Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hagbah (Torah Lifting) Presents Challenge for Egalitarian Shuls


On Friday the Wall Street Journal featured a front page story about Hagbah. No, we're not kidding. 

Hagbah (more correctly, hagbaha) and Gelilah are the lifting and rolling/covering the Torah at the end of the Torah reading in synagogues. So why would the Wall Street Journal write about it at all, and of all places, on the front page?

The Journal has always run a funny or light story in the middle or bottom of the front page. They encourage their writers to occasionally let their creative juices flow and produce articles that include puns you wouldn't expect to see in the columns of a serious newspaper. 

The column is known as an A-Hed and Friday it focused on the moments in a shul service when a congregant lifts the Torah high, walks a few steps (carefully) to sit on a chair or bench and holds it upright for a fellow congregant to roll the two halves together and tie them securely. The tie has traditionally been a strip of cloth that's tied in a knot, but increasingly today is a length of velour fabric secured by a metal clip or Velcro strip.

As Lucette Lagnado wrote in the Journal,
Lifting the Torah scroll during Sabbath services—a ritual known as "Hagbah," which means to lift in Hebrew—is considered a tremendous honor. It can also be a perilous undertaking.
The average Torah scroll, which contains the Five Books of Moses, handwritten by a quill on parchment, can weigh about 25 or 30 pounds. Scrolls are mounted on long wooden poles; they are often hard to handle, and even harder to hoist. Some scrolls, encased in wood and silver, weigh 40 or 50 pounds or more.
Accidents happen, and when they do, custom calls for significant acts of contrition, including fasting. Lots of fasting.
"If you drop the Torah, the implications are dire—the shame is enormous—and traditionally one needed to fast for 40 days," says Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. The offender has plenty of company in hunger, as anyone who witnesses the Torah tumble must also refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
The article, and the video below, describe the horror stories of Torahs almost and actually falling to the ground and the conflicts in egalitarian synagogues where the rabbi and the congregants strive for full participation of women, but are stymied by the difficulties presented by the weight (up to 60 pounds) of the Torah. The author, in true A-Hed pun form, says that to some, the weight issue is "a bit of a tempest in a kiddush cup." Enjoy!

(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)


(A tip of the kippah to Jack Kustanowitz for bringing this story to our attention.)