Question: How should the aliyos for k’rias haTorah be divided up in minyanim that adhere to social distancing?
Short Answer: There are two major options in the poskim: either (i) the participants receive the aliyos from afar and do not approach the Torah, or (ii) the baal k’riah receives all the aliyos and makes a brachah before and after each aliyah.
I. The Normal Procedure
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 282:1) codifies the rule in the Gemara that there are at least seven aliyos on Shabbos.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 139:4) states that each person who gets an aliyah recites a brachah before and a brachah after the k’riah. The Mishnah B’rurah (14), based on the Gemara in Megillah, explains that both of these brachos are recited for each aliyah because we want to ensure that stragglers and people who leave shul early are fully aware that the Torah needs a brachah before and after it is read.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 141:2) writes that the oleh should recite the leining of his aliyah in an undertone with the baal k’riah.
II. The Problem
But what should be done in a social-distancing world, where it is unsafe for the person receiving the aliyah to stand next to the baal k’riah? How can seven people come and receive aliyos next to the baal k’riah? They cannot. What other options are available?
Obviously, and as Rav Yitzchak Yosef points out in a t’shuvah on this topic (dated 28 Nissan 5780), the ideal way would be that each oleh leins his own aliyah from the Torah, as was done in the times of the Gemara. However, this is very difficult to implement, as it requires meticulous planning and requires that the limited amount of participants know how to lein from the Torah.
Numerous alternatives have thus emerged from the contemporary poskim, as discussed in greater detail below.
III. Where You Are Standing
Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlita, in a t’shuvah (dated 8 Nisan 5780), suggests that each oleh receive an aliyah in the place he is standing, because there is no need (in this coronavirus situation) to stand next to the baal k’riah and read along with him. Rav Sternbuch bases his ruling on the following analysis:
There is a machlokes whether a blind man may receive an aliyah, since he cannot read along with the baal k’riah. The Rosh (T’shuvos 3:12) rules that one who cannot read along with the baal k’riah cannot get an aliyah, and based on this the Beis Yosef explains that a blind person cannot get an aliyah. On the other hand, the Nimukei Yosef (cited in the Beis Yosef) and the Maharil (cited in the Darchei Moshe) rule that a blind person can get an aliyah.
The Shulchan Aruch (139:3) paskens like the Rosh, while the Rama paskens like the Maharil. The Vilna Gaon (ibid) follows the ruling of the Rama. The Mishnah B’rurah (139:12-13) agrees with the ruling of the Rama/Vilna Gaon and explains the leniency because we say, “shomei’a k’oneh” – that hearing is as if you are saying the words yourself.
Rav Sternbuch infers from the Vilna Gaon that, fundamentally, the only reason why we require the oleh to stand next to the Torah and read along with the baal k’riah is because of kevod haTorah. But in a situation like coronavirus, the kevod haTorah may be suspended, and we bank back on the actual halachah of shomei’a k’oneh, and thus those attending the minyan may receive aliyos from the place they are standing.
Similarly, Rav Asher Weiss (Corona Pamphlet, t’shuvah 23) rules like Rav Sternbuch that those attending the minyan should receive aliyos from the place they are standing. He reasons that although the Darchei Moshe himself doubts the Maharil (that a blind person may get an aliyah), nevertheless, we are lenient based on the Mishnah B’rurah.
This author has a question on Rav Sternbuch and Rav Weiss based on the Biur Halachah (Orach Chayim 141, s.v. l’vatalah) who rules that although a blind (and ignorant) person may get an aliyah even though they cannot read the Torah, it is not clear whether this leniency applies to others who CAN read the Torah but for whatever reason do not read along with the baal k’riah. For those people, the Biur Halachah suggests that they make a brachah l’vatalah if they do not read along with the baal k’riah. Accordingly, I am not sure how those people standing far from the baal k’riah may make a brachah on the Torah in our situation.
IV. It Is All Yours
Rav Hershel Schachter shlita (Piskei Corona #38) likewise touches on this topic and suggests that the baal k’riah should get all seven aliyos and make a brachah before and after each aliyah (14 brachos in total). [Maftir/haftarah are outside the scope of this article]. Rav Schachter cites the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:5) as support for this ruling.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 143:5), based off a Tosefta, rules that where a shul only has one person who knows how to lein, that person leins and receives all the aliyos, making a brachah before and after each aliyah.
This is also the opinion of my rebbe, Rav Mordechai Willig shlita (shared privately with a group of rabbanim) and Rav Yitzchak Yosef (ibid).
Likewise, the Agudah Guidelines (“Safely Reopening Our Kehillos,” dated May 8, 2020) espouses this position with citation. Notably, the OU/RCA guidelines (dated May 8, 2020) cite both opinions and state that “either the reader may take all the aliyos, or those called up to the Torah may stand at a significant distance during the reading.”
This author has a question on Rav Schachter’s approach, as well, based on the Mishnah B’rurah (ibid, 33) who rules that Ashkenazim do not follow this Shulchan Aruch. Since the Rama rules (as discussed above) that the oleh does not need to read word for word with the baal k’riah because of shomei’a k’oneh, it is better to call seven ignorant people (who can’t read) who will be yotzei with the leining of the baal k’riah. If this is the case, we should do the same thing here: Have the seven olim get aliyos from a distance, even if they can’t read along with the baal k’riah, because they are being shomei’a k’oneh from afar? Perhaps, Rav Schachter is relying on the Biur Halachah who doubts the application of this Rama by people who know how to read the Torah.
Subsequently, I was informed, on behalf of Rav Schachter, that Rav Schachter feels that kevod haTorah (that the person receiving the aliyah stands next to the sefer Torah as it is being read) supersedes any issue of having the same person receive seven aliyos in a row.
V. Another Opinion
I was also informed by an individual in the community, but have not seen any p’sak in print, that some rabbanim have ruled that the baal k’riah gets all the aliyos, but only makes two brachos: one before the leining and one after the leining.
Next Week’s Topic: Many outdoor minyanim are currently taking place throughout the neighborhood and, as a result, men and women in nearby houses often hear the davening from the privacy of their homes, even when not davening together with the minyan. Must such a person stop what he or she is doing and answer K’dushah together with the outdoor minyan?