Friday, February 22, 2008

Switching Torah Readers in the Middle of an Aliyah

Question: Is it an option to switch readers in the middle of one aliyah such that no berakhot are said between readers?  Or does it have to become a 2nd aliyah?  This question is particularly important as our minyan would like to honor the tradition of reading the entire story of עגל הזהב as part of the second aliyah reserved for a Levi, but we have no one skilled enough to read the entire first aliyah.

Answer: The practice of prolonging the first aliyah of Ki Tissa in order to have the entire story of חטא העגל contained within the second aliyah is mentioned in Magen Avraham 428:8 (R. Avraham Gombiner, Poland, 17th c.).  The practice seemingly reflects the fact that Levi was the only tribe that did not participate in this sin and it would thus be shameful for any other Jew to receive the aliyah about this story.  However, in the case you describe, there is no problem with having a second Torah reader come up in the middle and take over; see Responsum Har Tzvi OH 1:72 (R. Tzvi Pesah Frank, 20th c., Israel) for one explicit statement to this effect.  This has no effect on the aliyah numbering, which is determined solely by the number of sets of berakhot that are said by olim.  It is prefereable for the second torah reader (and any others reading parts of that aliyah) to be there for the beginning of the aliyah to hear the opening berakhah such that all readers are a part of this unit in its entirety.

I will note that the one hesitation one should have with this system is the possibility that it will lower standards for Torah reading and that it may dampen individual and communal enthusiasm for cultivating expert readers who can show true כבוד התורה through their investment in this important and public reading of our most sacred text.  I will just quote Rosh Megillah 3:1 (R. Asher b. Yehiel, Germany/Spain, 13th-14th c.) to this effect.  He argued that one should not have a professional Torah reader and that people of inadequate skill should indeed feel somewhat inadequate and cede the floor to those more skilled, such that they be inspired to work towards a greater skill level.  While there is an important role for encouraging participation, splitting aliyot in this way should be done sparingly so as not to deprive people of the chance to stretch themselves to improve their Torah reading skills.

Written by Steven Exler and Rabbi Ethan Tucker


AS said...

This teshuva is very important. All in all, I think the flexibility afforded to the community to occasionally have two ba'alei koreh for one aliyah ultimately raises standards as opposed to lowering them. Though whether this kulah (leniency) raises or lowers the standards may depend on the minyan and its history. But here are a few reasons why, in general, I think it can raise standards.

* - A minyan just starting out and debating between a triennial and full keriah might lean toward a full keriah knowing of this leniancy about multiple ba'alei keriah for a single aliyah.

* - Esp. re: full keriah minyanim, the lack of short aliyot can be a real turn off to folks engaging in learning to leyn. My experience is that people who are passionate, accurate beginners build greatly on their enthusiasm when they get to leyn at services. Some might say maphtir is good for this, but in fact I don't think so (except for maftir on holidays). Knowing that someone else already prepared the same text makes you feel less useful as a leyner. Part of the motivation is serving your community and to leyn maftir when someone else has already prepared shevi'i seems to call attention to the fact that this is a "leyner in training."

I'm sure I could think of more, but that is good for now.
- Posted by Rabbi Shai Gluskin at December 1, 2008 at 5:00pm

farmping said...

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