What Is Gelilah? And Whom Does the Gelilah Hug? Originally published December 7-8, 2018.

As we noted last week, this Shabbat is a day of a lot of gelilah, one of only a few in the year!

Gelilah גְלִילָה is not the person honored with binding, dressing, etc., a Sefer Torah; it is the practice of doing all that.  But colloquially some have come to use the term for the person.  The person is called a goleil (m.) or golelet (f.).  And hagbahah הַגְבָּהָה is not a person, either!  Nearly always pronounced “HUG-ba,” ha!, the joke is on those pronunciators, as there is another syllable.  The person is called a magbiah (m.) or magbihah (f.).

The chores of hagbahah (which is the highest honor afforded during a service, even higher than aliyah) are:

(1) Approach the reading desk when we finish the reading for that scroll.  (2) Open the scroll three columns wide while it is still lying down on the stand.  (3) Holding the spindles, pull the scroll toward you, bringing it about six inches off the table.  (4) Using your wrists and the edge of the stand, push down, bend at the knees, and then raise the scroll high into the air.  We needn’t show off!  This is not a strength demonstration!  The reading was usually only three columns long!  We should roll close to next week’s place in the scroll, not three days past or ahead.  (Pity the poor rabbi’s assistant who has to find the spot for next week.)  (5) Turn around to show briefly the inside of the scroll to the congregation and then sit down in the chair provided for you.  (6) Once the scroll is wrapped, either hold it or place it in the holder as indicated by the gabbai (one of those helping with the Torah reading).

The chores of gelilah are:

(1) Approach the reading desk when we finish the reading for that scroll.  (2) When the magbiah is seated, roll the scroll tight.  (3) Wrap the binder (the “gartel”) around the scroll and fasten it on the opposite side.  Try to keep the harsh side of any Velcro or fastener away from the parchment.  (4) Put the cover on the scroll so that it faces the person who is holding it.  (5) Add any other decorations or appurtenances which may apply.

This series of practices derives originally from Nehemiah 8:5:

וַיִּפְתַּ֨ח עֶזְרָ֤א הַסֵּ֙פֶר֙ לְעֵינֵ֣י כָל־הָעָ֔ם כִּֽי־מֵעַ֥ל כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הָיָ֑ה וּכְפִתְח֖וֹ עָֽמְד֥וּ כָל־הָעָֽם׃

Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; as he opened it, all the people stood up.

You, too, may be honored with gelilah, or even hagbahah.  Now you know what the chores will be.