Parshas Lech Lecha
Priority Rules for Chiyuvim
Shulchan Aruch(1) records the long-standing and universally held custom
for the son of a deceased parent to lead the weekday(2) 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.(3) 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(4) by
honoring the soul of his departed parent and alleviating its suffering in
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.(5) 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.(6)
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 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 - 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(7) by each of the chiyuvim:
SHELOSHIM - the first thirty days(8) 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
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
MEMBER - A member is one who pays membership dues, is employed by the
congregation, or is a regular mispallel(9) in this particular synagouge
but is assessed by its administration as being unable to pay membership
dues.(10) 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
1. It is a mitzvah for a congregation to allow any chiyuv, even a guest or
a non-member, to serve as sheliach tzibbur.(11)
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.(12)
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.(13) 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."(14)
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.
(15) Since Shacharis may be divided into two parts, there can be up to
four chiyuvim dividing the three daily prayer services.(16)
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.(17) Other poskim, however, do not object to
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
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
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.(21)
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.
(22) While some poskim recommend that he do so, he has no priority over
any other mourner.(23)
12. 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.(24)
The following rules of priority apply to chiyuvim of comparable membership
status (i.e., member vs. member, non-member vs. non member, guest vs.
1. A Sheloshim has priority over a Yahrzeit(26) and all other chiyuvim.(27)
2. A Yahrzeit has priority over a Yom hafsakah and a Year.
3. 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
2. A Sheloshim member has priority over a Yahrzeit guest.(28)
3. A Sheloshim or Yahrzeit guest and a Year member are equal chiyuvim.(29)
4. A Yom hafsakah guest has priority over a Year member.
1 O.C. 53:20; Rama, Y.D. 376:4
2 On Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha-Moed and Purim, a mourner does not serve as
sheliach tzibbur. On Tishah b'Av and erev Yom Kippur, a mourner serves as
sheliach tzibbur. There are various customs concerning Rosh Chodesh,
Chanukah and erev Pesach.
3 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.
4 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. 3 44:1; Chelkas Yaakov
2:93; She'arim Metzuyanim b'Halachah 26:1.
5 Mishnah Berurah 53:60.
6 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 18, note 28).
7 Actually, the most "important" period is the first seven days of
mourning, called shivah. Our discussion, however, does not cover the rules
of shivah, since most often the davening takes place in the house of
mourning, not in the synagogue. In the atypical case where a mourner
during shivah must daven in the synagouge [where he is a member], he has
priority over all other chiyuvim.
8 While Yom Tov mitigates some of the restrictions of sheloshim, it does
not lessen the sheloshim obligation of serving as sheliach tzibbur; Gesher
9 "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.
10 Beiur Halachah 132:1.
11 Mishnah Berurah 53:60.
12 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Tefillah k'Hilchasah 24, note 194).
13 Eimek Berachah (Aveilus), pg. 143. See also Halichos Shelomo 18, note
14 Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 345, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 376:7.
15 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.
16 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.
17 Chazon Ish, quoted by Harav 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 Shelomo Ha-Kohen of Vilna.
18 See Piskei Teshuvus 132:28, note 148, quoting a number of contemporary
19 Harav Y. Kamenetsky (Emes l'Ya'akov, Y.D. 376:4, note 224); Harav S.Z.
Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 18:24).
20 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 18:15).
21 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Nishmas Avraham, vol. 5, pg. 141).
22 Mateh Efrayim, Kaddish 4:2.
23 Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-17. See also Shevet ha-Levi 2:161. See, however,
Chut Shani, Ribbis, pg. 172, where Harav N. Karelitz recommends that a
mourner should not serve as sheliach tzibbur during the twelfth month.
24 Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:16. See also Emes l'Ya'akov, Y.D. 376:4, note
25 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.
26 During Shacharis, the Sheloshim leads until Ashrei-U'va l'Ttziyon, and
the Yahrzeit takes over from there.
27 Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:60; 4:61-20. But in many communities the custom is
that a Yahrzeit has priority over a Sheloshim.
28 During Shacharis, the Sheloshim leads until Ashrei U'va Letziyon, and
the Yahrzeit takes over from there.
29 "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.
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