Being Called up to the Torah.

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Logistics of an Aliyah

There are two traditions concerning the proper way to approach the bimah when called for an aliyah. One custom is to ascend on the right and descend from the left, in accordance with the practice of approaching the altar in the Temple (Zev. 63a-b). In addition, the entrance to the Temple Mount was from the right (Mid. 2:2). The other tradition is to ascend to the bimah by the shortest route and descend by the longest, thus demonstrating that one is eager to be called for an aliyah and reluctant to leave. According to the Shulhan Arukh, if it is necessary to choose between these two traditions, one should take the shorter route, even if this requires going up from the left (Orakh Hayim 141:7).

It is a dishonor to the Torah to leave the bimah immediately after reciting the final blessing that aliyotconcludes the aliyah. Among Ashkenazim, it is customary to remain until the entire subsequent Torah portion has been read and the final blessing recited. In the Spanish and Portuguese tradition, one waits only until the person honored with the next aliyah has recited the first Torah blessing, returning to one's seat while the Torah is being read.

In Ashkenazic synagogues, other worshipers typically congratulate the person returning from having an aliyah with the Yiddish phrase "Yasher koach" (Hebrew: Yishar koach; "May you grow in strength" or "May your strength be directed in the right path"). This custom may reflect the belief in talmudic times that intense study of the Torah, symbolized by the Torah reading, "weakens the strength of man" (Sanhedrin 26b).

Among Sephardim, the expression used is "Hazak uvaruch"  (Be strong and be blessed) or "Baruch tihiyeh" (May you be blessed), to which the person returning from having an aliyah responds "Hazak ve-ematz"(Be strong and of good courage).

Sephardic women, primarily those from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, make an ululating sound after the Torah honoree (especially a bar mitzvah or bridegroom) has concluded the final blessing or has left the bimah to take his seat. This practice is thought to avert the evil designs of malevolent spirits determined to cast a pall on all joyous events, similar to the original rationale for breaking a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Traditionally, two people are not called up for the same aliyah. Jewish law requires that congregants hear every word of the Torah reading distinctly, which is difficult if two persons chant the portion simultaneously. This ruling was extended to prohibit two people from being called up to the Torah together, even if only to recite the blessings, since worshipers unable to hear the words clearly would not be permitted to respond "amen."

In some Conservative and Reform congregations, two or more people are frequently called up for the same aliyah, especially when there is a bar or bat mitzvah. They may either recite the blessings in unison or have one person recite the blessing before the Torah reading and the other the blessing after it.

Traditionally, two blood relatives may not be called consecutively to the Torah, either because of fear that the evil eye will cast a spell upon a family receiving too many blessings or because Jewish law forbids near relatives from testifying together--and those pronouncing the Torah blessings are effectively giving testimony to the truth of the sacred text. However, it is permitted to have one read the seventh aliyah and the other the maftir portion.

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Ronald L. Eisenberg

Ronald L. Eisenberg, a radiologist and non-practicing attorney, is the author of numerous books, including The Jewish World in Stamps.