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.
Synopsis: At the outset, we cited Ta’anit 16a-b where we find the basic qualifications for one who leads the services. The requirements seem to be such that possibly few today could meet them. One requirement is that there be no blemish – no rumors of sinfulness associated with the individual. Mechaber and Rema (Orach Chayyim 53:4-5) codify these rules as halacha. Mishnah Berurah (ad loc sk 13) notes the greater quality of the prayer of a tzaddik ben tzaddik, a righteous person who is the son of a righteous person as opposed to a tzaddik ben rasha, a righteous person the son of a wicked person. (This concept is obviously based on Isaac and Rebecca; though both were equally righteous, his prayer was preferable. Yet Mishnah Berurah says when we refer to one who is wicked, it has to be someone like Bethuel who was openly wicked. Thus, all other things equal, most people would be considered equal as to their qualifications to lead the congregation in prayer.
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Answer: Referring back to the Gemara (Ta’anit 16a-b) where we noted that one of the important attributes of a ba’al tefillah is that they have many dependents… [and obviously that he be married, though I might add, what of a Rosh Yeshiva who has a yeshiva and many students who look to him for their needs, and what of the rabbi whose flock depend on him even though they were not blessed with children of their own?]. Today we are more scrupulous in this requirement only during the Yomim Noraim – the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It is then that we are judged for the entire year about to unfold.
Interestingly, we find the following prayer (actually a preamble-prayer that we recite before many prayers and mitzvah performances) in various forms: “yehi ratzon…; hareini mezamein et pi…; hineni muchan u’mezuman…; each conveying the message that “I am now ready to perform the following mitzvah.” Many don’t say these short tefillot, but the message is clear – one cannot properly fulfill that mitzvah or any other unless there is proper preparation and understanding of their essence.
We find a scriptural hint of this in the opening verses of the Book of Joshua, where no less than three times does Hashem exhort Joshua, as the new leader of the Israelite people as they enter the land of Canaan, “Rak chazak v’ematz – be strong and of good courage.” These words were the preparation Joshua needed for him to understand, in his approach to his Divinely charged mission, the commandment to conquer the land. A conqueror is not meek or soft by nature but is prepared and sure.
Yet Joshua’s ascendancy does not begin in the Book of Joshua but in the parsha of Ki Sisa (Exodus 33:11): “And the Eternal L-rd spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his fellow, and he turned back to the camp; but his servant Joshua son of Nun, the lad, did not depart out of the tent.” It is apparent that from his youth Joshua already had served Moses, and that it was ordained that he would become his successor (Menachot 99b).
We find similarly with Samuel (I Samuel 3:1), “And the lad Samuel served before the Eternal L-rd, before Eli [the priest]; and the word of the Eternal L-rd was precious in those days; there was no frequent vision.” The passage reveals that Hashem called to Samuel three times in a dream. Each time, Samuel responds to Eli, who says, “It is not I who called you.” Finally, Eli tells his young charge, “It is the Eternal L-rd who calls unto you.”
Thus, we see in both these instances that they could not attain their posts of leadership without the preparation, the understudy training needed to enable them to lead the people and intercede on their behalf.
There is also the matter of the Pirchei Kehuna, the young Kohanim who, as the Mishna (Sukkah 51a) relates, were given a vital chore in order that they be trained to serve Hashem as they reach adulthood. And even today, Kohanim who are minors go up to the Duchan to bless the congregation, I’ve never seen any who object to receiving their blessing.
I remember my own youth in the Pirchei Agudath Israel in Boro Park and later the Zeirei Agudath Israel, where we as bochurim would take turns serving as ba’alei tefillah – leading the services. It was there that I learned how to properly serve as a shaliach tzibbur. There are even some who think that I am quite decent at the task. Any credit is due to those early years of training. I have a dear friend who hails from Long Beach, N.Y., and the first time I heard him serve as shaliach tzibbur I knew that he had spent his early years at Bachurei Chemed, a youth group similar to Pirchei and Zeirei. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Of course.”
In our shul, Kahal Bnei Matisyahu, we encourage young bochurim to lead the services and to lein, read from the Torah. Thus, in my view, for a shul to deprive an individual and especially one who is an adult albeit unmarried, of the right or opportunity to serve as shaliach tzibbur (and especially in the case where he has yahrzeit), is simply wrong.
We therefore pray that every one of us be more understanding of the needs of his fellow Jew, and may in so doing serve as a merit as we await our final redemption – speedily in our days.