The Synagogue Gabbai

Often translated as “warden,” the gabbai (or gabba’im plural) helps keep things organized and running smoothly in a synagogue. In some contemporary congregations, the gabba’im may be known as a “ritual committee.” The gabba’im are sometimes—but certainly not always—elected to their position.

During the Torah reading, the gabbai calls up people to the bimah for the readings (aliyahs) and distribute other honors. This is the most visible role of the gabbai, since much of the planning is done behind the scenes.

A related (and sometimes overlapping) role is that of the shamash, the synagogue caretaker, whose tasks may include tidying up and reciting the kaddish memorial prayer for those who left no relatives.

The Gabbai Tzedakah

Historically, the gabbai was the title given to a person charged with collecting funds. The person who would collect and distribute tzedakah funds (the word gabbai actually means “collector”) was known as a gabbai tzedakah.

The Rebbe’s Gabbai

In some circles, the assistant of a Chassidic rebbe may be referred to as a gabbai. A rebbe’s gabba’im book appointments for people seeking the rebbe’s advice and blessing and coordinate other events in the Chassidic court.