Laws and Customs of Torah Reading

The custom among the communities hailing from Aram Soba (Aleppo) is to sing special Pizmonim (hymns) on Rosh Hashanah when the Torah is taken from the ark. Some have the custom to sing, “Ozrenu Kel Hai,” a song that relates to the period of Aseret Yemeh Teshuva (Ten Days of Repentance), which begins on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. On the second day, some congregations sing, “Rabat Sab’a Lah Nafshi.” Several different customs exist regarding the singing of Pizmonim, and every congregation should follow its custom.

When the Torah is shown to the congregation, one should try to get close to the Torah so he can read the words, because he will then be affected by the powerful spiritual light which emanates from the Torah. It is beneficial for one to find in the Torah a word that begins with the first letter of his name. One should bow in front of the Torah, and special verses are recited. It is proper to bow according to the number of Aliyot that are called to the Torah that day – three on weekday, four on Rosh Hodesh and Hol Ha’mo’ed, five on Yom Tob, six on Yom Kippur, and seven on Shabbat.

On Rosh Hashanah, like on other holidays, we call five Aliyot to the Torah. On the first day, we read the section that tells of Sara’s conception and the birth of Yishak, because, as the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 10) teaches, Sara’s prayers for a child were answered on Rosh Hashanah.

When a person is called for an Aliya, he should first look at the point in the text where the reading will begin. Some have the custom to place the Sisit strings on that spot in the Sefer Torah and then kiss the Sisit, to show love for the Misva.

If the person receiving the Aliya is not reading aloud for the congregation, he must read quietly along with the reader, as otherwise his Beracha would be considered a Beracha Le’batala (blessing recited in vain). He must ensure to read quietly, in a soft voice. He may not speak until after reciting the Beracha following the reading. It is customary for the person receiving the Aliya to kiss the Sefer Torah again after the Aliya.

Our custom is to leave the Sefer Torah open in between Aliyot, and to cover the text with the cloth, following the view of the Shulhan Aruch.

Our community’s custom is to permit adding Aliyot on Shabbat if necessary, such as when a joyous occasion is celebrated in the synagogue, though it is preferable not to add Aliyot if there is no need to. Our custom is to permit adding Aliyot when necessary even on Yom Tob, following the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch (based on the view of the Rambam). The custom of Yeshivat Bet-El was never to allow additional Aliyot, but our custom does not follow this practice.

It is customary for the Toke’a (the one who will blow the Shofar) to receive an Aliya on Rosh Hashanah.

The generally accepted custom among Sepharadim, following the practice of the Arizal, is to sit during the reading of the Torah.

The entire period of the Torah reading, from the moment the reading begins until the end of the final Aliya, is an auspicious time for accessing G-d’s mercy, as the Gates of Heaven are open during this period. Any request that a person has should be made during this time when the Torah is open. This is why “Mi She’berach” prayers are recited for the people who receive Aliyot, and why they pledge charity after their Aliyot. This is also when Hashkaba prayers are recited for the deceased, and a special prayer is recited for the ill, for the same reason. It is recommended that one who receives an Aliya make any requests he have after his Aliya, in addition to the “Mi She’berach” prayer recited on his behalf.

It goes without saying that speaking is forbidden during the Torah reading. This not only violates a strict Halachic prohibition, but also squanders the precious opportunity afforded by the Torah reading.