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    Which bridegroom is more important?

    Is it the Chatan Torah or the Chatan B’reshit who has the greater honour?

    In some places the honour of Chatan Torah goes to the older person; in some it goes to the one who is more learned.

    The reasoning seems to be that the more senior person in terms of years or knowledge is the one who should mark the achievement of completing the whole Torah reading.

    But there are other, opposing views. In some Chasidic groups the Rebbe preferred to be Chatan B’reshit because making a new beginning requires courage, leadership and dedication.

    The Munkatcher Rebbe, whilst his father was alive, would be Chatan Torah with his father as Chatan B’reshit, but after the father’s death the son was both Chatan Torah and Chatan B’reshit – though it is rare for one person to have both roles.

    It would seem that the sensible approach is to regard both honours as of equal status and not to imply that either is of lesser importance.

    The Jewish practice always was to ensure that both ends and beginnings were marked, and there is something typical and moving in an Italian custom whereby at the end of D’varim the congregation chanted the words, “We have been privileged to complete the Torah in peace – let us be privileged to begin it and complete it again in peace!”

    One must add that people sometimes think that other synagogal honours are also governed by a sliding scale of importance.

    At times congregants object to opening the Ark or hagbahah or g’lilah on the basis that these are allegedly not genuine mitzvot.

    The fact is that there is a special dignity in opening the Ark, and there is a special feeling about physically handling the Torah scroll; indeed the Talmud advises that the most worthy members of the congregation should be accorded hagbahah and g’lilah.

    Apart from all of this, is it not insulting to other congregants to imply that somehow all congregants are equal but some are less equal than others and to them the so-called “lesser” mitzvot can be relegated?

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