[This week's Pesach Haveil Havalim is here]
I’m conflicted about assigning youths to lead davening and to lein certain Torah readings in shul. I can see the sides all too well; I don’t know that I have a conclusion, other than the fact that when I ran the shul I always let them fill most roles.
Here are some of the arguments I see:
1. The role of leading davening, particularly in moments of real supplication or special emotional freight, should be assigned to people who know what they are doing, and who are suited for the task.
I know what you're thinking - or, at least, what I'm thinking: There you go, Torczyner, off on another rant. But, really: How can a teenager express the world-weary soul-searching of a Kohelet, how can a yeshiva boy know the anxious heart that cries when praying for rain at Geshem, how can a glib kid sing Shir haShirim without having experienced the depth of love and loss that drives the narrative?
More: How can a grandparent, a cancer patient, a woman dealing with a painful divorce, feel that this child is her representative?
We have halachic precedent for limiting certain roles to leaders, to people with family; perhaps we should apply the principle to a greater set of roles?
2. Does a youngster have the maturity to know and feel what it means to lead a community, and to be responsible, at least in part, for the success of their prayers?
Which is greater in the manchild's mind, his own on-stage role or his obligation to appeal to Gd on behalf of the community? "Look, Ma!" or "I hit the note!" is not what I want my baal musaf to be thinking. [Yes, I'm being a curmudgeon. And, yes, this goes back to my general mistrust of chazanim. Sorry.]
3. To go back the other way, though: We are obligated to train our children and young adults for leadership positions! Don’t we risk souring them if we render these roles off-limits until some undetermined date when they have seen enough of life, suffered enough that we feel they understand? "Sure, kid, you can do that when you're thirty."
4. And to provide another argument in favor: It's not as though our adults are such princes. Most younger people harbor greater innocence, having experienced less but also having sinned less. The yeshiva boy’s sins tend to be more personal, more confined to a certain sphere, and less publicly known, and he is less likely to have offended the community he leads. Perhaps we are better off having the young lead.
5. And another reason not to regulate these roles: Observant Judaism is already tiresomely heirarchical, and we have enough limitations on who can do what, where, and when. Should we create another set of barriers and rules, declaring still more honors off-limits – and with a fairly arbitary system of managing these honors?
I can see it now: "Ritual committee, here you go: Design a whole new playbook of who gets to lain Maftir Yonah, the Tochachah, the death of Moshe, Miriam's tzaraat... and while you're at it, go through the shul membership list and check off people who are qualified to daven maariv each night."
I am torn. I lean toward the latter three points, especially #5, but I’m really not sure.