How to be a Gabbai At Shir Hadash

The word 'gabbai' is roughly equivalent to 'manager' and the job of the gabbai is to manage the service. The gabbai is responsible for making sure that all of the tasks listed below 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. The person most responsible for the manager duties is known as “Gabbai Rishon,” the first gabbai.

Before Shabbat

Look over the information the service organizer has emailed to you. Print two copies, one for yourself and one for the Gabbai Sheini (the second gabbai). If you have Hertz and/or Plaut at home, look up the page numbers for the first reading; if not, do this when you arrive on Saturday before the service—but you will not be able to write down the page numbers.

On Shabbat

You are responsible for the smooth running of the service, particularly the Torah service. This includes making assignments and seeing that the service begins and ends on time, with each segment of the service ending at the approximate time assigned. You are also responsible for helping to make the Torah service understandable to all.

Before the service starts, take out the Torah (ask another person to help you), roll the scroll to the place of the first reading, and remember where that is (which column and where on the column). Return the Torah to the ark.

Take the white loose-leaf notebook, the folder of aliyah assignment cards, and the gabbai box of 3 x 5”” cards with member Hebrew names and put these where they will be accessible to you.

During the early part of the service, assign the roles of Gabbai Sheini, the aliyot (those who will be called up and say the blessings for each Torah reading), and Hagbah and Gelilah (Torah lifting and dressing). It is customary to say “Would you like to be honored with an aliyah?” first, so that if the person turns you down, he/she is not refusing to do a mitzvah. In any case, never make a person feel bad for preferring not to take the honor.

Assign two of the three aliyot for the Torah reading. When introducing the Torah service, ask if anyone who has not been approached would like an aliyah. If you want, you can arrange for a back-up person in case no one volunteers. As the service gets underway and as it progresses, you should make sure that all the service leaders, the Torah readers, and those giving the English translation are present in time for their roles. If someone is not there, find a replacement.

If there is a Haftarah (a reading from the Prophets), the reader will be the Maftir, which in our case is the fourth aliyah. This will have been assigned in advance, but you will still need to remind that person that he or she will have the Maftir honor.

We usually call up the aliyot by name (see Appendix 1 for formulas). For those receiving aliyot who are members, take their card out of the gabbai box and affix the stick-on numbers to the cards, to facilitate the calling up by name. For those who are not members, signal to them to stand up and come forward, and quietly ask them their Hebrew names and their parents’ names.

During the Processional

Go up to the reading table and assemble your materials: tikkun or regular chumash, list of assignments (giving the second copy to the Gabbai Sheini), cards with names of those having aliyot, and the Appendices to this guide if you need them. Place the large card with the Torah blessings where the honorees will see it.

Introducing the Torah Reading

After the Torah has been placed on the table, say “Shabbat Shalom”or other greeting, and, if there are guests present, introduce yourself as a member of Shir Hadash who is the gabbai—the person who facilitates the Torah service. Describe, in a very few sentences, what has transpired in the Torah since Shir Hadash last read. I find it useful to write this out ahead of time. Announce the name of the portion, the book, chapter, and verse, and then the pages in Hertz and in Plaut.

Speak slowly, clearly, and loudly enough so those in back can hear you. Always translate Hebrew terms into English.

The order of the each aliyah is as follows: call the person forward, the reader shows the place in the scroll, the person being honored touches the Torah with the fringes of his/her tallit or with a siddur and then kisses it, the scroll is closed up again, the honoree chants the opening blessing (see next paragraph on this), the Torah reader chants the portion in Hebrew, the translator gives the English translation, then the honoree again touches the scroll with tallit or siddur, and then chants the concluding blessing.

Torah Blessings

The large card has the blessings in Hebrew, English, and in transliteration. For the blessing before the Torah reading, we have both the Reconstructionist and the Traditional versions. Many, though not all, of our members are familiar with the Reconstructionist version, and guests may not be. It is OK to take the time quietly to show the honoree the options. For those members and guests less familiar with the blessings, I usually point to the place on the card they will be using.

