American Reform Responsa
5. Worshiping with Covered Heads
(Vol. XXXVIII, 1928, pp. 589-603)QUESTION: Where can one find the Rabbinic law prescribing that men should cover their heads when participating in Divine worship or when entering a synagogue? If there is no law to this effect, will you please tell me where and when did the custom of covering one’s head, now generally observed in Orthodox synagogues, originate among the Jews?ANSWER: There is no law in the Bible or Talmud prescribing the covering of the head for men when entering a sanctuary, when participating in the religious service, or when performing any religious ceremony. The saying in the Mishna (Berachot 9.5), “Lo yakel adam et rosho keneged sha-ar hamizrach,” does not mean “one should not bare his head in sight of the Holy of Holies,” as understood by some scholars (comp. K. Kohler, “The Origin and Function of Ceremonies in Judaism,” in CCAR Yearbook, 1907, p. 7). For one must distinguish between giluy rosh, which means “bareheadedness” and kalut rosh, which means “lightheadedness.” The latter is considered a sin. The former is no sin at all and no prohibition against it can be found in either Mishna or Talmud. It is true that among the garments prescribed for the priests (Exod. 28:4 and 40) a headgear is mentioned. This headgear was to be worn by the priests only when officiating at the altar or performing any other priestly function in the sanctuary. (This may have been intended to distinguish the priests in the Temple at Jerusalem from the priests of some heathen deity, who sit on seats in their temples “and nothing upon their heads” (Epistle of Jeremy 31; comp. note in Charles’s The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p. 604, though some heathen priests, like the Roman, were also in the habit of sacrificing with covered head.) But it cannot be justifiably concluded from this that any person performing any religious ceremony must cover his head. The priests of old performed all their functions at the altar and in the Temple barefooted. Yet the conclusion was never drawn from this fact that one must be barefooted while performing any religious ceremony. And, certainly, the custom of covering one’s head when entering a synagogue has no precedent in the practice of the priests in the Temple at Jerusalem. For, the priests were not forbidden to enter the Temple bareheaded (see Jacob Reischer in his responsa Shevut Yaakov III, no. 5; Metz, 1789, 2b). Indeed, from B. Yoma 25a, it is evident that when not performing any priestly function, the priests in the Temple would go without hats. I do not know on what ground I. Scheftelowitz makes the statement that the priests, while being allowed to enter the Temple bareheaded, were not permitted to come within four yards of the altar with uncovered head (Alt-Palaestinischer Bauernglaube, Hanover, 1925, p. 154). The midrash Genesis R., XVII and Numbers R., V., to which Scheftelowitz referred, do not contain any saying that would justify such a statement. (Comp. my review of Scheftelowitz’s work in the Hebrew Union College Monthly, December, 1925, pp. 15-17.) The practice of covering the head when entering a synagogue, and when reciting prayers or performing any other religious ceremony, is not based upon any Talmudic law and cannot be supported by any express statement in the Talmud. Many express statements and implied teachings of the Talmud rather point to the contrary. This practice is merely a custom, minhag, that first appeared among the Jews in Babylon. In the course of time it spread to other countries and gradually became a generally observed custom among Orthodox Jews. Its origin probably goes back to a non-Jewish source. It furnishes another instance of how sometimes the Jews in one country, subject to the influence of their environment, would borrow a ceremony or custom from their non-Jewish neighbors and pass it on to Jews of other countries, and how in the course of time such a borrowed non-Jewish custom is interpreted by Jewish teachers as having some Jewish significance and regarded as a genuinely Jewish custom. In the following I present a brief account of the origin and the development of this supposedly Jewish custom of covering the head during religious devotion or when in a holy place. Now, as regards its origin, no such custom can be found in ancient Israel. The Jews in Palestine, in so far as Biblical and Talmudic records show, would ordinarily not wear any headgear. The covering of the head was an expression of grief or a sign of mourning, as is evident from II Samuel 15:2. When a person was in mourning he would cover his head (B., M.K. 15a and 24a), but not while the people came to comfort him and recite the comforting prayers and benedictions (comp. saying from Evel Rabbati, as cited by R. Nissim to Alfasi and quoted by N. Bruell in his Jahrbuecher, vol. 1, p. 54). Sometimes a person would cover his head as a protection from cold or excessive heat (see Midrash Lev. R. XIX.4). But this was done with a shawl or some other protective covering, not by wearing a headgear in our sense of the word. The shawl occasionally used to cover one’s head because of being a mourner or for the sake of protection from heat or cold, the sudar harosh, was not considered a regular garment or part of a man’s outfit, and hence was not subject to the law of Tsitsit prescribed for garments only (saying from Sifre, cited by R. Eshtori Haparchi in his Kaftor