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Why Do We Lift the Torah Scroll?

Why Do We Lift the Torah Scroll?

On doing “Hagbah” with the “Sefer Torah”

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Dear Rabbi,

Is there a specific reason why we lift the Torah up in the air in the synagogue after each reading?

Answer:

The Torah Scroll, sefer torah, is the holiest ritual object that the Jewish nation has today. It is written on handmade parchment with a quill and special ink. There are thousands of guidelines that a scribe, known as a sofer, will follow to make a Torah Scroll fit for use.

Being called up to say the blessing on one of the portions is a great honor, and during momentous occasions throughout the year many will be mentioned in front of the scroll or will be called up for the reading.

The one who is called up reads from the text in a whisper together with the designated reader, because actually reading the text is considered to be a great deed. For this reason, the famed codifier of the Code of Jewish Law, Rabbi Joseph Caro, writes, “It is incumbent on men and women to look at the Torah Scroll’s text,” when it is being lifted in the air for all to see.1

Rabbi Abraham Abele Gombiner (1635-1683), writes in a gloss on the Code, “When one sees the letters, the holiness of the words radiates and imparts holiness to the individual.”2

Given this, it has become one of the beloved synagogue traditions: everyone rises, many lifting their pinky finger, as they gaze and try to get a glimpse of the words.

The crowd bows slightly and says the verse (Deuteronomy 4:44):

And this is the “Torah” [teaching] which Moses set before the children of Israel.

Some add additional verses. To determine the custom in your synagogue, consult your prayer book.

Traditionally, the ceremony took place before the reading of the Torah Scroll,3 and it is still the Sephardic custom to do it then. But most Ashkenazic communities today do it at the end to emphasize that the most important part is to listen to the words being read, not the lifting of the scroll.4

See Displaying and Dressing the Torah from our Synagogue section.

Footnotes
1.

Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 132:2. See Tractate Sofrim 14:8.

2.

Paraphrased from Magen Avraham ibid 134:3.

3.

Shulchan Aruch ibid. See Biur Hagra 134:2 s.v. “venahagu.”

4.

See Rabbi Moshe Isserles’ gloss ibid 133:2; Rabbi Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673), Knesset Hagedolah 134.

Dovid Zaklikowski is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. Dovid and his wife Chana Raizel are the proud parents of four: Motti, Meir, Shaina & Moshe Binyomin.
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Fishel Yonkers, NY April 30, 2012

Pinky Why is the pinky raised. This seems the first time I ever heard of this.
Baruch Hashem Reply

Josh London, UK April 25, 2012

Pinky Great article thanks. But why do some lift their pinky's. Reply

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