Must I Wear a Hat?

“When will you wear a hat?” My Chavruta (learning partner) asked.

He was a young Israeli rabbi, and we had become quite friendly over the months that we had been learning together. While the question could be understood as coming from a ‘holier than thou’ perspective, I do not think it was. He was my friend, and he wanted me to wear a hat, because he wanted me to do what he thought was right.

I understood this, so I answered without insult or malice.“When I find out that it’s halakha (Jewish law), I’ll wear one.”

“Really?” His eyes glimmered. He thought he had me.

I have to be clear with you, I was already fairly certain it was not mandated by Jewish law to wear a hat, because while my father wanted me to wear a hat when I turned 13 (it’s a Rav Soloveitchik thing), he never really got into the issue with me, or told me that it was halakha1. Mostly because it’s not. But my friend thought that it was, and he got a Mishna Berura (written by the saintly Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) to prove it.

I don’t remember the specific placement anymore (perhaps someone could provide it in a comment), but if my memory serves Rabbi Kagan’s ruling was that while praying (and especially while reciting the blessing after meals) one must wear a hat, since we wear hats in the street. Being that while in public we dress with a certain level of respect for those around us, how can we dress in a less respectable manner before God Himself?

I agreed with this logic. I think we should dress respectably to pray, don’t you?

“But I don’t wear a hat in the street…” I countered. Rabbi Kagan was clear. If wearing a hat is part of dressing in a respectful manner, then we should wear one to pray. But if it is not part of dressing respectably, then it is no longer relevant!

“So what?” my friend countered back. “It’s the halakha!”

“But he made it dependent on the reason!”

“Maybe it was dependent on the reason then; but now, it is halakha.”

I shrugged, and that was that. We had finished our learning for the day, and I went home.

It seems to me that my friend was advocating a position where anything that was ever done as a part of Jewish law or life in the past must be kept even when the reason no longer applies. In his opinion, this would apply not only to laws from the Sages (who themselves argued about this point), but seemingly to every custom or law ever made, like the law of wearing a hat to pray, which was declared based on a reasoning that no longer applies today.

Certainly, this point is not intuitive, and the rabbis I consider my teachers have not advocated this position. I think the onus is not on me, but on my old friend, to prove that Jewish law and custom really do travel through history like fly-paper, so that while we may add, nothing can be taken off.



1-Though if you actually want to know my father’s position on the matter, you will simply have to ask him. I may have wildly misunderstood him, and I cannot take responsibility for representing his opinion on this or any other matter, in fact.



Filed under Miscellaneous

11 responses to “Must I Wear a Hat?

  1. avi k

    kindav like half the laws of shabbos….

  2. Ya'akov

    The question at the source of this is really a machloket amoraim and continues to be a machloket rishonim.
    בטל טעם בטל גזירה או בטח טעם אינו בטל גזירה.

    It is a very nuanced question with most rishonim differentiating on different aspects of the original gezeirah or takana and depending on what type of g/t it is will we rule that it is overturned once the reason ceases to be relevant.
    The Rosh – who is probably the most mainstream approach among rishonim – differentiates between takanot which were initially enacted to be time-dependent and general takanot. Elsewhere the Rosh rules that any takana whose reason is known to all, can be overturned once that reason becomes irrelevant.

    The logic behind the opinion that claims that despite the reason becoming irrelevant, the takana still stands is based on the way you view the relationship between the reason and the takana. According to this opinion, once the takana is enacted, it becomes disconnected entirely from the original reason and thus the relevance of that reason has no bearing on the continued existence of the takana.

    In terms of psak halacha there is no clear ruling and each case must be judged on its merits and the precise definition of the takana must be ascertained. Often we rule that the takana can only be overturned by a beit din of equal or greater stature than the one who enacted it.

    To the issue at hand, it is difficult, almost impossible, to define the words of the mishna berurah as a takana. It is much more like a ruling based on derech eretz which would by definition change with the trends of societal norms. Similar to the ruling in shulchan aruch that one must pray with a belt (ie gartel) around their waist. It is obvious to all – and I have been told by Rav Shechter in a shiur – that that is no longer Halacha today because it is no longer seen as a sign of respectful dress.
    Even if one were to argue that the mishna berura was making a takana (despite this being beyond the scope of his power) it would more likely fall into the category of one that would be overturned once the reason is irrelevant.

