Gabbinical School

By: Adam Levine
This article was inspired by a workshop Adam offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

This is intended to be a brief guide to the responsibilities of the gabbaim (managers or assistants) during the Torah service. It is far from complete; there are many complicated details that cannot be covered here. There are many more comprehensive guides, sickness including Rabbi Ethan Tucker’s excellent Tefilah Bizmanah: A Gabbai’s Guide or many luchot (guides). This guide is aimed at providing some helpful suggestions that could improve the general running of the Torah service.

Mechon Hadar has compiled a great collection of sheets and handouts to use during the service. In particular, check out the “Torah service supplements,” which contain everything for the gabbai rishon (first assistant or manager) to say during the service.

Gabbai responsibilities

Correcting leyning (Torah reading) errors: Many people assume that one gabbai (assistant or manager) is responsible for calling people to the Torah and the other is responsible for checking the Torah reading. This is incorrect. Both gabbaim should correct mistakes that they hear during the leyning; to have two gabbaim is to provide an extra safeguard. Sometimes it makes sense to give one gabbai the primary checking role, but the other one should still be prepared to correct any mistakes that first one misses.

  • If you hear a mistake, point it out, and make sure the reader repeats the word. In some communities, it seems that the gabbaim just follow along with the reading and don’t correct anything, and that’s not good. If a reader is ignoring your corrections, you should remind him/her in between aliyot that you’re not chopped liver.
  • The best way to be good at this is to practice. Have someone read from a chumash and deliberately make mistakes so that you can correct them. Another thing to do is to review the Torah portion before Shabbat, just as if you were learning to leyn it. Ultimately, though, the best way to become a good corrector is to be a good leyner; it’s probably not a good idea to have people who aren’t experienced leyners serving in the gabbai role.
  • Knowing which errors to correct and which to let slide can be difficult. The general rule is that an error that changes the meaning of a word should be corrected, while one that doesn’t does not have to be corrected. However, unless your Hebrew is very strong, it can be tricky to figure out on the spot whether an error changes the meaning. The guide below provides some guidelines; there are plenty of exceptions, but these rules of thumb should be helpful.
  • Exactly how strict to be about corrections is a tricky question. There’s always the possibility that too many corrections can cause a leyner to lose confidence, leading to more mistakes. Also, with certain subtle errors, some less experienced leyners may not understand what’s being corrected, resulting in confusion. The real solution is to work on educating leyners so that they understand what the mistakes are.

Calling people to the Torah: This is the responsibility of the gabbai rishon (G1). See below for some details on how to do this correctly and grammatically. Calling people up efficiently is one of the best way to keep the Torah service from dragging. Here are some suggestions:

  • The gabbai rishon should know who has what aliyah. If your community has someone other than the gabbai assign the aliyot, you should check in with that person before the Torah service. Granted, it can be hard to remember even if you assigned the aliyot yourself, but it’s worth making an effort.
  • Especially in a big room, encourage people to start coming up to the bimah or amud just before their aliyah begins. Also, a good way to get people moving quickly is to say “Ya’amod…” or “Ta’amod…” before they actually get there, so that the onus is on them to move quickly.
  • Hand out aliyah cards. This is a good way to prevent people from forgetting which aliyah they have. Some samples are available on Mechon Hadar’s resources page.
  • Be aware of any special aliyot in the Torah portion. For instance, major aliyot such as the Ten Commandments are often considered special honors. Also, the curses in Bechukotai and Ki Tavo are usually given to the leyner, the rabbi of the community, or someone else well-respected in the community; you don’t want to give such an awful aliyah to a guest or someone random.
  • If you know in advance that someone is getting an aliyah (e.g., the maftir, or someone celebrating an aufruf), write down that person’s Hebrew name in advance so you don’t need to ask for it. Some communities even keep a list of everyone’s Hebrew names so that everyone can be called up easily.

Calling page numbers: It’s usually a good idea to announce the chapter and verse every few aliyot, as well as perhaps the page number in one or more chumashim. Just one guideline: Nothing looks worse than saying “The Torah reading is on page, uh, umm, does anyone know what page it’s on?” Plan ahead, especially if you’re trying to call pages out of multiple chumashim. Some people actually make a cheat sheet in advance that has all the page numbers written down. This is usually a job for the gabbai sheini (second gabbai) (G2).

Directing traffic: Both gabbaim should make sure that people are standing in the right places during the Torah service. When someone comes up for an aliyah, a gabbai should show him/her where to stand and point out the b’rachot (blessings) sheet. The person taking the aliyah is supposed to follow along in the scroll, so he/she should be standing right up close, preferably holding on to one of the handles of the Torah. (In fact, the leyner and the two gabbaim should also all have a hand on the Torah – one person per each of the four handles.) After the aliyah, remind the person to keep standing at the amud for the next aliyah, and don’t forget to shake his/her hand!

