Ranking Aliyos: Maftir vs. the Rest

#813: Ranking Aliyos: Maftir vs. the Rest

Rishonim (early halachic authors) mention the custom of giving the aliyah of Maftir (the last of the “going-up” portions of the Torah reading on Shabbos and holidays) to an avel (mourner) during the year of aveilus (mourning; this particular practice applies to the first eleven months after a parent’s passing). This zechus (merit) acts as an aliyah (lit., elevation) for the neshamah of the departed one. Likewise, the common custom is that someone who has a yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) in the following week receives an aliyah on Shabbos, also preferably Maftir.

What is special about Maftir?

Some explain that Maftir is chosen because it is an aliyah which even a katan (minor—a boy before Bar Mitzvah) may receive. Since there may be a avel who is a katan to whom this is the only aliyah available, it became the designated aliyah for all aveilim.

Others suggest that because an avel or a person with a yahrtzeit does not have as strong a chiyuv (obligation) as others according to the halachic hierarchy, he doesn't have the clout to displace another person who has a chiyuv for an aliyah. He should therefore be given the least significant of aliyos, Maftir—one that even a katan can receive.

Another view: Since an avel receives an aliyah every week during the year of his aveilus, it is best for him to have the same aliyah consistently, but not the more important ones. According to these opinions, the consensus is that Maftir is the lesser of other aliyos.

However, there are several sources which extol the virtues of Maftir, singling it out as the choicest of the aliyos (though halachically it has less importance): The one who receives it merits to combine the words of Torah with the words of Nevi'im (prophets); the Haftorah contains seven brachos similar to the seven brachos under the chuppah; the brachos have special merit as they were instituted at a time of gezeirah (decrees[upon Jewish practice]) and include prayers for the kingdom of Moshiach and the Redemption.

The one who recites Maftir says many additional brachos; he recites the brachos before and after the Haftorah as well, while the recipients of other aliyos recite only two brachos on the Torah. Others explain that there is a similarity between the content of the brachos after the Haftorah and the theme of Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer), or tziduk hadin ([accepting] the righteousness of [Hashem’s] judgment), respectively, which are highly significant themes for the avel.

Additionally, the one who receives Maftir has the special zechus of the entire congregation who listen to the Haftorah, essentially being motzie (exempting) the tzibur (congregation) of their obligation, just as the Baal Korei (the Torah Reader) makes it possible for the congregants to hear the leining (Torah reading). This is consistent with many things that an avel does: he recites Kaddish and Borchu for the tzibur, as well as leading the minyan (prayer quorum) with Chazaras Hashatz (the Prayer Leader’s repetition of the Amidah) on weekdays. Likewise, there are those with additional customs for the avel— reading from the Torah and leading the zimun (invitation to other meal participants to recite the Grace after Meals). The aliyah of Maftir has special benefit for the avel himself: since he customarily doesn’t lead the davening on Shabbos, he misses out many of the brachos he makes every other day of the week. He can somewhat compensate through the nine brachos of the Haftorah.


Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.