By: Kaufmann Kohler
In synagogal services, the going up, or being called up, to the reading-desk (almemar), for the reading of a portion of the Law. According to an ancient institution of the synagogue seven men are called up in succession to read the sidra (the weekly Pentateuch-lesson) on each Sabbath morning; six men, for the reading of the appointed portion on the Day of Atonement; and five, on the three chief festivals. In addition to these, there is the mafṭir, the one called up for the reading of a concluding chapter, who in addition reads the portion from the Prophets, called "Hafṭarah." On new-moon and half-holidays, four men, and on Sabbath afternoon, on Monday and Thursday mornings, on Ḥanukkah and Purim mornings, and on fast-days, only three men are called up; the portions read on these days being shorter. The first of the men called up in orthodox synagogues should be a Cohen or Aaronite, the second a Levite, the third and further members of the rota are ordinary Israelites, the one higher in rank always preceding the one inferior, with the exception of the mafṭir, who, though last, may be a Cohen or a Levite. Men are as a rule called up who have during the week had especial occasion for joy: a bridegroom or father of a bride; and the father of a new-born child, whose mother for the first time appears in the synagogue. On mournful occasions also men are called up, as at the anniversary (Jahrzeit) of a parent's death.
Down to the twelfth century, the men called up were themselves expected to read a portion aloud, those unable to read the Law being considered unworthy of the honor. The first concession to ignorance was made in the case of an illiterate Cohen: when there was no other present to be called up as the first, Saadia suggested that the reader should prompt him, in order to enable him to read his portion. (For further information on the origin and development of the reading from the Law, as part of the service, see Liturgy.) In the twelfth century it had become the established custom for the reader to prompt in the accentuation and cantillation of the words; and the next step was to have the reader prompt the actual words to those unable to read at all, in order to spare them the humiliation of never being called up to the Law. In the fourteenth century the whole sidra was read aloud by the reader, exception being made only with the Bar Miẓwah, the youth to be initiated into the Law, who still reads his portion himself in order to give proof of his proficiency.
In Reform synagogues the reading from the Law, which is often on the shorter scale of the three years' cycle, is done exclusively by the reader, and no one is called up to read.
- Giṭ. v. 59a, b;
- Meg. iii. 21;
- Soferim, x. i.;
- Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, pp. 135-139;
- Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, section Tefillot, § 12;
- Abudrahim, Siddur;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. s.v. Vorlesungen aus der Thora.
For the sale of the various privileges connected with 'Aliyah see