By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
Today was a scorcher, and here is the scenario:
Reuvain, who normally wears a hat and jacket for Tefilah, visits a client at a location with difficult parking. He has to bring along equipment into the client’s office. Reuvain decides to leave his hat and jacket in the car. Shimon greets him and responds that he cannot meet with him now. Reuvain is early, and he, Shimon, is going to Mincha now.
Should Reuvain daven with Shimon without his hat and jacket? Or should he daven later with the proper dress?
The Gemorah in Shabbos 10a indicates that there is an obligation to wear a hat as one should daven in a manner that one greets a king. The halacha is codified in Shulchan Aruch Siman 91.
The language of the Shulchan Aruch is that chachomim and their students should dress like this. However, the Kaf HaChaim (91:26) writes that it applies to everyone.
The Sefer Chasidim #57 explains that the pasuk “Prepare to meet Hashem, Oh Israel” teaches us the obligation to dress properly before one davens in front of the King. Indeed, the Sefer Chassidim has strong words for those who only wear a hat on Shabbos.
The Mishna Brurah (91:12) writes that in our times, one must wear a hat for davening and a yarmulkah would not suffice, because it is not proper to stand in this manner in front of important people.
WHAT IF ONE WOULD MISS MINYAN ON ACCOUNT OF IT?
If he has no hat and jacket and if he were to wait until he received one he will miss davening with a minyan, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichos Shlomo 2:15) ruled that the Mitzvah of Hechon – preparing oneself to stand before the King – does not set aside Tefillah b’Tzibbur. Likewise, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein Shlita ruled that he should daven without the hat and jacket (Chashukei Chemed Bechoros 44b).
However, Rav Zilberstein qualifies this ruling as only when it was on account of an accident. But one who purposefully goes somewhere and he know that he will have to daven but does not take along his hat and jacket, he should not daven. The reason is that he is showing that he is mezalzel in the honor of Hashem. Rav Zilberstein explains that this was also the position of Rav Elyashiv zt”l.
DOES IT STILL APPLY IN THE POST KENNEDY WORLD?
In the twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and early sixties – everyone wore a hat. It is a debate as whether or not it was President Kennedy whose example as president caused the nation to stop wearing hats or whether it was just non-conformity in the 1960’s and he was just part of it (See Neil Steinberg’s book Hatless Jack: the President, the Fedora, and the History of American Style). In other words, was President Kennedy a siman or a siba? Regardless, nowadays people have stopped wearing hats.
Some people therefore argue that the Mishna Brurah only applies when people wear formal dress. However, in modern times, no one greets the president of the United States while wearing a hat – so this would no longer apply. One of my Rebbeim zt”l counter-argued that if there was a law that one must keep their head covered, no one would be using a yarmulkah to fulfill this law. Since we do have such a law, it is proper to perform it while wearing a hat.
IT WAS THE COMMUNISTS
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v’hanhagos Vol. IV #26) argues that even though in Israel it is common practice to stand before important people without a hat and jacket – this is irrelevant. He explains that they learned this practice from the other nations of the world who picked up the practice from the Communists. It is a communist ideal of everyone being absolutely equal that gave birth to the idea that one does not need to dress formally in front of important people.
There is another aspect that one must dress like a Ben Torah. Indeed, the Talmud in Brachos 6b tells us that Rabbi Yehudah would take care to ensure that he was always dressed fittingly before davening.
GETTING BACK TO OUR CASE
If Reuvain could have davened later in a minyan with a hat and jacket (and he normally does so) then it would seem that he should daven later. Although there is a concept called Zrizin Makdimin l’mitzvos, people who are fastidious jump to perform Mitzvos early, we do not see that this sets aside the Mitzvah of davening in proper attire.
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