Gabbai Sheini and Ensuring a Smooth Torah Reading

TThe gabbaim are responsible for correcting any errors in the Hebrew reading. In addition, you can ask the gabbai sheini to perform two additional roles (If you don’t assign them to the Gabbai Sheini, they are your job). The first is to keep track of exactly where we are in the scroll, so that when a new Torah reader begins, that person can be shown the place. Another way to do this is to ask the previous reader to stay at the table and show the place to the next reader. Just remember that this is important, because losing the place during the readings delays the service and creates a less than desirable atmosphere. The second job is to announce the chapter and verse of the aliyot subsequent to the first so that everyone will know where we are in the reading.

Mi-Sheberakh (Personal Blessing)

The person who has an aliyah may want a personal blessing for a birthday, other life cycle event, or other reason. Ask the Rabbi to lead if she is present and wishes to do so. In a member-led service, you can use (and if you wish, shorten) one of the blessings, both in Hebrew and English, in Kol Haneshamah, pp. 687-693. To create a meaningful experience for the person receiving the blessing and for the entire community, you may wish to familiarize yourself with the Appendix 2: “The Art of the Mi-Sheberakh”.

Prayer for Healing

This is usually done between the second and third aliyot. Cover the scroll with the special cover. Ask the Rabbi to lead if she is present and wishes to do so. Otherwise, the procedure is: Announce the prayer for healing and ask those who wish to mention someone in particular to rise and to say the name as your eyes meet theirs, or as you nod to them. You can either use the prayer (both in Hebrew and English) in Kol Haneshamah, p. 685 or the prayer in the gabbai notebook, or lead the group in singing Debbie Friedman’s Mi-Sheberakh (see Appendix 3 for lyrics).

Hagbah and Gelila
(Lifting and Dressing the Torah)

This is coordinated by the Gabbaim. Gabbai Rishon calls them up: Ya-amod ha-magbiah (for a man) Ta-amod ha-magbihah (for a woman); Ya-amod Ha-golel (for a man), Ta-amod Ha-golelet (for a woman). Place a folding chair facing the congregation. The Magbiah/Magbihah lifts the Torah and holds it up and turns around so that the congregation can see the writing (some people think they have to open it to several columns, but that is not necessary), then sits down. As the Torah is lifted, one of the Gabbaim should “spot” the lifter, the way a coach stands by a gymnast who might need steadying. As the person is sitting down with the Torah, the Golel/Golelet should take hold of the tops of both rollers, then roll the scroll tightly closed. One of the Gabbaim then hands that person first the binder with the Velcro to wrap the scrolls, then the cover to put on, and finally the Yod (pointer). Help as needed. Instruct the Golel/Golelet on taking hold of the tops, since they often start looking around for the cover rather than steadying the Torah scroll.

After the dressed Torah is placed on the table, it is time for the Haftarah if there is one. Otherwise, we go right to the D’var Torah. If it is a Shabbat with a study session before the service, we go right to the prayers for putting away the Torah. We always omit the recessional.

Timing of the Shabbat Morning Service

10:00 am Service begins

10:30 am Torah service and D’var Torah
11:45 am Announcements, concluding service

Noon Service ends, Kiddush

(For breakfast/study service, breakfast is at 9:30, study session 10:00, service starts at 11:00 and ends at noon)

Appendix 1. Aliyot call-up formulas

(see also page 395 in Kol Haneshamah, Shabbat Vehagim)

Male (single):

Ya-amod <Hebrew name> ben <father’s name> v’ <mother’name> le-aliyah <aliyah number> (list of aliyah numbers is below)

Female (single):

Ta-amod <Hebrew name> bat <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> le-aliyah <aliyah number>


Nah-l'amod <Hebrew name> mi beit <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> le-aliyah <aliyah number>

Males (plural), Both Male and Female:

Ya-amdu <Hebrew name> ben <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name>

(and...) <Hebrew name> ben <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name>

(and/or) <Hebrew name> bat <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> etc.

le-aliyah <aliyah number>

Females (plural)

Ta-amodnah <Hebrew name> bat <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> <Hebrew name> bat <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> etc.