Covering the Torah: Out of respect, the Torah should be covered any time there’s a substantial pause, such as a mi shebeirach (blessings that start with “May the One who blessed”), long announcement, or even just waiting for someone to come up to the amud, put on a tallis, etc. This is a good G2 job. (Also, don’t put siddurim or handouts on top of the Torah when it’s covered.)

Checking the spot: After each aliyah, a gabbai should look in the scroll and make note of where the next aliyah starts, in the interest of moving things along more efficiently. Having to wait to find the spot every time is a big tircha d’tzibura (burden on the community). This is especially true when a lot of different people are reading.

Saying mi shebeirachs: In some communities, G1 says a mi shebeirach for each oleh/olah (person receiving an aliyah); in others, they’re reserved only for special occasions such as aufrufs and baby namings. Typically, the way to do this is to say the mi shebeirach right after calling up the next person, but before he/she says the blessings. As mentioned before, be sure to cover the Torah.

Helping out during the lifting and wrapping of the Torah: You should spot the person lifting the Torah, just in case, and then help him/her to a seat. Also, help the person dressing the Torah, but be sure to let him/her do the actual work. If your minyan’s custom is to sing something (usually upbeat) during the wrapping, a gabbai should be the one to start it. Also, if you don’t have a stand for the Torah, a gabbai should make sure that the lifter has a chumash and siddur so that once seated with the Torah, he/she can follow along during the haftarah and the end of Torah service.

Saying Kaddish: Usually the person who chanted the seventh aliyah says the chatzi kaddish that’s between the seventh aliyah and the maftir aliyah, but G1 should be prepared to say this just in case. Again, be sure to cover the Torah. On days when two Torah scrolls are used, place the second scroll on the amud before saying the Kaddish, and then call the lifter and wrapper for the first scroll (l’seifer rishon).

Calling people to the Torah grammatically

At the beginning, G1 reads the first two lines:
V’ya’azor v’yagein v’yoshia l’chol hachosim bo v’nomar amen. Hakol havu godel lEloheinu utnu chavod laTorah.

If your minyan gives the first aliyah to a Kohen or bat Kohen:

M: Kohein k’rav, ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ hakohein.

F: Bat kohein, kirvi, ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ hakohein.

(Ordinarily, it doesn’t matter in which order people give their parents’ names. However, for kohanim and l’vi’im, you should say the father’s name second, since “hakohen” is part of the father’s name.)

If you ordinarily give the first aliyah to a Kohein or Bat Kohein, but none are present, some say that you should give the first aliyah to a Levi; others say that you specifically should give it to a Yisrael. In either case, you say:

M: Ein kan kohein. Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

F: Ein kan kohein. Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ bimkom kohein.

If you don’t give the first aliyah to kohanim, you just say:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, rishon.
F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, rishonah.

In any case, G1 continues:

Baruch shenatan Torah l’amo Yisrael bikdushato.

The congregation says:

V’atem hadveikim bAdonai Eloheichem chayim kulchem hayom.

And G1 repeats that line.

For the second aliyah, if you give it to a Levi or Bat Levi:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___ haleivi.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___ haleivi.

If not:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sheini.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’niah.

NOTE: The feminine form of the adjective sheini is sh’niah, NOT sheinit. (The latter is an adverb that means “again.”)

Subsequent aliyot are called as follows:

M: Ya’amod ___ ben ___ v’___, sh’lishi / r’vi’i / chamishi / shishi / sh’vi’i / maftir.

F: Ta’amod ___ bat ___ v’___, sh’lishit / r’vi’it / chamishit / shishit / sh’vi’it / maftirah.

In communities where multiple people are called for a single aliyah, the best way to call them up is to say Ya’amdu (or ta’amodna for a group of women), then their names, and then la’aliyah harishonah / hash’niah / hash’lishit / har’vi’it / hachamishit / hashishit / hash’vi’it. (However, many would say that there are halachic problems with this practice.)

To call up the lifter and wrapper:

M/M: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ya’amod hagoleil or Ya’amdu hamagbiah v’hagolel.

M/F: Ya’amod hamagbiah, ta’amod hagolelet.

F/M: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ya’amod hagoleil.

F/F: Ta’amod hamagbihah, ta’amod hagolelet or Ta’amodna hamagbihah v’hagolelet.

Some communities call the lifter and wrapper by name, which is fine. However, do not say something like Ya’amod hagbahah or Ta’amod g’lilah. This is meaningless Hebrew: “May the lifting stand.” The subject of the verb ya’amod/ta’amod is meant to be a person.

