Parashat Emor teaches (Vayikra/Leviticus 21:17) something about a kohen with a 'מום' (blemish, defect, deformity, disability, handicap) isn't allowed to serve in the Holy Temple.

But without the Temple is such a person allowed to become a chazan, rabbi or other role within a Beit Knesset/Synagogue?

  • I remember Rav Friedman telling that 'most people need legs, arms and a healthy body to fulfill their missions in life. But some people (those without legs or arms or physical/psychological deformed individuals) don't need them to fulfill their missions in life'. Not word for word but the general idea is hopefully correctly displayed. Thought it might be a relevant note/comment.
    – user16556
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 11:00

2 Answers 2


See Thursday and Friday

Yesterday, we noted the question as to whether the Torah prohibition which forbids a ba’al mum – person with a physical deformity – from performing the avoda (service) in the Temple applies as well to the role of sheliach tzibur. The Zohar in Parashat Emor asserts that a person with a physical deformity may not serve as a sheliach tzibur, whereas the Maharshal, in Yam Shel Shelomo (Chulin, chapter 1), as well as the Maharam Mi-Rutenberg, maintained that a ba’al mum may serve in this role. The letter two authorities note that a person suffering from physical suffering is even a preferred candidate for the role of sheliach tzibur, as “the Almighty’s way is to use ‘broken utensils’.” God has special affinity for people in distress, and will thus look especially favorably upon the supplications of a person with a physical ailment.

The question arises, however, as to how these poskim would explain the Torah’s disqualification of ba’alei mum for the Temple service. If, indeed, the prayers of a “broken utensil” arouse special mercy and compassion, then why does God specifically exclude ba’alei mum from the Temple service?

The answer, perhaps, lies in a deeper understanding of the role and status of the kohanim in the Beit Ha-mikdash. The Rambam, in his Mishneh Torah, combines the laws of the kohanim and the laws of Temple furnishings into a single section, which he entitles, “Hilkhot Kelei Ha-mikdash Ve’ha’ovdim Bo” – “Laws of the Temple Furnishings and Those Who Serve In It.” This title perhaps reflects that the kohanim are viewed as “keilim” – part of the “furniture” of the Mikdash. They represent, in the extreme, the ideal of complete subservience to the divine will, whereby the individual is nothing more than an object at God’s disposal. Outside the Mikdash, of course, our subservience to God is manifest differently, but the Temple sets an extreme model that we are to follow in more moderate fashion. And thus the kohanim are anointed with the special anointing oil just like the furnishings and utensils in the Mikdash, and they are to be dressed in a specifically-prescribed manner just as each article in the Mikdash must be made in a particular way. The kohanim function as kelei ha-Mikdash – articles placed at God’s disposal, negating their own interests and desires and subjecting themselves exclusively to the Almighty’s will.

For this reason, perhaps, a ba’al mum is disqualified for this role. The Temple must be a place of pristine perfection, and just as a broken altar or shulchan is disqualified for use, a “broken” kohen is likewise unfit for “use” in God’s earthly abode, as it were. Prayer, however, is the precise opposite experience. When we come before God to pray, we are specifically to approach Him in a state of “brokenness.” We are to come before Him keenly aware of our helplessness, our limitations, our needs and wants, and our absolute dependence on His grace. In prayer, we must all see ourselves as “broken utensils,” as God, in His infinite compassion, feel special closeness to the despondent and brokenhearted. If the Temple is a place of perfection, the setting of prayer is one in which we specifically focus on our countless imperfections. And thus somebody who suffers particular torment and hardship is especially suited to lead the congregation. He, more than anybody else, senses his urgent, desperate dependence on God, and thus he is the most worthy to represent his fellow Jews before the Almighty.

(Based on a lecture by Rabbi Daniel Yolkut)

  • 1
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya Hopefully! Thanks for the answer. Consider summarising some (or all) of it in your own words.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Mar 3, 2017 at 21:53

From a Halachic standpoint, the Mishneh Brura says in 53:13 that the disqualification of a blemish is something that applies specifically to a priest and not a chazan:

אין מומין פוסלין אלא בכהנים ולא בש"ץ ואדרבה לב נשבר ונדכה אלקים לא תבזה ויש מחמירין בזה לכתחלה היכא דאיכא ראוי והגון כיוצא בו ועיין לקמן בס"ק מ"א לענין סומא מה שכתבנו שם

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .