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The Shulchan Aruch tells us that when the Torah is lifted (hagba), it is a mitzva for the entire congregation to look at the scroll, bow, and say the verse(s) “This is the Torah that Moshe placed before the Children of Israel….”1 Nevertheless, many people have the somewhat obscure custom of pointing to the Torah with the pinky finger as it is lifted. Some then kiss the pinky, as well. In a variation of this practice, some point to the Torah with the corner of their Tallit and then kiss it.2 It is unclear where these post-Shulchan Aruch practices come from.

It seems that the practice of pointing with the pinky finger originates in an extremely recent and unlikely source – the Me’am Lo’ez. The Me’am Lo’ez, officially written by Rabbi Yaakov Culi, is a commentary on all of Tanach written primarily for the Jewish communities of Turkey, Spain, Morocco and Egypt. It was originally written in Ladino. In reality, however, only the first volume of Me’am Lo’ez was written by Rabbi Culi as, sadly, he died two years after beginning the project, completing only the volume on Bereishit and parts of Shemot. A number of rabbis then came together to complete the work based partly on notes that Rabbi Culi left behind. They followed Rabbi Culi’s style so closely that the entire set is usually considered a single integral work and usually attributed to him – perhaps accidentally or perhaps honorary.


The Devarim volume, in which the “pinky custom” is found, was likely written in the late 1960s by Rabbi Shmuel Kroizer (Kravitzer) (1921-1997) of Jerusalem, although it might have been written in some form by Rabbi Yitzchak Bechor Agruiti about 100 years before that. Either way, it is a relatively new Ashkenazi custom, from an Ottoman source, making it a very unlikely combination. This seems to be the only source that explicitly mentions the custom of pointing the pinky finger toward the Torah at hagba. He also adds, as is widely practiced, that one is to kiss the pinky after doing so.3

Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg gives the following explanation for the source of the custom. The Torah lists 10 generations from Noah until Abraham, including Yoktan, who established the largest number of families (he had 13 sons). Rashi notes that Yoktan merited a large family due to his great humility (as is apparent from his name, “Yoktan” from the root “katan,” meaning “little”). Rabbi Scheinberg goes on to explain that when pointing at the Torah we try to internalize the lesson that Torah study should be combined with humility.4 Perhaps the pinky, being the most “humble” finger, helps convey this message.

Rabbi Meir Mazuz suggests that perhaps the pinky finger is used to signify the verse, “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?5” The words “breadth of his hand” can also be read as “the pinky finger,” which might suggest that pointing to the Torah with the pinky demonstrates that we believe that the Torah is G-d-given, “from the heavens.”6 Finally, in what might be a somewhat humorous explanation, Rabbi David Barda says that he heard that the reason the pinky is used is because snuff was distributed in the synagogue during the Torah reading and by the time hagba was done, people’s fingers were dirty from the snuff so they used their clean pinkies to point.7

I also saw an explanation from Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340). Rabbeinu Bachya discusses the purpose of each organ and, in particular, the fingers, each of which serves to facilitate one of the five senses. It is explained that the pinky is associated with the sense of hearing because it is used to clean out one’s ears allowing one to hear better. This recalls the Jewish people’s “na’aseh v’nishma – we will do and we will hear” when asked if they wanted to receive the Torah.8 Another explanation given to me by Howie Bryks is that the pinky finger in Hebrew is called the “zeret.” The letters of zeretzayin, resh, and taf, have a gematria of 607. Take 607 and add four, corresponding to the other four fingers on the hand, and it comes to 611, which is the gematria of the word Torah (taf, vav, reish, hey).

There is also a custom to point to the Torah during hagba with the index finger. It is explained that this custom is based on six consecutive statements starting from Tehillim, 19:17, the first verse of which is, “The Torah of G-d is perfect reviving the soul….” Each statement consists of five words corresponding to the number of fingers on one’s hand. The second word of each statement is “G-d,” corresponding to the second finger (index finger). In pointing toward the Torah with our index finger we are indicating that every word of the Torah is G-dly. It is for this reason that the ring is placed on the bride’s index finger during the wedding ceremony, symbolizing that G-d is the unifying force that binds husband and wife.9

Some suggest that the custom of pointing to the Torah when it is raised is related to the verse that is customarily recited during hagba: “V’zot Hatorah….” We find that whenever the Torah uses the words “zot” or “zeh,” it refers to G-d showing something to Moshe by pointing with His finger.10 There are other theories, explanations, and interpretations for the finger pointing customs, as well.11 In any event, it is taught that when one looks at the letters of the Torah when the Torah is lifted, the holiness of the letters radiates and imparts holiness to the individual.12



  1. OC 134:2.
  2. Rivevot Ephraim 2:215.
  3. Me’am Loez, Ki Tavo.
  4. Cited at: Edited slightly for clarity and brevity.
  5. Yeshayahu 40:12.
  6. Cited here Edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
  7. Cited here Edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
  8. Rabbeinu Bechaye, Vayikra 8:23 cited at
  9. Cited at: Edited slightly for clarity and brevity. Lev Chaim, OC 167:6.
  10. Minhag Yisrael Torah 134:2, based on Menachot 29a.
  11. Rivevot Ephraim 2:215. See also at great length, “Pointing to the Torah and other Hagbaha Customs” by Zvi Ron at:
  12. Magen Avraham 134:3.

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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: [email protected].