During the short period of time prior to the building of the Second Temple, the great religious dynamic duo of Ezra and Nechemiah opened up the first kiruv operation. The Jewish people forgot the Torah and lived secular lives during the Babylonian exile. When Ezra led the people back to Israel to restore the nation, he noticed that the people forgot just about everything they learned in chayder. (See Nechemiah Chapter 8 for an interesting description of how he restored Rosh Hashanna and Sukkot, and instituted Mishloach Manot). In response, Ezra established many takanot (amendments), including the mitzvah of reading the Torah on a regular basis – on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat. So there should not be any stretch of 3 days without hearing the Torah – the source, being read.
The Torah reading event is the central part of the Shabbat morning service. It occupies the most time, and it’s the big money maker for most shuls. This is when a smart gabbai can find people who to get called up to the Torah and give a donation in return for the piece-wise recitation of his family tree. Sure, it’s a pain to hear someone break his teeth on saying the wrong beracha or skipping the baruch hashem hamvorach part. But it pays the bills. Of course, sometimes people are too cheap to pay up. And when this happens, the Gabbai recites a short curse, casting a spell causing the person’s libido to go away for a few days. You’ll find the curse in back of the Artscroll Gabbai Handbook.
What I find most interesting is how we no longer see any value in the Torah reading itself. Instead, the time spent has really become a platform for other important things. When you look at the interest and energy of the congregation during the Torah reading, you’ll find that the highlight of the morning is the Mi Shebarachs said for those who are ill. When did this become the most important part of davenning? And why don’t gabbaim charge for this? A clear lost opportunity to milk us for more money.
The next most important part of the morning is the prayers inserted for the governments, soldiers, MIAs, prisoners, unemployed, and gays. Depending on the shul – you get anywhere between 4 and 10 prayers inserted at Shevi’i – some even recited in English. Why say these during the laining? I guess it’s because the laining is now a platform for anything we think is important – expect of course for the Torah itself.
I found the most peculiar practice at a shul I recently visited, where in middle of the laining, the gabbai announced that one of the Rabbis will be giving a class DURING the Torah reading itself. A bunch of people then walked out to go to the class. I guess it was the only convenient time? I don’t know. It seems to me that there was plenty of time while everyone waited 15 minutes for the Ruv to finish his silent amidah for someone to run a quickie class.
When did the Torah reading become the platform for important things? I thought the Torah was the important thing?
Hey Ezra – look at what our Orthodox shuls have done to your takana!