky and others treat it as a דבר פשוט that one should bow. When I asked R’ Schachter, he also said that it’s a דין in Shulchan Aruch and should be kept, and people simply aren’t aware.

PS. Related to Hagbah, if you perform it in a Chabad Shule, where you are meant to lift, rotate and then place the Torah back on the Bima and roll it up before sitting down, the person who dresses the Torah is not doing Gelila, and in my opinion shouldn’t be described as such in the Misheberach. Using the Chabad method, the person who does Hagba also does Gelila! The second honour, is “dressing the Torah”. Does anyone know the source for this variation of Hagba, by the way?

PPS. While looking at the Shiltei Hagiborim, I noticed that he suggests that an Avel should not write (הריני כפרת משכבו (הכ’’מ after their father and instead should write ז’ל because one’s writing lasts longer than a year of Aveylus. Instead, one should only say it in speech. Ce la vie. I’ve written it now three times for this post.

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia although my views have nought to do with my employer. 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.

25 thoughts on “What should we be doing during the lifting of the Torah (Part 3)”

  1. The masses certainly are lax to the act of bowing for Hagbah. However don’t worry too much about this laxness. The real issue is why no one does Tikkun Chotzos anymore. That is the real laxness!

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  2. I once heard that a reason chabad does hagbah/gelila the way that they do it. Gelila is more choshuv than hagbah. Since normally people give gelila to a child. They think its more shayich to give it to a grown up.

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    1. Gelila is more Choshuv. In fact, originally, the person who got Gelila also got an aliya! People don’t normally give Gelila to a child, it’s something that one sees often, but it’s also something that a Rav can easily correct. The problem is people. They think Hagba is the show piece because you must be a strong person to do it etc Also, you don’t need to say anything for Hagba and Gelila so I believe many Anglo shules give Hagba to someone who isn’t great with Ivri (could also be a Mechallel Shabbos) but can lift a Torah. The irony is that, even today, when you go to a Chabad House etc, that also happens, and if so, what the Minhag now does, is give the most important task to the mechalel shabbos or someone who can’t say brachos!
      The Aruch Hashulchan thought that the Chabad approach was good because it stopped kids getting Gelila, but I wonder how he’d react if he saw what happens now!

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      1. The Gabbai’s manual for the Bevis Marks snoga says that they have a Society of Levantadores (magbihim) and only members of this society can be given hagbah. The society trains its members to do it properly, so you don’t have those heart-stopping moments when someone thinks he knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t.)

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      2. Re: Gelilah, if gelilah is rolling up the Sefer after hagbah, then how would it apply in a Sefardi shul, where they do hagbah before leining? Eastern Sefardim use a case, so there isn’t really a gelilah at all, but Western Sefardim use a sefer much like the Ashkenazi one, but with a silk backing, and they have gelilah, which, as in Chabad, consists of wrapping the (very long) belt around the sefer, dressing it, and putting on the bells. (They hold the sefer horizontally while this is being done, which makes it easier, especially for children.)

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        1. The places I have seen also do hagba after but it’s the sort of hagba where you don’t see lettering as opposed to the one prior. Gelila should not be confused with tying the belt. It’s rolling it up which could perhaps be the closing up of the device used to encase the Sefer Torah?

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          1. What device. I just informed you that they don’t have a case. They have a sefer much like ours, and the honour in question is wrapping the belt around the sefer, then putting on the coat and bells. Hagbaha is before leining, so the magbiah obviously just puts it back down on the shulchan and closes it, ready for reading. So what would gelilah be?

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            1. I’m not sure what you are informing me about. I’ve been to two Sefardi shules both of Iraqi origin and their Sifrei Torah are not like ours. What do you mean?

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            2. And your point precisely is what? That they don’t have Sifrei Torah in boxes which they open up before laying. They do. It’s fact, and explicitly mentioned by Rishonim.

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            3. No, they do not, and never have. Their sifrei torah are like ours, but with a layer of silk behind the parchment that is rolled up together with the parchment (making the sefer torah thicker). Hagbah is done like in Lubavitch, but before leining. Wooden cases are completely unknown in all Western Sefardi communities. They are purely an Eastern Sefardi thing.

              From what I have seen, after leining someone picks it up and sits down with it, then lays it horizontally in his lap, parallel with his legs, while another person holds the top atzei chayim to keep it steady, and the person (often a boy) who has been given the kibud of dressing it wraps the very long belt around it, puts on the mantel, and the two bells, and it is then returned to an upright position in the arms of the person holding it. But I don’t know if this procedure is the same in all Western Sefardi communities.

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            4. I don’t know why you discount the Torah’s I refer to. Let me put it to you another way: you never see Ashkenazi Torah’s in the wooden or metal box. You ONLY see this amongst Sephardim. You also almost only see Hagbah before layning amongst Sephardim. Pure coincidence?

              In the Sephardic shules I have been too, which only had such Sifrei Torah, Hagba is not done as per Chabad

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            5. PS: I honestly can’t understand why you would bring up your experience in Iraqi shuls, why you would think it’s at all relevant.

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  3. לתרץ תמיתך, האיך יתכן, אשר זה שמלביש את הס”ת מכונה “הגולל” לפי הנהוג
    בקרב אנ”ש חסידי חב”ד, אולי יש לומר,בדוחק, אלא שכן גם משמע בלשון פוסקים, אשר
    מצוות גלילה כוללת גם\בעיקר -גלילת-\כריכת והידוק המפה סביב הס”ת (אשר אינה מצוייה כ”כ היום) ז”א אשר לשון “גולל” מתייחסת לתהליך הכריכה וההלבשה אשר לפי מנהג העולם נכלל מגלילת העמודים, כריכת האבנט, והלבשת המעיל. אלא שבחב”ד המנהג הוא שהגביה גולל את העמודים (שי”א שזה יותר מתאים עם המנהג המקורי) וראה לשון השערי אפרים שער י’ ס’ י”ט:

    “זה שנתכבד במצוות גלילה דהיינו לכרוך במפה ולהלביש במעיל”

    וראה לשון מכתב רבינו להגרש”י זוין

    “מ”ש אודות הגבהה, לפלא קצת שאינו מוזכר בהערך באנציקלופדיא ע”ד אופן הגבה הנהוג בחב”ד, דמניחים הס”ת על השולחן לאחרי הגבה וקודם הגלילה, וראה זה חדש – שדוקא בעל ערוך השולחן, מאשר ומשבח מנהג זה.”

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    1. I know about the letter to Rav Zevin but in the context of the encyclopaedia talmudis I think he was correct not to make an issue of it.

      However, the Acharonim definitely distinguish between Gelila and the dressing of the Sefer Torah. In fact, it was often done by TWO people!

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    1. Interesting. I just noticed that Shiltei Hagiborim and its a fair point he makes. That being said, it should be my BIGGEST faux pas

      But thanks for the pointer.

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  4. I believe that the Yotzei Morroco do not use a case for their sifrei torah, (their minhagim are largely based on the tradition of the rosh/tur who migrated from ashkenaz to safard)

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      1. The Chacham Tzvi was never in Morocco. And the design of the sifrei Torah used by Western Sefardim has nothing to do with him, nor do I believe it has anything to do with the Rosh. This was simply the way sifrei Torah were made in that part of the world, and the Eastern Sefardi custom of using a case probably developed before the Sefardi exiles got there.

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        1. I forget who the (ashkenazi) Rav of Morocco was and about whom the people decided to follow him and not eat Rice on Pesach.
          Anyway, in respect of the Sifrei Torah, I take it you contend that this was just an accident of design, but that you agree they had the minhag (as per the Gemora) to do Hagba before layning?

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