Friday, November 6, 2009

The Torah Service

The Torah Service is central to the Saturday morning synagogue service and has much ceremony and fanfare.

It begins with the opening of the aron ha’kodesh (holy ark - the cabinet housing the Torah scrolls). The Torah scroll is brought to the bimah (central table where the Torah is read) in a procession, while prayers are recited by the chazzan (prayer leader) and by the congregation.

On a typical Shabbat, the Torah portion is divided into seven parts. Seven people are called, one at a time, to the bimah for an aliyah (literally: going up). They recite the blessings before and after the reading of each section. An eighth person is called up to make the blessings over the maftir (extra) portion, which is either a repetition of the last few lines or a separate section of the Torah. Traditionally, the first aliyah is given to a Kohain, the second to a Levi, and the remaining aliyot to those descended from the other tribes.

Another important part of the Torah service is the ritual of hagbaha, the raising of the Torah scroll, open, for all to see. Sephardim do hagbaha before reading the Torah. Ashkenazim do hagbaha afterward.

While the scroll is open, the congregation says: V’zot ha’Torah ah’sher sahm Moshe lif’nai b’nai Yisrael--al pee Ah’doh’nai b’yad Moshe / This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel--at God's commandment by the hand of Moses” (Deuteronomy 4:44/Numbers 9:23 - note that the section from Numbers is not recited in Sephardi congregations).

The honor of rolling the Torah closed after its reading is known as g’lila. The return of the Torah to the ark occurs in the reverse order of the original processional (from the bimah to the ark) after the reading of the Haftarah (reading from the prophets).

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