A Guide to Correcting Mistakes in Torah Reading

The overall principle is that any mistake that changes the meaning of the word should be corrected, while those that do not change the meaning should not be corrected. However, it’s often hard to judge in the spur of the moment whether a mistake changes the meaning. This guide is intended to provide rules of thumb to address many common types of errors.

Errors in the consonantal text, such as replacing one letter with another, are always corrected. Shin and sin are different letters.

Bet and vet, kaf and chaf, pay and fay (and, for some people, tav and sav): At the beginning of a word, don’t correct them. In the middle of the word, there are a few instances where it can change the meaning: e.g., the imperative verb kabeid (honor) vs. the adjective kaveid (heavy). So you should probably correct these any time they’re in the middle of a word.

The most common mistakes involve vowels.

  • Always correct – v’ (vav with sh’va) vs. va (vav with patach) in verbs, since it can change the tense.
  • Always correct – b’ (bet with sh’va) vs. ba (bet with patach) and l’ (lamed with sh’va) vs. la (lamed with patach), since “a” and “the” mean different things.
  • People frequently mix up el (aleph lamed, to), al (aleph lamed, do not) and al (ayin lamed, on). Always correct these.
  • Don’t correct et (aleph tav) vs. eit (aleph tav): they are pronounced differently, but they are the same word.
  • Don’t correct pausal forms: aretz vs. eretz (both aleph resh tzadi), vay’hi vs. vayehi (both vav yud hay yud), etc. Two other examples are l’cha vs. lach (both lamed chaf) and it’cha vs. itach (both aleph tav chaf). All of these are masculine forms, even though the pausal forms look the same as the feminine forms, so you don’t have to correct them if they’re talking about a male character.
  • You don’t generally need to correct kamatz katan versus kamatz gadol. However, pronouncing a patach like a kamatz katan should definitely be corrected.
  • Vowel mistakes that change the mood, voice, or tense of a verb should always be corrected, such as ya’aseh vs. yei’aseh (both yud ayin sin hey) and dabeir vs. dibeir (both daled bet resh).

Correcting the accenting of syllables is a tricky business. There are instances where the accent can change the tense of a verb. However, they can be hard to correct on the spot, so it may not be worthwhile except with very proficient readers.

The only trop that you really need to correct is sof pasuk, i.e., when the reader puts a verse break in the wrong place or skips over a verse break. (Some say the same holds for etnachta.) There are a few circumstances where a trop error can substantially affect the meaning of the words, but we won’t go into them here. However, you should be ready to provide a prompt if the reader is fumbling for the correct trop.

Adam Levine attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2009.


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2 B.BarNavi { 02.02.10 at 7:24 pm }

I do believe that the proper traditional way to call up Magbiah/a and Golel/et is “ya`amdu” for all. This is the practice I’ve seen in most Conservative shuls, Chabad, and the Orthodox Ashkenazi shuls (Nusah Ashkenaz) I’ve been to. Only in independent minyanim have I seen the multitudes of variations (name or no name, individually or together).

It should be stated here that the predominant Sephardic fashion (excepting the Spanish and Portuguese traditions, which resemble Ashkenazic ways) is not to mention the name in calling someone up. Rather, it is “[`Aliya #] `amod beKhavod”. Other quirks include calling #7 “Mashlim”, and the one before “Samukh” (usually #6 if there are no additional `aliyot, i.e. “ve-gam ha`Ole”).

The feminine tzivui (imperative) form for “`amod” is, I believe, “`imdi”. Hence: “Mashlima `imdi beKhavod”, “Bat-Levi/Leviya `imdi…”, “ve-gam ha`Ola `imdi…”

3 B.BarNavi { 02.02.10 at 7:27 pm }

(The name is only mentioned in the Mi Shebeirakh prayer afterwards.)

4 Efraim { 02.10.10 at 9:08 am }

NOTE: The feminine form of the adjective sheini is sh’niah, NOT sheinit. (The latter is an adverb that means “again.”)

I think both are correct; שנית is a biblical Hebrew form, שניה is a rabbinic/modern Hebrew form. See

5 Steve S. { 02.16.10 at 8:29 am }

This is awesome! I looked everywhere for this and yours is the most complete and easiest guidance. If you wanted to improve it you would include Hebrew in addition to your excellent translierations. Thanks!

6 Arnold Drake { 05.07.13 at 7:44 pm }

this is wonderful!! Very Helpful. And thank you for the comments.

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9 James Gaus { 10.16.16 at 2:20 pm }

Where can I find resources or schools/seminars for as a gabbai-in-training?

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