Question: May one serve as chazan if he has a family member who is no longer shomer Torah u’mitzvos (i.e., “off the derech”)?

Short Answer: According to the Rambam, he would not be allowed to serve as chazan, yet many Acharonim believe that the ruling of the Rambam is limited to very specific circumstances.

Explanation:

I.Having a Sin-Free House

The Gemara in Taanis (16a), when listing the requirements for one to serve as chazan, includes the requirement of “having an empty house.” While Rashi interprets this phrase as requiring the chazan to be sin-free from financial improprieties, the Rambam (Taanis 4:4) interprets the phrase very differently. According to the Rambam, a chazan must not have any children, household members, or close relatives who are sinners.

II.Questioning the Rambam

The G’vuras Ari (Taanis ibid) questions the understanding of the Rambam. Why is a person punished for the sins of family members? Indeed, the only time that we ever find that an individual is penalized for the sins of family members is with a sotah – that the waters will not work if the accusing husband and his children are not themselves free from sin. Further, only a man who is afraid of his own sins, and not the sins of his children, is permitted to return from war. Why should a chazan be stricter than such a law?

III. Answering the Rambam

While the G’vuras Ari appears to reject the interpretation of the Rambam based on such questions, others attempt to explain the Rambam. The sefer Birkas Shai (Taanis ibid) suggests that we find parallels where a father is “punished” for the sins of his children by the infidelity of a bas kohen, and we also say “ishto k’gufo” – that a wife is like her husband.

Further, the sefer Daf al Daf (Taanis) brings from Rabbi Yitzchak Aryeh Ehrlich that the Rambam is only discussing a case where the chazan has control over his sinning child. If the sinning child is out of his father’s jurisdiction, then the father could serve as chazan even according to the Rambam. The Avnei Neizer (30) gives a similar answer.

Finally, the sefer Mei Yehudah (brought in Yabia Omer, Vol. 4, Yoreh Dei’ah 1) suggests that even the G’vuras Ari agrees that a man whose wife is acting in a non-tz’nius fashion cannot serve as chazan, as the man is obligated to rebuke her and divorce her if she continues sinning intentionally.

IV. Practical Halachah

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 579), when discussing requirements for a chazan on a fast day, lists the rule of the Rambam – that a chazan must have a family that is sin-free. Yet, this requirement is absent when the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 53:4) discusses the requirements for the everyday chazan. Based on this, the Daas Torah (53) suggests that the Rambam’s rule is limited to a chazan on a fast day.

Further, many Acharonim (see Piskei T’shuvos 53) explain that this rule is dependent on the circumstances – if the father has nothing to do with the sinning child, and cannot control him or her, then the father can still serve as the chazan.

 Next Week’s Topic: May a person wearing shorts serve as the chazan?


 Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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