How to be a Gabbai for Shir HadashThe word 'gabbai' is roughly equivalent to 'manager' and the job of the gabbai is to manage the service. It is often the case that the gabbai does many of the things described here, but the key thing to remember is that the gabbai is responsible for making sure that they all get done. Where these instructions say "the gabbai should...." or "the gabbai does..." it means that the gabbai is responsible for doing it or for arranging for someone else to do it. To repeat, the job of the gabbai is to manage the service, not necessarily to perform all of the specific tasks listed below.
Before ShabbatCheck to see who is doing kiddush; you will have a use for this information after the service (once you are an old hand at this, you will probably wait until the service to check, but when you are just starting out, it helps to get information ahead of time).
The gabbai should check on the exact Torah and Haftorah readings and make a note of the pages in the Hertz and Plaut editions of the Bible, so that these can be announced to the congregation. The portion to be read can be found in the newsletter or most Jewish calendars. The schedule we use to determine the readings can be found in KOL HANESHAMAH: Shabbat Vehagim, pp. 710-724.
The gabbai should check the calendar to see if the coming Shabbat is a special one: Rosh Hodesh, Machar Hodesh, Birkat HaHodesh, Hol HaMoed, or other designated Shabbat. If so, the gabbai should check with the person assigning service parts to verify that provision has been made for any special prayers (e.g. Hallel, announcement of the New Month, etc.). Also be sure that the person assigned to do Haftara is aware that a special one is to be read, and, if a special maftir portion is required, that it also has been assigned.
See the Gabbai Quick Reference Sheet that one can use to assemble all the necessary information. We recommend you make copies for future use. It is intended to be printed, filled in and used by the gabbai during services
Note: Usually, the Service Coordinator will mail you a gabbai sheet with all or most of the information filled in, but it is the gabbai's responsibility to make sure all the information is there and fill in anything that is missing. For instance, the Coordinator may not have included the pages from the Hertz and Plaut bibles.
Hint: If you do not have a copy of the Hertz or Plaut bible and cannot get the pages ahead of time, bring some Post-it notes or flags with you and locate the readings before the service and mark them with the stick-ons so that you can find the pages quickly at the beginning of the service to announce them.
The gabbai may wish to arrange for a gabbai sheni (second gabbai--see below) in advance, although usually this can be done on Shabbat. The gabbai also needs to know who is reading the Haftara. As mentioned above, you can wait until the service, but when you are new, it is often easier to do some things in advance.
On Shabbat, Before the ServiceThe gabbai should be at the shul no later than 9:30. This is the most difficult of all the Gabbai's tasks, but it is absolutely essential.
You should not have to worry about setup; someone from House and Operations should be on hand to supervise that.
The Sefer Torah (Scroll) should be in the Aron Kodesh (Ark) or on the table, waiting to be checked.
The Gabbai should make sure that the Sefer is rolled to the correct place, then dress the Sefer and put it in the Aron Kodesh. Remember, the binder should open in the front, and the yad, by custom, goes over both etzim or over the Bereshit end of the scroll (the right as you look at the front).
The file box of 3X5 cards on which are the English and Hebrew names of the members, the envelope of aliyah cards, and the gabbai notebook are normally stored in the Aron Kodesh and should be removed before the service starts. Inside the front cover of the gabbai notebook are large versions of both the Reconstructionist and Traditional Torah blessings for use during the Torah Service.
The gabbai also should make sure that two or three sets of kippot and tallitot are set on or near the side of the reading table (in case someone called for an aliyah forgets to don them before coming up).
During the First Part of the ServiceThe gabbai insists--politely but firmly--that the person doing the Preliminary Service start exactly on time (typically 9:45). Even though there are not many people present, if the service does not start on time, it will run late. A typical Shabbat schedule would be:
|9:45-10:00||Preliminary Service-P'sukey D'Zimra|
|10:30-11:20||Torah Service and readings|
|11:40-11:45||Torah Service conclusion and announcements|
The Torah service may vary, depending on the length of that week's portion and whether we do Birkat HaHodesh (Blessing of the new month), so times from that part on are approximate. Also, when Hallel is said, add 10 minutes to Shaharit.
During the Preliminary Service, the P'suke D'Zimra, and the Shaharit, the gabbai should find someone to be gabbai sheni and find out who is reading the Haftara (if not already done) and give out aliyot. Since there is a tradition that one should not turn down an opportunity to do a mitzvah (commandment), and since reading Torah is a mitzvah, in theory everyone offered an aliyah should take it. However, for various reasons people may feel it is inappropriate on this specific occasion. To avoid putting someone in the position of refusing to do a mitzvah, we have developed a custom of showing the aliyah card and asking "Would you like to be offered an aliyah today?" If the person says yes, take the sticker off the aliyah card and hand the card to the person. The sticker goes on the member's 3X5 card. If the person (or family) given the aliyah is not a member (or for some other reason does not have a 3X5 card), put the sticker on one of the 'no-card' cards in the envelope. It is customary in all branches of Judaism to welcome (Jewish) visitors by offering them aliyot. Aliyot are not offered to non-Jews, but in Shir Hadash, non-Jews may accompany a Jew who is called to the Torah.
