Question: Is it proper for a synagogue to establish a policy that no one is to donate money for receiving an aliyah to the Torah?
Response: It is, but matters are not so simple. Your question is tied to the question of who should be receiving the various aliyot. According to the Shluchan Aruch, the first aliyah goes to a kohen; the second one goes to a levi; the third to the rav; the fourth to a great talmid chacham in the congregation who does not have a rabbinic position; the fifth to the children of the rav (as a form of kavod to the rav’s family); the sixth to the president of the congregation (the hassidic minhag was to grant the Rebbe this aliyah); and the last aliyah to a member of the congregation.
The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 136:4) notes that these guidelines are no longer followed because synagogues needed to sustain themselves financially and thus started calling up different members of the congregation and then soliciting donations from them. The necessity of these funds donated at aliyot was deemed so vital that it overrode the guidelines articulated in the Shulchan Aruch.
The logical conclusion from this explanation, however, is that if a synagogue no longer solicits money from those receiving aliyot, it should perhaps revert to the Shulchan Aruch’s guidelines when distributing the aliyot.
Rabbi Cohen is the recipient of the Jerusalem Prize and author of several sefarim on Jewish Law. His latest, “Shabbat the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available in Judaica stores and at Amazon.com.