In this lesson, we will discuss the major qualifications the halacha requires for the appointment of a ‘Chazzan’ (a.k.a ‘Shaliach Tzibur’, lit. messenger of the congregation, henceforth: ‘Shatz’). Naturally, the Chazzan plays a very important role in the Jewish community. Our sources teach that one who appoints an inappropriate candidate to this task, is held accountable for withholding goodness from the Jewish People! Let us bear in mind that there are two kinds of ‘Shatz’ – a) ‘Shatz kavua’ – lit. a fixed ‘Shatz’, i.e. one who is appointed or hired by the community to be the regular Chazzan, and b) ‘Shatz b’akraii’ – lit. a temporary ‘Shatz’, who is asked to lead for a particular service. In general, the qualifications listed should be sought for either kind; however, obviously, we would be more selective for a ‘Shatz kavua’, especially for the ‘Yamim Noraim’ (High Holidays) – i.e. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Qualifications for ‘Shaliach Tzibur’ (shat”z)
Before listing any specific qualities, it should be noted that a ‘Shatz kavua’ must be an individual who is intelligent and socially-grounded. How praiseworthy it is to have a ‘Shatz’ who is “righteous, the son of the righteous”, for his ‘Tefilos’ (prayers) are generally the most-readily accepted! It is not necessary, though, that he descends from illustrious or noble lineage (Heb: ‘yichus’). Sometimes, a ‘Shatz’ who suffers, or has suffered, from a physical disability, has acquired an extra measure of virtue and humility, which makes his ‘Tefilos’ desirable as well.
1) A clean mitzvah-record. (Note: One who has committed major transgressions in the past, but has repented, may be considered as well, depending on the situation.)
2) Good ‘midos’ (character traits) – i.e. he is humble, pleasant and friendly
3) Peaceful-loving - He Is not argumentative and does not have unsettled controversial issues with community members
4) Good, pleasant voice – however, his davening is not too drawn-out, and his intent is for the honor of Hashem, nor for personal aggrandizement
5) Knowledgeable in Torah and familiar with the Hebrew language and ‘Tanach’ (Scriptures)
6) Age and physical maturity. (Note: a boy cannot be a ‘Shatz’ until the stars are visible on the night of his Hebrew thirteenth birthday. This means that he may not be eligible to lead the davening for Friday night Maariv, if Shabbos is his birthday.)
7) Married (particularly for the ‘Yamim Noraim’. In fact, being married is of a higher priority than having a better voice!)
8) Proper pronunciation and without speech impediments
9) Properly dressed and covered
In the final analysis, the most important qualities in a ‘Shatz’ are wisdom and good deeds. Accordingly, a younger person may, in fact, prove to be more qualified than an older person, even though the latter may be more musical and loved by the congregation.