An Oleh Who Wants to Lain His Aliya

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: As the gabbai in an Ashkenazi shul, I recently called up for an aliya a guest who asked if he could lain his aliya. I told him no, and he looked surprised/disappointed. Did I do the right thing?  

Answer: All agree that in the gemara’s time, the oleh read the Torah aloud for the tzibbur. In fact in Tannaic times when only the first aliya had an opening beracha and the last one had an ending beracha (Megilla 21b), all the middle olim did was read the Torah. The Rambam (Tefilla 12:5) also describes kri’at haTorah as the olim doing the laining

Other Rishonim, though, report a minhag that a ba’al korei lains, whereas the oleh makes the berachot and reads along quietly (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 141:2). Tosafot (Megilla 21b) and the Ran (Megilla 12a to the Rif’s pages) explain the minhag as instituted to not embarrass one who does not know how to lain (at least, without preparation). 

The Rosh (Megilla 3:1) presents Talmudic precedent of lowering individual participation to avoid embarrassment for the less skilled. Those people bringing bikkurim who knew how to, used to make the bikkurim declaration alone, whereas those who did not know, had it recited before them; to not embarrass those who needed help, it was instituted that everyone would do it with help. We see from the Rosh’s comparison that our minhag that it is not just that the oleh does not need to lain but that he specifically should not do so. A similar post-Talmudic minhag is that a chatan does not recite the berachot under his chupa, which, according to the Orchot Chayim (Kiddushin 21) is so that those who cannot recite them fluently will not be embarrassed. 

The Rosh did not think we can learn from bikkurim to aliyot. There, an embarrassed person might abrogate his obligation to bring bikkurim, whereas here, we can let him choose between improving his reading ability and not getting aliyot. The Rosh’s reason for the takana is to prevent a situation where one claims proficiency in laining he does not possess, thereby causing the tzibbur to have an improper kri’at haTorah. If we leave the choice of which olim can lain up to the tzibbur, it will likely cause fighting.

The Rama (OC 140:1) presents the minhag as a fact, but while the Beit Yosef (OC 141) discusses it, in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 141:2) he describes, as apparent co-equals, the possibility of the ba’al korei or the oleh reading aloud. The very broad Ashkenazi practice is to not allow the oleh to lain for himself. Sephardi practice is more fluid; many Sephardi batei knesset allow proficient lainers (regarding whom the Rosh’s main problem does not apply) to read their own aliya (see Yalkut Yosef, OC 141:(24); Orchot Yosher I, OC 7). The Rambam-following Teimani community consistently has the olim read for the tzibbur.

If your oleh was Ashkenazi, there is nothing to discuss; if he did not know the halacha, he can be taught it. What if: the oleh is Sephardi, you know he can read well (and either the shul leaves laining style to the ba’al korei or he knows how to read the tzibbur’s way), and the ba’al korei, who spent time preparing, does not mind? Since even among Sephardim, an oleh generally does not read, he cannot ask to be an exception in a shul whose policy is to not allow exceptions. (There are exceptions, e.g., Simchat Torah, bar mitzva boys who read only maftir, and when the person who is anyway laining gets an aliya. However, these are exceptions based on case, not on the person; the latter is what causes embarrassment or fighting.) 

What about for Teimanim, for whom the oleh’s reading is fundamental and consistent? Is the tzibbur’s or the oleh’s minhag the determinant? In our response (Matot Masei 5777) about an avel whose ruling is to be chazan on Rosh Chodesh, whereas the shul’s minhag is that he should not, we posited that the determinant is if the minhag addresses the concern of the individual or the community. In this case, the Rosh and Tosafot agree that the concern is for the community. Therefore, you correctly followed the shul’s Ashkenazi ruling.

לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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