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By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt | Series: | Level:

Shulchan Aruch[1] records the long-standing and widely practiced[2] custom for the son of a deceased parent to lead the weekday[3] prayer services as the sheliach tzibbur. This obligation is in addition to the recitation of Kaddish, and is practiced throughout the eleven months when Kaddish is recited [4]. A son in mourning should do his utmost to observe this custom, for Chazal teach that when a son serves as the sheliach tzibbur, he is actually fulfilling the Biblical commandment of kibbud av v’eim[5] by honoring the soul of his departed parent and alleviating its suffering in Gehinom.

One who does not read a siddur fluently or has difficulty pronouncing Hebrew words correctly should not lead the congregation even if he is a mourner[6]. If a son feels that he will have to rush his davening and compromise the level of his kavanah (concentration), he should not serve as sheliach tzibbur either[7].

It is not uncommon to find several mourners, called chiyuvim, who wish to lead the same services in the same synagogue. In addition to them, a person observing a yahrzeit for a parent may also be present and he, too, is obligated to serve as sheliach tzibbur. In order to avoid disputes between the various parties claiming the right to lead the congregation — particularly since filial devotion is a very emotional matter[8] — the poskim set detailed, precise rules as to who takes precedence. Basically, there are two factors which determine priority, the first of which depends upon the specific chiyuv period being observed by each of the chiyuvim:

Chiyuv Periods

  • Sheloshim — the first thirty days[9] after the burial of a parent (as long as the burial took place before sundown, that day is day number one).
  • Year — the eleven months immediately following the burial day of a parent.
  • Yom hafsakah — the day on which the eleven-month period of being a chyiuv ends.
  • Yahrzeit — the anniversary of the parent’s day of death.

The other factor which determines chiyuv priority is the “residency” — or membership — status of the chiyuv in that particular synagogue:

  • Member — A member is one who pays membership dues, is employed by the congregation, or is a regular mispallel[10] in this particular synagogue but is assessed by its administration as being unable to pay membership dues[11]. An unmarried son of a member also has the status of a member.
  • Guest — any non-resident of the city in question.
  • Non-member — any local resident who is not a member of this particular congregation.

General rules:

    1.It is a mitzvah for a congregation to allow any chiyuv, even a guest or a non-member, to serve as sheliach tzibbur[12].
    2.Any member chiyuv has priority over any non-member chiyuv.
    3.One may become a member even after his chiyuv begins and will from that time have priority over a non-member chiyuv[13].
    4.A chiyuv who has priority according to halachah should not readily relinquish his right to be the sheliach tzibbur, for the right is not really his to surrender; rather, it belongs to the soul of his parent. If, however, the other mourner will be greatly distressed if he is denied the opportunity to be the sheliach tzibbur, he may give up his right[14]. The rav should be consulted.
    5.A chiyuv who does not have priority according to halachah but intimidates or forces the other mourners to give up their rights to him, is described as “gaining nothing for the soul of his parent, nor detracting from any merit that was due the other mourner[15].”
    6.When there are several mourners of equal status, they should divide the sheliach tzibbur’s duties among themselves in a fair and equitable manner[16]. Since Shacharis may be divided into two parts, there can be up to four chiyuvim dividing the three daily prayer services[17].
    7.Some poskim maintain that it is improper to divide a large minyan into two in order to enable a second mourner to have a minyan for which he can serve as sheliach tzibbur[18]. Other poskim, however, do not object to this[19]. There are various customs.
    8.A mourner who davens regularly in one shul, but whose opportunities to serve as sheliach tzibbur will be curtailed because of the other chiyuvim in that shul, is neither required nor advised to switch shuls during his eleven months of mourning. On a Yahrzeit of a parent, however, one should see to it that he does serve as sheliach tzibbur, even if it means davening elsewhere[20].
    9.A grandson should serve as sheliach tzibbur if his grandparent died without leaving a son. If there are other mourners at the same shul, a grandson shares his slot with them but not on equal footing as would a son. The particulars regarding the grandson’s rights are left to the rav’s discretion[21].
    10.It is appropriate that a son serve as sheliach tzibbur after the passing of an adoptive parent. The standard rules of priority, however, do not apply and he does not take precedence over other mourners[22].
    11.During the twelfth month of the mourning period, the mourner is no longer required to serve as sheliach tzibbur, but may do so if he wishes[23]. While some poskim recommend that he do so, he has no priority over any other mourner[24].

