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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5771

Ask the Rabbi: A Chazan Wearing Short Pants

Rav Daniel Mann

Question:  I am gabbai at a minyan (without a rabbi). Sometimes, at this time of year, someone who is wearing short pants will want to be chazan. In the past we did not allow it, but now some object to my making/enforcing such rules. Are they right? 

Answer:  When an individual davens, he is standing before Hashem and should be dressed respectably (Shabbat 10a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 91). The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 4) says that this includes covering one’s legs when this is how people dress before important people. The Mishna Berura (91:12) adds that one should wear a hat, explaining that this is the way people dress publicly. (In some circles, this is still true; in others, this does not apply at all). The Shulchan Aruch (OC 98:4) says that since davening corresponds to bringing korbanot, one should have nice clothing for it, as a kohen does for his service.

The mishna (Megilla 24a) says that a pocheiach (one who is inappropriately dressed) may call others to answer his Kaddish and Barchu but cannot do Kri’at Hatorah, be chazan, or perform Birkat Kohanim (duchen). Most poskim understand that these standards are binding and enforceable for a chazan, whereas for an individual it is more a matter of propriety.

When is one a pocheiach? The Rambam (Tefilla 8:12) says that it is when one’s shoulders are exposed. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 53:13) says it is when the clothes are torn so that his arms are exposed. This ruling generated discussion regarding being a chazan with a short-sleeved shirt (see Yechaveh Da’at IV, 8; Yitzchak Yeranen I, OC 18). We accept the approach that it depends whether one would dress that way before an important person (whom he sees regularly), and in most of our communities short sleeves are fine (see Ishei Yisrael 14:(27)). (No sleeves is difficult to permit.)

However, the broad consensus of poskim (which fits with the societal norms of our communities) is that wearing shorts is considered underdressed for any semi-formal setting and is unacceptable for a chazan (Yechaveh Da’at ibid.; see Sha’ar Shimon Echad II, 26). Therefore, your community and you, as their agent, have every right to choose as chazan only those who are wearing long pants. Of course, it is crucial to present the matter sensitively, but people have a responsibility to respect the practices of a community, all the more so when this is the standard halachic indication. The mishna does distinguish between different parts of tefilla, so it might be permitted and wise to let such a person be chazan for P’sukei D’zimra.

What if the community wants to allow chazanim wearing shorts? Rashi (Megilla 24a) says that the problem of pocheiach (explicitly, in regard to duchening, but probably also for a chazan) is the matter of k’vod hatzibbur (the honor of the community). One can then claim that if the community waives any complaints, it is permitted. However, the Tiferet Yisrael (Megilla 4:45) says that it is not a matter of showing respect to the community but of the community as a group showing respect to Hashem. Let us realize what public tefilla is. Instead of going about approaching Hashem ourselves, we join together. The halachot of choosing a representative to lead the delegation are quite exacting (see Orach Chayim 53). This is because our choice of a representative should send the right message, and his being dressed in a manner that is at least presentable in the higher echelons of society is a factor in this.

Regarding a more serious shortcoming of a chazan, we presented an argument that when the whole group shares a common shortcoming, having a chazan with the same shortcoming does not send the wrong message (see Bemareh Habazak III, 6). The same argument can be made here. If (almost) the whole group is dressed in shorts (not infrequently, in camp or on a trip), then even if society as a whole does not view this as respectfully dressed, in that context, the chazan might be allowed to wear shorts, as this is the standard dress for this group in this circumstance.

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