Romaniote Memories: A Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano

Procession & Torah Reading

Typically, in a traditional congregation, services on Rosh Hashanah may last 4-5 hours, combining the morning service (Shacharit) and the additional service (Musaf). Between these comes the Torah service, in which Torah scrolls are removed from the ark and the prescribed reading is chanted to the congregation. Even though the holiday falls on the Sabbath, the Torah readings are those assigned to Rosh Hashanah; the story of the birth of Isaac from Genesis 21. A second reading is from Numbers 29:1–6, which commands the celebration of Rosh Hashanah “with trumpets.” Because there are readings from two sections, two scrolls are taken from the ehal (ark) and prepared for reading to make it easier. 

When removed from the ehal (ark), the Torah scrolls are carried around the congregation where congregants can pay their respects. This is the most active part of any synagogue service, and the entire space becomes animated. In Ioannina, those carrying the Torah weave their way through the aisles and cross the central space to bring the scrolls to the bimah (reader’s platform). The scrolls are protected in their cases (in Ioannina, the traditional Romaniote tiks), but even the cases are not kissed directly. Men touch the cases with their tallitot (prayer shawls), which they then kiss, and women use their hands or prayerbooks, and then kiss these.

When the Torah scrolls are brought to the bimah, the scrolls are opened and shown to the congregation. Some congregants are given the honor to recite the blessing before and after each separate reading portion. The hazan chants the text using a yad (pointer) to help follow the lines of Hebrew script. At the end of the Torah service the scrolls are returned to the ehal and the procession process is reversed as the congregation stands and sings.

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