Why do we point at the Torah during Sabbath services?

And why do some Jews call the post-Sabbath service spread a kiddush while others call it a bracha?

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple

Judaism Torah scroll
Torah scroll

Bracha or kiddush?

Q. In South Africa the refreshments after a Shabbat service are called a b’rachah. Elsewhere it is a kiddush. Which one is right?

A. It is all very confusing, very interesting and very wonderful to see how the other half lives.

Many communities have their own way of saying things.

Anglo-Jewry says, “I wish you long life” on a bereavement or Yahrzeit and “Well over the fast” before Yom Kippur, whilst other places find these formulae rather strange.

South African Jews call a challah kitke (no-one seems certain why), but since the word challah originally did not mean a loaf of bread at all, but rather the priest’s share of the dough, it may be that challah is also not 100 percent correct.

In Germany the loaf was called baerches, probably a corruption of b’rochos.

To call a kiddush b’rachah may possibly have a Lithuanian origin; but since kiddush means “sanctification” and b’rachah means “blessing” there is logic behind both names.

Pointing to the Torah

Q. Why do some people point with their little (“pinkie”) finger when the Torah is raised?

A. It was originally a Sephardi custom.

When the Torah scroll was lifted up, many people would piously raise the corner of their tzitzit as they proclaimed V’zot HaTorah, “And this is the Torah…” (Deut. 4:44). They would then kiss the tzitzit.

There are several variations of the custom. Some raise both hands to the Torah. Others raise one finger.

In some places it is a women’s custom. In others it is carried out by men.

Raising one finger is linked with the idea of the Torah pointer, the yad, which has an extended finger indicating the place in the scroll.