Question: May a person wearing shorts serve as the chazan?
Short Answer: Most poskim hold that a chazan should not wear shorts, while some poskim allow it if it is the norm for that tzibur to wear shorts.
I.What is a Pochei’ach?
The Mishnah in Megillah (24a) says that a “pochei’ach” (one whose limbs are exposed) cannot serve as chazan. What is a “pochei’ach”?
Rashi (ibid), based on Maseches Sofrim, learns that it refers to a person whose legs are showing, i.e., not wearing long pants and socks. Tosafos, on the other hand, understands it to mean someone whose clothes are torn and, thus, his arms are showing. The Rif and the Rambam (T’filah 8:12) learn like Tosafos. [Note, though, that the Rabbeinu Manoach understands the words “torn clothes” to include torn pants, i.e., that his legs are showing].
II.The Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 53:13) simply lists the interpretation of Tosafos, the Rif, and the Rambam – that a chazan must not have torn clothes and bare arms. No mention is made of bare legs.
Nevertheless, the Mishnah B’rurah (13) notes that it is “proper” (but not required) that the chazan’s legs should be covered. Further, the Aruch HaShulchan (14) rules that it is forbidden to serve as chazan with bare legs.
III. Application to Shorts
Based upon all this, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo, T’filah 2:15), Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Y’chaveh Daas 4:8), and the Chemdas Tzvi (1:7) all ruled that a man wearing shorts cannot serve as chazan. They appear to understand the Shulchan Aruch that not only are bare arms forbidden, but surely bare legs are improper for a chazan and, thus, are forbidden.
IV. Dissenting Opinion
However, there are a few poskim who are lenient and allow someone wearing shorts to serve as chazan in certain cases. The Beis Baruch (on the Chayei Adam 29:36), for example, rules that if the custom of the neighborhood is for people to wear shorts, then it may be permitted for the chazan to likewise wear shorts, as the tzibur will not care. Moreover, Rav Hillel Posek (Hillel Omer, 29) ruled that, nowadays, since many people wear shorts regularly (in Israel), and even wear them to work, a person wearing shorts can serve as the chazan. This is especially true where the tzibur prefers that he wears shorts, as it is hard to change into regular pants.
Next Week’s Topic:
May a chazan sing non-Jewish tunes during davening?