Question: A number of years back, when I was still unmarried, I had yahrzeit, but in the shul where I davened they wouldn’t let me serve as shaliach tzibbur as they had a rule that no one unmarried was allowed to daven from the amud. Obviously, I could still say Kaddish, but I wanted to lead the services for the sake of the neshama. My question is: Did they have the right to deny me what I felt was my yahrzeit obligation to my departed parent?
Mark Halberstam Esq.
Answer: Let us first review the basic qualifications for one to be able to lead the services as a shaliach tzibbur. The Gemara (Ta’anit 16a-b) discusses the requirements of a shaliach tzibbur. It cites the Sages who say that even when an elder or a scholar is present, they nevertheless place before the Ark someone who is conversant with the prayers. R’ Yehuda clarifies what causes one to be so qualified (i.e., what is considered ‘conversant’) as “someone who has many dependents without sufficient means of support, whose livelihood comes from laboring in the fields [whereby he will place great devotion in his prayers, especially for rain], and his house is empty, whose youth is unblemished, who is ever humble and acceptable to the people, who is skilled at chanting, with a pleasant voice and thorough knowledge of the Torah, the Prophets, the Hagiographa, the Midrash, Halachot, Agadot and all the Berachot.”
Interestingly, the last requirement would seem to point to the individual that the Sages identify at the outset as “an elder or a scholar,” yet we see that the person they are describing as qualified is not referred to as a scholar. It would thus seem that such vast knowledge was more prevalent in Talmudic times and found even among the general populace. Such a person, nevertheless, was not considered a scholar. Obviously, one who possessed such knowledge would better serve the congregation since he has a deeper understanding of the prayers, which are based on many of the verses in the Torah.
The Gemara notes a redundancy in the phrases “he lacks sufficient means of support” and “his house is empty.” R’ Chisda explains that “his house is empty” means that it is empty of sin. Abaye explains that “whose youth is unblemished” means that there have been no rumors of evil behavior from his youth onward. The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 53:4-5) codifies all the attributes listed in this Gemara as the basic requirements for one who will lead the congregation in prayer.
What is meant by the requirement for one to be free from sin? Rema (ad loc. 53:5) explains, “If one committed a sin by accident – for example, he killed someone accidentally, yet subsequently repented – we permit him to lead the congregational prayers. [Please note: we see that one who committed such an act accidentally is nevertheless referred to as having sinned, and he must repent.] However, if he did so [killed someone] with intention, we do not allow him to lead the congregation in any event.”
The Aruch HasShulchan (Orach Chayyim 53 sk 8) clarifies: The term “with intention” does not refer only to a case where one took someone’s life but to all sins committed with intention. Thus, the case described by Rema as an individual who has killed is only an illustration. All sins are included.
Concerning one who has a pleasant voice, the Aruch HaShulchan (infra sk 13) lauds this as a special gift that one is granted from G-d. If a shaliach tzibbur stands before Him in true, heartfelt praise, he will be truly blessed. The Aruch HaShulchan (infra sk 14) further notes that one who serves as shaliach tzibbur must take care to articulate all the words properly – each letter and vowel – according to their proper pronunciation, or havara. This is seen from the Gemara’s requirement for such vast scriptural proficiency. One with such knowledge will not find the various verses that constitute major portions of our tefillah alien and therefore difficult to pronounce. (We do note that many communities have different havarot, or pronunciations, e.g., the Lithuanian, the German, the Chassidic communities amongst Ashkenaz, or European, Jewry, as well as the various Sephardic, or Mediterranean and Oriental communities. Syrian Jews are very careful to pronounce all words mi’le’ra – the accent on the end syllable. Other communities pronounce mi’le’eil – the accent on the opening syllable. Some communities, such as the Yemenites, pronounce the letter thav as opposed to a sav and jimmel as opposed to a gimmel.]
The Mishna Berurah (ad loc. sk 13), in understanding the essence of the Gemara, explains that it is proper to seek out a shaliach tzibbur who is a tzaddik ben tzaddik – a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person. There is no comparison between the prayer of a tzaddik ben tzaddik and that of a tzaddik ben rasha – a righteous person who is the son of a wicked person. (This concept is based on parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:21), when both Yitzhak and Rivkah were praying: “…vaye’etar lo Hashem – G-d answered him.” Indeed, both Yitzhak and Rivkah were equally righteous; however, Rivkah’s prayer, in comparison to Yitzchak’s, comes up deficient due to her father, Bethuel.)
Now, should one come to think that it is imperative to seek out only one who possesses yichus – impeccable family pedigree – as a shaliach tzibbur, the Mishna Berurah notes the Rosh’s comments that the requisites of a shaliach tzibbur do not necessarily include having to possess such yichus. Even if one is not from a distinguished family but he himself is nonetheless a tzaddik, provided that his father is not wicked, he may indeed serve as a shaliach tzibbur. Yet, if we may inject, when referring to someone as being wicked, perhaps we should compare him to Bethuel, who was a rasha mefursam – his wicked behavior was on public display. However, regarding one whose improper behavior is not well known, we might not even classify him as being wicked at all. Consequently, such a person, even according to the Rosh, would not have the status of rasha that would preclude his son from serving as shaliach tzibbur.
(To be continued)