Preparing Before Reading the Torah

Description: Preparing Before Reading the Torah; The Different Customs When Calling Someone For an Aliya

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 139) writes that before one reads from the Torah, he must prepare the reading and review the text at least twice, preferably four times. He must prepare the reading so he will read it properly, with the proper tune, vowels and pronunciation. This applies even in communities with an appointed Ba’al Koreh (reader), as many people when they receive an Aliya want to read their Aliya, either because they read it at their Bar Misva, or for some other reason. One should read only if he reviewed the text at least twice. Of course, if there is nobody present in the synagogue who had prepared the reading, one who is familiar with the reading may go to read, and in this case it is customary for somebody to stand next to him (“Somech”) to assist him.

The custom among Ashkenazim is to call a person for an Aliya by mentioning his name and his father’s name. The custom of the Sepharadim, however, as noted by the Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1807) in Haim Sha’al (13), and the Kaf Ha’haim (139:2), is not to call people for Aliyot by name. The reason is because of the Gemara’s warning that refusing an invitation to the Torah is a grievous sin, for which one may be punished by having his life shortened, Heaven forbid. If a person is called to the Torah by name, and he refuses, he exposes himself to this danger. In order to avoid this situation, the custom among Sepharadim is not to call the person by name, but rather for the Mesader to approach the person and offer him an Aliya. (The Kaf Ha’haim records a custom practiced in some communities to give a person a piece of silver before Aliya to indicate that he is invited for an Aliya.) If he declines, for whatever reason, he is not punished, because he was not called up to the Torah by name.

Summary: One who reads from the Torah in the synagogue must ensure to prepare the material ahead of time, and review the text at least twice, preferably four times. The custom among Sepharadim is not to call a person to the Torah for an Aliya by name. (The custom it to present the Oleh with an ornament made from silver. Usually it has the 10 Commandments on it. The Oleh kisses the silver as an acceptance of the invitation to the Torah. This indeed was the Minhag in Aleppo, Syria.)