Vaferach, ch. 60, ed. A.M. Luncz, Jerusalem, 1897, p. 781, though not found in our editions of the Sifre). This also points to the fact that Jewish men ordinarily would not wear a hat nor otherwise cover their heads. One of the innovations forced upon the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, to which the pious Jews objected very much, considering it against Jewish law or practice, was that the young men were made to “wear a hat” (II Macc. 4:12, according to the authorized version, though Charles has “wear the petasus,” that is, a broad-brimmed felt hat, which, being the mark of Hermes, may have been especially objectionable). (Compare, however, A.T. Olmstead, “Wearing the Hat,” in the American Journal of Theology, January 1920, pp. 94ff). From the saying of Rabbi Meir that every day, “when at sunrise the kings of the earth put their crowns upon their heads and bow down to the sun, God gets angry” (Berachot 7a, Avoda Zara 4b), it also appears that it was the non-Jewish custom of covering one’s head when worshiping. The mishna Nedarim 3.8 takes it for granted that men go bareheaded and only women and children cover their heads. (The remark in the Gemara, B. Nedarim 30b, “Uketanim le-olam miglo,” cannot be harmonized with the plain meaning of the Mishna, unless it refers only to infants or reflects a different Babylonian custom.) According to a story found in Tractate Kalla, it was, therefore, considered impudence on the part of young boys to walk on the street, and especially to pass older people, without covering their heads. The conclusion drawn from this story in Kalla Rabbati II, “Giluy harosh azut takifa hi,” is to be understood that it is marked impudence on the part of a young boy to go bareheaded, and not, as R. Isaac Aboab (Menorat Hama-or, ch. 337, Warsaw, 1890, p. 325) seems to have understood it, that even on the part of adults it would be impudent to walk with uncovered heads. For, according to the Mishna, it was the usual thing for grown-up men to go bareheaded. And when Paul said: “Every man, praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head…. For a man, indeed, ought not to have his head veiled for as much as he is the image and glory of God” (I Corinthians XI:4-7), he merely stated the Palestinian Jewish practice of his time and did not express any new or non-Jewish doctrine. It is a mistake–and one that involves reasoning in a circle–to interpret this passage in the Epistle as aiming to sever the Christian worshippers from the synagogue by distinguishing their appearance of worship from that of the Jewish worshippers, and then to assume that it was Paul’s insistence upon his followers worshiping without a hat that, in turn, caused the Jews to attach great importance to the covering of the head during religious service (W. Rosenau, Jewish Ceremonial Institutions and Customs, Baltimore, 1912, p. 49; also M. Gaster, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle of London, March 17, 1893, p. 17). In the first place, Gaster’s alleged statement that the founder of Christianity “in one of his Epistles” said, “My followers, pray bareheaded to distinguish yourselves from the Jews,” is without any justification. No such saying of Jesus is found in the New Testament or among the Agrapha of the New Testament (comp. the Jewish Chronicle, London, April 17, 1893, “Question” by “a Subscriber” to which, as far as I could see, no answer was given by Gaster). And if Gaster had in mind the saying of Paul in I Corinthians, he gave it the wrong interpretation. Paul could not have meant by his saying to put himself and his followers in opposition to Jewish custom or traditional practice, since what he recommends actually was the Jewish practice of his day (“Against Jonathan Alter,” in his Antwort auf das Sendschreiben eines Afrikanischen Rabbi, Prague, 1826, 30a,b). Secondly, had the later Jewish custom of covering the head during religious worship been the result of the Jewish reaction to the Christian practice intended as a protest against the Pauline doctrine, it is but reasonable to expect that traces of it would be found in Palestinian Jewish sources. For, during the Talmudic period, it was in Palestine, more than in any other country, that the Jews came into close contact with the Christians, and there, if anywhere, surely the teachers would have had good reason to introduce such customs as were calculated to prevent Jews from following Christian practice. But, as a matter of fact, we do not find in Palestine Jewish sources of Talmudic times the least indication of any decree or enactment by the Rabbis requiring the covering of the head during religious service or while in a synagogue. On the contrary, we find many indications and a few express statements to the effect that in Palestine men would usually go bareheaded and remain bareheaded even when entering the synagogue and reading from the Torah or reciting their prayers. Thus, R. Joshua b. Chananiah, a younger contemporary of Paul, states that the reason why a man, as a rule, goes bareheaded and a woman covers her head is because the woman is ashamed of her sin in having listened to the serpent (XVII.13; also Avot deR. Natan, Version B., pp. 148ff). The implication is that man need not be ashamed of having listened to his wife. Evidently R. Joshua b. Chananiah did not know of any custom of men covering their heads during religious service. From the Palestinian Talmud, Berachot 2.3 (4c), it