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Q & A: A Sabbath Desecrator Leading Services (Part VIII)


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Question: May someone who desecrates the Sabbath lead the services if he has yahrzeit? If yes, may he replace someone else who has yahrzeit?

Hayim Grosz
(Via E-Mail)

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.

Last time, we 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.

* * * * *

When discussing precedence in regards to mourners (someone who has yahrzeit is considered a mourner on that day), we must bear in mind the rules set down by the Rema (Yoreh Deah 376:4). The Rema discusses who should say kaddish in shul since he maintained that only one mourner should do so. Indeed, this is the practice of German Jewish kehillot; only one person says kaddish. (Though he recites kaddish for his own relative, his recitation also benefits the other departed souls on whose behalf other mourners are present.)

In most other communities, however, all mourners say kaddish together. Therefore, the Rema’s rules are only relevant to who should lead the services since, as the Rema notes, if a mourner knows how to lead the services, he should.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tuktzinsky’s Gesher HaChayim, which my uncle, HaRav Sholom Klass, zt”l, favored when it came to matters of mourning, writes as follows (in Vol. I, 30:10, based on the Rema):

“There are five types of people regarding the rights to recite kaddish:

“1. A mourner or a minor orphan in the midst of shivah.

“2. A mourner in the midst of sheloshim.

“3. A mourner after sheloshim until 12 months have passed.

“4. A mourner on the day he concludes reciting kaddish after 11 months.

“5. One who observes a yahrzeit in any given year.”

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 yklass@jewishpress.com.


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