Rabbi Whiman on Reform Judaism

All Judaisms have certain beliefs in common:

  • The existence of a creator
  • A continuing connection between the creator and the creation
  • The belief there is a purpose to life/a way to live

All Judaisms share a body of literature and teachings deemed sacred/holy.

All Judaisms share a relationship with the historic and modern land of Israel.

The Orthodox understands is that Judaism is a revealed body of belief and practice that is and has remained unchanging throughout its history and must remain unchanged.

The liberal understanding is that Judaism is a sacred body of belief and practice that is always evolving and has responded to the changing circumstances of Jewish history.

In Orthodoxy, the way to live is shaped by the demands of Halachah, understood to be an articulation of the will of the creator as interpreted by a recognized authority.

In liberal Judaism, the way to live is shaped by the ethical demands and the ritual practices of the tradition informed by the contextual demands of life and the exercise of human reason.

Halachah sets the boundaries of Jewish living, and Orthodox identity is affirmed through participation in communities of obligation.

Jewish tradition establishes the boundaries of Jewish living and reform identity is affirmed through participation in communities of meaning.

Western Wall and Conversion Law

Resolution EC 170910-2

Western Wall and Conversion Law:
Call for Unity among all Jews and Mutual Respect

The Executive Committee of the World Jewish Congress, meeting in London on September 10, 2017,

NOTES that the Western Wall (Kotel) is the last standing structure comprising part of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It thus forms a central part of Jewish history and holds deep significance for all Jews, regardless of religious practice, orientation, or gender;

STRONGLY SUPPORTS the Israeli Government’s past agreement to create an official space for egalitarian worship at the Kotel, with joint oversight by all streams of Judaism;

FURTHER DEPRECATES the Israeli government’s decision to support a conversion bill in the Knesset that aims to delegitimize conversions to Judaism in Israel conducted otherwise than by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, thereby revoking the practice of state recognition of Orthodox conversions through independent Orthodox rabbinical courts and the right of Reform and Masorti (Conservative) converts to register in the Interior Ministry as Jewish, and the divisiveness and despair that have arisen as a result of that deicision;

CALLS UPON the Israeli government to urgently work toward finding creative solutions to these issues in the spirit of tolerance, respect, and accommodation, and, importantly, in the spirit of Israel’s Proclamation of Independence, which committed the State of Israel to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”;

URGES productive dialogue between Israel and Diaspora communities in order to engender mutual understanding and ensure that Israel continues to fulfill its Zionist goal as the national home for all Jewsih people and continue the quest for a solution in the interests of the Jewish people;

RECOGNIZES AND AKNOWLEDGES the valid concerns about these decisions of the Israeli government, but urges the resulting anger and deep disappointment be channeled into positive and constructive dialogue, which attempts to resolve these issues for the benefit of Israel and the Jewish people and holds itself ready to assist in this vitally important project.

How to Have an Aliyah

The honor of reciting the blessings over the Torah and standing at the bimah while it is read is called an aliyah (plural, aliyot), which means “going up”. This refers both to the physical ascent of the person to the bimah where the Torah is read and to the spiritual uplifting associated with participation in this hallowed ritual. In most synagogues, to have an aliyah, one must be Jewish and have reached the age of bar mitzvah . Traditionally, only men could be called for an aliyah.
Being called up for an aliyah does not mean you will be asked to read from the Torah, although sometimes people ask to combine the two.

How Many Aliyot (Aliyahs) Per Service?

The number of aliyot in a Torah service varies widely depending on the day of the week and the holiday. On Shabbat morning, there are seven, but some congregations take advantage of a provision in Jewish law that permits dividing the Torah portion into more (but not less) than the required number of aliyot (Meg.23a). These extra aliyot (hosafot) allow one or more additional persons to have the honor of being called up to the Torah.
Three people are called to the Torah on Monday and Thursday mornings, on Sabbath afternoons, during the mincha service on Yom Kippur, on the festivals of Hanukkah and Purim, and on all fast days. There are four aliyot on Rosh Hodesh and on the intermediate days (hol hamoed) of Passover and Sukkot; five on Rosh Hashanah and on the festival days of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot; six on the morning of Yom Kippur; and seven on Sabbath morning.

