Rabbi Harel Gordon
Former Rosh Kollel in Manhattan


The final parshiyot of Sefer Bamidbar depict the inherent tension between the leadership, who serve as the public’s representatives, and the public itself. This tension is a natural result of the gaps, the expectations, and the heavy responsibility which separate the public from its leaders. In this article, I will discuss this tension in the context of the halachic eligibility requirements for tefillah and avodat Hashem – both for the individual and the tzibbur (the congregation).

Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked if, b’sh’at had’chak (when necessary), Shabbat desecrators could be included as part of a minyan (prayer quorum) for kaddish and kedushah. In response, he analyzes the source of the obligation to have a minyan of ten worshippers for devarim shebekedushah in accordance with the Gemara, which states that Shem Shamayim must be sanctified b’rabim (“in public”). The Gemara is based on the pasuk:

“And I will be sanctified within the assembly (edah) of Bnei Yisrael.”

During the sin of the spies, the term “edah” is used as well:

“This evil assembly (edah).”

The Gemara employs a gezeirah shavah (a textual equation) to infer that ten men are required for devarim shebekedushah. In turn, Rav Feinstein relies on this Gemara and on our custom of porsin al shema (reciting shmoneh esreh b’tzibbur for one man who has not yet davened together with nine men who have) – in accordance with the opinion of Rashi’s students – and rules that even resha’im (evildoers) may serve as part of a minyan for devarim shebekedushah:

“Since according to our custom, even for one person, we porsin al shema and recite kedushah in accordance with Rashi’s students… And the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 69) also ruled that they can participate, since from one pasuk we learn [both] the law of kiddush Hashem – to be killed for other sins – [which is] with ten [men] and the law that a davar shebekedushah is not recited when there are less than ten [men]. And therefore, just as with kiddush Hashem, one is obligated to be killed even in front of ten heretics and deniers if they are also from Yisrael… As we learn from a gezeirah shavah from the spies that they were all from Yisrael as Rashi explains. And there they were heretics in public which is worse than desecrators… If so, it must be that also for devarim shebekedushah, they participate [in the minyan]… And therefore, if they are also davening, they may be included, even according to their opinion. But according to our opinion, for barchu and kaddish and kedushah, they may be included. And if they will listen, the shaliach tzibbur may recite the entire tefillah to exempt them, since those who are obligated to daven may exempt [others]. And although this will not have the advantages of tefillah b’tzibbur, but b’sh’at had’chak, this should be done in order to recite kaddish and kedushah and barchu.” (Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 1:23)

Rav Feinstein equates the law of devarim shebekedushah and the mitzvah of kiddush Hashem (sanctifying Hashem’s Name). Both are derived from the spies. In addition, just as kiddush Hashem applies even in front of heretics, devarim shebekedushah may also be recited in their presence. Rav Feinstein’s ruling is based on the fact that the main point of kiddush Hashem is to spread emunah (faith) even among those who are distant from it. The mitzvah of kiddush Hashem is part of our mutual responsibility to each other. After all, kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh (literally, all of Israel are guarantors for each other), and this surety is not limited to the righteous. In fact, we must make a special effort with respect to those who are not righteous. Therefore, even those who desecrate Shabbat in public may be counted as part of a minyan for devarim shebekedushah – even though this procedure does not have the advantages of tefillah b’tzibbur.

However, the requirements for the shaliach tzibbur (literally, the representative of the public; refers to the prayer leader) are much more stringent:

“The shaliach tzibbur must be fitting. And who is fitting? One who is free of sin, and has never had a bad name – even during his childhood, and who is humble and pleasing to the people, and who is melodic; and whose voice is pleasant… And if no one is found with all these traits, the best of the congregation in terms of wisdom and good deeds is chosen…” (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 53)

More is expected of the shaliach tzibbur than of the tzibbur as a whole, because the shaliach tzibbur is more than simply the congregation’s emissary and is not just the one who is most familiar with the prayer service. Rather, the shaliach tzibbur must serve as an expression of the tzibbur’s religious ideal and, hence, must conform to the highest possible religious standard.

In contrast, those whose observances do not adhere to halachic norms are not to be excised from the tzibbur, which – by definition – includes the righteous, the mediocre, and the wicked. Moreover, we must not despair or alienate members of this tzibbur.

Thus, we are confronted with an inconsistency – albeit one which is appropriate and justified. On one hand, we must demand that our leaders strive for perfection, but at the same time, we must remain open and reach out to all of Klal Yisrael.