The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
PROPER HONOR OF A SEFER TORAH
A Sefer Torah, which is the living testimonial of Hashem's covenant with the
Jewish people, must be treated with the highest degree of respect and
dignity. Accordingly, there are special halachos which are associated with
the removal and returning of the Sefer Torah when it is taken out of the
Aron ha-Kodesh for Kerias ha-Torah. The following is the proper procedure:
The sheliach tzibur should not be the one to take the Torah out of the
aron. To accord the Torah due respect, another person is appointed to open
the aron(1), take out the Torah and hand it to the sheliach tzibbur to carry
to the bimah(2). If no one was appointed to the task, the sheliach tzibbur
may "rush to grab this mitzvah for himself"(3).
The Torah is taken out of the aron with one's right hand [although the left
hand may be used to help along]. A left-handed person may take out the Torah
with his left hand(4). But the Torah is always handed, received and held
with one's right hand(5) even if its being given, received or held by a
person who is left-handed(6).
While the Torah is being taken out of the aron, it is customary(7) to
recite Berich Shmei(8), which is a section of Zohar written in Aramaic(9).
Some recite Berich Shmei before the Torah is removed from the aron(10),
while others insist that Berich Shmei be said only after it has been taken
out(11). One who neglected to recite Berich Shmei at the proper time may
recite it until the Torah is unrolled(12).
When the sheliach tzibbur recites Shema and Echad he should face the
congregation. When he recites Gadlu, he turns to face the aron(13). He
should raise the Torah slightly when reciting each of these verses(14).
One is required to stand(15), without leaning, anytime the Torah is "in
motion". Thus when the Torah is being carried from the aron or being raised
for hagbahah, one is obligated to stand until it is placed on the bimah or
until it is no longer within view(16).
[When the Torah is not "in motion" the following rules apply(17):
Torah is in the aron and the aron is closed, if it is placed on the bimah or
is being held by someone who is sitting down, there is no reason to stand.
If it is being held by someone who is standing up (e.g., during keil
maleh rachamim), or it is standing upright in the aron and the door of the
aron is open, it has become standard practice to honor the Torah by standing
(even though one is not required to do so(18)).
If, while being carried,
the person carrying the Torah stops to rest, one is required to remain
standing, as this is considered "in motion".]
As the Torah makes its way through the right-hand side of the shul towards
the bimah, it is considered proper for the congregants to honor it by
following behind(19) as it passes by them(20). Others hold that it is
considered "haughty" to do so and it should not be done(21). All agree that
there is no point for those who are not in the path of the Torah [e.g.,
their seat is behind the bimah], to come to the front of the shul so that
they can follow the Torah.
It is customary and considered correct chinuch for people to bring their
young children forward so that they can respectfully kiss the Torah
mantle(22). Some have the custom that adults also kiss the sefer when it
passes(23), while others frown upon this custom and allow only touching or
pointing at the Torah and then kissing that hand(24).
When some people carry the Torah to the bimah, they detour or bend down to
allow those who are not within reach of the Torah to kiss it or touch it.
This is a bizayon ha-Torah, an act of degradation, and those who do so
should be strongly reprimanded(25).
When two or more seforim are taken out of the aron, the other seforim are
entrusted to responsible individual to hold until they are to be used. It is
improper to allow a child to hold the Torah(26), and it is prohibited to
leave the sefer unattended even if it is left in a safe place(27).
It is prohibited to turn one's back to a Torah(28). Accordingly, those who
sit in front of the shul directly in front of Torah must turn around during
kerias ha-Torah. When, however, the Torah is read from a bimah(29) [or from
a shulchan which is over 40 inches high(30)], this prohibition does not
It is customary that those holding a second and a third sefer sit behind
the ba'al koreh and the oleh, who are then turning their backs towards those
seforim. This is permitted(31) because they are involved in reading the
Torah which is on the bimah. But during the haftarah(32) or during Ashrei
etc., the sheliach tzibbur should move to the side so that his back is not
directly facing the Torah.
1. It is considered a segulah bedukah for easy labor for the husband of a
woman in her ninth month of pregnancy to receive the honor of opening the
aron; Chidah, Avodas ha-Kodesh, Moreh B'etzba 3:4.
2. Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:1, based on Mishnah Yuma 68b.
3. Sha'arei Efrayim 10:2.
4. Sha'arei Efrayim 10:2.
5. Rama O.C. 134:2.
6. Mishnah Berurah 282:1. Chazon Ish held that the "face" of the Torah should
be towards the person who is holding it (Tefilah K'hilchasah, pg. 312), but
many people hold the Torah facing away from themselves.
7. German communities do not recite Berich Shmei; Siddur Avodas Yisrael, pg.
122. Many Sephardim recite it only on Shabbos; Ben Ish Chai, Toldos 15.
8. Several Kabbalists attach great importance to the recital of Berich Shmei,
since the time when the Torah is removed from the aron is considered an eis
ratzon in which one's tefillos are more readily answered; see Yeshurun, vol.
2, pg. 579.
9. Since Aramaic tefillos may be recited only b'tzibur, it is important to
recite Berich Shmei together with the congregation; See Mishnah Berurah
101:19. See also Yesod v'Shoresh ha-Avodah 5:8 that an individual should
recite Berich Shmei even in middle of Ve'hu Rachum (during the week). During
Pesukei d'Zimrah, however, one should not stop to recite Berich Shmei;
Teshuvos M'harshag 1:52.
10. Darchei Chaim v'Shalom 196. This also seems to be the view of Aruch
ha-Shulchan 282:1 and the custom in most places.
11. Mateh Efrayim 619:48; Rav Pealim 3:8; Igros Moshe O.C. 4:70-9, based on
Sha'arei Efrayim 10:1; Az Nidberu 8:48.
12. Mishnah Berurah 134:13. Pischei She'arim to Sha'arei Efrayim 10:1
maintains that it may be said during hagbahah as well.
13. Aruch ha-Shulchan 282:1.
14. Mishnah Berurah 134:13.
15. "Stand" means that if one is sitting he must stand up and if one is
walking he must stnad still (until the Torah passes by); Aruch ha-Shulchan
16. Mishnah Berurah 146:17, based on Y.D. 282:2. According to some opinions,
the requirement is to stand as long as one can sense that the Torah is being
carried, even if it is not visible to him.
17. Based on Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 146:18; Igros Moshe O.C. 5:38-4.
18. Accordingly, a weak or ill person may sit; Meishiv Halachah O.C. 248.
19. Some poskim mention that it is proper to follow until it reaches the
bimah (Chayei Adam 31:42) while others write that it is sufficient to follow
along "a bit" (Sha'arei Efrayim 10:4).