Here we present some Halachot (laws) of Keriat Hatorah (reading of the law), mainly those concerning the blessings and the actual reading procedure. For further detailed study on the Halachic subject one could read the appropriate sections in Halachic works such as the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim (Chapters 135-149) by Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575), and its commentators or the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (the abridged Shulchan Aruch) by Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfried (1804-1888). For Halachic practice one must consult a rabbi.
- The main Keriat Hatorah is during the Shabbat morning service when the weekly Parasha is read.
- On Shabbat in the Mincha (afternoon) service we read the first section (Rishon) of the weekly Parasha (portion) that follows the one just completed that very morning. The same practice is repeated on the following Monday and Thursday in the Shacharit (morning) service.
- The reading of the Torah must be done from a Sefer Torah (scroll) hand written by a Sofer (scribe) on parchment made out of a kosher animal’s skin. Detailed laws as to the writing of a Sefer Torah, and the special form of the letters, can be found in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 32 & 36 and Shulchan Aruch Yore Deah, and the work Keset Hasofer by Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfried.
- A Cohen (priest - descendant in the male line from Aharon, the first high priest) is called up first, then a Levi (Levite - descendant of Levi the son of Jacob) and the remainder are Israelim (Israelites).
- The people called up are called Olim (Oleh in the singular) and the act performed is called Aliyah - ascending (Aliyot in the plural).
- When the Oleh is called up for an Aliyah he should go to the Bimah (the reading desk) via the shortest way and come back after he has finished (see point 12) via the longest way, for two reasons: a) to show respect for the Torah, and b) in order not to delay proceedings in the synagogue. If both ways are of the same length, the Oleh should go from the right and come back from the left.
- The Oleh recites a blessing before and after the reading thanking God for giving the Torah to the people of Israel.
- Before the first blessing the Oleh opens the Sefer Torah and finds the beginning (first verse) of his portion. Then, in order not to give to those present the impression that he is reading the blessing from the scroll, he should turn his face to his left while reciting the blessing. Some say that it is better to close ones eyes instead of turning the face away from the Sefer Torah.
- While reciting the first blessing the Oleh holds the Sefer Torah with both hands by the rods (Atzei Chayim - Trees of Life) to which the scroll is attached. During the reading, he holds the right hand side of the Etz Chayim with his right hand.
- The Baal Koreh (the master of reading - the officiant who reads the Torah) reads the portion from the scroll loudly, together with the Oleh who reads it quietly.
- A blind person, although unable to read from the scroll, can be called up for an Aliyah since nowadays the principal reading is the one performed by the Baal Koreh.
- After the reading the Sefer Torah is rolled back and the second blessing is recited.
- The Oleh stays beside the Bimah until the person called up after him has finished his portion.
- The Sefer Torah remains closed between Aliyot.
- If a writing error is found in a Sefer Torah whilst reading is in progress, another scroll is taken out of the Ark and the reading is completed from the second scroll. As to what is considered to be an error that would require such a procedure, see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 143.
- Once the Baal Koreh begins to read, it is forbidden for anyone in the congregation to engage in conversation, even between Aliyot.
- The Keriat Hatorah should be performed in a Minyan (a congregation of ten males over the age of thirteen).
- The number of Aliyot differs on occasions. On Shabbat morning there are seven Aliyot including the Cohen (first) and Levi (second), and on Shabbat afternoon and Mondays and Thursdays, there are three Aliyot. On a festival there are five, on the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) morning service six, and on Rosh Chodesh (new moon) and Chol Hamoed (intermediate days of a festival) there are four Aliyot.
- The appropriate Haftarah is read after the completion of the Parasha, in the morning services for Shabbat and festivals, and in the Mincha (afternoon) service on fast days.
- Apart from the practice of public reading in the synagogue, it is required of every individual to read the corresponding weekly Parasha privately to himself. The way in which this is done is known as Shnaim Mikra Ve’Echad Targum which means, 'Twice the verse and once the translation', referring to the translation into Aramaic by the Tanna (Jewish sage of the Mishna) Onkelos of the Second Century. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 285) states that one could read the Rashi commentary instead of the Onkelos translation.