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What Does "Aliyah" Mean?

What Does "Aliyah" Mean?

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Dear Rabbi,

I have always understood that the word aliyah refers to being called up to the Torah reading at the synagogue. But yesterday, a friend told me that he is making aliyah. He explained that “making aliyah” meant moving to Israel.

Could you enlighten me on what the true meaning of the word is?

Answer:

The Hebrew word aliyah translates as “elevation” or “going up.” It is, in fact, used both for being called up to the Torah reading and for moving to the Land of Israel.

Aliyah to Israel

The term aliyah, going up to Israel, is used in Genesis in reference to our forefather Jacob’s bones being brought from Egypt to what would be the Land of Israel: “And Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who had gone up with him to bury his father, after he had buried his father.”1

The Talmudic sages state that the Land of Israel is higher than all other lands.2 This is not meant in a topographical sense, for clearly this is not the case. Rather, it means that the Holy Land is the most suitable place to relate and connect to the Almighty, and the primary location to lovingly engage in the observance of G‑d’s commandments. In other words, to go there is to be elevated, to go up to a higher level.

It is for this reason that anyone “making aliyah,” or moving to Israel for the right reasons, is moving “up” in the world. It is the land in which the holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs lived. It is the land upon which the Holy Temples were built. And, with the advent of the Messianic era, it is the land where the Third Temple will soon be rebuilt. It is truly a holy and elevated place.

Aliyah to the Torah

The same way one is elevated when moving to Israel, one is also elevated each time one goes to the synagogue to pray.

Inside the synagogue, the bimah, the platform in the center of the room from where the Torah scroll is read, should preferably be elevated above the rest of the synagogue. In addition to making it easier for the reader of the scroll to be heard, this elevation is a reminder of the elevated status and critical importance of the Torah scroll in the synagogue, and from there, in the hearts and lives of those participating in the services.

The person who is called to Torah gets an aliyah. He is “called up” to the Torah, not just because he ascends the platform, but also for a spiritual elevation.

In life, one must always strive to climb to higher and greater heights. Where appropriate, one must seek elevation, aliyah, whether in location, or even more importantly, within the personal lives, property and confines of every single individual.

See our mini-sites on the Land of Israel and the Torah Reading.

Footnotes
2.

Talmud, Kiddushin 69a.

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Yisroel Cotlar Cary, NC March 12, 2014

Aliyos are given to everyone, not just the largest donors.

Now there is indeed a tradition to make a donation when being given an honor at synagogue but this is not the reason for giving one an Aliya.

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Yacob Atlanta, GA March 8, 2014

What Does Aliyah Mean? As a child, I recall going to shul with my grandfather during the early 1940s (in the basement of a Bronx tenement), and individuals being called up to the Torah to make aliyahs. At the time, the individuals seemed to be honored for being special, presumable pious.

Now, my presumption is that it was in return for giving money to the building fund or some such donation. I am being cynical or is that how giving is rewarded?

Many thanks for your response.
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Renee Edelman December 31, 2013

Looked up a topic Excellent information. Reply

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