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Shabbat Parashat Balak | 5769

Ask the Rabbi: May one serve as a chazan in shul if he hates one of the congregants for no good reason

Question: May one serve as a chazan in shul if he hates one of the congregants for no good reason, especially if the congregant has great difficulty concentrating when he does so? Is it different regarding this person being the ba’al tokeiah (shofar blower) on Rosh Hashana?


Answer: The Beit Yosef (Orach Chayim 53) cites the Maharik that since the prayers correspond to the temidin (daily public sacrifices), which must be brought from community funds, a chazan has to be acceptable to all individuals in the community. In this way, one does not have a shaliach (agent) against his will. Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 53:19) says that an individual’s protest against a potential chazan prior to his appointment is accepted. The Rama (ad loc.) adds that this is talking about a case where the protestor can convince the communal leadership that he has sufficient cause and that, generally, hatred between people qualifies. Thus, your inclination to prevent the person in question has basis.

However, Acharonim distinguish between the aforementioned sources and our most common modern applications. The Magen Avraham (53:20) and Mishna Berura (53:53) say that the Maharik’s logic applies when one needs to rely on the chazan to fulfill his prayer obligation, e.g., when people would listen to the chazan’s repetition of Shemoneh Esrei instead of reciting their own. However, nowadays the chazan only leads the people and provides cantillation for parts of tefilla, whereas each person fully davens himself. Under such circumstances, we revert to the regular rule that the majority makes appointments to various tasks within the community without giving individuals veto power.

Realize also that many of a chazan’s qualifications (see Orach Chayim 53) refer to the position of the shul’s permanent chazan. Then the most appropriate person should be chosen, which may exclude one with any serious blemish. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 53: 19-21) posits that animosity is reason to invalidate only such a chazan, but not one who will be serving only sporadically. As he mentions, we cannot have disqualifications which have the potential of “having no end.”

While not everyone needs to have the special privilege of being the chazan, it is not a simple matter to embarrass and deprive one of the honor of occasionally being the chazan in shul, as almost all who are capable of leading services have. While he may be a flawed individual (which we cannot judge from here), many flawed people lead services. The matter of being unable to concentrate is not a significant factor. For any number of reasons an individual may be bothered by another’s davening, and it is not feasible to have endless possibilities of objection.

Regarding blowing shofar on Rosh Hashana, the matter is less clear. In all elements that our case differs from the classic one, shofar resembles the classic one. The ba’al tokeiah enables others to fulfill their mitzva; not everyone receives the honor of being the ba’al tokeiah; one can also claim that each year is a new appointment (see Haelef Lecha Shlomo, OC 356). Therefore, if there are viable options to replace him with someone who is similarly capable but who gets along with all, it is possible to bring the matter before the local rabbi/leadership (ibid.). However, we cannot stress enough that it is much more appropriate to strive to reduce tension and defuse the issue than to try to remove the person and undoubtedly raise the conflict to new, more regrettable levels.

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