Question: May someone who desecrates the Sabbath lead the services if he has yahrzeit? If yes, may he replace someone else who has yahrzeit?
Answer: Exodus 31:16-17 is the source for our Sabbath observance. The verses explain that Shabbat serves as a sign between G-d and the Jewish people of our uniqueness before G-d. In parshat Bereishit we see that Shabbat bears testimony to the creation since G-d abstained from creating the world on that day.
Many Jews throughout the generations have exhibited tremendous self-sacrifice to observe Shabbat. While today there are many laws to protect Sabbath observers, this was not the case generations ago. Therefore, it became de rigueur for Jews to refer to themselves with the appellation “shomer Shabbat” as opposed to, for example, “shomer Torah u’mitzvot.” Although the observance of Shabbat is just one aspect of Judaism, it is one that clearly identifies the Jew and is an unmistakable indicator of his or her level of commitment.
The Rambam (Sefer Hamitzvot) discusses Shabbat both in his positive commandments section (sanctify the Sabbath) and in his negative commandments section (don’t do any labor on Shabbat). Rabbi Dovid Ribiat in “The 39 Melachos” presents the 39 forbidden labors in an easy-to-understand yet comprehensive manner with modern-day, up-to-date applications.
We examined the qualifications of a shliach tzibbur, who must be able to pronounce each letter and vowel correctly. The Mishnah Berurah explains that a shliach tzibbur must be a tzaddik ben tzaddik. However, even if one is not from a distinguished family, one may serve as a shliach tzibbur as long as he is not a tzaddik ben rasha.
Last week, we discussed whether a Sabbath desecrator can lead prayer services. We studied the concept of “mitzvah haba’ah be’averah” – a precept discharged through the violation of a prohibition – and whether it is permitted to make a blessing over a stolen item. Psalms 10:3 indicates that to do so would blaspheme G-d. The Shulchan Aruch writes that saying a blessing over a stolen pair of tefillin is forbidden. Thus, a Sabbath desecrator leading services is not blessing G-d but blaspheming Him. We thus might classify such a tefillah as a mitzvah haba’ah be’averah.
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In discussing Sabbath desecrators, the gaon, Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (Minchat Yitzhak III 26:4) suggests a more lenient approach. Rabbi Aharon Westheim of Paris had written to Rabbi Weiss noting the following:
“There are many different categories of mechallelei Shabbat. There are some who are completely unaware that there is a prohibition to perform labor on the Sabbath, especially regarding hotza’ah [carrying from one domain to another]. There are others who have heard of the prohibition against doing any sort of labor on the Sabbath, but are completely unaware of the gravity of the situation, especially in regard to such labors as turning on an electric appliance and hotza’ah, for the [vast majority of the] people do not understand what [specific] labor is involved in such activity. We might compare this to the Gemara (Shabbos 69a) where R’ Yochanan addresses an accidental violation of the Sabbath. R’ Yochanan states that if one erred [in regard to the punishment one receives for the violation], he is not liable even though he sinned intentionally.
“There is another type of individual who is knowledgeable about the entire matter of hotza’ah. However, due to his conceit and obstinacy, he continues to carry on the Sabbath, ignoring all reprimands in this regard. There are still others who, even while aware of the transgression, attempt to conceal their desecration of the Sabbath from others. The Gemara (Erubin 69a) refers to someone who was carrying a jewel on the Sabbath, but when he saw R’ Judah the Prince, he sought to conceal it. R’ Judah considered such a person to be a Jew in good standing, and not a mummar (an apostate).”
Rabbi Westheim then asks what the rule would be regarding all the above categories of Sabbath desecrators when it comes to letting them touch kosher wine, including them in a minyan, and – relevant to our situation – allowing them to serve as a shliach tzibbur, among other situations.
In his response, Rabbi Weiss notes that some rule leniently while others rule more stringently. Based on Erubin 69a, the Sefer Tosefot Shabbat (siman 385, citing Torat Chayim) rules that a person is only a considered a flagrant Sabbath desecrator if he wouldn’t hide his misdeed in the presence of a sage. If he would, we refer to him as a hidden desecrator.