Thursday, February 25, 2010

Davening: Which Is Preferable?

A few nights ago, I was davening Ma'ariv in my local shul. Most of the shul is of the black hat/jacket type. I am one of the few who don't fit that mold - but that's all right. No one at the shul has ever harrassed me or even looked askance at my lack of jacket and/or hat.

That being said, on this particular night, I was dressed in a button-down work shirt (blue, dress-casual), no hat or jacket. A friend of mine was dressed in a button-down white shirt, tie, jacket... and a baseball cap.

The get-up led me to thinking... was wearing the baseball cap the right thing to do? If one applies the concept that one should daven as he would appear before a king, then I would think that the person should lose the cap. No one would go before a king with a jacket, tie and baseball cap*. Most people, I would think, would sooner go without the cap in just a jacket & tie. And even if you're going to argue that that's just a reflection of non-Jewish culture (which regards the removing of the hat as a sign of respect), you probably wouldn't go to the Gadol HaDor like that either. If you had to go and had no formal hat and the only choices were yarmulke only or yarmulke plus baseball cap, my guess would be that most would go without the baseball cap.

There is also the custom of having a double-head covering when davening. However, I wonder if this should be observed at the expense of making one look silly. What if the only "second cover" you could find was a jester cap (assuming, of course, it's not Purim), would you wear it for davening? Does the custom to have a second head covering really overrule common sense with regard to how one looks when davening in front of God?

What are your thoughts?

The Wolf

* Possible exception: if you were meeting the king at the ballpark and your cap was that of his favorite team.


justajew said...

The black hat is rude, too. Even in the olden days when everyone wore a hat, you didn't approach a president/king with your hat on, you removed it out of respect.

Anonymous said...

He probably just forgot to take his cap off after leaving the train. (I don't know why so many Jews wear baseball caps on the train...) It's obvious to me that the only acceptable hat is a Borsalino, so rather than taking off the cap, he should have went with you to go find proper head attire for tefilla.

BrooklynWolf said...


Yes, but that's just a reflection of non-Jewish culture. In Jewish culture, wearing a hat is a sign of respect.

Imagine if it were a Jewish king.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

He probably just forgot to take his cap off after leaving the train.

Except that I know this person and he doesn't take the train. In fact, he'd been in shul for the previous hour learning. :)

The Wolf

justajew said...

In Jewish culture, wearing a hat is a sign of respect.

The black hat currently worn in yeshivish circles is a direct product of the goyishe world of the 1930s-1960s. How is it a part of Jewish culture?

Mike S. said...

1) While the current black fedora is of recent origin, head covering has traditionally been a sign of respect among Jews thus both the item and the word "yarmulka".

2) I have always wondered about jackets at weekday shacharit for that reason. No one would appear in front of an important person with a jacket buttoned to keep his left arm out of a sleeve--I suspect even if that arm were in a cast. People do appear in front of high officials without a jacket on.

Michael Lipkin said...

Great topic. A few other issues:

- Is better to wear a jacket that doesn't match your pants or no jacket?

- What about wearing a winter coat or other outer-type jacket as your "jacket" for davening?

- How about a "Jew" cap? You know, one of those hats that guys with beards and tzitzis hanging out wear on the subway so people won't know they're Jewish.

- A jacket over a polo or tee shirt?

- Sneakers with a jacket?

zach said...

If one applies the concept that one should daven as he would appear before a king...

Folks that say this apply it very selectively. Would they also shuckle like mad when talking to a king? Would they keep one jacket sleeve rolled up (e.g., when wearing tefillin) before the king? Would they leave for kiddush club while the king's words were being read aloud?

I'm sure that you can come up with other examples.

Michael Lipkin said...

Since we really have no concept of what it means to stand before a King and most of us don't get to meet the president someone once gave me a good analogy for our times. Dress as if you were going on a job interview.

I also agree with the shuckling. Can you imagine doing that on a job interview?

justajew said...

