Giving Kibbudim to Baalei Teshuva

In public situations is it wise to give Baalei Teshuva kibbudim (honors) at the risk of embarassment?

Situations include

– Leading the bentching

– Saying a beracha at a Sheva Berachos

– Saying a harachamim at a Bris

– Getting an Aliyah in shul

– Getting hagbah or gelilah

– Opening the aron

In what cases and situations do you think it would be appropriate or inappropriate to give the honor to a relatively new BT?

25 comments on “Giving Kibbudim to Baalei Teshuva

  1. Regarding your comment Gary in 15 I believe it is somewhere in the Mishna Breura where one of the poskim goes so far as to say if you are not able to see the letters you should not say V’Zos ! All the more so that one should be careful to do it correctly. As for what Bob Miller said in 17 it does seem to be the more common minhag to turn to the left and then the right however there is a lack of clarity in the poskim and when I learned these halachas 12 years ago with my Chavrusa we came to the conclusion that a full slow 360 was best as it ensures that everyone gets a good peek !

  2. No joke. My husband and I are BTs, or are trying to be. We admit — and I don’t think we’re alone in admitting — that getting kibudim gives us gives us a sense of pride of self and then segues into public performance. There’s a bit of genevas da’as in accepting kibudim under those circumstances, and this genevas da’as can go all the way to the chuppah. That’s something to get ticked up over.

  3. A joke yes, but I think there is some commentary here beyond getting kibbudim. (we support you and applaud you, just don’t move into our neigborhood (shidduchim)) I’m not necessarily agreeing 100% but it is a concern. Intergration can be difficult (as we have seem many times in this blog.)

    Also the fear can be simply one of messing up in public or a deeper one of appearing as an obvious BT.

  4. Loyal Jew,

    I have to assume your comment above is a joke to tick us off.

    BT’s have been members of the tzibbur, and have received kibbudim, for thousands of years.

  5. These kibudim are not for show, they have spiritual meaning for the tzibur. If a rav or an FFB stand aside for a BT, the tzibur loses its zchus. Also, giving kibudim to BTs sends the wrong message to the BT himself: it’s as if the tzibur says, you’re OK, let’s initiate you into the club. It may put thoughts into his mind about marrying a member of the community, and then what.

  6. it depends very much on the individual and their personality and circumstance. Not good to lump all BT’s into one group.

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  7. My personality is the opposite of most people. I have no desire to receive honors [kibbudim]. The fewer honors I receive, the happier I am.

    Why should I receive the reward for my good deeds in this world [Olam HaZeh]? Also the more honors a man recieves, the more people talk about him; a wise people strive to avoid this, for many reasons.

    Unfortunately, I receive honors often because I am a kohen.

    The only honor I want is for Jews to join my web site for quick Torah quotes, because that increases my reward in Olam HaBa.
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  8. 1. The minhag in the shul where I grew up was not to rotate through 360 degrees but to turn to one side and then the other.

    2. In recent years, I’ve noticed more people pointing at the lifted Torah with their pinky. Is this a carryover from a specifically Sephardic custom?

  9. As a follow up to my post, I think that it does not aid in a BT’s integration, especially for a textually literate BT, to consider not participating in any of the above Kibudim that require the recitation of a bracha, etc in front of an audience, etc,

  10. Michael wrote in # 10:

    “The purpose of the Mitzvah is not just to get the sefer off the Bimah, it is to show the written word to the ENTIRE kehillah which means it ideally needs to be lifted up as high as possible with your arms stretched out straight and up and you need to rotate through 360 degrees slowly.”

    I don’t recall the exact source, but I have read or heard that when the Torah is lifted, the people in the congregation should not say “v’zot ha’Torah, etc.” until they actually see the letters. Therefore, the recitation of this phrase should not be in unison, but rather in a “wave” of sorts, with each corner of the congregation saying the phrase when the Torah writing comes into their range of view.

  11. My husband was given the honor of holding a Sefer Torah in our shul one Kol Nidrei night. I was so proud of him, he looked mamish just like a malach in his white kittel holding the Sefer Torah in its white mantel. However, he told me afterward that it was very hard on him, as his back hurts when he has to stand for a long time and the Sefer Torah was quite heavy.

    The best thing to do would be if the Gabbai could contact people in advance to say, “Hey, we want to give you this kibud, is it OK with you?” However, this might not work either, as someone might feel ashamed to admit to the Gabbai that he can’t read Hebrew. Also, maybe the Gabbai might want to give somebody’s guest or close relative an honor but not know that the person being honored really would rather not be put on the spot in that manner.

    Some shuls get around the problem by not honoring anyone. One Rav who was concerned about Bar Mitzvah boys being screamed at by their fathers to learn to lain their Bar Mitzvah parshah and Haftarah instituted a rule in his own shul (still in effect 40 years later) that nobody ever lains except the official reader. The Bar Mitzvah boy and his male relatives get an Aliya, but they simply recite the Brochos and the official reader lains.

  12. I would suggest that there is a difference between a textually literate BT and a true novice. I can see that a true novice would appreciate being made to feel welcome by even given Psichas HaAron. Someone who is tectually literate should no qualms about any of the kibbudim on the above list.

  13. Thanks, Michael, for the added detail.

    I’ve also found that it’s important to keep the parchment taut from just before the lift until the sefer Torah is rolled up. This reduces the stress on wrists, etc.

  14. Even for someone who is FFB or who has been a BT for a long time, it can be difficult and confusing doing glilah with a wimple at Yekkish shul if one is not experienced!

