Question: In light of social distancing, how should everyone get an aliyah on Simchas Torah?
Short Answer: If a minyan only has one sefer Torah and in general has been giving all the aliyos to the baal k’riah, on Simchas Torah the minyan can continue to do so, as there are certainly poskim who disagree generally with the custom of giving everyone an aliyah on Simchas Torah. Nevertheless, there may be some safe ways to perform this minhag this year, as well. However, Rav Hershel Schachter shlita told a group of rabbanim that because of safety concerns, this year it may make sense to give no one other than the baal k’riah an aliyah.
I. The Problem
As everyone is well aware, k’rias haTorah in a COVID-19 world is not simple. We previously discussed (see Coronavirus article #11), the many options for k’rias haTorah while still maintaining proper social distancing. While some shuls/minyanim have installed Plexiglas dividers between the baal k’riah and the oleh, for many this option is not practical or available. As previously discussed, many minyanim are thus giving all the aliyos to the baal k’riah.
This presents us with a unique problem this year: How are we going to give everyone an aliyah on Simchas Torah as in years past?
II. Repeating Aliyos
The Gemara (Megillah 21b-22a) discusses the proper way to break up the four aliyos on Rosh Chodesh. Because you need three p’sukim per aliyah, and you cannot end or start an aliyah within three p’sukim of a new parshah (i.e., paragraph), you must either break up one of the p’sukim or repeat one of the p’sukim. Indeed, Rav and Shmuel debate which option is preferable, and we follow the opinion of Rav, to repeat the pasuk of “V’amarta lahem.”
The Mordechai (Megillah, 831) writes that while he understands that Rav ruled that we must repeat a pasuk on Rosh Chodesh because there is no other good option, he is not fond of doubling in other scenarios. For example, he cites Rabbeinu Ephraim who remarked that “he left shul in anger” on Simchas Torah when he saw that they were repeating the k’riah numerous times so that additional people could receive aliyos.
On the other hand, the Rivash (84) ruled that it was permissible to repeat the k’riah on Simchas Torah, as was the custom in “Artzos Yishmael.” He explains that the Mishnah (Megillah 21a) explicitly allows a shul to add as many aliyos as they want on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Moreover, the fact that they are repeating the actual words instead of merely adding more aliyos is not a problem, as the k’riah repeats words on Chanukah and Sukkos. However, the Rivash does acknowledge that this allowance only works according to Rashi and Rambam, who allow a shul to add as many aliyos as they want even on Yom Tov and not only on Shabbos. According to others, the Mishnah only permits extra aliyos on Shabbos, but not on Yom Tov, and thus extra aliyos on Simchas Torah are also forbidden.
III. The Simchas Torah Exception to the Rule
In general, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 282:2) follows the Rivash and allows, even on a regular Shabbos, for a shul to give out as many aliyos as they want, repeating the k’riah as many times as they want.
The Rama (ibid) disagrees and rules like the Mordechai and notes that this is the common Ashkenazic minhag, not to repeat the k’riah for extra aliyos on Shabbos. However, the Rama writes that the one exception is on Simchas Torah where the custom is to allow extra aliyos, in line with the “first opinion.” The Rama (Orach Chayim 669:1), when discussing Simchas Torah, also notes this exception and writes that the minhag on Simchas Torah is to have extra aliyos and to read the same k’riah numerous times. He concludes “there is no isur in doing so.”
The Mishnah B’rurah (669:12) explains that this exception exists on Simchas Torah because of “k’vod haTorah” and because we want everyone to merit participating in “Simchas haTorah.”
[As an aside, the sefer Divrei Yehoshua (Siman 73) explains that we are able to make extra brachos on the Torah even if they are not necessary for the obligatory k’riah, as birkas haTorah is, according to many Acharonim, is a birkas ha’shevach and not a birkas ha’mitzvah, and thus can be made multiple times (by multiple individuals) on the same k’riah].
IV. How The Aliyos Are Divided
The Shaarei Ephraim (8:56) notes that in addition to giving everyone his own aliyah on Simchas Torah, we also are permitted to give one aliyah to multiple people together. Indeed, he explains that after the first five aliyos are distributed as normally done on Yom Tov, the shul can repeat the aliyos and give each aliyah to multiple people together. The brachos for that aliyah are made by one person on behalf of everyone (who have an in mind to be yotzei) or is split by two people, whereby one makes the brachah before the Torah and one the brachah afterwards.
The Mishnah B’rurah (669:12) likewise acknowledges this method. Similarly, the Aruch HaShulchan (669:2), while noting that this is not proper generally, allows multiple people to receive the same aliyah together on Simchas Torah because of the great happiness of the day.
V. Questioning the Minhag
Rav Ephraim Greenblatt zt”l (Noam Journal, Vol. 13, p. 254) cites the sefer Oveir Orei’ach, who questions our minhag of repeating the k’riah so that everyone can receive an aliyah. Further, while Rav Greenblatt ultimately notes the many authorities who follow this minhag, he concludes by citing the Mordechai who disagreed with this practice even on Simchas Torah.
Similarly, the Nit’ei Gavriel (98:5) cites the Ginas V’radim who wonders how the individuals who receive these extra aliyos can make a brachah before/after these aliyos when they are not reading any obligatory Torah reading. While the Ginas V’radim suggests perhaps these individuals are yotzei only with the aliyos they are receiving and not the earlier readings, the Nit’ei Gavriel acknowledges that this answer is a “dochek,” a weak answer.
VI. This Year
Putting this all together, it appears to this author that this year, if there is any chance that giving everyone an aliyah will endanger the health of even one individual, it is better not to give out extra aliyos. Because the Mordechai disagreed vehemently with the minhag, and the Rama followed his opinion in general, there is certainly strong basis in the poskim to disagree with this opinion generally, and certainly if it poses any danger whatsoever.
Practically, one easy option is for eight people to learn the leining for the few p’sukim of his aliyah, enabling the minyan to have five “normal” aliyos and then three (kohen, Levi, Yisrael) extra aliyos where the oleh acts as representative for the remaining people and recites the brachah on their behalf.
To conclude, at the time of the writing of this article, the safety of k’rias haTorah on Simchas Torah is still being decided by the medical experts. As my father, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt shlita, wrote in his September 10, 2020, Coronavirus Updates email, the question of whether everyone may receive an aliyah this year on Simchas Torah is a “very tough question. If multiple small groups of 10-12 masked people can gather around a sefer Torah (but not too close) and quickly all get an aliyah without excessive crowding or being in close proximity, maybe…”
Subsequently, Rav Hershel Schachter told a group of rabbanim that because of safety concerns, this year it may make sense to give no one other than the baal k’riah an aliyah.
Next Week’s Topic (Return to Regular Series): Bris Milah: How long must you wait before performing a bris milah on a child with neonatal jaundice?