Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Selichot ---> The Chazzan

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There is a prevailing custom in many congregations for the one who leads the selichot prayers to also lead the remaining prayer services that day.[1] This is based on the principle that "one who has begun a mitzva – we tell him to finish it!",[2] intended to encourage people to persist in the performance of mitzvot, especially communal ones.[3] Indeed, the one who leads the selichot takes priority over anyone else in leading the day's remaining services, including mourners who otherwise take preference. A further reason cited for this custom is that it was once customary for the one who leads the selichot prayers to fast that day. Since it is always more auspicious for an individual who is fasting and repenting to lead services, it was therefore decided that he should be the one to lead the remaining prayers of the day, as well.[4]

Click here to read moreIt is also suggested that the reason for this custom is to serve as a form of compensation. This is based on the perception that the task of leading the selichot prayers is one of the more inferior honors that one can receive. As such, the one who led the selichot was offered the privilege of leading all the other services that day in order to make up for any insult he may have felt for having been assigned to lead selichot.[5] This is reminiscent of another ancient custom well. It was once customary in many communities for the one given the Maftir Aliya to also be honored with leading the Mussaf prayers, as a form of appeasement for having received an Aliya which was viewed by many as an inferior one.[6] Finally, it is also noted that the one who leads selichot is required to go through the trouble of waking up earlier than everyone else and the privilege of leading the remaining services of the day is his reward for having lost sleep.[7]

There is a difference of opinion whether or not the privilege of leading the remaining services of the day extends to the Ma'ariv service as well. As Ma'ariv essentially inaugurates a new day on the Jewish calendar, some authorities feel that there is no reason it should be included. Nevertheless, there are other authorities who argue that Ma'ariv should be included in these benefits, as well. This is because the daily Ma'ariv service corresponds to the burning of any remains which were left over from the day's sacrifices in the Beit Hamikdash.[8] As such, a connection can certainly be drawn between Ma'ariv and the services which preceded it earlier in the day. It is also suggested that the one who will be leading the selichot services in the morning be honored with leading Ma'ariv the evening before as well.[9]

There are a growing number of contemporary authorities who insist that this custom is no longer relevant today and the one who leads selichot deserves no additional honors. It is noted that the role and responsibility of the chazzan in ancient times was to personally discharge the recitation of Selichot on behalf of the entire congregation. In order to accomplish this, the chazzan would read every single word out loud, slowly and clearly so that everyone would be able to follow along. In our day, however, the chazzan's role is much different. Today, the chazzan merely serves to ensure that the congregation proceeds together in unison at a comfortable pace. This is basically accomplished by simply reading the first and last lines of every paragraph out loud. As such, the job of leading selichot today is much less demanding than it once was and therefore not warranting any additional honors.[10]


[1] Rema O.C. 581:1
[2] Yerushalmi Megilla 2:7
[3] Magen Avraham 581:7
[4] Minhag Yisrael Torah 581:15
[5] Binyan Shlomo 37
[6] Minhag Yisrael Torah 136:1
[7] Binyan Shlomo 37
[8] Magen Avraham 581:7
[9] Binyan Shlomo 37
[10] Binyan Shlomo 37

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