By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
“It’s a chutzpah! That gabbai doesn’t know anything!”
“I am not giving that shul another dime!”
“That may be what the Mishnah Berurah says, but we’ve never had that minhag!”
It is unfortunate that the above quotes are not exactly foreign in some of our shuls. The main factor, of course, is to keep shalom, peace, and one should never argue about aliyos. The biblical violations involved in making a gabbai—or anyone else, for that matter—feel bad are rather serious.
In an effort to minimize machlokes, arguments, we will attempt to list the 21 criteria for aliyos to the Torah in the proper order of priorities. The list found below is based upon the Chofetz Chaim’s listing in his Biur Halachah (O.C. 136 “B’Shabbos”). He based it upon the Levush, the Magen Avraham, Shaarei Ephraim, and the Eliyahu Rabbah. Rav Chaim Kanievsky and other leading rabbis have helped shed light on the Chofetz Chaim’s intent in his listing, and these comments, as found in Eishei Yisrael have been incorporated in the list.
It is interesting to note that the office mentioned by the Chofetz Chaim is called the “s’gan.” This term has two implications. At times it is synonymous with the office of gabbai. However, in many cities in Europe the s’gan was a separate office, usually filled by a parnes. The s’gan decided who would receive the aliyos and the gabbai would actually call them up. Nowadays, this office no longer exists.
The order of priority for being called up is as follows:
1. A groom on his wedding day
2a. A first-time groom on the Shabbos before his wedding
2b. A bar mitzvah boy on the Shabbos after his bar mitzvah (equal to 2a)
3. A first-time groom on a Shabbos two weeks before the wedding when an aufruf is taking place
4. A sandek who holds the baby at a b’ris milah
5. A sandek who carries the baby in for the milah
6. A husband of a woman who gave birth to a girl if the mother comes to shul
7. A husband of a woman who gave birth to a boy if the mother comes to shul
8. A groom on the Shabbos after his wedding if the wedding was on Wednesday or later, if it was either a first-time groom or a first-time bride
9. Someone who has a real yahrzeit that day for his father or mother. (Nowadays the custom is to equate the yahrzeit of a mother with the yahrzeit for a father. See Divrei Sofrim Aveilus #53.)
10. Someone that has a real yahrzeit that day for another family member.
11. The father of the baby who is getting a b’ris milah on that day
12. Someone who has a real yahrzeit in the coming week
13. A mohel who performed a milah that day
14. A sandek on the Shabbos before the b’ris milah
15. The father of the baby on the Shabbos before the b’ris milah
16. The mohel of a baby on the Shabbos before the b’ris milah
17. The father of a groom or bride on the Shabbos before the wedding (minhag)
18. A groom who was a widower or a divorcé who is getting married a second time (minhag)
19. Someone who was ill and became healthy (minhag)
20. Someone who is embarking upon or returning from a trip (minhag)
21. An important guest that comes to shul (minhag)
What happens if someone has two of the twenty-one qualities? Do they receive precedence above a higher number? The P’ri Megadim, in his introduction to the laws of the reading of the Torah, answers that two does beat one, but not to the extent that it pushes off a higher number.
Generally speaking, seven people are called to the Torah on Shabbos. However, if the congregation wishes, they may add more. Some (the Vilna Gaon) refrain from making additions to this number. The Eliyahu Rabbah writes that one should never have more than ten aliyos because this is an excessive burden upon the congregation.
It should also be noted that when there are two or more of equal levels, lots should be drawn. However, if one of them is a Torah scholar, then the Biur Halachah explains that lots are not drawn and precedence is given to the Torah scholar. This, of course, can be a source of tension, so care must be taken that this not lead to discord or argument.
It is also important to note that membership in the congregation is an important factor as well, according to the Magen Avraham. If someone is a member and is on the aforementioned list, he has precedence over someone who is merely a guest, even though the guest is higher on the list than the member. If, however, the member is not on the list at all and the guest is on the list, then the member does not push off the guest.
Those who do appear on the list should also inform the gabbai in a timely fashion that they are in need of an aliyah. It is wrong to place pressure on the gabbai by informing him of their need for an aliyah just before the reading of the Torah. It is correct to inform the gabbai beforehand. In case the gabbai was not informed in a timely fashion, the gabbai has the right to give the aliyos to those to whom he had arranged to give them. If, however, the person who just informed him is among the first 16 of the 21, the gabbai should make an effort to accommodate him.
If there is a legitimate minhag that the particular congregation has been following, then under certain circumstances that does beat some of the priorities listed above. The rav, however, should be the source for verifying any minhag of the congregation and should be the repository of such minhagim in order to avoid argument. When there is no clear minhag, the customs set forth in the official listing of the Biur Halachah should be followed.
It is key to remember that much of our prayer centers on the idea of peace. In the Shemoneh Esreih we pray, “Sim shalom—Place peace upon us.” In the Kaddish we say, “He Who makes peace in the heavens, He shall make peace among us and among all of Israel. Amen.” v
The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.