Your friend is getting married and you’ve been invited to an aufruf. Not sure what it is or what’s expected of you? You’ve come to the right place.

What It Is

The termaufruf (often pronounced oof-roof or oif-ruf) means “calling up” in Yiddish, and refers to the custom that the groom be called to the Torah in the synagogue on the Shabbat preceding his wedding. This calling-up to the Torah sometimes balloons into a larger celebration, at times extending over the entire weekend. Looking for more info? Read on!

The Actual Aufruf

If you’ve been invited to an aufruf, chances are that you are expected to attend services on Shabbat morning and the reception that often follows. Services usually begin mid-morning (I assume you’ve been told the exact time), and the Torah reading is approximately one hour into it, so pace yourself accordingly.

You want to dress appropriately. For guys, that means a pair of conservative slacks and a button-down shirt (and a jacket and tie if you’re that kind of guy). Of course, you will want to have your head covered by a kipah. If you don’t have your own, there’s a good chance there will be some spares near the entrance to the synagogue. If you’re married, you’ll also want to be wearing a tallit (prayer shawl that is draped over the shoulders). Again, most synagogues will have spares near the door of the sanctuary.

For ladies, appropriate dress means a modest skirt and top or dress—something you’d wear to a business meeting, or even a notch dressier.

Aufruf gifts are not expected.

Remember that Judaism does not allow the use of electronic devices on Shabbat, so make sure to leave your cellphone (and camera) behind.

Note that Jewish tradition mandates that men and women sit separately in the synagogue, so you’ll want to find the appropriate side of the partition and take a seat. If you are afraid of sitting in someone else’s seat, just check with a friendly native if the spot you are scoping out is open.

Just about every synagogue supplies prayer books (often with English translation), so follow along to the best of your ability. Feel free to consult your neighbors if you aren’t sure what page everyone is on. (There are certain times when they may not interrupt their prayers to respond. Also, it’s okay to be lost. You won’t be the first, and certainly not the last.)

At one point, you may notice that everyone stands up and the Ark (the cabinet in the front of the room) is opened. A Torah scroll (or sometimes two or even three) is removed and carried over to the raised reading table, where it is put down. At that point, everyone sits down. If you are unsure of what is going on, just take your cues from those around you.

One after another, men will be called up by their Hebrew names to the reading table. Each of these men will recite a blessing while holding the handles of the Torah, and the Torah reader will read a section of the weekly Torah portion, following which the men will recite another blessing. Your job is to say “amen” after each blessing. This will happen a total of eight times on Shabbat (and fewer times on other days).

Getting called up in this manner is called “getting an aliyah.” If you are a Jewish male and a close friend or relative, you may be honored with an aliyah yourself. Don’t worry. People will be happy to guide you through the process.

A Torah scroll
A Torah scroll

The climax! The groom will be honored with an aliyah. He may be called up with more pomp than the others, louder and more tunefully. Then, wearing a tallit, he’ll approach the table to take his aliyah. Afterward, many have the custom to pelt the groom with candy or other sweets. Lots of kids will scuttle around underfoot, gathering armloads of treats. (It’s okay, you can also surreptitiously forage if you feel like it.)

The men will often join hands and sing and dance with the groom around the sanctuary once the candy dust has settled. You don’t need to dance if you don’t want to, but it can be fun, and no one expects you to know any fancy dance steps.

If the groom was honored with the final aliyah (known as maftir), he will stick around to chant aloud a portion of the Prophets from a book (known as the haftorah).

Services then continue pretty much as usual. Like before, try to follow to the best of your ability, but don’t stress if you get lost.

The Kiddush

Services are most often followed by Kiddush, a blessing over wine, and a light meal (also referred to as a “Kiddush,” due to the preceding blessing). After Kiddush is recited (and you’ve sipped some wine, if you care to), you can start to eat.

Note that not all Kiddushes are created equal. Some synagogues may suffice with a few boxes of crackers and a jar of herring. But for an aufruf, there will often be more. These fancier meals may be referred to as a “hot Kiddush,” since hot food will be added to the mix; a “washing Kiddush,” since it will contain bread that warrants ritual hand-washing prior to consumption in Jewish tradition; or a “meat (or fleishig) Kiddush,”a reference to the meat that will be included in the added goodies—most likely in the cholent, a hot stew of beans, potatoes and meat.

Photo: Flash90
Photo: Flash90

But Wait, There’s More!

In some cases, the wedding party (and I assume you are part of it if you are reading this) may be invited to stick around at the Kiddush once everyone else leaves, or even to another meal afterward. In fact, there are some times that an aufruf may be celebrated over an entire Shabbat, beginning with a Friday night meal and ending with a final meal late on Shabbat afternoon. If this is the case, you will probably be briefed in advance and perhaps even given a schedule so you can know where to be when.

If you are a guest from out of town, the wedding party may even stay together in a hotel or be put up with members of the local community. Again, this is something that will probably be made clear at the time of invitation.

But don’t party too much, because you’re going to want to save energy and a clean outfit (and room in the belly) for the wedding later on in the week.

Mazal tov!

Did you find this informative? This is part of a series of “What to Expect” articles that offer visitors a basic understanding of Jewish rituals and traditions.