The Shliach Tzibbur and the Eggplant

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the 5 Towns Jewish Times

You may be wondering about the eggplant.  We will get to it.

It happens occasionally in shuls.  Someone approaches the Amud to daven.  The problem is that he profoundly mispronounces words.

The last line of Tachanun reads,  “Azreinu elokei yisheinu al dvar kvod shmecha vehatzileinu vechaper al chatosainu leman sh’mecha.”  But when the word “vehatzileinu” is misread, switching the letter “hay” to the letter “ches” – the phrase translates to:   “Help us O’ G-d of our salvation on the matter of the honor of Your Name, and our eggplant and atone for our sins for the sake of Your Name.”

The eggplant, of course, does not belong.

EMBARRASSING SOMEONE IS WORSE

Of course, embarrassing someone can sometimes be akin to one of the three cardinal sins of the Torah (Avodah Zarah, murder and improper relations).  Chazal (Bava Metziah 58b) compare embarrassing a person to actually killing him.  Once a person is there at the Amud about to daven, one should be very careful with how one treats him – lest one violate several Torah prohibitions.

On the other hand, what is the halacha?  May the shul gabbai allow a mispronouncer of words to lead the davening?  Does it make a difference if it is occasional or permanent?  What about on a Yahrtzeit?  What if everyone in the shul davens like that?

THE VIEW OF THE CHOFETZ CHAIM

Citing the Gemorah in Megillah 24a, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 53:12) rules that one may not appoint as the Shliach Tzibbur someone who pronounces his ayins as alephs and his alephs as ayins. There are other examples as well. The Chofetz Chaim in his Biur Halacha states, “It seems that it would make no difference whether it happens occasionally or regularly.”  He explains that since the reason is that he does not enunciate the words properly, even if it was just b’akrai – occasionally or irregularly, it would still be disallowed.

SOME MODERN POSKIM

Some modern Poskim (see, for example, Vaya’an Shaul OC Siman 3) have questioned the Chofetz Chaim’s assertion regarding b’akrai, particularly since the language of the Shulchan Aruch indicates a consistent appointment.  He states that we do not appoint such a person as a shliach tzibbur.   Rav Kafach writes in his commentary on the Rambam (Sefer Ahava p. 202) that the Rambam only lists these requirements for a permanent Chazan.  Rav Ovadiah Yoseph (Yabia Omer OC VI #11) in regard to Birkas Kohanim, indicates that in a situation where he is already in the position, we allow it, since it is tantamount to having no other option.

FASCINATING MIDRASH AND SEFER CHASIDIM

There is, however, a fascinating Midrash that seems to run counter to the Biur Halacha.  The Midrash Shir HaShirim on the pasuk (2:4), “He brought me to the banquet hall and his attraction to me was love” explains as follows:  Rav Acha said:  An Am HaAretz that calls Ahavah (love) – Aivah (hate) – the Holy One Blessed Be He says, “his attraction to Me was love.”  In other words, if an uneducated person mispronounces the word Ahavah and reads it as Aivah – Hashem is tolerant and says, “He is coming to Me from love.”

The Sefer Chasidim (Siman 18) cites this Midrash as a halachic basis to assure people not to be shocked when one sees people who mispronounces words performing public duties.

DEBATE REGARDING THE SEFER CHASIDIM

Indeed, there seems to be a debate as to how to understand this Sefer Chasidim.  The Mogain Avrohom (OC 53:15) cites a Radbaz that even though the Gemorah tells us that the people from ancient Haifa (who mispronounced words) were not permitted to be assigned as a Shliach Tzibbur elsewhere, they were permitted to pray in ancient Haifa – because that is how everyone prayed there.  The Mogain Avrohom’s citation of the Sefer Chasidim juxtaposed to his quote of the Radbaz clearly indicates that he understands the Sefer Chasidim as only permitting it in the case of the Radbaz – where everyone in that locale mispronounces words.  The Biur Halacha probably understood the Mogain Avrohom in this vein as well.

However, the commentary on the Sefer Chasidim, entitled “Afraksasa D’inya,” understands the Sefer Chasidim in its plain connotation.  The Aruch haShulchan (OC 62:1) also indicates that he understands the Sefer Chasidim in its plain connotation that it is not only discussing a case similar to ancient Haifa.

