The Torah Service

The drama of the service draws upon imagery from Israel's history of wandering in the Sinai wilderness to the worship at the Temple in Jerusalem.

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On Shabbat, the weekly Torah reading is divided into seven sections and the honor of making a special blessing before and after the chanting of each section is distributed to different people in the congregation. Before the Baal Kri'ah, or Torah reader who has prepared to chant one or more of the subdivided portions called an aliyah begins, the congregant honored ascends to the bimah, or stage, to chant the special blessings. This honor is called receiving an aliyah, or literally, "going up," for it refers not only to physically ascending to the stage where the Torah is read, but also evoking the historic ascent to the Temple in Jerusalem.

The blessing before the Torah begins as an invitation to the congregation, "Praise the Lord, who is blessed." The congregation then responds, "Praised is God, source of blessing, forever and ever." The recipient of the aliyah repeats this line and continues, "Praised are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe who has chosen us from among all peoples by giving us His Torah. Praised are You, Adonai, who gives the Torah." Upon the conclusion of the Baal Koreh's chanting, the concluding blessing is recited: "Praised are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has given us the Torah of truth, planting within us life eternal. Praised are You, Adonai, who gives the Torah." These blessings are repeated seven times by different people for each of the sections of the Torah chanted. An additional aliyah is given to the person (called the maftir) who will recite a portion from the Prophets called the Haftarah.

Following the Torah readings, a series of special prayers are chanted on behalf of people who received aliyot to the Torah, those who are ill, those about to be married, those who have just given birth, for young people celebrating their Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and others.

Once the reading of the Torah is concluded, but before the Haftarah is chanted, the Torah is raised and wrapped in preparation to be returned to the ark. As the Torah is raised, the congregation chants the line, "This is the Torah that Moses set before the people Israel; the Torah, given by God, through Moses." After the Torah is wrapped but before it is put away, the maftir recites the blessings before (and after) the Haftarah. The opening blessing begins, "Praised are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has appointed devoted prophets, messengers of truth whose teachings He has upheld. Praised are You, Adonai, who has chosen the Torah, Moses His servant, Israel His people, and prophets of truth and righteousness." Following the Haftarah, an extended series of blessings are recited that also speak about God's promises to His people and speak of the hope that Elijah the prophet will return as a harbinger of the return of a scion of the house of King David. Depending upon whether it is Shabbat or a holiday, these blessings conclude with a mention of the holiness of the day.

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Rabbi Daniel Kohn

Rabbi Daniel Kohn, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1991. He is the author of several books on Jewish education and spirituality who currently writes and teaches throughout the San Francisco Bay area.