How to Approach the Bimah

There are two traditions concerning the proper way to approach the bimah when called for an aliyah. One custom is to ascend on the right and descend from the left, in accordance with the practice of approaching the altar in the Temple (Zev. 63a-b). In addition, the entrance to the Temple Mount was from the right (Mid. 2:2). The other tradition is to ascend to the bimah by the shortest route and descend by the longest, thus demonstrating that one is eager to be called for an aliyah and reluctant to leave. According to the Shulchan Arukh, if it is necessary to choose between these two traditions, one should take the shorter route, even if this requires going up from the left (Orakh Hayim 141:7). (You may want to find out the tradition at your synagogue before you have an aliyah).

Watch this video to learn the blessing said at the beginning of the aliyah

Watch this video to learn the blessing said at the end of the aliyah: 

It is a dishonor to the Torah to leave the bimah immediately after reciting the final blessing that concludes the aliyah. Among Ashkenazim, it is customary to remain until the entire subsequent Torah portion has been read and the final blessing recited. In the Spanish and Portuguese tradition, one waits only until the person honored with the next aliyah has recited the first Torah blessing, returning to one’s seat while the Torah is being read.

Watch this video for more on what to say and do when you are having an aliyah: 

What To Say After the Aliyah

In Ashkenazic synagogues, other worshipers typically congratulate the person returning from having an aliyah with the Yiddish phrase “Yasher koach,” which means “May you grow in strength” or “May your strength be directed in the right path.” This custom may reflect the belief in Talmud-ic times that intense study of the Torah, symbolized by the Torah reading, “weakens the strength of man” (Sanhedrin 26b).
Among Sephardim, the expression used is “Hazak uvaruch” (Be strong and be blessed) or “Baruch tihiyeh” (May you be blessed), to which the person returning from having an aliyah responds “Hazak ve-ematz“(Be strong and of good courage).
Sephardic women, primarily those from Syria, Iran, and Iraq, make an ululating sound after the Torah honoree (especially a bar mitzvah or bridegroom) has concluded the final blessing or has left the bimah to take his seat. This practice is thought to avert the evil designs of malevolent spirits determined to cast a pall on all joyous events, similar to the original rationale for breaking a glass at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Double Aliyot and Family Members

Traditionally, two people are not called up for the same aliyah. Jewish law requires that congregants hear every word of the Torah reading distinctly, which is difficult if two persons chant the portion simultaneously. This ruling was extended to prohibit two people from being called up to the Torah together, even if only to recite the blessings, since worshipers unable to hear the words clearly would not be permitted to respond “amen”.
In some Conservative and Reform congregations, two or more people are frequently called up for the same aliyah, especially when there is a bar or bat mitzvah . They may either recite the blessings in unison or have one person recite the blessing before the Torah reading and the other the blessing after it.
Traditionally, two blood relatives may not be called consecutively to the Torah, either because of fear that the evil eye will cast a spell upon a family receiving too many blessings or because Jewish law forbids near relatives from testifying together — and those pronouncing the Torah blessings are effectively giving testimony to the truth of the sacred text. However, it is permitted to have one read the seventh aliyah and the other the maftir portion.

What’s the Order, and Who Gets Priority?

