5.The Torah Reader
The Torah is read with cantillation signs, that is, in a melody which suits the meaning of the words being read. Since the cantillation signs are not written in the Torah scroll, the reader must learn the signs that accompany the reading by heart. If there is no one present who learned the particular portion with cantillation signs, another person may look into a printed Chumash with the signs and whisper them to the reader, so that he can read from the Torah with the proper melody (Mishnah Berurah 142:8). If no one is able to read the Torah with cantillation signs, it is permissible b’dieved to fulfill the obligation of Torah reading without them (Shulchan Aruch 142:2).
It is necessary to be meticulous in the reading of the Torah. If the reader errs in reading a word, such that the meaning of that word is changed, he must repeat it properly. However, for a mistake which does not alter the meaning of the words, there is no need to repeat the reading. 2
Initially, it was customary that each person called up to the Torah would personally read his portion. For that purpose, everyone would prepare the whole weekly portion of the Torah reading. Alternatively, the gabbai would plan in advance the order of the people to be called up and notify each of them, so they could prepare their portions ahead of time. Yemenite Jews still do this nowadays.
However, from the time of the Rishonim, the majority of congregations became accustomed to appoint a Torah reader (ba’al koreh) who would read the Torah for everyone. The one called up recites a blessing on the reading before and after it, and the ba’al koreh reads the Torah for him. This way, people who do not know how to read the Torah are not embarrassed (Ran). This also avoids the possibility that people who erroneously think that they know how to read properly will be insulted if the gabbai does not call them up (Rosh). (See Shulchan Aruch 139:1-2; Peninei Halachah Likutim I, 4:6.)
6.The One Who Is Called Up and the Torah Blessings
Although every person recites Birkot HaTorah in the morning, the Chachamim established that those called up to the Torah recite the blessings again before and after the reading, so as to instill a feeling of Divine reverence and awe in the heart of the one who is called up, and in the hearts of the listeners.
Originally, the minhag was such that only the first and last people called up to the Torah recited the blessings. The first person called up would recite the first blessing before the Torah reading, and the others called up would not make a blessing. The last person called up would recite the final blessing after the conclusion of the reading.
Subsequently, the Chachamim established that each and every person called up to the Torah would recite the blessings before and after their portion is read. The Chachamim were concerned that perhaps someone would enter the synagogue in the middle of Torah reading and would not have heard the berachah recited by the first person called up, and would think that no berachah is recited before Torah reading. Therefore, they established that each person called would make a blessing before his reading. Furthermore, they were concerned that perhaps a person would leave in the middle of Torah reading. Since he would not hear the last person recite a blessing, he would think that there is no berachah after the reading. Therefore, they established that every person called up would recite the blessing at the end of his individual reading (Megillah 21b). The fact that the Chachamim instituted blessings before and after each reading, demonstrates the importance of Birkot HaTorah (see earlier in this book 10:1).
During the reading, the person who is called up must read each and every word quietly along with the Torah reader. Since he is the one who recited the blessing on the Torah, if he does not read it himself, there is concern that his blessings will have been recited in vain (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 141:2).
In extenuating circumstances, even a person who does not know how to read, or a person who is blind, can be called up to the Torah, despite the fact that it is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch (139:3) not to call up a person who is incapable of reading the written words along with the Torah reader. Nevertheless, the Rama rules like the lenient opinion, and even in Sephardic congregations it has been customary in extenuating circumstances to act leniently regarding this matter (see Kaf HaChaim 135:16; Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 139:4).
7.The Order of the People Called Up
The Chachamim established that a Kohen is given the honor of the first aliyah, a Levi the second, and a Yisrael the third. The reason for this enactment is "in the interests of peace," so there will not be any fights concerning the honor of the first aliyah. Originally, this establishment was only for Shabbat, for many people come to synagogue then, and there is more concern that tension will develop surrounding the aliyot on Shabbat (Gittin 59b). Nevertheless, the Rishonim write to practice this way on Mondays and Thursdays as well, and so it is ruled as halachah (Shulchan Aruch 135:3).
If the Kohen is equal to the Yisrael in status, even without the enactment of the Chachamim he would have to be called up before the Yisrael, for it is written concerning a Kohen, "V’Kidashto" ("You shall sanctify him") (Leviticus 21:8). Still, Chazal’s ruling comes to establish that even if the Yisrael is greater in Torah than the Kohen, the Kohen is called up first for the sake of peace. However, if the Kohen is an am ha’aretz (uneducated person) and the Yisrael is a talmid chacham (Torah scholar), the Rishonim disagree as to the law in this case. According to the Rashba, the Yisrael is to be called up for the first aliyah, since he is a talmid chacham. However, according to Rav Amram Gaon, Rav Natrunai Gaon, and a number of other Rishonim, even if the Kohen is an uneducated person, concerning the matter of the ascent to the Torah, he should be called up even before the Yisrael who is a talmid chacham, and that is how we practice (Shulchan Aruch 135:4).
Sometimes, a great need arises to add another aliyah, such as on a Monday when two chatanim (grooms) who are both Yisraelim come to pray at the same synagogue. Since the first and second aliyot are reserved for the Kohen and Levi, if another aliyah is not added, one of the chatanim is deprived of the honor of being called up to the Torah. Although according to the Rama it is permitted to add an aliyah for this reason, in practice it has been ruled that it is forbidden to add to the already existing three aliyot (Shulchan Aruch 135:1; Mishnah Berurah 3). The advice given is to ask the Kohen to leave the synagogue at the time of the first aliyah. Then, when no Kohen is present, a Yisrael will be called up for the first aliyah, thereby allowing both chatanim to be called up to the Torah that day (see Yabia Omer, part 6, 23).
