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Adding Aliyot on Shabbat

On Shabbat morning, we call up seven Aliyot for the Torah reading. Is it permissible to add more Aliyot, or are we required to have specifically seven?

The Rashbetz (Rav Shimon Ben Semah Duran, Algiers, 1361-1444), in one of his repsonsa (2:70), writes that it is forbidden to add onto the seven Aliyot on Shabbat. He explains that in the times of the Mishna, the Olim (people who received Aliyot) did not all recite Berachot over the reading. The first one to receive an Aliya recited the Beracha before the reading, and the one who received the final Aliya recited the Beracha after reading. These were the only two Berachot recited over the course of the entire reading. Later, during the time of the Gemara, it was instituted that each person who receives an Aliya recites a Beracha before the reading and a Beracha after the reading. The Rashbetz contends that since the original institution of Torah reading required the recitation of only two Berachot, then we certainly should not be adding more Berachot onto those which were established later. It is surprising enough that the Sages instituted Berachot before and after each Aliya, and we should not add even more Berachot by calling up more than seven Olim.

The Shulhan Aruch, however, does not accept this opinion, and rules (Orah Haim 283) that it is permissible to add Aliyot on Shabbat morning beyond the seven required Aliyot. Hacham Ovadia Yosef explains that once the later Sages instituted that each person who receives an Aliya recites a Beracha before and after the reading, there is nothing improper with calling up more Olim and have them recite Berachot. However, Hacham Ovadia urges those in charge not to add too many Aliyot, so as not to inconvenience the congregation.

Interestingly, Hacham Ovadia raises the question of whether perhaps we should refrain from adding more Aliyot for a different reason. The Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles of Cracow, 1525-1572) writes (Orah Haim 143) that in his time it was all but impossible to find a strictly kosher Sefer Torah, without any incorrect or missing letters. A similar observation was made later by Rav Yehezkel Landau of Prague (1713-1793), in his Noda Bi’yehuda (Orah Haim 109). Likewise, Rav Haim Palachi (Izmir, Turkey, 1788-1869), in his Leb Haim (2:176), tells that an Ashkenazic Rabbi once visited his city and examined all the Torah scrolls. He determined that they were all invalid, and some had as many as thirty mistakes. Seemingly, Hacham Ovadia reasons, we should perhaps avoid adding more Aliyot than the minimum due to the concern that the Torah scroll is invalid, and thus the Berachot are recited in vain. Although we must call seven Aliyot because this is what Halacha requires, we should perhaps forbid adding more Aliyot in order to avoid the risk of causing Berachot to be recited in vain.

Hacham Ovadia concludes that it is permissible to add Aliyot, for two reasons. First, the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, Spain-Egypt, 1135-1204), in one of his published responsa (Pe’er Ha’dor, 9), rules – surprisingly – that it is permissible to recite a Beracha over the reading from an invalid Sefer Torah. He explains that the Beracha is recited not on the Torah scroll, but on the reading, and thus it may be recited even if the scroll is not valid. Although most Halachic authorities do not follow this view, it may be taken into account in considering the permissibility of adding Aliyot. Moreover, nowadays Sifreh Torah are generally inspected via computers, which are capable of detecting mistakes, and thus we have less reason to be concerned that our Torah scrolls might not be valid. Therefore, we may add onto the seven Aliyot on Shabbat morning.

Incidentally, Hacham Ovadia’s comments should alert us to the importance of caution when purchasing a Sefer Torah, and ensuring that it is valid. As noted, mistakes can be very common, and it thus behooves synagogues to exercise caution when it comes to purchasing a Sefer Torah, and to regularly have their scrolls inspected.

Summary: If necessary, more than seven men may be called to the Torah for Aliyot on Shabbat morning, but care should be taken to ensure that the congregation is not unduly inconvenienced by numerous additional Aliyot.


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