Latest update: January 15th, 2015
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.
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.
We also discussed whether a Sabbath desecrator can lead prayer services. 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.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (Minchat Yitzhak III 26:4) suggests a more lenient approach, differentiating between various categories of mechallelei Shabbat. Authorities differ on when a hidden desecrator is considered an apostate, and when he is still considered a Jew in good standing. Ultimately, different circumstances create different rulings.
Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hodakov, zt”l, allowed Sabbath desecrators to lead services in extenuating circumstances, such as where there are few available candidates “because at that moment, when [the mechallel Shabbat] leads the congregation, is he desecrating Shabbos?”
It follows that we cannot compare a Sabbath desecrator leading prayer services with a “mitzvah haba’ah be’averah” – e.g., saying a blessing over stolen tefillin – for when a shliach tzibbur leads services, he is not desecrating the Sabbath.
We also examined the Gemara which discusses freeing one’s slave – a prohibition – in order to make up a minyan. We compared that act to including a Sabbath desecrator in a minyan. If a slave can make up a minyan, surely a Sabbath desecrator, who is obligated in mitzvot (unlike a slave) and who is doing nothing wrong at the moment, can be part of a minyan and lead the services.
Last week, we discussed the order of precedence for mourners reciting kaddish and leading services.
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We seem to have established that there is room for leniency when it comes to a Sabbath desecrator leading services since, at that moment (when he serves as chazzan), he is not desecrating the Sabbath. Accordingly, it would seem that a mourner who desecrates the Sabbath has the same rights as any other Jew when it comes to reciting kaddish and leading the services.
If he has yahrzeit on the same day as someone else (who does observe the Sabbath), there are two factors to consider. First, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74a) relates that an individual came before Rabbah with the following query: “The gentile officer of my city has ordered me to kill a certain individual. If I don’t do it, I will be killed. [What should do?]” Rabbah answered, “Let yourself be killed [rather than commit murder], for who knows if your blood is redder than his; perhaps his is redder than yours.”
We see that one should always – even if one’s life is threatened – give great consideration to one’s fellow. The Gemara’s case concerns killing. But let think about our situation. Two people have yahrzeit. One observes the Sabbath, one doesn’t. It is very possible that the soul of the Sabbath desecrator’s parent craves that kaddish and merit of his or her son leading the services on his or her behalf more than the soul of the Sabbath observer’s parent whose child is a walking example on this earth of the fine Jewish upbringing his parent gave him. Therefore, it follows that the Sabbath desecrator should lead the services. (Of course, this assumes that the Sabbath desecrator strongly requested this honor.)
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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