If the person being offered an aliyah is not wearing a tallit and a head covering, it is appropriate to point out that in this congregation it is the custom that all who accept an honor wear both. We are, however, flexible. In particular, head covering, although customary, is not biblically commanded.
All but one of the cards should be given out before the Sh'ma. That one is saved until the beginning of the Torah service in case anyone has a special reason to need an aliyah. A special reason could include celebrating a birthday or anniversary, wanting to bench gomel (offer thanks for escaping danger), have a mi-sheberach said for someone who is ill, etc. It is a good idea to find someone who would like to be offered an aliyah but has no special reason to have one. Then, if no one claims the last aliyah, it is offered to that person.
There are ten honors to be given out: The six aliyot given out early, the Magbia/Magbihah (Torah lifter), Goleyl/Golelet (Torah binder) and Maftir/Maftirah, and the reserved aliyah. The Maftir/Maftirah is always given to the person doing Haftara. The Magbia/Magbihah is usually given to a man, but need not be. The key to Torah lifting is technique, especially the use of balance and the legs. Any woman who wishes to do this, should be given a chance. (If in doubt, she might wish to come early and practice before the service.) Because binding does not require strength we often offer it to women, but it should not be seen as a woman's honor. In our congregation we frequently have as many or more women being called to read Torah, so we do not need to reserve a special honor for women. Torah lifting and binding do not require a knowledge of Hebrew, and therefore are suitable for both men and women whose Hebrew is limited.
Before the Torah service begins, arrange the 3X5 cards in order so that you can refer to them easily.
Torah ServiceJust before the Torah Service commences, announce the reserved aliyah and assign it.
During the beginning of the Torah service, look around to see if there is someone below the age of thirteen who would be suitable for opening the Ark. [Note: This is an honor that Shir Hadash allows for pre-b'nei-mitzvah; it is an honor and should be treated as such. It is also an honor for an adult to be invited to open the Aron Kodesh.]
While the Torah procession is going around, the gabbai should close the Aron Kodesh (if not already closed), place the gabbai notebook and the extra tallitot and kippot nearby, and lay the Torah Blessings on the right side (as one faces the congregation) of the reading table. The gabbai sheni should come up and stand on the left. Both gabbai and gabbai sheni will have Humashim with which to follow the readings.
When the procession returns to the table, the gabbai or gabbai sheni helps to remove the yad, the mantle, and the binder. Place the mantle on top of the Scroll and put the binder away on the side. Announce the pages on which the congregation can find the reading, and call the first reader(s). When calling the honorees, be sure you can be heard all the way in the back. If you are the shy type, remind yourself that you have an obligation to the congregation that supersedes your natural desire to be inconspicuous.
Call by name or by number, depending on the preference of the honoree(s). There are several versions of the calling formulas, but the most straightforward one is on page 395 in KOL HANESHAMAH: Shabbat Vehagim, a copy of which is included in this packet. If the person does not have a tallit or kippah, offer but do not insist. Our goal is to encourage people to use the symbols of our people, not to embarrass anyone.
The person who is Baal/Baalat K'riah (Torah reader) should be there before the Rishon/Rishonah (First aliyah) and will take off the mantle and point to the starting verse. The person(s) honored will hand the aliyah card to the gabbai and stand to the right of the Baal/Baalat K'riah, touch the Sefer (anyplace) with the Tallit, kiss the Tallit, close the Sefer, and recite the blessings while holding the etzim (rollers). After the blessing are recited, the etz Sefer is opened and the honoree holds the right roller while the Torah is read.
Both the Reconstructionist and traditional versions of the blessings should be on the table. Most of our members will recite the Reconstructionist version, but anyone who prefers to recite the traditional version is welcome to do so, especially visitors who may not be familiar with the Reconstructionist modifications. The blessings are customarily read in Hebrew, but although we encourage Hebrew, honorees should feel free to recite in English. We consider it more important that people participate than that they read Hebrew.
If the reading is done from a book, the gabbai sheni follows the reading in the Scroll, using the Yad, unless the honoree is capable of following.
During the reading, both gabbai and gabbai sheni follow the reading in the text and if the reader makes an error, they are obligated to correct. Also, if the reader is obviously stuck, the gabbaim prompt the reader (but not too fast--give the reader a chance to recover).
After the reading, the honoree(s) touch(es) the Torah with the tallit, kiss(es) the tallit, close(s) the Torah, and recite(s) the blessings. It is customary, but not necessary, to touch the portion being read. In some places one touches the tallit only to the margin. The important thing is not to rub the lettering.
