Shabbat Parashat Tzav | 5768
Regarding Teens and Kebudim (Honors) in Shul
Ask the Rabbi
Question: How should teens be treated regarding different kibudim (honors) in shul? In some shuls, they receive only “less desirable” kibudim like peticha and gelila.
Answer: The mishna (Megilla 24a) lists things that a katan (boy before bar mitzva) can and cannot do. Actually, he can get an aliya (the longstanding minhag does not allow it- see Ask the Rabbi, Yitro 5762) but cannot be a chazzan for the core parts of the tefilla. Teens are halachically able to lead any part of the services (assuming, as we almost always do without checking, that he has physical signs of the beginning of maturity). The question is of appropriateness.
The gemara (Chulin 24b) states that only one whose beard has grown in may be chosen as chazzan. Most Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 53:6) limit this rule to the honor and responsibility of being a set chazzan, due to the congregation’s honor; on an occasional basis, teens may serve without issue. One occasionally comes across (in life or in the writings of a posek) a local practice not to allow singles or the young to be a chazzan, but this type of approach is not seen as halachic or mainstream policy regarding an occasional chazzan (see Shevet Halevi V, 19).
Regarding aliyot, there are no halachic issues whatsoever about honoring teens. In general, while being a chazzan has strong elements of an honor, aliyot are more a matter of an opportunity to do a mitzva, which applies to all ages (compare Shulchan Aruch, OC 53:16 and Mishna Berura 141:25). It is appropriate and sometimes required to honor “the most deserving” with the earlier aliyot (kohanim and levi’im; on Shabbat, even “regular” aliyot- Shulchan Aruch, OC 136:1). However, there is apparently no point of skipping totally over upstanding but young people. One can prove, albeit from a halacha that is out of practice, the concept that youngsters are also expected to receive “medium-level” kibudim. The mishna (Megilla 24a) states that one who receives the (then) lower-level aliya of maftir is “compensated” by getting to be chazzan for Musaf. The mishna says that if a katan gets maftir, while he cannot daven Musaf, we give the honor to his father. While the gemara softens the matter a little, the clear assumption is that a katan, let alone a teen, would not be relegated to those “honors” that others did not want. Admittedly, there were and still are places where youngsters are not given aliyot on Shabbat, but this is not seen as healthy under normal circumstances and is certainly not a halacha (see Tzitz Eliezer VII, 1.13).
The matter of policy depends quite a bit on the shul’s circumstances. One reason to prefer adults for kibudim is that at least regarding davening, they are, in theory and often in practice, more experienced and proficient than adolescents. When this is the case, it is certainly a factor, which is somewhat countered by the value of training the next generation. In some shuls, when there are not always enough kibudim to go around, adults are more likely to expect the more “desired” kibudim and get insulted by a perceived slight. This too is a factor, but should not necessarily exclude but limit youngsters’ participation. In general, making youngsters feel appreciated and respected is subconsciously important regarding their developing attitudes toward shuls and religion in general. Therefore, in all but exceptional communities, we would suggest giving teens a fair share, quantitatively and qualitatively, of the honors and including pre-bar mitzvahs among sections where halacha allows it (peticha, gelila, “An’im Zemirot,” P’sukei D’zimra, Kabbalat Shabbat). When youngsters are more included officially, there is likely to be a general, more welcoming atmosphere toward them in the shul (greetings after davening, etc.) and their behavior is likely to improve somewhat.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.