8.The Congregation’s Conduct During Torah Reading
It is forbidden to leave the synagogue from the beginning of the Torah reading until its conclusion. Even someone who already heard the Torah reading is forbidden to leave. If one does leave, he offends the respect of the Torah. Of him it is written (Isaiah 1:28), "Those who abandon God will perish." One who must leave, such as a person whose only ride to work is about to depart, is permitted to leave between aliyot, for then the Torah scroll is closed and the offense to the respect of the Torah is minimal (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 146:1).
In principle, there is no obligation to stand throughout the Torah reading, though there are some who enhance the mitzvah by standing, just as all the Jews stood at Mount Sinai (Rama 46:7). Some are strict to stand when answering "Baruch Hashem HaMevorach L’Olam Va’ed" since it is a matter of sanctity, and the recital of a matter of sanctity requires that one stands (Mishnah Berurah 146:18). According to many, it is unnecessary to stand when the Torah is being read, and that is how the Shulchan Aruch rules (146:4). The Ari HaKadosh was also accustomed to sit throughout the whole reading, even when Barchu was recited (Kaf HaChaim 146:20). Indeed this is the custom in many Sephardic and Ashkenazic synagogues.
From the time the Torah scroll is opened to be read, the people in the congregation are forbidden to talk to one another, even concerning matters of halachah (Sotah 39a). There is an opinion which permits a few brief words of Torah between the aliyot, provided that the exchange does not continue into the berachot or Torah reading (Bach). Some say that it is even forbidden to talk matters of Torah in-between aliyot and that it is only permitted to learn alone at that time (Eliyah Rabbah). It is good to be strict concerning this, because if people start to talk about matters of Torah, it will be hard to stop when the person called up begins to recite the blessing.
It is permissible for a rabbi to answer an urgent question in the breaks between the aliyot (Mishnah Berurah 146:6). Gabbaim are also permitted, during the breaks, to talk about essential matters that are pertinent to the prayer service. When there is no other option, it is permitted for a rabbi to answer questions even at the time of the Torah reading. Likewise, the gabbaim are permitted to talk about pressing issues which demand immediate attention; for instance, how to avoid insulting one of the people praying who expects to be given an aliyah.
9.An Individual and a Congregation Who Did Not Hear the Torah Reading
Torah reading was established for the community as a whole, and does not apply to each and every individual (Ramban Megillah 5a). Therefore, a person who had to leave in the middle of the Torah reading and missed part of it, need not find another minyan in which to make up what he missed, because the important thing is that the congregation fulfilled the mitzvah of Torah reading.
Someone who has the following two options: to pray in a minyan and leave before Torah reading, or to hear the Torah reading in a minyan, but pray individually – it is preferable that he pray in a minyan because an individual is commanded to pray in a minyan, whereas the mitzvah to read the Torah is a communal commandment and does not pertain to individuals (see Minchat Yitzchak 7:6 and Piskei Teshuvot 135:2). Likewise, even if a person who had to pray individually later discovers a minyan in which the Torah was not yet read, he is not obligated to go join them and hear the Torah being read there (Yalkut Yosef, part 3, 135:7).
If a person arrives late to synagogue, and when he is reciting Pesukei d’Zimrah or Birkot Keriat Shema, the congregation starts to read the Torah, if he will have a chance afterwards to hear the Torah reading, he should continue to pray. However, if another opportunity to hear the Torah reading will not arise later, l’chatchilah it is best that he stop praying and listen to the Torah being read (Leket Yosher p. 18; Yabia Omer 7:9).
If six people who prayed individually, but did not yet hear the Torah reading, assemble in the morning, another four people may join them to read the Torah (Bei’ur Halachah 143:1).
Even if they only convened in the afternoon, according to many Acharonim, they may make up the Torah reading at Minchah (Mishnah Berurah 135:1). However, some disagree and maintain that the Torah may not be read in the afternoon. Nonetheless, in practice, those who wish to make up the Torah reading in the afternoon are permitted to do so, and that is how many prominent Jewish rabbis practiced (Shut Yehudah Ya’aleh, Orach Chaim 51). Therefore, those who did not have a Torah scroll for Shacharit, such as a minyan of soldiers or travelers, upon arriving at a place in the afternoon with a Torah scroll, may read the Torah and make up what they missed (see Yabia Omer 4:17; Piskei Teshuvot 135, note 24).
^ 2.A Torah reader who left out a word, even if the meaning was not changed, must repeat the word. In a case in which he omitted a letter from a word without changing the meaning of the word, such as saying Haron instead of Aharon, according to the Mishnah Berurah 142:4 he need not repeat it, yet according to the Kaf HaChaim 142:2, he must.
If he erred in his reading of a word and continued on a bit, he must go back to the beginning of the verse in order to correct the mistake in such a way that the text will be understood correctly, and from there he continues reading in order. If the mistake is made in the first aliyah, and it is only realized during the third aliyah, the Mishnah Berurah rules (Bei’ur Halachah 142, s.v. "Machzirim") that the congregation must return to the beginning of the verse in which the mistake was made and then continue reading in order from there until the end of the third aliyah. If, after they conclude the Torah reading, they realize the mistake, they return to the verse in which the mistake was made and read it along with another three verses. They do not recite a blessing on this second reading, because some maintain that b’dieved they fulfilled their obligation the first time even in reading with mistakes. See Peninei Halachah Likutim I, 4:13-14.