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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5782

Ask the Rabbi: A Minor Doing the Concluding Barchu

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: At Ma’ariv, a boy under bar mitzvah recited Kaddish Yatom. When he finished, people told him to say Barchu as well. Was that proper? If not, should I have answered?


Answer: A mishna (Megilla 24a) seems to address your question. Whereas a katan may get an aliya, he may not serve as chazan or be poress al Shema. Rashi (ibid. 23b) explains that poress al Shema is reciting Kaddish, Barchu, and the first beracha of Birchot Kri’at Shema (the latter no longer practiced – Rama, Orach Chayim 69:1) on behalf of latecomers. Shuls that recite Barchu at the end of Shacharit and Ma’ariv (Barchu Batra) do a form of this (see Mishna Berura, intro. to siman 69), and thus we see that a katan may not lead it. Rashi (ibid. 24a) explains that because a katan is not obligated in these matters, he cannot do them on behalf of others.   

However, there are cracks in the opposition to ketanim doing Barchu. Rav Yosef Karo (Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch, OC 53:10) refers equivocally to a minhag to allow a katan to serve as chazan for Ma’ariv. The Rama (ad loc.) is even less enthusiastic about it, and the Mishna Berura (53:32) cites being motzi the tzibbur in Barchu as the main problem. However, the minhag and the poskim who justify it must have a way to deal with the mishna. The Rashba (Shut I:239) suggests that there is not a problem of a katan not being obligated in tefilla/Barchu because an older katan is obligated Rabbinically and tefilla is only a Rabbinic obligation even for adults. He proposes then that the reason a katan may not be a chazan is due to kavod hatzibbur, which may allow for flexibility (see Beit Yosef ibid). The Beit Yosef also suggests that since Ma’ariv was originally an optional tefilla, a katan may suffice to lead it (the mishna could relate to Shacharit).

What can we learn from a katan’s ability to recite Kaddish? For one, we see that a katan can recite for the tzibbur something that requires a minyan. On the other hand, according to most, a katan can only recite the Kaddeishim that are peripheral to tefilla (Gesher Hachayim 30:8:4). It is actually because a katan is incapable of being chazan that Kaddish Yatom was set aside for mourners, including ketanim (Mishna Berura 132:10). In some ways, Barchu appears to be less of a problem of being motzi than Kaddish is, as it seems just like a prompt for the tzibbur to bless Hashem with “Baruch Hashem hamevorach…”  (the chazan’s repetition of those words apparently is not to be motzi the tzibbur – see Mishna Berura 57:3-4).

Additionally, we do find that a katan does say Barchu when he gets an aliya. To explain the dichotomy in the mishna we have to say something along the lines that Barchu before an aliya is a requirement of the oleh and it is not reciting something on behalf of the tzibbur (Ishei Yisrael 15:(94)).  

We have seen some logic and scant sources to allow a katan to recite Barchu at least at Ma’ariv, which we arguably might extend to Barchu Batra of Shacharit, which is based on only a chance that someone missed Barchu. However, poskim assume that a katan should not be reciting it (Gesher Hachayim ibid.; Ishei Yisrael 15:32; Tefilla K’hilchata 17:).

If a katan did Barchu Batra, may/should one answer? Answering Barchu is important enough to interrupt at almost every juncture in davening (Shulchan Aruch, OC 66:3), apparently even for Barchu Batra after having already answered Barchu (see Mishna Berura 109:5). It is wrong to not respond when the tzibbur is answering Barchu Batra (Ishei Yisrael 16:(87), citing Rav C. Kanievsky zt”l). Admittedly, one must not answer Barchu without proper prompting (e.g., nine people did not hear it – Be’ur Halacha to 57:1). However, a katan is capable of prompting during his aliya and may just be missing the full power to be motzi others with it, and we have seen opinions that he can say it as a chazan at Ma’ariv. Therefore, if the mistake was made to have the katan say Barchu Batra, we posit that it is better to answer him than to not answer (even in a case where the katan will not notice and be embarrassed).

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