SALT - Sunday, 12 Elul 5777 - September 3, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the Ramban’s surprising suggestion, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi (Sota 7:4), interpreting the verse in Parashat Ki-Tavo (27:26), “Cursed is he who does not uphold the words of this Torah” as referring to the custom of hagbeha – the practice of lifting the Sefer Torah to show the text to the congregation.  As we mentioned, Sephardic custom follows the view requiring lifting the Torah before the Torah reading, whereas Ashkenazim lift the Torah only after the reading (Shulchan Arukh and Rama, O.C. 134:2).
            Rav Efrayim Zalman Margoliyot, in his Sha’arei Efrayim (10:14), addresses the case of a person invited to perform hagbeha, but finds that one side of the scroll is too heavy for him to lift.  According to Rav Margoliyot, it is perfectly acceptable to roll the Sefer Torah as needed in order to reduce the imbalance so that it will be easier to lift.  In his view, the custom of hagbeha does not require showing the congregation specifically the portion of text that is read on that occasion in the synagogue, and any portion of text may be shown to fulfill this requirement.  By contrast, Rav Yitzchak Yehuda Yechiel Safrin of Komarno, in his Shulchan Ha-tahor, writes that the person lifting the Torah must show the congregation the text that was just read (or, according to Sephardic custom, that will be read), and therefore one must not roll the Torah to a different spot before lifting it.
            Rav Asher Weiss explains that underlying this debate is the fundamental question as to whether hagbeha was instituted as part of the Torah reading process, or as a separate custom.  Rav Margoliyot apparently viewed hagbeha as an act which is performed for the sake of showing honor to the Sefer Torah, and is not integrally connected to the obligation of Torah reading.  Therefore, it does not matter whether the congregation is shown the text of that day’s reading or a different portion of text.  Rav Safrin, however, likely understood that hagbeha was instituted as part of the procedure of Torah reading.  Chazal established that the Torah must be both read and shown to the congregation, so they encounter its words both audially and visually.  According to this perspective, hagbeha requires showing the congregation specifically the portion that is read that day.
            Rav Weiss notes that this conceptual question might also affect other practical aspects of hagbeha.  For example, the halakhic authorities debate the issue of whether a person can perform hagbeha on a fast day if he does not observe the fast, due to a medical condition and the like.  The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 566:6) rules that one who does not fast may not be called for an aliya to the Torah on a fast day, and Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (Arukh Ha-shulchan, O.C. 135:14) applies this halakha to hagbeha, as well.  In his view, one who is unable to fast may not perform hagbeha in the synagogue on a fast day.  On the other hand, Rav Margoliyot, in his work Mateh Efrayim (602:15), rules that although one who cannot fast may not receive an aliya on a fast day, he may perform hagbeha.  Rav Weiss insightfully observes that Rav Margoliyot’s ruling in this context is consistent with his aforementioned ruling that hagbeha does not require showing specifically the text that is read on that occasion.  Rav Margoliyot viewed hagbeha not as part of the Torah reading process, but rather as a separate requirement intended to show honor to the Torah.  As such, it does not matter which portion of text is shown, and, for the same reason, hagbeha is not subject to the same restrictions as aliyot, such that on fast days, even those who may not receive aliyot may perform hagbeha.