  15. Just a refinement on Bob Millers Eitzah. I find with the really heavy old Sefer Torah You need to get your center of gravity and arms under the sefer. You do this by allowing the weight of the Sefer to rest on the edge of the Bimah as you bend at the knees and slowly get the sefer vertical while still being supported by the Bimah. You then do the “lifting” with your legs first and then bring the sefer further up with your arms.

    This brings me to a further pet peeve and Halacha L’Maaseh. The Ramban tells us that the Clalah of “Lo Yakum es Ha Sefer Torah Hazos” refers to someone who does not do Hagbah correctly. The purpose of the Mitzvah is not just to get the sefer off the Bimah, it is to show the written word to the ENTIRE kehillah which means it ideally needs to be lifted up as high as possible with your arms stretched out straight and up and you need to rotate through 360 degrees slowly. Most FFB’s don’t know this and I must say when I first saw the post that my gut reaction is that the question is a bit patronizing ! These days I think even a majority of FFBs are like orphans and need to be “taught” the basics like how to be a proper Shaliach Tzibur !

  16. Great post! Great question, because it raises issues that a lot of people (e.g., shul gabaim) in a position to affect things might not “get.” And these great answers should be cataloged or indexed or tagged or something. Where else can you read how to do “hagbah” properly?

  17. “I am scared to do hagba’hah (lifting the Torah)! After all these years, I can’t get that flick of the wrist down pat.”

    No need to flick any wrists. As you back the sefer Torah off the bimah, use the edge of the bimah to get leverage for an smooth lift.

  18. There are also experienced people have difficulty with some or all of these honors. I think that the actions I describe below can help anyone — seasoned or neophyte — get through the tasks without embarrassment to the actor or disruption of the dignity of the event.

    Many experienced people – not just new BT’s –“fumfer” (one of those untranslatable but universally understood terms) through harachaman’s, sheva brachot, or even the blessings of the Torah.

    For harachaman’s and sheva brachot (prayers at a brit milah or wedding), the NCSY Bencher is an excellent resource. It has Hebrew, English and tranliteration. The person should be given an opportunity to prepare, preferably a few days in advance, and the leader can show him the place in the bencher at the event, or hand him a card with the Hebrew and the transliteration.

    In my shul, the large type Hebrew/transliteration Torah Blessing card is only taken out for those who don’t know the blessing by heart, including some long-standing congregants. I recently brought a guest to shul who reads Hebrew, but doesn’t know the blessings perfectly. I knew that he would get an aliyah shortly after mine. To avoid his feeling singled out, I took my siddur up to the bimah with me. I read the blessings from the siddur (perhaps we all should, all the time) and had it available for him. This way, he did exactly what his host did.

    Leading benching (Grace After Meals) includes more than the m’zuman (invitation), so the “coach” should be confident that the person will make it through the prayers with reaasonable speed and know when to speak up at the end of the brachot. (Not recommended for Shabbat/Chanukah/Rosh Chodesh.) I think its fine if the person says the silent parts in English and reads the closing phrases in Hebrew (with the actual letters or transliteration)

    I am scared to do hagba’hah (lifting the Torah)! After all these years, I can’t get that flick of the wrist down pat. However, there are always enough people around to assist someone who needs help with this task and g’lilah (rolling and tying the Torah). If the potential helpers are paying attention, there should be no major problems.

    Opening the aron (ark) is actually somewhat complex. Do you pull the cord? Turn the handle? When? Which Torah do you take out? How do you do so with due concern for the dignity of the Torah and the health of your back? Someone should be nearby to give hand signals if there are any doubts about the actor’s knowledge of these matters.

    I think that someone new should be given a chance to observe a few times. Before offering him an honor, he should be given an explanation of the opportunities that may be available, and his wishes to wait for another day should be respected.

  19. Yeah,I agree that one should ask first. Also, in Yekkish shuls they have something called a wimpel or vimpel (instead of a gartel) that makes galilah a whole lot more challenging if you’ve never done it before.

  20. The person could rate a given kibbud highly but still feel unqualified or be shy. If so, he should tell the gabbai.

  21. Perhaps it makes sense to ask the BT or non-observant person quietly and privately if they want the Kibbud.

    I think that maybe gabbaim and others overrate the value of the Kibbud in the eyes of the BT.

    For those reading can you see any difference in the appreciation you had for kibbudim as you progressed in your Yiddishkeit?

  22. Discreetly check in advance with the person involved. If there is enough time beforehand (such as before a wedding, sheva berachos or bar mitzvah) and training is needed, arrange to do it in private.

    Regarding hagbahah and gelilah, it’s good if the two people involved have about the same wingspan. When the Torah is raised showing many columns (sometimes too many!), it’s liable to sag and present problems in rolling it up.

    The neophyte might be very challenged in lifting a very heavy sefer Torah.

    Some people doing gelilah foolishly start searching for the sash before they roll the sefer Torah up. Rolling it up promptly should be their #1 priority.

  23. I disagree somewhat.

    Hagbahah and gelilah can be quite tricky for someone who is not familiar with them. A quick explanation immediately before about how to do it is likely to help more than seeing it several times without paying a lot of details to the technicalities. Someone who does hagbahah with only one column showing or lets the klaf sag or tries to put the sefer back on the bimah (in an ashkenaz minyan) will embarrass himself to some degree, but that may well happen unless he has a good instinct or was prepped.

    Pesicha also can be embarrassing if the timing isn’t quite right.

    So, yes, they’re safer, but the person getting the kibbud may appreciate being coached for it, even if only briefly.

  24. The last two don’t bring out any embarrassment. All you have to do is observe hagbah/glila and peshicha a few times, and you’re already eligible for the Hall of Fame.
    The first ones – about reciting berochos out loud – are the main concern of this shayla.

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