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Shabbat Sukkot 5772

Ask the Rabbi: Hagbaha After Side-Minyan Laining on Simchat Torah

Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  At “side minyanim” for laining on Simchat Torah (Ashkenazi shul), should hagbaha be done at the end, before the sefer Torah is returned to the main shul?


Answer:  Our impression is that there is not a clear minhag. Tracing the minhagim of hagbaha should provide a little clarity.

The gemara (Megilla 32a) discusses the laws and importance of gelilla but does not mention hagbaha. Massechet Sofrim (ch. 14) describes it as the opportunity before reading the Torah for everyone to see the Torah’s writing, bow, and say several p’sukim in recognition of the Torah’s veracity and importance. The practice actually seems to first have been recorded in connection to Ezra’s moving public reading of the Torah (Nechemia 8:5). There too, the lifting of the Torah to show the people was apparently done before the reading. Many Sephardim point the yad at the place in the Torah from which the reading will begin, further stressing the element of introducing the ensuing reading.

Why do Ashkenazim do hagbaha at the end of the laining, and what impact does this have on the way we view the process? The change took place some time in the period of the Rishonim, as the Maharik (54) assumes that hagbaha is done after laining. The most authoritative source on the change is actually Sephardic. The Shiyarei Knesset Hagedola (17th century, Turkey) praises the change, saying that is worthwhile because people get more excited about hagbaha than about Kri’at Hatorah, and putting hagbaha at the end makes it more likely that people will remain in shul during laining.

This is a technical reason to do hagbaha after laining, but even if it is correct, it still seems that along with it, the nature of the hagbaha has developed in the following direction. For Ashkenazim, hagbaha has become the major focus of the gelilla process (Rama, Orach Chayim 147:4 and Mishna Berura ad loc. 19). As we complete the Torah reading, we honor it by enabling the congregation to properly “take leave” of it along with readying it for proper storage. The Rashba already was cognizant of the fact that minhagim were going in the direction of showing more kavod to the Torah during hagbaha than was halachically necessary (his context is standing when the sefer Torah is in a different domain – the bima).

Let us go back to your question of whether it is necessary or preferred to do hagbaha after even a semi-formal Torah reading or only in the classical, assigned places. That which is taken for granted by Ashkenazim, that on “multiple sefer Torah” days each sefer Torah gets hagbaha, is actually the subject of varied minhagim for Sephardim. Furthermore, at least some Sephardim who do hagbaha for each sefer Torah lift all of them (which are already open) before reading from the first one (Rav Eliyahu). On one hand, we can learn from them that it is more basic that the people be exposed to hagbaha than for there to be a set procedure of lifting a sefer Torah before reading. However, if we are correct, that for Ashkenazim hagbaha has become the honorable way to finish up using the sefer Torah and preparing it to be put away, then it should be done any time the tzibbur has finished reading from a given sefer, no matter how many sefarim are used.

Practically, we would say the following. It is hard to prove whether or not there must be hagbaha at the end of laining at side minyanim on Simchat Torah. Regarding sefarim that will be used shortly as one of the three sefarim in the main minyan, we can view its closing as a pause, and the later hagbaha suffices. However, it appears correct that for sifrei Torah whose use is over, this should be accompanied with hagbaha. On a day in which we dance with and around the sefarim it does not make sense to be stingy regarding a classic way to show our reverence for them. However, it is hard to call this an absolute requirement, and, for example, if there is no one left at the minyan who is strong enough to lift it reliably, hagbaha can be skipped.

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