Why is the Kohen the first to be called up to the Torah?

Thursday, 15 July, 2021 - 9:22 am

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Arye Leib (12).png 

As we explained here, every Shabbat we read in the Sefer Torah the weekly Parasha, the Weekly Portion. The Parasha is divided in 7 parts (Aliyot) and 7 people ascend to read from the Torah.

Who ascends to the Torah, in other words, who receives an Aliyah?

Every Jewish male who has become Bar-Mitzvah, i.e who has turned 13 and is considered an adult for religious matters, can receive an Aliyah. There are various customs regarding who has priority, but the basics are the following:

The first Aliyah belongs to a Kohen, i.e one of the descendants of the first High Priest Aharon. The Kohanim (Priests) “worked” in the Temple as representatives of the entire Jewish people. G-d granted them a special holiness, which carries on until today, even though we do not have the Temple.

For the second Aliyah, a Levi is called up, since the Levites also worked and helped in the Temple.

All Jews are important but since the Kohanim and the Levites had as their sole occupation the service of G-d and the work in the Temple, we honor them by calling them first for the Reading of the Torah.

If there is no Levi, the Kohen gets the first as well as the second Aliyah.

If there is no Kohen, then either a Levi or an Israelite comes up first.

If there is no Kohen or Levi, an Israelite comes up for the first Aliyah, another one for the second etc.

The 5 next Aliyot are for the Israelites, and it is customary for give an Aliyah to someone who just became Bar Mitzvah, or is getting married that week, or has the anniversary of the passing of a close relative.

While on Shabbat, 7 people ascend to the Torah, on the Holidays (Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana and Sukkot) there are five people being called to the Torah (i.e., there are 5 Aliyot) and six on Yom Kippur (i.e. 6 Aliyot). The first 2 Aliyot are for a Kohen and a Levi and the rest are for Israelites.

On Mondays and Thursdays, the order of the Aliyot is the same as Shabbat, first a Kohen, then a Levi and then an Israelite.

(In some communities, on Shabbat and Holidays, if there is a need to honor more than seven men, more Israelites are called to the Torah.)

Next week, we will read about the 8th Aliyah of Shabbat, the Maftir and the Haftarah

Shabbat Shalom,

Arie from the Yeshiva 

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