CARR 222-223




Contemporary American Reform Responsa


149. An Aliyah to the Torah and Congregational


QUESTION: Are members of a family, which have refused to meet

its obligations of dues to the congregation, entitled to be called to the Torah? In this

instance, the family has resigned from the congregation, but the male member continues to

attend. May an aliyah be denied to this man as he is unwilling to support the

congregation? (Rabbi B. Lefkowitz, Taunton, MA)

ANSWER: The answer to this

question hinges on whether an aliyah is a right to which any Jew is entitled, a

mitzvah which he must fulfill or a privilege provided by the congregation and which,

therefore, may be restricted. In addition, we must balance the congregational honors with the

obligation to maintain a congregation. The traditional literature is not clear on these matters.

Those who claim that an aliyah is a right base themselves in part on the Talmud

(Ber. 55a), which states that those who do not read the Torah regularly will suffer a

shortened life.

Still others claim that it is a mitzvah, and of course, it would not

be proper to deny anyone the opportunity to perform a mitzvah. Some argue that this is

indicated by the blessing (shepatrani) which a father recites when his son becomes

Bar Mitzvah; it frees him from further obligation for his son. It would not be possible to

deny anyone, even the worst sinner, the opportunity to recite this blessing. However, there is

some debate in the traditional literature whether this blessing is necessary and whether it may

not be omitted (Isserles to Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayim 225.1). The entire matter has been

dealt with at length in Efrayim Margolis’ Shaarei Efraim. As women and children may be

called to the Torah (Meg. 23a), we need not be too strict on this according to some

scholars, including Jacob Emden.

The obligation to maintain the congregation is an

ancient one and can be traced back to the Biblical tithe, which was used to maintain the Temple

in Jerusalem. It is a mitzvah which makes it incumbent for all Jews to contribute to the

maintenance of a synagogue as well as other communal institutions (Shulhan Arukh Orah

Hayim 150.1). In the Middle Ages, wealthy individuals often sought to escape their communal

obligations, especially when large assessments were made upon the community by Gentile

oppressors. These individuals who possessed means and connections tried to use them to

escape the assessments. In many instances the community placed them under the ban in order

to force their cooperation (J. Wiesner, Der Bann). This clearly indicated that far more

serious methods than simply the removal of some synagogue honors were used to elicit the

cooperation of all Jews in the maintenance of the Jewish community.

In our age an

aliyah is considered a special honor by all. This perception should lead us to be careful in

selecting those thus honored. The modern scholar, Isaac Z. Sofer (Mistar Hasofer #5),

has stated that it is quite possible to exclude those who are considered sinners as a way of

building a fence and preventing sin from affecting the remainder of the community. He bases

this on an earlier decision by Simon ben Zemah of Duran (Tashbetz II,


The traditional literature has made no decision on this matter. However, it is

also clear that the congregation has the obligation to assure its proper maintenance; those who

do not help may be excluded from whatever is perceived to be an honor. It would be permissible

to exclude this individual from the privilege of an aliyah.

December 1983


If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.