The Talmud notes that the precise system for allocating aliyot developed “for the sake of preserving peace in the congregation” (Git. 5:8). The privilege of the first aliyah is given to a Kohen. These members of the priestly caste and descendants of Aaron were to be shown honor and deference because they were consecrated to God and offered the sacrifices to the Lord (Lev. 21:8).
The second person to be called to the Torah is a Levite, a descendant of the family that also played a major role in the Temple service. The remaining aliyot are distributed among the rest of the congregation, who are classified as “Israelites.” Nevertheless, a Kohen or Levite may be called for the seventh aliyah on the Sabbath or for maftir, which is given to the person who reads the haftarah (Git. 60a).
If there is no Kohen, a Levite has the next priority. If there is no Levite, an Israelite is called first. In either of these cases, an announcement is made that the individual is being awarded the aliyah “in place of the Kohen” (bimkom Kohen). If there is no Levite, the Kohen who received the first aliyah is awarded the second one as well.
Reform and some liberal Conservative synagogues have abolished the distinction between Kohen, Levite, and Israelite, both because it is difficult to be certain of the lineage of any Jew (though a genetic characteristic of Kohanim has been reported) and because of a belief in equality for all their members. On the Sabbath the third and sixth aliyot are particularly esteemed, and it is customary to give them to learned individuals or to the person who sponsors the refreshments after services.
It is an even greater honor to receive the final aliyah for each of the five books of the Torah. This is based on the midrashic phrase, “the last [one] is most beloved” (Gen. R. 78:8), which relates to Genesis 33:2, in which Jacob, fearing a conflict with his brother, Esau, placed his adored Rachel and her son Joseph in the safest position at the rear. Other especially honored aliyot are Shirat ha-Yam (Song at the Sea; Exod. 15:1-21) and the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2-14; Deut. 5:6-18), for which the congregation stands while the Torah is being read.
According to an old tradition, those commemorating specific events in their lives are given precedence in receiving the honor of being called to the Torah. Because of the limited number of aliyot available, it has become necessary to develop guidelines concerning those who should receive them. In this way, the potential for bias among synagogue leaders is eliminated, resentment among worshipers is reduced and dissension is avoided.

In general, priority in the distribution of the third aliyah onward is as follows:

1. A groom or bride on the Sabbath before his/her wedding.

2. A boy who has turned 13 years of age (bar mitzvah), or a girl who had turned 12 or 13 years of age (bat mitzvah).

3. The father or mother of a newborn infant, male or female, on the first Sabbath after the baby is born.

4. A groom or bride on the Sabbath after his/her wedding.

5. The father or mother of a baby girl who is to be named.

6. One observing yahrzeit for a parent on that day.

7. The father or mother of a baby to be circumcised on that day or during the coming week.

8. One observing yahrzeit for a parent during the coming week.

9. One required to recite the blessing of gomel.

10. One who is about to leave on a long journey or has just returned from one.

11. A distinguished guest in the community.

When two or more people are observing the same occasion, priority is generally given to a regular worshiper over one who comes infrequently and to a member of the congregation over a non-member. Some congregations try to provide aliyot for those who are or will be observing yahrzeit for someone other than a parent, often in the format of a “group” aliyah.

Spring in is the air!


Dear Members and Friends, 
We will be celebrating a double simcha… Rabbi Whiman’s return and an Aufruf for Ashley Racine and Matteo Fideli, who will be married by Rabbi Whiman in June. If you have never been present at one, the Rabbi will give a special blessing to the bride and groom before their wedding. Ashley and Matteo will offer a Kiddush after services. Please try to join us for our double simcha on April 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the Hotel. Let’s welcome Rabbi Whiman and David Zucker back with a large participation of Beth Shalom members and friends.

Don't Pass on Passover


Join us for a Passover Seder you will remember for a lifetime!

Dear Friends,

For the first time ever Beth Shalom will celebrate the first night of Pesach, Monday April 10th, with a communal Seder at the Hotel.

Relive the exodus, discover the eternal meaning of the Haggadah, and enjoy a community Seder complete with Matzah, wine, and a wonderful dinner spiced with unique traditional customs. Our tri-lingual (Italian, English and Hebrew) seder will be led by Rabbi Donald Goor and Cantor Evan Kent who are flying in from Israel to celebrate this holiday of freedom with us. With Rabbi Goor leading the service and Cantor Kent singing, this first night for Beth Shalom is sure to be a memorable one.

Please, send an email to either Carey Bernitz (carey.bernitz(at)gmail.com) or Carol Ross (info(at)sophisticateditaly.com) with your names and method of payment so that we can get a count to the caterers.


While we ask each participant to share in the cost of the Seder, Beth Shalom will never exclude anyone whose finances cannot sustain these fees. If you are in that position, contribute what you can. You do not have to ask for special treatment, and your information will be kept confidential.

If your finances are such that you can contribute a bit more, we will gratefully accept that too. Please open your heart and participate in this special “Mitzvah”. What better preparation can there be for our festival of freedom?