Priority Rules for Chiyuvim
Shulchan Aruch records the long-standing and widely practiced custom
for the son of a deceased parent to lead the weekday 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 . 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 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. 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.
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 for a parent 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 by each of the chiyuvim:
- Sheloshim — the first thirty days 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
- 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 synagogue:
- Member — A member is one who pays membership dues, is employed by
the congregation, or is a regular mispallel in this particular
synagogue but is assessed by its administration as being unable to pay
membership dues. An unmarried son of a member also has the status of a
- 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.
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.
The following rules of priority apply to chiyuvim of comparable membership
status (i.e., member vs. member, non-member vs. non member, guest vs.
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.
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. The rav should be
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."
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. Since Shacharis may be divided into two parts, there can be up
to four chiyuvim dividing the three daily prayer services.
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. Other poskim, however, do not object to
this. There are various customs.
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 davening elsewhere.
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.
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. While some poskim recommend that he do so, he has no priority
over any other mourner.
1. A Sheloshim has priority over all other chiyuvim. Although the basic
halachah holds that he has priority over a Yahrzeit as well, it has
become customary in many places to give priority to a Yahrzeit, since the
Sheloshim could continue fulfilling his obligation the next day while a
Yahrzeit could not.
2. A Yahrzeit has priority over a Yom hafsakah and a Year.
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 guest.
2. A Sheloshim member has priority over a Yahrzeit guest.
3. A Sheloshim or Yahrzeit guest and a Year member are equal chiyuvim.
A Yom hafsakah guest has priority over a Year member.
1. O.C. 53:20; Rama, Y.D. 376:4
2. Among Ashkenazim — many Sefaradim do not practice this custom; Halachah
Berurah, O.C. 53:35.
3. On Shabbos, Yom Tov, Chol Ha-Moed and Purim, a mourner does not serve
as sheliach tzibbur. There are various customs concerning Rosh Chodesh,
Chanukah, Tishah b'Av, Aseres yemei teshuvah and erev Pesach.
4. 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.
5. 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. 344:1; Chelkas Yaakov 2:93;
She’arim Metzuyanim b’Halachah 26:1.
6. Mishnah Berurah 53:60.
7. Halichos Shlomo 1:18, note 28.
8. Note that priority rules for chiyuvim or yahrzeit apply only to sons
observing a chiyuv or a yahrzeit for a parent. Those observing a yahrzeit
for other relatives, e.g., a grandfather, a father-in-law, a wife, a son,
etc., have no priority at all over a son who is a chiyuv or a yahrzeit for a
9. While Yom Tov mitigates some of the restrictions of sheloshim, it does
not lessen the sheloshim obligation of serving as sheliach tzibbur; Gesher
10. "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.
11. Beiur Halachah 132:1.
12. Mishnah Berurah 53:60.
13. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (Tefillah k’Hilchasah 24, note 194).
14. Eimek Berachah (Aveilus), pg. 143. See also Halichos Shlomo 1:18, note 51.
15. Chasam Sofer, Y.D. 345, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 376:7.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Chazon Ish, quoted by Rav 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 S.
Ha-Kohen of Vilna.
19. See Piskei Teshuvus 132:28, note 148, quoting a number of contemporary
sources. See also Halichos Shlomo 1:5-1.
20. Emes l’Yaakov, Y.D. 376:4, note 224; Halichos Shlomo 1:18-24.
21. Halichos Shlomo 1:18-15.
22. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Nishmas Avraham, vol. 5, pg. 141).
23. Mateh Efrayim, Kaddish 4:2.
24. Igros Moshe, Y.D. 4:61-17. See also Shevet ha-Levi 2:161. See,
however, Chut Shani, Ribbis, pg. 172, where Rav N. Karelitz recommends that
a mourner should not serve as sheliach tzibbur during the twelfth month.
25. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:16. See also Emes l’Yaakov, Y.D. 376:4, note 224.
26. 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.
27. Shach Y.D. 376:10; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 26:6; Igros Moshe, Y.D.
28. See Piskei Teshuvos 132, note 117. During Shacharis, the Sheloshim
leads until Ashrei-U'va l’Ttziyon, and the Yahrzeit takes over from there.
29. During Shacharis, the Sheloshim leads until Ashrei-U'va L’tziyon, and
the Yahrzeit takes over from there.
30. "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.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2011 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at email@example.com