How To Do Hagbah

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

Hagbah is the lifting of the Torah. It is an honor to do hagbah; you would be called up after the Torah reading along with the person being honored with gelilah (dressing the Torah).

Hagbah is something that is often considered to be purely a matter of strength; that’s why, geriatrician even in egalitarian contexts, it’s almost always given to men (and big ones at that). But hagbah is not even mostly a matter of strength, it’s a matter of balance, confidence, and support. Below, you’ll find the tips I’ve collected over time (or figured out on my own) to help most people be able to do hagbah.

  • If you haven’t done hagbah before, try to be familiar with the sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) you might be called upon to lift. The weight of sifrei Torah can vary widely dependent on the wood used for the atzei hayyim (literally, trees of life, used here to mean the wood dowels), the height of the scroll, and the thickness of the parchment.
  • Before lifting, open the  sefer Torah (Torah scroll) so the atzei hayyim are about shoulder width apart. This will make it far easier to lift than trying to lift it closed.
  • Hold tension through the parchment. The parchment used for a sefer Torah is more like leather than paper; you’re not going to rip the Torah while lifting it. (Be aware of the seams in the Torah, especially if some of the stitching has come undone. You can always roll the Torah away from any weak points before lifting.)
  • Don’t try to dead lift the sefer Torah. Instead, pull the sefer Torah about halfway off the bimah or amud (reading table) and use the edge as a fulcrum. Get under the sefer Torah as it comes vertical by bending your knees and lift. Look, the Torah’s up!
  • Balance through the parchment, maintain the tension. Remember, you won’t rip it.
  • If you feel unstable, put the sefer Torah down. Better to thump it on the bimah/amud than to drop it. If you have to rest the sefer on your shoulder, do it. A sefer Torah cannot be “contaminated” by you touching it, so while you should avoid touching the parchment directly, if you do so, there isn’t any ritual consequence for you or the sefer Torah.
  • Communicate with the person doing galilah. The least stable time during hagbah is right after you sit down, and you need their help to roll up the scroll and get it dressed (and stable) again.

If you can practice outside of service time with someone who typically does hagbah in your community, I would take advantage of it. When everyone’s watching you, it can be high-pressure. Remember, the only thing that matters in hagbah is getting the sefer Torah off the bimah/amud and into its clothes without dropping it; anything else is nice, but not necessary. When you’re first doing hagbah, try to take the honor in the middle of the year or the holiday maftir Torah, when the scroll is in the middle. That’s when it’s easiest to balance, and won’t be too heavy on either hand.

Good luck, and happy lifting!

Lee Butler attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2008, and is co-chair for 2010.

4 comments

1 B.BarNavi { 02.03.10 at 1:16 am }

The Chabad-Lubavitch custom is to put the scroll back down on the bima, and roll it up before taking it going back to the “throne” and allowing the golel to do the rest. I think more shuls and minyanim could do well to adopt this custom amongst a midst of novice magbihim.

2 Avrohom Bilgrei { 08.28.11 at 10:33 am }

This explanation is horrendous!
It is so bereft of priority, purpose or dedication as to be abysmal!
Any questions?
logicalavi@gmail.com

3 Roxanne { 10.12.11 at 2:07 pm }

Avrohom – I think it is intended to provide the novice with practical kavannah-type advice that would allow the solemnity and awesomeness of the honor to shine through in the hagbah’s mind.

4 Avrohom Bilgrei { 06.29.12 at 2:40 am }

Roxanne, Kavannah isn’t “practical”, the solemnity is not indicated, but perhaps the “awesomeness” of TORAH should should be DISPLAYED conspicuously, evidenced to anyone that the TORAH of SINAI is the most predominant responsibility that eclipses ANY individuals “mindset”. Listening & seeing the meaning is at it’s essence. That’s why I left my e-mail: logical@gmail.com
Not you or anybody ELECTED to take the initiative to understand . By so doing you have abdicated all “authentic” concern. Torah isn’t easy. ignorance is.

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