Question: What qualifications must the chazan have for the Yamim Nora’im?

Short Answer: The main qualifications for a chazan during the Yamim Nora’im is that he is a y’rei Shamayim and knows the nusach of davening.



I. Qualification

The Mishnah (Taanis 15a) states that a chazan on a fast day should have certain qualifications, mainly that he is a “zakein v’ragil,” an elderly person accustomed to the nusach ha’t’filah. The Mishnah also states that the chazan should have children and be poor, so that he davens a complete and proper davening. Rashi explains that it is crucial for the chazan to be accustomed with the nusach, so that he does not err when davening. A chazan who errs is a “bad omen” for those who sent him, i.e., the community, according to Rashi, based on the Gemara (B’rachos 34b).

The Rambam (Hilchos T’filah 8:11 and Hilchos Taanis 4:4) appears to specifically apply this Gemara to a chazan on a fast day. In other words, even though the Rambam lists some of these qualifications for an everyday chazan, he is clear in Hilchos Taanis that a chazan on a fast day must be accustomed to davening.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 53:4), on the other hand, cites these qualifications with respect to a daily chazan. The Ba’eir Heiteiv (7), though, limits the Shulchan Aruch’s mandate to a fast day. A regular, daily chazan need not have all the qualifications; he simply needs to be someone who does not currently sin.

Moreover, the Rama (Orach Chayim 581:1) cites these qualifications with respect to a chazan during the Yamim Nora’im. Thus, it appears that the Rama understands that these qualifications are unique to a chazan for the Yamim Nora’im.

II. Praying For Others

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l (cited in the new Batei Yosef, Yamim Nora’im, p. 16) explains the Rama. During the year, the chazan serves as the shaliach, the messenger, for those in the community who are not able to daven themselves. See Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 34b). On a fast day, however, the chazan takes a different role: The chazan prays to Hashem FOR the community. In other words, on a fast day, the chazan is not the emissary of the community but instead prays individually, seeking good things for the community. Rav Soloveitchik compares this davening to Moshe during the war with Amaleik. Moshe prayed singularly about the B’nei Yisrael.

Rav Soloveitchik supports his idea from the language of the Mishnah in Taanis. The chazan beseeches Hashem to answer the t’filos of the community – “hu y’aneh eschem...” – in a manner that is not found elsewhere in our liturgy. Rav Soloveitchik elaborated that the same logic applies to the chazan on the Yamim Nora’im. The chazan during these days also prays for the community. Indeed, the language of “Hin’ni,” the special t’filah recited by the chazan on the Yamim Nora’im, appears to support this idea. We say “basi la’amod u’l’hischanein l’fanecha al amcha Yisrael asher sh’lachuni...,” which focuses on the chazan as coming to pray on behalf of the B’nei Yisrael.

This author notes that Rashi (Taanis, above) appears to disagree with this idea, as Rashi explains that a chazan on a fast day needs these qualifications based on the Gemara in B’rachos that it is a bad omen for the community who “sends” the chazan if the chazan errs during davening. This implies that the chazan’s role on a fast day is simply a messenger as other days of the year.

III. The Chasam Sofer

Rav Yaakov Neuberger shlita (Batei Yosef, Yamim Nora’im, p. 212) supports Rav Soloveitchik’s idea from the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer writes that the power of a chacham’s t’filos comes from the fact that he worries and cares about the pain of others. In this z’chus, Hashem answers his t’filos. Moreover, Hashem, as opposed to a human king who seeks ways to distance himself from his subjects, seeks additional ways for his subjects to connect with Him. Thus, during the Yamim Nora’im, Hashem gives this power to the chazan to reach Hashem on behalf of others, as this is the very attribute that defines him as a chacham.

Rav Neuberger further explains that this power of the chazan during the Yamim Nora’im stems from the fact that Hashem dressed as a chazan when he taught Moshe the yud gimmel Midos HaRachamim (see Article #2). Accordingly, a chazan during the Yamim Nora’im should be taught that he must have in mind specifically that he is davening for the community.

IV. The Most Important

What if a shul or community cannot find a person of such caliber to serve as chazan during the Yamim Nora’im? Rav Mordechai Willig shlita (Batei Yosef, Yamim Nora’im, p. 212) addresses this question. The most important attribute is for the chazan to be a y’rei Shamayim and an expert in the nusach of the t’filah. He should also understand the meaning of the t’filos that he will be reciting. While the other attributes are obviously important, they are not essential.

Rav Willig adds that, in particular, nowadays it is not truly unnecessary to seek a chazan who is at least 30 years old.

V. The Mourner

But what about an aveil during the 12 months of aveilus? May he serve as chazan during the Yamim Nora’im?

The Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayim 581:7) writes clearly that an aveil during his 12 months of aveilus for his parents may not serve as chazan during the Yamim Nora’im. An aveil for other relatives should not serve as chazan within the first 30 days. The Mishnah B’rurah does not discuss whether the same rule applies to a chazan who is the yearly set chazan and hired for money. The Matei Ephraim (581:24), on the other hand, writes that a community that has a set chazan, whom they adore and who is proficient at davening, may use this same chazan even if he is an aveil within 12 months for his parents (or 30 days for other relatives). Because there is a chance that a new chazan’s t’filos will not be accepted or appreciated by the community, it is permitted to re-hire the aveil as chazan.

Rav Willig (Batei Yosef, Yamim Nora’im, p. 213) adds that any chazan who is the yearly, set chazan for a shul during Yamim Nora’im may continue to serve as chazan even during his year of aveilus for his parents (or 30 days for other relatives). Indeed, Rav Willig himself served as chazan during the year of aveilus for both his mother and father.

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Associate 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.