Divre Harav – February, 2023

Gathering for prayer and study is the core activity of a synagogue. Making this happen requires the participation of the community, to form a minyan of ten adult Jews, to welcome people as they come in the door, and to help lead the service. We need people to read the Torah portion and the Haftarah selection from prophets, to facilitate the Torah service by assisting the Torah reader and others coming up to the bima, to lead parts of the service itself, and to prepare a little kiddush, to give us some time to eat and socialize before we go home. We also honor people with smaller parts, to be called up to the Torah to say a blessing for one of the aliyot of the Torah reading and to lift and dress the Torah.

Without the participation of our synagogue community, we could not sustain a service. Some parts require more familiarity with Hebrew than other parts. We want each person to be able to participate in the service in a way which is comfortable and meaningful to you. If you do not want to participate in a leadership role, we still invite you to be present, to lift up your soul in prayer and to learn a little Torah. But if you would like to take a larger role in helping with our service, we would like to help to do so.

No qualifications are necessary to take a Torah honor such as an aliyah or gelilah, dressing the Torah. The gabbai’im will help you know where to stand and when to start saying the blessing, which is printed in Hebrew and English transliteration next to the Torah; or assist you in rolling the Torah shut and putting on the mantle, breastplate, and finials in the right order.

Lifting the Torah takes a bit of practice to learn the technique, but does not require you to be an olympic-level weight lifter. If you’d like to practice in advance of a service, I can make that happen. You might also want to watch a video explaining how to lift the Torah properly, such as this one, from Adath Jeshurun in Minnesota: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6B4x9zxqv8

Qualifications to be a gabbai, helping to coordinate the Torah service and assisting the Torah reader: knowledge of the order of the service and some ability to follow along and help the Torah reader read the words correctly. If you’d like to be a gabbai, I’ll meet with you for about an hour to do some training.

Qualifications to read Torah: basic knowledge of Hebrew reading, the more vocabulary and grammar you know, the better, but many people begin with nothing more than the ability to pronounce the words.

Qualifications to lead a service: fluency in pronouncing the Hebrew words, basic knowledge of the melodies, the ability to sing them with kavanah and energy, and the willingness to be the representative of the congregation.

Currently, Cantor Fair is teaching a Torah reading class. He and I have spoken about scheduling a class either in Haftarah trope or in leading a service in the late spring/summer. Please let him or me know if you are interested, and which class most interests you.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Gabbai – one of two people who assists with the Torah reading. The word itself comes from a term for one who collects and distributes tzedakah funds.
  • Shaliah Tzibur – One who leads a service, literally, a representative of the congregation
  • Ba’al Kriah – Torah reader (sometimes called the ba’al koreh, but ba’al kriah is the grammatically correct term)
  • Hagbah – Lifting the Torah
  • Gelilah – Dressing (literally, rolling shut) the Torah
  • T’amim or ta’amei ha-mikra (also called trope in Yiddish) – The system of punctuation and musical notation of the Hebrew Bible.