Hagbah and Gelila
Hagba is the ritual lifting of the Sefer Torah to show it to the community. Gelilah is the ritual rolling and dressing of the Sefer Torah and is an accompanying ritual to Hagba.
After the Torah is read, it is lifted for everyone in the congregation to see, a ritual known as hagba. When the Torah is lifted one should make an effort to see the letters of the scroll, to bow slightly, and to say the verse v’zot haTorah.” It is said that a great light shines upon a person who makes an effort to read some of the words from the Torah scroll when hagba is performed.
The honor of dressing the Torah, referred to as gelila, is considered to be of equal value to all the aliyot combined. Although the honor of gelila should actually be given to one of the more prominent members of the congregation, many have the custom to award gelila to a child. This is done in order to expose the children of the congregation to “hands-on” mitzvot and to make them feel an integral part of the congregation. While some authorities frown on the practice of awarding gelila to a child, there are even stronger grounds to allow doing so in congregations (such as in Chabad) where the Torah is first placed on the shulchan before performing gelila.
In some communities there is an additional honor that is awarded along with gelila: that of placing the ornamental crown upon the Torah when the gelila is completed. In most congregations, however, the one honored with gelila places the crown, breastplate, and all other decorative ornaments upon the Torah, as well. There is no problem with using a Torah crown on Shabbat that has bells attached to it, since the purpose of the bells is not for music but rather merely in order to “announce” the movement of the Torah. One should never leave the synagogue sanctuary until hagba and gelila have been completed.
Those honored with hagba and gelila on weekdays should first remove their tefillin straps from their hands. This is both for comfort as well as to avoid having an interposition between one’s hands and the Torah. It is also intended to show reverence for the tefillin straps. There are a number of customs as to where the Torah’s belt should be positioned. Some place it on the upper third of the scroll, others on the lower third, and some position it right in the center of the scroll. There is no halachic preference.
The Torah is closed by rolling together the atzei chaim, the handles. One should be sure to position the right eitz chaim above the left one. If there is a need to maneuver or adjust the parchment of the Torah scroll one should not do so with his bare hands. Rather, one should touch the scroll with the assistance of a tallit or other cloth in order that one’s hands do not directly touch the parchment. All other scrolls, however, such as a Megillat Esther, may be touched directly with one’s hands as long as they are clean.
It is best that a father and son or two brothers not be awarded hagba and gelila together, just as they should not be awarded any two aliyot in succession. However, if necessary, it is permitted to do so in a congregation where those honored with hagba and gelila are not called up by name. It is permitted to forgo hagba in a situation where there is a concern that the Torah might drop, such as when on a bus, plane, or train, or if the Torah is exceptionally heavy. In such a situation the Torah should simply be wrapped up and dressed immediately following the reading. It is interesting to note that there were communities in the past where hagba was never performed. Every congregation should ensure that the Torah wrappings and ornaments are especially clean and dignified. One should not use such accessories if they are ripped or stained.
The one who performs gelila should not tie the Torah’s belt in an especially strong or permanent type of knot. Doing so would pose a halachic problem on Shabbat, as one is not permitted to untie a permanent type of knot on Shabbat. It goes without saying that when performing gelila on Shabbat one may not make a permanent knot. Instead, one should tie the belt with a bow on top of a single knot as is done when tying shoes, a lone bow, or simply to wrap the belt around the Torah and tuck in the ends. Velcro Torah belts, or those whose ends clip into one another, are ideal and pose no halachic concerns. The one honored with reading the Haftorah should wait until gelila is completed before beginning the preliminary blessings.
Torah Types & Hagba
|Torah Types & Hagba|
|Ashkenazi / Sephardi Torah Scroll (Atzei Chayim)||Ashkenazi||After the Torah reading but before Haftorah||The entire scroll is lifted during hagba.|
|Yemeni Torah (Cylindrical Carrier)||Sephardi||Before the Torah reading||Only the parchment is lifted while the cylindrical carrier is left on the reading table of the bimah. The parchment is not touched with the actual hands but rather with a scarf or tallit between the physcial hands and the Torah.|
|Either||Hybrid Ashkenazi-Sephardi||Before & after||Some congregations now mix elements of the two traditions.|
History & Background
The ritual of Hagba is thought to have either developed in the Babylonian period or during the time of Judges. The early practice of Hagba was often practiced in the marketplace of towns and villages where the showing of the Sefer Torah was an important display of authenticity after the reading of the Sefer Torah.
Nehemiah 8.5 is the primary source for Hagba reference:
וַיִּפְתַּ֨ח עֶזְרָ֤א הַסֵּ֙פֶר֙ לְעֵינֵ֣י כָל־הָעָ֔ם כִּֽי־מֵעַ֥ל כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הָיָ֑ה וּכְפִתְח֖וֹ עָֽמְד֥וּ כָל־הָעָֽם׃
Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; as he opened it, all the people stood up.
Hagba & Gelilah Terminology
|Hagba & Gelilah Terminology|
|Action / Process||Actor (male)||Actor (female)||Remarks|
|Hagbaha||Magbiah||Magbihah||In the early Sephardi tradition, the process in known as "Levantar" in Ladino, and the actors are known as "Levantadores."|
|Gelilah||Gollel||Golellet||In some older traditions, the rolling and dressing processes were once separated instead of the combined duties known today as Gelilah.|
We would like to give a special thanks to Rabbi Ari Enkin for allowing Halachipedia to reprint this article from Shut Hashulchani.
- Most congregations perform hagba after the Torah has been read. In some congregations it is done before the Torah is read. There are also congregations that perform hagba both before and after the Torah reading. See Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:1, 2.
- OC 134:2.
- Mishna Berura 134:11. For much more on hagba see my Amot shel Halacha: Halachich Insights (Jerusalem: Urim, 2009).
- Megilla 32a. See Orchot Rabbeinu III, p. 216.
- OC 147:1.
- Mishna Berura 147:7.
- Aruch Hashulchan, OC 147:9. See also Bnei Tzion 147:1.
- Shulchan Aruch Ha’Arizal, Nefilat Apayim, cited in Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:1.
- Beit Yosef, OC 282; Magen Avraham, OC 338:1, Aruch Hashulchan, OC 338:3; Noda B’Yehuda, YD 62. For a stringent ruling see Taz, YD 282:2.
- Elya Rabba, OC 147; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 147:6, 15.
- Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:7.
- Beit Avi 4:15:6.
- Minhag Chabad.
- Maharshag 2:4:2; Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:8. See Chikrei Minhagim (Gurary ), vol. 1, pp. 83–86, and Otzar Teshuva 95 for more on this issue.
- Yesodei Yeshurun, vol. 2, p. 257; See Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:13 for much more on this issue.
- Mishna Berura 147:2.
- Rama, OC 147:1; Biur Halacha 147, s.v. “V’tov.”
- Mishneh Halachot 3:20.
- Avnei Chefetz 16; Rivevot Ephraim 3:2:16.
- Birkei Yosef (Shiyurei Bracha), OC 134; Yesodei Yeshurun, vol. 2, p. 255; Rivevot Ephraim 3:2:9.
- Birkei Yosef, OC 134.
- Rema, OC 147:1.
- See Rivevot V’yovlot 3:2:19 at length.
- Aruch Hashulchan, OC 317:10; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 15, n. 178; Tzitz Eliezer 7:29; Minchat Shabbat 80:155.
- Rivevot V’yovlot 2:458.
- OC 147:7; Birkei Yosef 147; Mishna Berura 147:23; Kaf Hachaim, OC 147:40.