A gabbai (Hebrew: גבאי), also known as shamash שמש (sometimes spelled shamas) or warden (UK, similar to churchwarden) is a beadle or sexton, a person who assists in the running of synagogue services in some way. The role may be undertaken on a voluntary or paid basis. A shamash (literally "servant") can also mean an assistant to a rabbi (particularly the secretary or personal assistant to a Hassidic Rebbe).
The word "gabbai" is Aramaic and, in Talmudic times, meant collector of taxes or charity, or treasurer.
There is no set formulation of duties, but they will typically include ensuring that the services run smoothly. The gabbai is responsible for calling congregants up to the Torah; in some synagogues, the gabbai stands next to the Torah reader, holding a version of the text with vowels and trop markings (which are not present in the actual Torah scroll), following along in order to correct the reader if he makes an error (e.g., mispronounces a word, or skips a word). In others, this is separated out into the specific duties of a sgan (סגן).
A gabbai's obligations might also include maintaining a Jewish cemetery.
In some parts of the world, the gabbaim will wear special clothing. In Anglo-Jewry, for example, gabbaim in some synagogue movements have traditionally worn top hats and where there is a shamash, he may wear canonicals.
- Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature by Marcus Jastrow. (London, 1903) 1971/2004 reprinting ISBN 1-932443-20-7. p.206
- Yad LaTorah: Laws and Customs of the Torah Service - A Guide for Gabba'im and Torah Readers by Kenneth Goldrich, published by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly.
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