2014 Summer Beit Midrash, Week 3

This week’s summary is by SBM Fellow Yehuda Gale.

This week we dealt with the impact of what Jastrow calls a “legally significant physical blemish” (מום) on the choice of a Shliach Tzibur. A midrash in Vayikra rabbah and a passage from the Zohar lay out two opposing paths for the later poskim to follow.  Vayikra Rabbah invokes the midrashic method of contrasting God to human kings.  Human kings want only the most perfect servants, while God prefers “broken vessels.”  Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg (the Maharam) interprets this to mean that God prefers the service of imperfect servants in all areas outside of the Avoda.  The Zohar strongly insists on rejecting a Chazan who would be forbidden to participate in the Avoda due to a physical blemish.  Among its sources are some verses from Malachi where God rebukes His people for bringing him sacrifices they would not even give to a human ruler.  These verses seem to say that if even a human king would reject a sacrifice, how could we bring it before the king of all kings?

Rabbi Israel Bruna (the Mahari Bruna) endorses the comparison to a Kohen. Based on this comparison he rules that a congregation should not appoint someone with a legal blemish as an established Chazan, but that he can lead prayer on occasion.  On the other side of the debate Rabbi Solomon Luria in Yam Shel Shlomo agrees with the Maharam, permitting someone with a legal blemish to lead prayer.  In addition to the Maharam’s reasoning, he compares the shliach tzibur to a Levi who can serve as long as his voice remains intact, regardless of physical blemishes that would disqualify a kohen.  Rabbi Joel Sirkis (the Bach) quotes the Maharshal without further comment.  Rabbi Avraham Gombiner in his work the Magen Avraham cites both the Bach and the Zohar.  He concludes that we should avoid appointing someone with a legal blemish as a shliach tzibur.

We next turned to a responsum of Rabbi Moses Sofer, the Chatam Sofer.  The question concerned an epileptic leading prayer on the high holidays.  In the end, he allows the subject of the question to eat before prayer in order to lead on Rosh Hashanah.  In order to permit this, he separates epilepsy from other disabilities.  We can read his reasoning as either social, these people regularly come before human kings, or empirical, at most times a person’s epilepsy is imperceptible. The Chavot Yair rejects the comparison between Kohanim and Chazanim, but rules more stringently than anyone else we saw.  He forbid someone blind in one eye from leading prayer in all but the most extreme circumstances.  He grounded himself in mystical reasons, but wrote one line about the verse in Malachi cited above.

One of the last Teshuvot we discussed this week was the Binyan Tzion.  He accepts the Magen Avraham on authority.  He further claims that even the Maharam would agree that someone with a disfiguring wound, like leprosy, cannot serve as the Chazan.  We were not clear on how his case was distinguished from Maharam’s case.

After the Teshuvot we began discussing an article by Rabbi Binyamin Lau about the current status of Baali Mum.  We focused on his reading of the Chavot Yair and the Magen Avraham.  He read both of them as permitting people with a legal blemish to serve as Chazanim.  His readings left us unconvinced.

Shabbat Shalom!


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