A Question of Jewish Law

October 19, 2016

Standing by my Brother …

Filed under: Jewish Law,Life Cycle,Prayers and Blessings — chaimweiner @ 12:15 pm

Question: Is it permitted to call two siblings, or a parent and a child, one after the other to the Torah?


Answer: When reading the Torah in public it is the custom to divide the Torah reading into sections and to call different people to read. The number of people who are called up depends on the day. On a regular weekday 3 people are called, on Rosh Hodesh – 4, on Yom Tov – 5, on Yom Kippur 6 and on Shabbat 7. There is also a custom not to call close relatives one after the other. This restriction can make it difficult when there is a family event, such as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

The Shulchan Aruch states: Two brothers are allowed to read from the Torah one after the other, and a son after his father, but we do not permit this because of the “evil eye”. Even if one [brother] is called for the 7th Aliya and the other [brother] for Maftir, the second brother should not read because of the evil eye. [OH 141:6]

From this, we see that in principle it is permitted for family members to be called one after the other, but we do not allow it because of superstition. Two members of the same family standing next to each other on the Bimah was considered dangerous and in previous generations, this was a serious consideration. The modern equivalent is the custom of some families not to fly together on the same aircraft in case there is a crash.

Is there any way around this restriction? What if a person says that they are not superstitious and not concerned about the evil eye? Rabbi Chaim Benbenishti (Izmir, 17th Cent.) rules that if a person says that he is not concerned about the ‘evil eye’ we try to dissuade him. [Knesset Hagdolah ad loc.]. From this, we understand that we do not usually allow individual preferences to override communal customs.

There are other approaches, based on the idea that it is sometimes possible to confuse the ‘evil eye’ and reduce the risk. Aaron Samuel ben Israel Kaidanover, (Belarus, 17th Cent.) writes that we are only concerned in a place where they call people to the Torah by name. [Emunat Shmuel 47] However, in a community where names aren’t used, we need not be concerned. [Note: Many communities call people to the Torah simply as ‘Rishon’, ‘Sheini’ without using personal names.)  R. Yakov Shalom Sofer [Budapest, 19th Cent.] writes that it is permitted to call two brothers one after the other in a place where the first brother goes down from the bimah before the second comes up, so that they are not standing next to each other at the same time. [Torat Chaim 141:4]

Another approach is to increase the metaphorical distance between the two siblings and thus decrease the risk. They allow one brother to be called for the seventh reading and the other for Maftir because a Kaddish is recited between the two. Others, such a Yosef Caro quoted above, feel that this not enough of a break, but they would allow two brothers to be called where the second reading is from a separate Torah scroll. This is the case on the High Holydays and festivals. Still, others are more lenient on Simchat Torah, where many people are being called to the Torah. The feeling is that this reading is more of a celebration than a formal legal requirement.

From this, we can see that while there are some limited ways to increase the number of members of the same family who can be called up, the Rabbis were very reticent to reject the prohibition or enable an easy way to get around it.

Many of us are uncomfortable with such superstitious ideas and would happily ignore this rule. It could be that in the past the Rabbis were more superstitious than we are and therefore less inclined to compromise. It could also be that the Rabbis intuitively felt that one family should never be allowed to dominate the public space. Even on our special occasions, the Bimah belongs to the whole community, and families need to respect that.


Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Tishre 5777

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