Neutral (plural)

Nah-l'amdu <Hebrew name> mi beit <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> le-aliyah <aliyah number>


Ya-amdu Mishpachah <family name> le-aliyah <aliyah number>
Nah l'
amdu Mishpachah <family name> le-aliyah <aliyah number>

Haftarah reader (4th aliyah):

Male: Ya-amod <Hebrew name> ben <father’s name> v’ <mother’name> ha-maftir

Female: Ta-amod <Hebrew name> bat <father’s name> v’ <mother’s name> ha-maftirah

Aliyah Numbers

Aliyah Number 1: rishonah
Aliyah Number 2: shenit
Aliyah Number 3: shelishit

Appendix 2. The Art of the Mi-sheberakh

From How to Be a Gabbai/t by Rabbi Dayle Friedman.
Made available to Shir Hadash by Rabbi Audrey Marcus-Berkman


  1. To honor a member of the community who has taken part in the Torah service (or otherwise served the community)

  2. To mark significant moments in the lives of members of the community (the possibilities are endless!)—could be individual or group, could relate to themes in the parasha

    1. To express communal or personal hopes, values, aspirations

    2. To enable the community to respond to members who are experiencing joy, sorrow, and/or transitions in their lives

  3. Traditionally, to enable the individual honored with an aliyah to announce a pledge to the congregation


See Kol Haneshamah, pp. 684-93 for examples of format and content.

A generic format might be:

Mi-sheberakh avoteinu avraham, yitzkhak, v’yaakov v’imoteinu sarah, rivkah, rachel, leah, bilhah, v’zilpah, hu yivarekh et (name of the person being blessed and name of his/her parents) she alah/alta likhvod ha-makom vi’likhovod ha torah v’likvod ha-shabat vi…[insert occasion for aliyah/blessing]

[Insert words expressing the blessing we wish for this person on this occasion perhaps including:]

Ha-Rahaman yikhazkei-ha/hu vi’yishmereiha/hu mi’kol nega tsara umachalah. Yehi ratzon she mekor haHayim yishslah la/lo bracha v’hatzlacha bikhol ma’asei yaldeihah/yaldav.

May the Merciful One sustain him/her and protect him/her from all troubles and afflictions. May the Source of life grant him/her blessing and success in all his/her endeavors.

Im kol yisrael ama/amo v’nomar: Amen

Along with all Israel her/his people, and let us say: Amen.

A Suggested Approach

Begin in Hebrew through naming the occasion for the blessing. Translate this far into English. Continue in Hebrew through the end of the blessing. Translate this part into English and conclude, vi’nomar: Amen. If your Hebrew is not fluent enough for this kind of spontaneous composition, simply do the middle, personalized part of the blessing in English, and then end in Hebrew.

Tips—the Art Part

  1. Take a good breath before you plunge in! Pause to get a sense (probably non-verbally) from the person/s before you, of what s/he is feeling/experiencing (emotion, tone, etc.) regarding the occasion of the blessing/aliyah, and reflect in in your kavannah, your manner and words.

  2. Make eye contact with the person/s before you and with the kahal (congregation).

  3. Use imaginative language or images, but know that words aren’t as important as touching and acknowledging the feelings.

  4. You may want to say/sing something after the blessing to mark the moment in a different way, e.g., say, refuah shlemah after a blessing for healing a member’s dear one, or sing siman tov u’mazel tov after a blessing for a simcha, so that everyone can participate in offering blessing.

Appendix 3. Mi shebeirach
(Prayer for Healing) - Debbie Friedman

Mi shebeirach avoteinu
M'kor hab'racha l'imoteinu
May the source of strength,
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, Amen.
Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M'kor habrachah l'avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with r'fuah sh'leimah,
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,
And let us say, Amen

The Gabbai Quick Reference Sheet

Now 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 filled in with the names of the people responsible for each part of the service, a few days before Shabbat).

Revised - Nov 2013 - Ruth Kertzer Seidman
Original - Nov. 2 1997 / Heshvan 2, 5758.
Shabbat morning service at Cape Cod retreat