Congregational messenger or deputy or agent. During the time of the Second Temple it was the priest who represented the congregation in offering the sacrifice, and who, before the close of the service, pronounced the priestly benediction. Similarly the high priest on the Day of Atonement, after having confessed his own sins and those of his house, offered the confession of sins and the prayer of atonement for the whole people. When the Synagogue substituted prayers for the sacrifices, the function of the priest was assumed by the sheliaḥ ẓibbur. He offered the prayers for all while the congregation listened in silence; and its participation in the service consisted in responding "Amen" after every benediction (Rashi on Suk. 38b). For this reason he was called "ḳaroba," i.e., "he who offers" (Yer. Ber. i. 3c; Lev. R. xx.; Comp. Yer. Ber. iv. 8b). The function of the sheliaḥ ẓibbur was regarded as a most honorable one, and it was delegated only to the worthiest men of the congregation. In Talmudic times such distinguished men as R. Akiba, R. Eliezer, R. Alexander, and R. Eleazar b. Simeon acted in this capacity.
The term Ḥazzan was not used for the sheliaḥ ẓibbur until the sixth century, when the reading of prayers before the congregation became a profession to which a salary was attached. Since that time more attention has been often paid to the sweetness or pleasantness of the reader's voice than to his superior character, dignity, and scholarship.