Sign In Forgot Password

Gabbai's Corner

What is a “gabbai”? 
A “gabbai” (or a sexton) is the person who co-ordinates services, especially the Torah service, on Shabbat and holidays.  At Beth El, the gabbai invites individuals to lead services, distributes honors, and tries to make services run smoothly.  The gabbai also helps families plan for Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies or other special occasions by preparing an Honors Sheet beforehand. For the Torah reading, there are two gabaiim; the first one calls up the individuals who have received honors by their Hebrew names, while the second one keeps track of where we are in the Torah itself.  Both gabbaim correct the Torah reader when necessary and make sure that everything is done properly.

What’s in a (Hebrew) name?
Jewish children and converts to Judaism receive a Hebrew name at their bris/brit milah or baby naming or upon their conversion.  Children of Ashkenazi descent are usually named after deceased relatives (or at least given the same initials), whereas children of Sephardi descent often receive the name of a living relative.  Some Ashkenazim do not have Hebrew names, but use Yiddish names instead. Traditionally, individuals are called up for an aliyah  (Torah honor) by their own Hebrew name plus their father’s Hebrew name.  In egalitarian synagogues like Beth El, we like to include the mother’s Hebrew name as well.  For the prayer for the sick (misheberach), individuals are traditionally referred to by their Hebrew name plus their mother’s Hebrew name, although the father’s Hebrew name (or else the person’s English name) may be used instead. Jews-by-Choice are called up to the Torah as the son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah (ben or bat Avraham v’Sara).  This naming pattern also applies to Jews whose parents’ Hebrew names are unknown.  A Jew who does not have a Jewish father is called up by his/her mother’s name only.  A Jew with a Jewish father, but not a Jewish mother, is called up by his/her father’s name only.

Who is a Kohen or a Levi?
Certain families maintain a long-standing tradition of being Kohanim (priests) or Levi’im (Levites).  This tradition is passed down paternally (i.e. on the father’s side of the family only), not maternally (i.e. not the mother’s side).  If one’s father is a Kohen, the son’s Hebrew name includes ben (father’s name) ha-Kohen and the daughter’s Hebrew name includes bat (father’s name)
ha-Kohen.  If one’s father is a Levi, the son’s Hebrew name includes ben (father’s name) ha-Levi and the daughter’s Hebrew name includes bat (father’s name) ha-Levi. At Beth El, we follow the custom of calling up a Kohen (or bat Kohen) for the first aliyah and a Levi (or bat Levi) for the second aliyah.  The remaining fivealiyot always go to Yisraelim (Israelites).  If families of Kohanim or Levi’im are celebrating a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or special occasion, a final honor (Acharon) can often be created to allow a second Kohen or Levi to receive an aliyah.  Sometimes alternative arrangements can be made upon consultation ahead of time with the rabbi or the gabbai.

How many people can share an aliyah?
Normally, only one person is called up for each aliyah.  However, on special occasions, such as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, wedding, or anniversary, and on the High Holidays, two closely related individuals may be called up for the same honor.  Under certain circumstances, family members can be invited up to the bimah together with the recipient of the honor.

Who can participate in the Torah service? 
At Beth El, only Jews can participate actively in the Torah services.  Men and women may participate equally in all aspects of the Torah service, but an able-bodied male is usually called upon as Hagbah to lift the Torah scroll from the reading table.  Children preparing for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah can lead the service for taking out or returning the Torah and recite the Ashrei.  Children under 13 may open (or help open) the ark for both taking out and returning the Torah.  Men are required to wear a tallis/tallit (prayer shawl) when they receive an honor.  (For women, wearing a head-covering and a tallis/tallit on the bima his encouraged but not mandatory.)

What role can non-Jews play in a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service?
Non-Jews can be invited to lead the Prayer for our Country and the Prayer for Peace, or recite an appropriate passage with the approval of the rabbi.  A non-Jewish parent may stand on the bimah with his/her spouse to receive the parental blessing and be present when their child is being called up to the Torah as a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

When are honors distributed? 
On Shabbat and holidays, the gabbai distributes cards for most aliyot during the repetition of the Amidah (Silent Devotion) towards the end of the Shacharit (morning service).  For the High Holidays, aliyot are assigned in advance by a committee.  Additional (or substitute) honors may be handed out later or as needed.

 What about aliyot for special occasions and for guests?  If you (or other members of your family) have a yahrzeit or are celebrating a birthday or anniversary and would like to receive an aliyah, be sure to let the gabbai know ahead of time.  Visitors to Beth El are generally the first to be offered honors.  If you bring guests, please let the gabbai know who they are.  If you wish to be given an honor, please arrive before the Silent Devotion begins.

Who can lead services, read Torah, or recite Haftarah at Beth El? 
Anyone with the appropriate skills can lead services on weekdays, Shabbat or holidays at Beth El.  The same holds true for reading Torah and reciting Haftarah.   If you wish to lead services, learn how to read Torah or Haftarah, or volunteer to read a specific Torah portion or Haftarah, please contact Rabbi (

How are High Holiday honors distributed?
High Holiday honors are decided upon by a special committee, appointed by the congregational president.  The following categories of members receive honors annually: major donors, patrons, benefactors, and board members, in addition to new members who have joined during the previous year and individuals who have been most active in leadership roles in Beth El in the past year.  Only one honor is offered to any family unit.  Honors recipients are notified of their honors by mail several weeks before Rosh Hashanah; those honors which are turned down by members who cannot be in shul at the assigned time are reassigned to other congregational members, whether by mail or during services on the appropriate day.  Since we now have over three hundred member families and fewer than one hundred honors to distribute, the majority of members, including many long-time or formerly active members, will not receive honors ahead of time, but some will be offered honors to take the place of members who are not present at the assigned time. 

What should one do if one has a High Holiday honor? 
As soon as you arrive in shul on the day of your honor, you should introduce yourself to an usher, especially if you are a new member, in order to let the usher know that you are there.  Several pages before your honor occurs, you (and your family) should take seats in the first or second row at the front of the sanctuary on the right-hand side, i.e. in front of the rabbi.  Often the gabbai or one of the ushers will remind you that your honor is coming up soon.  At the appropriate time, the gabbai will instruct, signal, or call you up for your honor, just before the rabbi announces the page where your honor occurs.  Please follow instructions so that the service will run smoothly.

Who may go up on the bimah with you for your honor? 
For ark openings and most other honors, members of your immediate family are welcome to join you on the bimah.  
The exceptions to this general rule are individuals who have been given the privilege of holding a Torah for either Kol Nidre or Yizkor and individuals who are reciting Haftorah.

Mon, April 22 2024 14 Nisan 5784