Lifting and Dressing the Torah: Hagbah and Gelilah

October, 2012


Have you ever seen the Torah lifted up high during a prayer service and thought to yourself, “I’m much to short/small/weak/nervous to try that”?

Let us assure you: you’re not too short, small, weak, or nervous to try!

The acts of lifting and then dressing the Torah are honors that anyone can easily learn.

During any service in which the Torah is read, the reading is followed by the Torah being lifted for the congregation to see and then re-rolled and dressed. The hagbah is “lifting the Torah” into the air so that all can see its words.

This sacred task can be taught quickly. The person doing hagbah unrolls the Torah scroll so that it’s about shoulder width, then lifts the Torah at least to shoulder height, and turns around so that the writing is facing the congregation. In some congregations, the Torah remains held high while a particular verse is sung, while in others the Torah is either lowered back to the bimah or is carried to a seat (keeping the Torah in the vertical position). The person who did hagbah is now seated, holding the Torah upright on their lap, and is almost done. Generally, the front portion of the Torah (see below) will be facing them; the back portion will be facing the congregation.

The person “dressing the Torah,” performing the ritual known as gelilah (which really means “rolling the Torah”), who has been standing off to the side while the Torah has been lifted, accompanies the Torah to the seat (watching to rescue the Torah if it begins to wobble). When that person is seated with the Torah, the person honored with gelilah dresses the Torah with its belt, its cover, and any other pieces (such as a mantle, pointer — known as a yad, or crowns).

The Torah is still dressed as the priests at the time of the holy Temple in Jerusalem dressed it. Lifting and dressing the Torah are honors because these tasks publicly demonstrate how the community loves and reveres the words of the scroll and all it stands for and teaches.