One who is in mourning for both his father and his mother does not have more priority than one who is mourning for one parent[25]. The following rules of priority apply to chiyuvim of comparable membership status (i.e., member vs. member, non-member vs. non member, guest vs. guest)[26]:

    1.A Sheloshim has priority over all other chiyuvim. Although the basic halachah holds that he has priority over a Yahrzeit as well[27], it has become customary in many places to give priority to a Yahrzeit, since the Sheloshim could continue fulfilling his obligation the next day while a Yahrzeit could not[28].
    2.A Yahrzeit has priority over a Yom hafsakah and a Year. A Yom hafsakah has priority over a Year.

The following rules of priority apply between a member and a guest:

    1.A Yahrzeit member has priority over a Yahrzeit guest or a Sheloshim guest.
    2.A Sheloshim member has priority over a Yahrzeit guest[29].
    3.A Sheloshim or Yahrzeit guest and a Year member are equal chiyuvim[30]. A Yom hafsakah guest has priority over a Year member.

1. O.C. 53:20; Rama, Y.D. 376:4

2. Among Ashkenazim — many Sefaradim do not practice this custom; Halachah Berurah, O.C. 53:35.

3. On Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha-Moed and Purim, a mourner does not serve as sheliach tzibbur. There are various customs concerning Rosh Chodesh, Chanukah, Tishah b’Av, Aseres yemei teshuvah and erev Pesach.

4. The “eleven months” period is always calculated from the day of burial, even if several days elapsed between death and burial; Beiur Halachah 132:1, as explained by Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-19.

5. Chayei Adam 67:6. The poskim debate whether a parent may excuse his child from according him this honor and whether the child is obligated to listen to his parent; see Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 344:1; Chelkas Yaakov 2:93; She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halachah 26:1.

6. Mishnah Berurah 53:60.

7. Halichos Shlomo 1:18, note 28.

8. Note that priority rules for chiyuvim or yahrzeit apply only to sons observing a chiyuv or a yahrzeit for a parent. Those observing a yahrzeit for other relatives, e.g., a grandfather, a father-in-law, a wife, a son, etc., have no priority at all over a son who is a chiyuv or a yahrzeit for a parent.

9. While Yom Tov mitigates some of the restrictions of sheloshim, it does not lessen the sheloshim obligation of serving as sheliach tzibbur; Gesher ha-Chayim 30:10-2.

10. “Regular mispallel” is defined as one who davens in this synagogue on Shabbos and Yom Tov on a regular basis; Teshuvos Binyan David, 12, quoted in Tefillah k’Hilchasah 24, note 194.

11. Beiur Halachah 132:1.

12. Mishnah Berurah 53:60.

13. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Tefillah k’Hilchasah 24, note 194).

14. Eimek Berachah (Aveilus), pg. 143. See also Halichos Shlomo 1:18, note 51.

15. Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 345, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 376:7.

16. One who has a choice of being a sheliach tzibbur for Minchah or for Ma’ariv, should choose Ma’ariv over Minchah; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:1.

17. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-5. Several brothers, even though they are davening for the same parent, have separate rights as individual mourners; Rama, Y.D. 376:4.

18. Chazon Ish, quoted by Rav C. Kanievsky in Ma’aseh Ish, vol. 5, pg. 24; Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-4. See also Tefillah k’Hilchasah 24:54 quoting Rav S. Ha-Kohen of Vilna.

19. See Piskei Teshuvus 132:28, note 148, quoting a number of contemporary sources. See also Halichos Shlomo 1:5-1.

20. Emes l’Yaakov, Y.D. 376:4, note 224; Halichos Shlomo 1:18-24.

21. Halichos Shlomo 1:18-15.

22. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Nishmas Avraham, vol. 5, pg. 141).

23. Mateh Efrayim, Kaddish 4:2.

24. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-17. See also Shevet ha-Levi 2:161. See, however, Chut Shani, Ribbis, pg. 172, where Rav N. Karelitz recommends that a mourner should not serve as sheliach tzibbur during the twelfth month.

25. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:16. See also Emes l’Yaakov, Y.D. 376:4, note 224.

26. Unless otherwise noted, the rules of priority are based on the decisions of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26 and Beiur Halachah 132:1. See also Yesodei Semachos 9:7 and 12:11.

27. Shach Y.D. 376:10; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:6; Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:60-1; 4:61-20.

28. See Piskei Teshuvos 132, note 117. During Shacharis, the Sheloshim leads until Ashrei-U’va l’Ttziyon, and the Yahrzeit takes over from there.

29. During Shacharis, the Sheloshim leads until Ashrei-U’va L’tziyon, and the Yahrzeit takes over from there.

30. “Equal chiyuvim” means that neither has priority. During Shacharis, one should daven until Ashrei-U’va l’Ttziyon, and the other should continue from there. Minchah and Ma’ariv should be divided between them.

Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and

Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at [email protected]