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      Hey Yaakov, thanks for commenting!

      I’m 100% in agreement with you. My main point was really your last one, that Rabbi Kagan did not have the power to make takkanot, so the onus is on those who claim that non-takanot simply stay around forever. (This is really the question at the source).

      Furthermore, when I say this point is not intuitive, I mean that about both the position of Rav Yosef in Beitza, and the position of those who hold this also applies to post talmudic enactments. It is simply not intuitive to assume that when a reason has become null, the enactment should still apply. And indeed, you may observe that Rav Yosef relies on a tradition of a pasuk(verse) and its understanding to make this point, and not on svara (logic). (I learned this from Dr. Yitzchak Brand).

      I also appreciate your comment, since I hope that Avi k will find his own question answered in it.

      I will add that Dr. Shimshon Ettinger once commented to me (quite in short) that there is a certain possibility of enacting takkanot after chazal if all observant Jews accept them. He did not expand upon this interesting point, nor did he tell me if this is his personal opinion, but I think it is, since some points he made seemed to rely on this point (which is why i asked in the first place).

  3. Consider person A. Consistently, he prays with a conscious awareness of standing before God, with a yearning to ‘talk things over’ with our loving, all-powerful Father, who seeks insights and meaning in every Tefilla, who comes with an honest appraisal of his own life to speak, respectfully and carefully, to God, always mindful of the Halachos that specify how God wants this experience to be. Daily, he expresses his personal needs to Hashem, and is strengthened and elevated by every Tefilla and Beracha.
    Consider person B. Consistently inconsistent, the “Baruch” barely expressed as the “Ata” pushes itself to be pronounced, looking around (in Shul or at home), stopping for some conversation or a good joke during Davening, talking at any point, managing to say Asher Yatzer in 3 soundless syllables, ignoring Beracha Rishona and especially Beracha Acharona during the course of a day of meals and snacks, dreading Vehu Rachum and Charas Hashatz…
    These are both realities. There are many of both. The placement of a hat on the head of one or the other seems somehow to fade into insignificance.

    Gemar Chasima Tova, Yitzi!

  4. Sorry. But your friend’s logic is not even halakhically sound. Adding? Taking on a minhag shtut (for example What R’ Ya’akov Emden called refraining from Qitniyoth during Pesah, but we won’t get into that now) does not even require hatarath nederim to stop the silly behavior.

    How is wearing a goyshe hat (which we may have had no choice in galuth to wear, so that we blended in) in the least respectful to HaQadosh Barukh Hu, whose People is supposed to be separate and distinct? (ie. not taking on practices of goyim, if 1) we can get away with not taking them on and 2) if there isn’t any hachmah in them)

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      Hey esser Agaroth! what’s up? Thanks for reading and commenting! I also would love to read what you have to say about kitniyot and customs in general, so I very much look forward to that. Perhaps that’s a discussion for pesach time?

      I just want to jump to my friend’s defense here, because even though i ultimately disagree with his position, i don’t think it’s without merit or logic, and certainly many scholars take this position themselves. I don’t buy the assumption that this opinion came about arbitrarily.

      I’m not competent enough to decide whether or not Rabbi Kagan was trying to create a custom or a law, but you seem to assert it was merely a custom. However, in light of social graces and that it is indeed law to dress in a respectful manner in prayer (in at least certain ways), it would not be far-fetched to say this was a law at the time.

      Furthermore, Rabbi Kagan’s logic was quite clear. Why would it be “shtut”? Also, in regards to following this law even though the reasoning behind it no longer applies, I would think a formalist legal philosophy could explain such a thing, as could other logical approaches to how halakha and custom work.

      Lastly, when you say a hat is “goyishe”, do you mean it is uncircumcised? A Jew is distinct through following the torah and mitzvot, not because we refuse to keep up with fashion.

      • Hmm… You make several compelling points,…none of them halakhic, but none the less compelling. I will try to get to write a proper reply to this (and that other post) after Shabbath.

        But, I would like to leave you with this before Shabbath.

        I very much like your attitude, and you have reminded me of the danger of taking oneself to seriously. Shabbath Shalom.


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