DON’T WE ALL MISPRONOUNCE?

An argument can perhaps also be made that all of us mispronounce anyway.  We do not differentiate between the guttural Ayin and the aleph – something that the Gemorah clearly states disqualifies us.  Also, many people stress the word incorrectly, stressing the earlier syllable of words rather than the later ones.  True, this is a mispronunciation that exists in our places and other mispronunciations do not.  But can we not be lenient to allow a suffering mourner or yahrtzeit observer to lead the services – notwithstanding his mispronunciations?  During the Mishna Brurah’s time and place, most people did mispronounce the Ayin, so clearly he did not consider this as a relevant factor.

SO WHAT DO WE DO IN OUR SHULS?

Every shul should, of course, follow their Rav and Posaik as to how to handle this very sensitive issue.  The Mishna Brurah has been established as the Posaik Acharon- the last word in Halacha in our generation, and it is very difficult to stray from his rulings.  Based upon the above, however, this author would like to humbly suggest the following answers:

Any mourner and Yahrtzeit observer who wishes to lead the services should make his best effort to pronounce words correctly.  There are tapes available that can help accomplish this.  They should be listened to in order to improve the pronunciation.

MAY THE SHUL GABBAI ALLOW A MISPRONOUNCER TO LEAD THE DAVENING?

As a permanent Chazan, the shul should not allow it. This is the clear ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.  In regard to a yahrtzeit or for shloshim of an avel, which is temporary, it should generally be avoided.  However, if in the gabbai’s or Rabbi’s judgement there is a serious Bain Adam l’chaveiro involved here, specifically with this person – then one could perhaps rely on the lenient readings of the Aruch haShulchan and Rav Kafach. V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha, loving one’s neighbor as oneself, is a Torah issue and there are Poskim that disagree with the Mishna Brurah when it is done irregularly. We must stress again that each gabbai and shul should consult their own Posaik rather than rely on this article.

DOES IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF IT IS PERMANENT OR OCCASIONAL?

In regard to the avel’s year of davening this may be considered more permanent than shloshim and one should only be lenient based upon the ruling of a halachic authority.

WHAT ABOUT ON A YAHRTZEIT?

Again, the biur halacha seems to disallow it.  In regard to someone who is sensitive and might be hurt, it seems that notwithstanding the Mishna Brurah’s ruling, it is rare to see a shul not allow someone to daven on a yahrtzeit – even though he mispronounces.

Perhaps in these circumstances, we can apply the principle of “Pok chazi mai amah dvar – go out and see how the nation conducts itself (dvar means conducts not thing).”  The majority of shuls in the United States, in this author’s opinion, do not disallow someone on a yahrtzeit.  Perhaps the concept of Pok Chazi can be employed to state that, halachically, we may rely on the lenient view regarding temporarily allowing a mispronouncer to lead the services.

Of course, the concept of Pok chazi may only be used when there are genuine doubts as to the halacha.  Here, the Biur halacha used the word “lechorah – it seems.”  Each shul, should consult with their Rav and Poskim in order to determine what their policy should be.  Perhaps a twice weekly course should be implemented where correct pronunciation is learned.

WHAT IF EVERYONE IN THE SHUL DAVENS LIKE THAT?

If everyone makes a similar error, then there is more room to be lenient.  Also in a shul where most of the people who lead the davening mispronounce words – there is not really much of a choice.

A SIDE NOTE

Believe it or not, some mispronunciation is a result of poor vision.  At times a larger siddur can resolve many of the problems.  Another issue is the use of the ArtScroll siddur. It’s beautiful new font may have a flaw in it such that Baalei Teshuvah with poor vision may be particularly sensitive to – the foot of the hay may be a bit too tall and it begins to resemble a ches to the non-initiated.  If they were to knock out a couple of pixels – it may go a long way in reducing the eggplant.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

4 COMMENTS

  1. Eggplant? Is that a word in Lashon HaKodesh? Or are we concerned about a word in the secular language invented a few decades ago?

  2. It is improper to say” sometimes akin to one of the three cardinal sins of the Torah (Avodah Zarah, murder and improper relations)”

    Chazal do use very strong language about several things ,such as this, to give them gravity

    The cynics are using those as a means of diminishing the Weight of the severest of them all: The three cardinal sins

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