Either at the beginning or conclusion of the Torah reading (depending on whether you follow Sephardic or Ashkenazic custom), someone lifts the opened Torah scroll and slowly turns to his right and left in order to show the script to the entire congregation. This is known as hagbah.

The congregation meanwhile tries its best to make out some of the writing, and recites the verse Vezot haTorah (“And this is the Torah which Moses set before the children of Israel . . .”)1 as well as other verses, depending on the custom.2

Additionally, some point to the Torah with their finger while reciting the verses. Some use the index finger, while others use their pinky finger to point, which many believe is a Sephardic custom.

What are the origins and reasons behind this custom?

As we will see, most of the sources give explanations for using the index finger. The use of the pinky finger seems to be a relatively new phenomenon.

Earliest Mention—Expression of Love

The earliest mention3 of this custom seems to be the responsum from Rabbi Mordechai Krispin (b. circa 1730), who served as rabbi of the island of Rhodes.4 He finds support and justification for the custom from the Midrash,5 which states that, unlike with pointing to an image of a king of flesh and blood—which is considered insolent and is punishable by death—when the children come to the beit midrash (study hall) and point at G‑d’s Name, G‑d considers the act of the child “elevating himself over G‑d” an expression of love.

He concludes that people rely on this Midrash to point at the Torah during hagbah.

Praise of G‑d and the Torah

Rabbi Chaim Palachi (1788–1868) explains that the reason some point specifically with the index finger is based on a series of five-word statements in Psalms 19 in praise of the Torah, starting with “[The] Torah [of the] L‑rd [is] perfect, restoring [the] soul . . .”6 In each one of these statements, the Name of G‑d is the second word. Since the entire Torah itself is considered “the Name of G‑d,” it is appropriate to use the second finger—which corresponds to G‑d’s Name—when we point to the Torah. He adds that this is also the reason why, during the marriage ceremony, there is a custom to place the ring on the bride’s index finger (not the “ring finger”), as this finger corresponds to G‑d’s Name).7

“This” is the Torah

Some explain8 that the reason for pointing may be connected to the Talmud’s statement that when the verse says zeh (“this”), it indicates something so visible that one can point to it with his finger.9 Thus, when we say “This is the Torah” we point with our fingers.

Pointing with the Pinky

So where does the pinky finger come in?

The earliest source that mentions pointing with the pinky is the Torah anthology Me’am Lo’ez. This would seem to be an even earlier source than the responsum of Rabbi Mordechai Krispin mentioned above, since the Me’am Lo’ez was authored by Rabbi Yaakov Culi (d. 1732). Unfortunately, however, Rabbi Culi passed away before he was able to finish his work. The section in Deuteronomy10 that mentions the custom to point at the Torah with the pinky seems to have been added much later by Rabbi Shmuel Kroizer (1921–1997).11

This not only means that it is a relatively recent source, but also that, despite the conception that this is a Sephardic custom, the earliest source for pointing with the pinky is recorded by an Ashkenazic rabbi.

Despite this, several contemporary explanations have been offered as to why some use the pinky to point.

613 Mitzvahs

The Hebrew word for “the pinky,” hazeret (הזרת), has the numerical value of 613 (if you include the word as a whole as part of the count). Thus, pointing with the pinky indicates the Torah, which has 613 mitzvahs.12


Some explain that the smallest finger is used to demonstrate that the Torah is only acquired through humility.13


Each of the five fingers is associated with one of the five senses, and the pinky is associated with the sense of hearing.14 Thus, some explain that the pointing of the finger is meant to reflect the Jews’ statement Na’aseh v’nishma, “We will do and hear,” at the Giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. With this statement, we declared that we would follow the Torah even before we necessarily understood everything.15


Alternatively, some explain that since pointing with the index finger may not be seen as respectful, the pinky is used instead.16

Reading the Torah During Hagbah

Some conjecture that the custom of pointing may be traced to Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, who would approach the Torah so that he could actually read the letters, which, he said, draws down a “great spiritual light.”17

Thus, pointing at the Torah may simply be a way to visually focus on the words.18

Kissing the Torah

Alternatively, some hypothesize that the custom of pointing came from the practice of reaching out to kiss the Torah scroll as it made its way to the reading podium. Not everyone was close enough to actually touch the Torah, and some would just stick out their hand and then kiss it as a way of “kissing the Torah.”

Pointing during hagbah would thus align with the Sephardic custom to do hagbah right when the Torah scroll reaches the podium and before the Torah is actually read.19

In the Time of the Redemption

As you can see, pointing at the Torah is not a universal custom and its origins aren’t entirely clear.

Nevertheless, we do find in the Talmud (as some who discuss this custom point out20), that there will be a time when the righteous will point21 :

Ulla of the city of Bira’a quoted Rabbi Elazar: In the future, G‑d will arrange a dance of the righteous, and He will be sitting among them in the Garden of Eden, and each and every one of them will point to G‑d with his finger, as it is stated: “And it shall be said on that day: Behold, this is our G‑d, for whom we waited, that He might save us. This is the L‑rd; for whom we waited. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”22

May it be speedily in our days!