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.