And on a job interview, you would wear a fedora? You'd get laughed out of the office. I'm not talking about a yalkmulka...I'm talking about wearing a hat from the 60's, and even then, not removing it once you're indoors, or in presence of someone out of respect.

G*3 said...

You’re trying to take a practical approach to what has become a metaphysically important outfit. People don’t wear a hat and jacket, white shirt, etc. because it’s a respectful way to dress. It might have started out that way, but now in the yeshivish world most people wear a hat and jacket for davening for the same reason they wear a tallis for shachris. It’s what you wear when you’re davening. It’s the presence of some form of the item of clothing that’s important, not whether it matches or if it would really be a respectful thing to wear.

So a tallis “wroks” for shacris even if its old and yellow, and a jacket “works” for davening even if its old and doesn’t match your clothes.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I know, how about looking in the Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Torah and seeing what it recommends?

In terms of dressing as if you were meeting a king/political leader, not everyone puts on their finest, just those who need something from the leader.

There is too much emphasis put on a uniform invented over the last 50 years and foisted on us as "the way it has to be".

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I'm with you on this.

I once saw a guy in camp wear a suit jacket for davening... over a t-shirt and shorts. That was sorta absurd.

Anonymous said...

I've had a lot of experience with the hat/jacket for davening phenomenon, some of it very unpleasant, bodering on obscene.

As an Avel once, I was wearing an extremely expensive knit jacket, and was publicly betated by an older gentleman in shul for daring to daven in that. He claimed that knit = sweater, not jacket, irrelevant of the cut or the dress-up nature. Had I worn a dirty wrinkled sport coat, he'd have had no problem.

My conclusion is that the issue is based on a basic disagreement: Is fidelity to the words of the halacha more important, or to the idea?

Indeed, the halacha mandates a hat & jacket, but that was meant as respectful. Thus today, for the literalists, any hat and jacket is better than none. For the rest of us, the concept of davening as approaching the Lord means with dignity and respect, and would davka preclude disrespectful garb.

My simile is this: Imagine getting a last-minute invitation to the inaugaration. It specifies "black tie". You have a choice of your 1970-era pale blue polyester tux, or a nice recent dark suit. Which should you wear?

The invite did specify Black tie, but which do you think would be preferred by the President?

Yossi Ginzberg

Anonymous said...

If you are praying with kavanah, does it really matter what you are wearing or how many things you have on your head? Only to those who are more interested in looking at you than in praying.

aaron from L.A. said...

One should preferably have a head covering surgically sewn into his scalp.That way,if he forgets and only puts on a hat or yarmulka,he will still have two head coverings.Yeah I know,there might be a problem of Maris ayin.

Bob Miller said...

A Mets cap combats the davener's feeling of gaava by reminding him that the outcome he wants is not a cinch.

JRS said...

Great points raised. People ought to deal with this stuff on a case-by-case basis, utilizing common sense & a l'chatchila/b'deved approach: is the hat/jacket/shirt in question ridiculously inappropriate/dirty/clownish, or merely not ideal, but it's what you happen to be wearing and better than nothing? Of course, that won't happen. It's still one more example of something inherently comprehensible and sensible---dressing respectfully for davening---being carried to new heights of absurdity via an aggressively literalist, ritualistic, and ultimately juvenile approach, in which wearing the right kind of hat & jacket: black/blue, traditional---trumps wearing something that looks clean & suits the wearer & the occasion.

See also: "covereing one's hair"---with a three-foot-long, 8-lb., light-blond shaitel that evokes something between Barbarella and long as the woman's original mousy-brown, thin, unstylish hair ain't showing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a posek but think I remember learning somewhere that a Cubs cap is appropriate for all occasions.

Anonymous said...

The more I read the more I'm convinced this issue is covered by the whole "Judge not lest ye be judged" thing.

Anonymous said...

Is the double head covering when davening a custom for klal yisroel? What's the reason for it? I thought it was just the preference of particular shuls.

Ichabod Chrain