Latest update: May 17th, 2013
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.
Last week, we quoted Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss (Minchat Yitzhak III 26:4) who suggests a more lenient approach, differentiating between various categories of mechallelei Shabbat: those who are unaware they are violating a prohibition; those who are unaware of the gravity of the prohibition; those who know but, due to conceit and obstinacy, ignore all reprimands; and finally, those who know but conceal their desecration from others.
We discussed several authorities’ opinions 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.
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Of interest to our discussion is the following: The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 55:4) states, “There are those who allow the recitation of a davar she’b’kedushah [e.g., Kaddish, Barchu, Kedushah] where nine men are present plus a child who is above the age of six and understands to whom we pray. But their opinion is not accepted by the great halachic authorities.”
In his glosses, the Rema adds, “And even [if the child is holding] a chumash in his hand [signifying Torah knowledge and maturity], he should not be counted as part of the minyan. However, there are those who opt for leniency in case of urgent need.”
The disputants referred to by the Mechaber and Rema are actually the R”i – Rabbenu Isaac of Dampiere – who rules stringently and Rabbenu Tam, who rules leniently in time of need (both views are cited by Toasafot, Berachot 48a sv, “ve’let hilchata…”).
The Shulchan Aruch Harav (O.C. 55:5) notes that most authorities adopt the stringent view. Yet, he writes, “We are not to protest those who – in cases of urgent need – are accustomed to act leniently and count a minor holding a chumash – or even not holding a chumash – part of the minyan since they have upon whom to rely. Nevertheless, they should only say Barchu and Kaddish but not the Kaddish following Aleinu, since that is only a custom.”
(Interestingly, Rabbenu Tam, who rules leniently, frowns upon the practice of a child holding a chumash, even referring to it as a minhag shtut [a nonsensical custom].)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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