The process is repeated for the remaining six aliyot. If anyone wishes to have a mi-sheberach said, one calls the next aliyah, then recites the mi-shebarech after the honoree(s) come up, but before the Torah blessings are said. Usually, we give an aliyah to one who wishes a mi-shebarech, but one can say the prayer on behalf of anyone in the congregation, regardless of whether the person has been called up. Versions of the mi-shebarech prayer are in KOL HANESHAMAH: Shabbat Vehagim, pp. 402-403, and 684-693. In addition, the the Gabbai notebook has copies of mi-sheberach and other prayers from the 1948 Reconstructionist siddur and from the Conservative Sim Shalom siddur, if there is a need for other sources. We also keep copies of the Debby Friedman Mi-Sheberach in the back pocket of the Gabbai notebook if you want to do a communal version. Usually, a communal mi-sheberach would be done between the fifth and sixth aliyot (after the sixth honoree is called but before the blessings are recited).
The point of a mi-sheberach is to inform the congregation that one is in need of support from one's community (usually). There are also versions for expressing joy (at a birthday, anniversary, bar- or bat-mitzvah, etc.) that one wishes to share with the community. We usually do part in Hebrew and part in English, but it can be done entirely in English. (For the benefit of those in the congregation who are not fluent in Hebrew, it should always be done at least partially in English.) However the gabbai plans on handling this, it should be practiced in advance of the service.
When we do a special prayer, the Sefer is covered until the next set of Torah blessings. (In general, if there is any interruption in the Torah readings, one covers the Sefer.)
After the Seventh aliyah, one can recite the Hatzi Kaddish before calling the Maftir/Maftirah. Traditionally, the maftir portion is separated from the rest of the Torah readings, but Shir Hadash has not had a set policy on this. It has usually been at the option of the gabbai and sometimes has depended on time. That is, if the service seems to be running late, it may be skipped, but if we seem to be ahead of schedule, it may be added.
After the maftir portion has been read, the gabbai calls the Magbia/Magbihah and Goleyl/Golelet. The custom here is to call by role, but if there is some special reason, one may call by name (e.g. if the person wishes to have a mi-sheberach said). Just before calling the Magbia/Magbihah, place a chair near the table for the lifter.
Remind the lifter to pull the Sefer out over the edge of the table and bend the knees to gain leverage. Remind the binder that the primary task is to grasp and roll the Sefer--others will hand the accessories to the Goleyl/Golelet. Ask the congregation to rise and help lead "Etz haim hi..."
Note: The gabbaim should grasp the table cover near the front corners and hold it while the Magbia/hah slides the Torah toward him/herself, so that it does not fall off the reading desk.
Once the Magbia/Magbihah sits down you may signal the congregation to sit, although at Shir Hadash we usually stand until the mantle is on the Torah. Although not required, it is nice to keep singing something, such as "Al sheloshah devarim..." or "Torah, Torah..."
After the Torah is dressed (Yad on both etzim or on the Bereshit side), it may be laid on the reading table or held by a member of the congregation.
At this point, the gabbaim take their seats and the Maftir/Maftirah reads the Haftara. For the gabbai sheni, duties are complete. The gabbai should collect all the the aliyah cards and 3X5 cards and remove them from the table. It is important to refile them before you leave for the day.
After the Haftara, invite the person giving the D'var Torah to come forward. You may put out a chair for the person, although usually the speaker takes care of that on her/his own. Depending on the time and the interest in the topic the Dvar Torah discussion should be allowed to run twenty minutes but no more than thirty minutes (except under special circumstances). In any event, it should not go past 11:50. If it does not end naturally at the appropriate time, the gabbai should bring it to a close in a tactful manner.
The gabbai does (or makes sure someone does) the Rosh Hodesh announcement if it is a Shabbat Birkat Hodesh.
During the procession before the Torah is returned to the Ark, look around for someone (usually a pre-b'nei-mitzvah) to open the Ark. It should be opened on the last stanza of the processional hymn and closed at the end of the final prayer. The gabbai usually uses hand signals so that the person opening and closing will know what to do.
After the Torah has been placed in the ark, we have announcements and the "Musaf" service. (We call it Musaf, but since we seldom do an Amidah, it is more properly just the conclusion of the service.) The formal end comes with the Kaddish Yatom, the mourners' kaddish, but we usually add a final hymn, such as Adon Olam.
At the end of the service, put the aliyah cards, file box, and gabbai notebook back in the Aron Kodesh and move to the Kiddush area. Help lead "VeShamru b'nei Yisrael..." and locate the people who brought the Kiddush. It is our custom that those who brought the food lead the Borei pri hagafen and the Motzi, but they might need some help if unfamiliar with the prayers. The gabbai assists or makes arrangement for assistance.
Relax. If you have refiled the name cards you have completed your responsibilities for the day.
The Gabbai Quick Reference SheetNow that you've mastered the detailed instructions, you can use the Gabbai Quick Reference Sheet as a guide during the service. In addition to reminders of the various tasks, instructions and service outline, it includes places to write the names of each of the people responsible for the various parts of the service.
(The online version of the reference sheet uses a small font and may be hard to read on the screen. It is intended to be printed and mailed to the gabbai, filled in with the names of the people responsible for each part of the service, a few days before Shabbat).
Questions, comments to
Revised Nov. 2 1997 / Heshvan 2, 5758.