What is all the pomp and circumstance in the Torah service? Part 2 of 2 (last week had Part 1) Originally published January 19-20, 2018

The Sefer Torah is the only book we decorate with velvet mantel, velvet gartel (the belt that goes around its waist, literally “belt” in Yiddish), and sometimes silver crown and breastplate.  Sometimes we sew semi-precious stones to the mantel or affix them to the breastplate.  We parade the scroll before and after reading it (parading is called hakafah), and we show our love for it by touching it with a ritual item – a tallit or a prayer book, for instance – and then kissing that item. 

When we read from the Sefer Torah, we point with a “yad,” Hebrew for “hand,” usually made of metal.  We don’t touch the scroll, lest we damage the letters.  Often when we put the Torah away, the yad hangs on a chain around the top of the right-side eytz (the poles on which the Torah is rolled are called “atzei hayyim,” or each an “eytz hayyim,” a tree of life).

We appoint two gabbai’im to attend the reading.  And we give honors to individuals with aliyot – being called to the Torah – who use a ritual item to touch the place where the reading begins, kiss that item, and say a blessing, and then do the same at the end of the reading.

Through these rituals we not only retain the sanctity of the Torah, but we also remind ourselves and our children of its importance.   And then we focus on the reading itself.

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