Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit
By: Rav Ben-Zion Elgazi
On Simchat Torah, Jews customarily call up to the Torah a Chatan Torah and a Chatan Bereishit. The Chatan Torah is the person who finishes the reading of the Torah, and he is the last person to receive an aliya in Sefer Devarim. After him comes the Chatan Bereishit, who receive the opening aliya in Sefer Bereishit. This marks the beginning of the Torah, and he reads the seven days of Creation.
The source for this custom is found in the Gemara: "The last eight verses in the Torah are read by an individual". (Menachot 30a) Rashi writes there: "They are read by one person without any break between them." The Rambam writes: "It is permissible to read them in the synagogue with less then ten [Jews]." The Mordechai writes: "An 'individual' refers to a Torah scholar, for a Torah scholar is called a 'unique individual.'" The Mordechai's explanation is brought in the Darchei Moshe on the Tur. However, the Darchei Moshe adds that today, since the Chazan reads everything, there is no reason to hesitate over whom should receive the aliya because only the Chazan reads [The Torah]. The Knesset Hagdola writes that the custom of selling the Chatan Torah was cancelled. Instead, the Chatan Torah is chosen from the leaders of the congregation, because it is only fitting that someone who is great in Torah should be chosen as Chatan Torah. At the very least, he should be a leader of the congregation. Eliyahu Rabbah quotes his explanation and adds that it is difficult for him to cancel the custom of selling the Chatanim because if he were to do so it would only cause arguments, because every person would argue that he is great in Torah and that he is a leader. The Shaar Efrayim also writes that it is not fitting to appoint a Chatan Torah who is a minor. Yet, many places take pride in honor of finishing the Torah and make a special point of appointing a decent Torah scholar. At any rate, he should be respected and a leader in his community because of his importance and wealth, and it is fitting to do so.
Regarding the Chatan Bereishit, Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avodah writes: A person should try and acquire for himself the honor of a 'Chatan Torah,' and if he is unable to receive 'Chatan Torah' then he should try and acquire the honor of 'Chatan Bereishit'. He supports his ruling, that Chatan Torah is preferable, from the Mordechai's explanation on the Gemara in Menachot 30a, which was mentioned previously: "The last eight verses in the Torah are read by an individual", whereas this saying does not apply to the beginning of the Torah. The Shaarei Chaim (on the Shulchan Aruch, Shaar 8) also supports this. He writes that he heard from his rabbi and teacher, Rav Hillel from Kalamai who said that even those who are meticulous are only careful to appoint a Torah Scholar for Chatan Torah, but not for Chatan Bereishit. (This is according to the Rama in Yoreh Deah 246.)
Yet, the Likutei Mahariach writes that there are many leading rabbis who insist specifically on being Chatan Bereishit. This was the custom of the great and holy Rabbis, the Admorim of Zanz and Meziditshov. Kenaf Renana, in his responsa, also writes that it was customary to give the leader of the congregation and head of the beit din Chatan Bereishit and not Chatan Torah.
The Mishmeret Shalom writes: Regarding chatanim, there are those who prefer Chatan Torah and there are those who prefer Chatan Bereishit.
Various Jewish Customs on Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit
· There are communities that customarily honor grooms to be Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit, because a groom is compared to a king. However, the groom must know how to lain. This applies only to a groom in the week before his wedding because then he is also called a groom. (Eliyahu Rabbah, Bikkurei Yaakov)
· There are places that customarily honor young scholars that are in their first year of marriage. (Moed L'kol Chai 25)
· There are those who say that the Chatan Torah brings Torah and the Chatan Bereishit brings wealth. For this reason the Rav of Karitz was careful not to honor a miser with Chatan Bereishit, because it is written "A generous person – he will be blessed."
· There are those who spread out a Tallit when the Chatan Torah goes up to the Bimah and dance and sing before him. There are places in which prominent members of the congregation accompany the Chatanim. There are those who customarily place on their heads the crowns of the Torah scrolls, and none protest them.
· It is customary for the person who finishes and the person who begins to pledge money to the synagogue and to sponsor a Kiddush in honor of the finishing and beginning of the Torah (Tur, Rama). This is because it is likened to a Siyum of a Tractate in which it is customary to make a Seudat Mitzvah. The Taz explains (Yoreh Deah 245) that we learn this from King Shlomo who did the same in honor of the Torah, as it says: "[Solomon] came to Yerushalayim and stood before the Ark of the Covenant of the L-rd and brought up elevation-offerings and offered peace-offerings; and he made a feast for all of his servants." (Melachim I 3:15). R. Elazar says: From here we learn that a banquet is made for finishing the Torah." (Midrash Rabbah, Shir Hashirim, Parsha 1)
· Sefer Harokeach (371) writes that although on account of the renewed joy of finishing the Torah and beginning it over again the Shehechiyanu blessing should be said, it is not our custom.
· Even though two brothers or a father and son should not receive an aliya one after the other, they can still be Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereishit because they read in two separate books.
· The idea of marriage is communicating and joining with the heart and soul. Chatanei Torah are messengers of the congregation to demonstrate to the people continuous dedication to the Torah, an aspect of "I betrothed you forever." (Hoshea 2:21)