- Question: [Thursday, 13th Iyar, 5783]
I am the Gabaiy of a Shul and always understood that whenever there was no Kohen present in the synagogue then I may distribute the first Aliyah to anyone I choose whether a Levi or Yisrael, based on my discretion and so I likewise read in your article. However, recently I was informed that in Chabad we are careful to try to always call up the Levi first when there is no Kohen present.
Indeed, the Chabad tradition is to endeavor to call up the Levi for the first Aliyah when there is no Kohen present. This, however, is not an obligation and is left to the discretion of the Gabai. [Thus, if the Gabai feels it necessary to distribute aliyas to other congregants who usually don’t get an Aliyah, then he may forgo the Levi. However, in general when all the candidates for the Aliyah are of equal status, the Chabad tradition is to endeavor to call up the Levi. This is not a Halachic obligation but rather a mere Hiddur.]
The Talmudic background: The Gemara states that when there is no Kohen in Shul “the package falls apart.” It is unclear as to the intent of this statement, and Rashi offers two explanations, the first that “The Levi is not called at all” and the second explanation that “He can call up whomever he wants.” Now, there is a total of two interpretations amongst the Poskim as to the understanding of the first explanation in Rashi, which consequently created three opinions in Halacha as to whether a Levi may or should be called up first when a Kohen is not present:
- That one may not call up a Levi at all, neither for the first Aliya in place of the Kohen, nor for the second Aliyah which is generally designated for Levi. [1st explanation of Rashi as learns Kesef Mishneh on Rambam ibid and Taz ibid; One way of learning Rambam and Michaber 135:6, and so learns to be their opinion: Peri Chadash 135:6; Bach 135; Kneses Hagedola 135:5; Beis Yehuda 2; Kaf Hachaim 135:40]
- That we no longer need to honor the Levi with an Aliya prior to a Yisrael, even if the Levi and Yisrael are of equal stature, and thus its left to the discretion of the Gabaiy as to whether to call up a Levi or Yisrael for the first Aliyah of Kohen. If, however, a Yisrael if of greater stature, the one must honor the Yisrael. [1st Pirush in Rashi ibid, as understood by Maharil ibid, Darkei Moshe 135:6, Maharil, and Beis Yosef 135 in name of Minchas Kohen; explained in Machatzis Hashekel on M”A 135:10]
- That we no longer need to honor the Levi with an Aliya prior to a Yisrael, if the Yisrael is of greater stature, and thus its left to the discretion of the Gabaiy as to whether to call up a Levi or Yisrael for the first Aliyah of Kohen. If, however, the Levi and Yisrael are of equal stature, and certainly if he is of greater stature, then one must precede the Levi. [2nd Pirush in Rashi; Rosh Gittin 5:20; Taz ibid; Machatzis Hashekel ibid; Levushei Serud on Taz ibid]
The final Halachic ruling: The Shulchan Aruch rules like the second opinion above that if there is no Kohen present in Shul, it is permitted for a Levi to go up in his place [if there is no Yisrael of greater stature than the Levi]. There is however no obligation to call a Levi in place of the Kohen, and it is left to the discretion of the Gabai whether to call a Levi or Yisrael, unless the Levi is of greater stature than the Yisrael, or the Levi has a Chiyuv
The Chabad tradition: While there is no obligation to be particular to always call up a Levi instead of a Yisrael when there is no Kohen present, and indeed this is left to the Gabais discretion based on how the Aliyos should be distributed to the congregants, nonetheless, the Chabad tradition is to endeavor to call up the Levi for Aliyah when there is no Kohen present. This can be learned from the following sources:
- In the diary of Rabbi Yaakov Landau he writes that he was instructed by the Rebbe Rashab to endeavor to call up the Levi for Aliyah when there is no Kohen present.
- In Likkutei Sippurim of Rav Perlow he brings a story that one time in the minyan of the Alter Rabbe the Levi was called up first when there was no Kohen present, and the Alter Rebbe blessed him with long years.
- In Hamelech Bemesibo it brings that the Rebbe replied to the question of Rav Shmuel Levitin of whether the act of piety to precede a Levi to a Yisrael by a Zimun also applies to other matters, that indeed it does. While the Rebbe does not spell out that this also includes the Aliyos for Kerias Hatorah, it can possibly be inferred from there. [Vetzaruch Iyun, as from the question itself it is implies that it was not known to Rav Shmuel Levitin this tradition of trying to precede the Levi to the Yisrael by an Aliyah when there is no Kohen present, as otherwise he could have derived an answer from this tradition itself.]
The halachic basis for the Chabad tradition: The Alter Rebbe rules in his Shulchan Aruch regarding leading the Zimmun that whenever there is no Kohen present, it is proper to honor the Levi if he is equal in wisdom to the Yisrael, and one who does so merits long life. However, he states that there is no obligation in this matter being that the mitzvah of “Vekidashto” only applies to a Kohane. Based on this one can learn that also regarding an Aliyah to the Torah it is proper to precede the Levi to the Yisrael if there is no Kohen present. This would follow the third opinion brought above, which is the opinion of the Rosh as brought in Taz and other Poskim to always precede the Levi when he and the Yisrael are of equal status of wisdom.
Sources: See regarding the general law if there is no Kohen in Shul: Gemara Gittin 59b; Rama 135:6; M”A 135:10; Taz 135:6; Peri Chadash 135:6; Elya Raba 135:9; Mamar Mordechai 135:8; Machazik Bracha 135:4; Biur Hagr”a; Rashi Gittin 59b in accordance to his second and main explanation; Rosh in name of Ritzba; Tur 135; Maharil, and Beis Yosef 135 in name of Minchas Kohen, that this applies even according to the first Pirush in Rashi Gittin ibid; One way of learning Rabbeinu Yerucham, Rambam Tefila 12:19 and even 1st Pirush in Rashi ibid; Or Letziyon 2:9; Yabia Omer 6:24; Piskeiy Teshuvos 135:10; See regarding the general proper act to precede a levi to a Yisrael: Admur 201:3; M”A 201:4; Tur 201; Bach 201; Kitzur SHU”A 144:8; Hamelech Bemisibo 1 p. 265; See regarding giving the Aliyah to the Levi if a Kohen is not present: Rosh Gittin 5:20; Taz ; Zera Emes 15; Machazik Bracha O.C. 135:5; Toras Chaim Sofer O.C. 135:11 that so is the custom today See regarding the Chabad tradition: Kefar Chabad 986:35; Likkutei Sippurim p. 107; Hamelech Bemisibo 1 p. 265