From the Rav’s Desk: Response: The Rebbe’s custom of approximating the Gartel to the Sefer Torah

  1. Question: [Sunday, 19th Teves 5781]

In a previous question and answer you wondered about the custom of approximating the Gartel to the Sefer Torah prior to the half Kaddish. I wanted to inform you that indeed this was seen done by the Rebbe himself and hence this is itself the source for why it is done so it should not be questioned.



Indeed, a number of people turned to us with this question claiming that there is a clear source from the Rebbe to perform this custom. We likewise received feedback from a number of leading Chabad Rabbanim, Rabbanei Kehilos and Morei Horah’s, with the majority agreeing with our conclusion although some questioning it. So, I would like to clarify my opinion on the subject and what my research has uncovered:

First of all, when a custom of a Rebbe should be followed by the masses is not a matter to be taken lightly and be viewed as allowed to replicate by simply any individual who witnesses the Rebbe do something. In general, we are fully aware that in Lubavitch there were customs that were relevant only for a Rebbe, and not for the Chassidim, as stated in the introduction to Sefer Haminhagim and throughout the Sefer. Likewise, in general, as the Rebbe himself concords with Rav Yaakov Landau in a letter addressed to him, that in Chabad we are not accustomed to copycat the Rebbe. Accordingly, there are specific guidelines as to when a custom witnessed from the Rebbe may and should be replicated likewise by the followers, and when not, and every Chassid needs to follow these guidelines before taking upon himself a custom that he witnessed. All this is even in the case that one fully understands that which he is witnessing without any possibility of misunderstanding. Certainly, and all the more so does this apply when the action witnessed to be done by the Rebbe could be misunderstood, or could be relevant only to specific circumstances, which will then be taken out of context by the replicating Hasid. I believe that this may be the case here as well regarding the Rebbe’s custom of approximating the Gartel to the Sefer Torah.

Being that I have already asked respected and elderly Hasiddim, some of which have enjoyed the closest relationship with the Rebbe [i.e. Rav Leibal Groner], as to what they witnessed by the Rebbe regarding this custom, and received conflicting answers [something not uncommon for those who are in this field of research] therefore I think the only way to positively verify one way or another is through video.

In all the videos that I have watched that show what the Rebbe does, the following can be observed: When he received the last Aliyah on a Monday and Thursday, while he was not wearing his Tallis and thus used the Gartel to kiss the Sefer Torah, he would approximate the Gartel to the Sefer Torah immediately after concluding his blessing. Doing so caused no delay whatsoever to the subsequent Kaddish that was recited. In the videos which show the Rebbe getting an Aliyah on days that he was wearing his Tallis, you do not see that the Rebbe did this custom. In one case, you see clearly that the Gartel was placed by the Baal Korei onto the other side of the Bima prior to the Rebbe saying the blessings and remained there and the Rebbe did not make an effort to place it by the Sefer Torah after his Aliyah, before the half Kaddish. Obviously, we have no video record of what the Rebbe did on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Now, let us try to determine whether this custom of the Rebbe was done in connection to the half Kaddish or perhaps it was simply done to return the Gartel that he used back to its place irrelevant of whether a half Kaddish would be recited. The only occasion that we have on video that can testify to this is regarding the Mincha of a fast day when no half Kaddish is recited until after the Haftorah. So, in one video of this occasion that I saw, it indeed appears that the Rebbe approximated the Gartel to the Sefer Torah after his blessing, thus suggesting that the custom has nothing to do with the half Kaddish but rather with the conclusion of his Aliyah and perhaps only when he is not wearing his Tallis and hence used the Gartel to kiss the Sefer Torah. Likewise, perhaps this was only done when he received the last Aliyah in order to approximate everything for the Gelila. We still await to hear clear testimony from anyone regarding if they witnessed the Rebbe do so on Shabbos and Yom Tov when he received Maftir, or any other time that a Tallis was worn. The only testimony that we have thus far heard is that the Rebbe did not do so on Shabbos and Yom Tov [when he wore his Tallis]. Whatever the case, as already explained above from the Mincha Taanis video, there is no proof from the Rebbe’s custom to suggest that this is a matter that one needs to be careful in prior to the half Kaddish, and rather simply that the Olah who uses the Gartel should replace it back at the end of his Aliyah. Certainly, there is zero precedence from the Rebbe’s custom to delay the half Kaddish until the Gartel is found and placed by the side. There is also no precedence to do so on Shabbos and Yom Tov prior to the half Kaddish, as the only testimony that we have is that the Rebbe did so by his personal aliyah even when the half Kaddish was not recited afterwards, and perhaps was only done when he did not wear his Tallis. For the record, the Rebbe always received Maftir on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and hence testimony does not exist that the Rebbe was ever careful to approximate the Gartel to the Sefer Torah prior to the half Kaddish on Shabbos and Yom Tov. So even for those who desire to replicate the Rebbe’s custom, if anything they should be careful to always return the gartel to the Sefer Torah after their Aliyah, irrelevant of which Aliyah they get, or at the very least if they get the last Aliyah before Hagbah, and only if they used the gartel to kiss the Sefer Torah, as this is the only corroborating testimony that we have of the Rebbe’s custom. Those who took this custom and created a custom of always approximating the Gartel to the Sefer Tortah prior to the half Kaddish have seemingly completely misunderstood what the Rebbe’s intents were.

All in all, the above comes to show how careful and patient Chassidim must be prior to jumping to the level of Rebbe and replicating his actions especially if it can create a custom that not even the Rebbe dreamed of, which compromises on matters of Halacha that the Rebbe himself instructed the Hasiddim to follow. [If approximating the Gartel causes no delay to the half Kaddish, then there is no issue with doing so. If, however, you need to look for it, such as if it’s hiding under a book, then this custom is compromising on the directive of the Poskim and Rebbe to approximate the Kaddish to the reading as much as possible.]

Accordingly, my opinion remains that according to Halacha there is no basis for delaying the Half Kaddish until the gartel is approximated to the Sefer Torah, and being that it is not understood in which circumstances the Rebbe followed this custom and whether it is only relevant for a Rebbe etc, therefore there is no need for a Gabaiy/Baal Korei to be careful to follow this and if he wants to at the very least he should never delay or instruct to delay the half Kaddish until it is done.

If anymore corroborated testimonies or videos that point one way or the other come to our attention, we will share it with the audience, and we ask anyone who knows of testimonies or videos to send them to us.

Sources: See Sefer HaSichos 5702 p. 27 “Amongst the Lubavitch customs there are customs that are relevant for everyone and customs that are only relevant to the Rabbeim”; Toras Menachem Sicha of night of 2nd of Iyar 5710 “Regarding the Nussach of Mimakor Harachamim, there is no need to give the rebbe an address from where to arouse mercy. Now, although the rebbe himself wrote this Nussach, this however is his personal custom and this is not a proof that also we who don’t understand the service of the Rebbe also need to write this way”; Igros Kodesh 20:39 to Harav Yaakov Landau; See Sefer Al Minhagim Umikoroseihem [Bloy] pp. 7-30

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