When we go up for an aliyah then back to our seat in synagogue, we are supposed to go up from the right side of the bimah (as you face it) and back to our seat from the left side. This was how Jews ascended to the altar in Temple days [Zevachim 63a-b]. Also, the entrance to Temple Mount was from the right side [Middot 2:2]

However, I heard that there is another custom: Take the shortest possible route from your seat to the bimah (to signify eagerness to read Torah), and the longest route going back (to signify reluctance to leave the Torah). ("Longest" probably means the longer of left side or right side.)

Which is custom, which is halacha, or do you have a choice?


See O.C. 141:7. I have parenthetically added reasoning that is explained in Mishnah Berurah commentary):

It says that one goes up to the migdal (i.e. the raised platform used for Torah reading) via the side closer to him (to avoid troubling the congregation and to demonstrate his love for the Torah) and exits on the side that is longer to return (to demonstrate that the Torah is not a burden for him.) If the two distances are equal, he goes up on his right and returns on the opposite side.

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