The Most Prestigious Aliyah

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

It is commonly believed that certain Aliyot in the course of the Shabbat morning Torah reading are more prestigious than others.  As such, it is customary in many congregations to award these aliyot to the rabbi or to distinguished guests. The most prestigious Aliya that one can receive is the last Aliya of each of the five chumashim. Additionally, on a Shabbat in which the weekly Torah reading contains a distinguished reading, such as the Ten Commandments or the Song at the Sea, it is considered a great honor to be called for those readings.1

In some communities, it is the maftir aliya that is considered to be the most prestigious. This is because the one honored with this aliya is also given the added honor of reciting the Haftara along with its accompanying blessings. The Rebbes of Chabad would generally be honored with this aliya2 which was said to be following in the tradition of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch.3 The maftir aliya is also special because it serves as the transition from the reading of the Torah to the reading of the prophets.

In contrast, some authorities maintain that the maftir aliya is actually the least significant aliya as it is not counted among the seven primary aliyot of the Shabbat morning Torah reading. In fact, there once existed a custom in some communities that the one who received the Maftir Aliya would also be honored with leading the Mussaf prayers. This was in order to appease and compensate him for having been given such an “undesirable” Aliya.4

Other sources seem to suggest that it is the third Aliya that is the most prestigious.5 It is taught that the third Aliya was specifically designated for scholars and community leaders6 and this approach seems to be both the oldest and most widespread.7 Rabbeinu Tam was very particular to receive this aliya as part of his rabbinical benefits, even when he was in mourning.8 The third aliya may not be given to anyone in a congregation where it is customarily reserved for the rabbi.9

The Chida wrote that the most prestigious Aliya was the sixth followed by the third. In his view, it is the seventh Aliya which is the least prominent one.10 According to another approach in “aliya hierarchy”, following the first two aliyot which must be given to a Kohen and Levi respectively, the remaining Aliyot should be awarded in the following order of preference: Torah scholars with positions of leadership, Torah scholars without positions of leadership, the children of Torah scholars, lay leaders, and last but not least, all others.11 There were great rabbis in the past who were exceedingly humble and would routinely accept aliyot of lesser importance and allow others to receive the more prominent ones in order to avoid congregational conflicts and confrontations.12

According to the Zohar, the most prestigious Aliya is the sixth and it was the practice for Rav Kruspedai13 and the Arizal14 to receive it. In fact, historically this Aliya is one that was often sold to the highest bidder which illustrates its prominence.15 The Vilna Gaon would also receive the sixth Aliya every Shabbat16 as do many Chassidic Rebbes today.17 It is said that receiving this Aliya is a segula for long life.18 There were also great sages who preferred the fifth Aliya.19

The seventh Aliya has its supporters, as well. Based on the principle that “we ascend in holiness” it is suggested that each ascending Aliya is even more prestigious than the one before it.20 Indeed, in Talmudic times not every oleh actually recited a blessing on the Torah — only the individual who received the first (Kohen) and last (seventh) Aliyot did so.21 As such, receiving the seventh Aliya would have been the most honorable, as along with it came the opportunity to recite the final blessing on the Torah reading.22 Even today, when every person who receives an Aliya recites a blessing on the Torah, the opinion that the seventh Aliya is the most prestigious one remains popular.23 So too, the concept of “acharon acharon chaviv” (the best for last) also serves in favor of the seventh Aliya.24

One is permitted to receive two Aliyot at the same Torah reading25 which was, in fact, the practice of Rabbi Natan Adler. He used to receive both the Kohen, as well as Maftir Aliya, each Shabbat.26 Somewhat related to this is the Talmudic teaching that “the greatest among them wraps the Torah” as if to say that the concluding honor is the most prestigious one.27 Some suggest that the seven Aliyot represent Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef and David.28 Yet others suggest that the seven Aliyot represent the seven kabbalistic sefirot.29 There are additional theories and opinions as to which Aliya is the most prestigious, and every community should continue with their custom in this regard.30 One should never get annoyed or aggravated as a result of receiving one aliya over another, as every Aliya is special.31 There is a view that one should make an effort to receive an Aliya at least once a month.32

  1. Piskei Teshuvot 136:3. 

  2. Torat Menachem 13; Simchat Torah. 

  3. Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.57, 58. 

  4. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 136:1. 

  5. Sefer Hamanhig 1:37. 

  6. Gittin 60a. 

  7. Magen Avraham 428:8. See Rivevot Ephraim 5, Hashmatot, 4; Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.61.  

  8. Tur, YD 400. 

  9. Emet L’yaakov (Algazi), Aliya L’sefer Torah 20. 

  10. Machzik Bracha 282:3. 

  11. OC 136:1; Likutei Dinim U’biurim R’ Hertz Halevi, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.63. 

  12. Likutei Dinim U’biurim R’ Hertz Halevi, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.64. 

  13. Zohar, Shlach 164. 

  14. Be’er Heitev, OC 282:13; Shaar Hakavanot 2:92. 

  15. Magen Avraham 282:9. 

  16. Maaseh Rav 133. 

  17. Darkei Chaim 210; Nezer Kodesh 127. 

  18. Piskei Teshuvot 136:3. 

  19. Tashbetz 2:274. 

  20. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 136:1; Or Zarua 2:42. 

  21. Megilla 4:1. 

  22. Tosfot Yom Tov, Megilla 4:1. 

  23. Beit Yosef, OC 135; Magen Avraham 136; Mishna Berura 136:5. 

  24. Pri Megadim. EA 282:9; Machzik Bracha 282:3. 

  25. Shraga Hameir 5:115. 

  26. Chut Hameshulash Hachadash p.4, cited in Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary) p.67. 

  27. Megilla 35a. 

  28. Chatam Sofer, OC 66. 

  29. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 136:1. 

  30. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 136:1. 

  31. Sefer Chaim (Palagi) 11:22. 

  32. Piskei Teshuvot 136:1. 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

Leave a Reply