AN ALIYA TO THE TORAH AND CONGREGATIONAL DUES
Question: Are members of a family, who have refused to meet their 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 con- tinues to attend. May an aliya be denied to this man as he is unwilling to support the congregation? (Rabbi B. Lefkowtiz, Taunton, MA)
Answer: The answer to this question hinges on whether an aliya is a right to which any Jew is entitled, a mitzvah which must be fulfilled, or a privilege provided by the congregation which, therefore, could be restricted by the congregation. In addition, we must consider the relationship of congregational honors and the obligation to maintain a congregation. The traditional literature is not clear on these matters. Those who state it as a right base their claim, in part, on the Talmud (Ber. 55a), which states that those who do not read the Torah regu- larly 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 ( ) the father re-
cites when his son becomes Bar Mitzvah, which frees him from further obligation for his son. It would not be possible to deny any- one, 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, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, 225.1). The entire matter has been dealt with at length in Efraim Margolies’s Sha-arei Efrayim. 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 main- tain the Temple in Jerusalem. It has been considered a mitzvah for all Jews to contribute to the maintenance of a synagogue as well as other communal institutions (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 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 those connections to escape the assessments. In many instances the community placed them under the ban in order to force their cooperation (Wiesner, Bann). This clearly indicated that far more serious methods than sim- ply 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 aliya is considered a special honor by all. This per- ception should lead us to be careful in selecting those thus honored. The modem scholar Issac 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 re- mainder of the community. He bases this on an earlier decision by Simon ben Zemah of Duran (Tashbets II, #261).
The traditional literature has made no clear decision on this mat- ter. However, it is also clear that the congregation has the obligation to see to it that it is properly maintained, and that those who do not help in this matter be excluded from whatever is perceived to be an honor. It would be permissible to exclude this individual from the privilege of an aliya.
Walter Jacob, Chairman CCAR Responsa Committee