appears that R. Jochanan would cover his head during the winter as a protection against the cold, but would go bareheaded during the summer. Compare the commentaries, and especially the discussion of this passage by R. Menahem de Lunsano (in the Wilna edition of the Yerushalmi, Wilna, 1922, 14a-15a). From another story in the Palestinian Talmud (M.K. III, 82c; also Gen. R. 100, 7), it is also evident that in Palestine it was the usual thing to go bareheaded. For we are told that the two sons of Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi differed in their observing the mourning for their father. On the Sabbath day during the mourning period, one of them would cover his head, as on weekdays. The other, however, would not observe this custom of mourning on the Sabbath day, and hence on the Sabbath during the mourning period he would go out bareheaded. This passage in the P. Talmud has been misunderstood by I. Scheftelowitz (op. cit., l.c.) and by A. Marmorstein in Ha-olam, December 24, 1926, no. 53, pp. 1010-1011, and in Monatschrift fuer die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1926, p. 211. They understood it to mean that even on the weekdays of the mourning period one of the sons of Rabbi would disregard the custom for mourners, and go around bareheaded. Scheftelowitz, therefore, draws the conclusion that “in some places in Palestine it was customary for every mourner to go bareheaded.” But the two sons of Rabbi lived in the same place, and Marmorstein concludes, that “the one son of Rabbi, for reasons of his own, refused to observe the mourning rites for his father” (Ha-olam, l.c., p. 1011), or “that in the time of Judah ha-Nasi it was not yet the general custom for mourners to cover their heads” (Monatschrift, l.c.). From a correct understanding of the passage, however, neither one of these conclusions can be justified. In Lev. R. 27.6 (also Pesikta deR. R. IX [Buber, 77a]) and Tanchuma, Emor 10 (Buber, 13, p. 47a), it is implied that the Jew need not trouble himself to remove his hat, if he has one on, or to stand up, if he happens to be sitting, when he is about to recite the “Shema”, but may do it even while sitting and even with his head covered. From this it is evident that not only could there be no objection to reciting the “Shema” bareheaded, but that it would ordinarily be more reverential to do so (see R. Solomon Lurya in his Responsum no. 72, and comp. Gronemann in Rahmer’s Literaturblatt, 1880, no. 42; also M. Duschak, ibid., 1881, p. 36). The Targum to the Prophets, a Palestinian work in origin if not in form (comp. W. Bacher, Jewish Encyclopedia XII, p. 61), interpreting Judges 5:9 as speaking in praise of the scholars and teachers in Israel who in times of trouble and persecution did not cease to study the Torah, expressly says that “it is fitting that these scholars and teachers sit in the synagogues with uncovered heads, teaching the people the words of the Torah and reciting praises and prayers of thanksgiving to God” (“Vekadu ya-ei lehon deyatevin bevatei keneshata bereish galei ume-alefin yat ama pitgamei oraita umevarechin umodin kedam Adonai”). And in another Palestinian work, the Tractate Soferim XIV.15 (ed. Joel Mueller, Leipzig, 1878, p. XXVI), it is expressly stated that one with uncovered head may act as the reader, leading the congregation in the recital of the “Shema”: “Mi sherosho meguleh pores al Shema” (comp. Mueller’s remark on pp. 198-199 and I. Elbogen, Der Juedische Gottesdienst, pp. 497 and 515). It is true that the Tractate Soferim in the same passage also mentions another opinion that would not allow one who is bareheaded to utter the name of God in prayer. But, as will be shown presently, this latter opinion reflects the Babylonian custom. For, in Palestine throughout the entire Talmudic period and even later, people would not hesitate entering a synagogue, reading from the Torah, and participating in the religious service with uncovered head. It was different in Babylon, though even in Babylonian Jewish sources of Talmudic times, one could not find any express regulation for covering the head during religious service. Nay, from the Babylonian Talmud it might even be proved that one is allowed to recite prayers with uncovered head. For, in B. Berachot 60b, the Talmud prescribes certain benedictions to be recited every morning before one covers his head (comp. also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 46.1, and especially R. Elijah Gaon of Wilna in his commentary Be-urei Hagra, to Sh. Ar., O. Ch. 8.6). But there did develop in Babylon during Talmudic times, especially among very pious people, the custom of covering the head when reciting prayers or performing any religious ceremony, as well as the practice of avoiding going bareheaded. Thus, R. Huna, the son of R. Joshua, a Babylonian Amora of the fifth generation, second half of the fourth century (not Rav Huna, the disciple of Abba Areka and his successor as the head of the academy at Sura, who died about 297 C.E., see below), prides himself on the fact that he never walks four yards with uncovered head (Shabbat 118b, also Kiddushin 31a). This, however, could not have been the general practice for all scholars and for those who read the prayers, as Scheftelowitz assumes (op. cit., l.c.). For in that case Huna could not have prided himself on observing this practice. Scheftelowitz’s other statement (ibid., l.c.) that from the second century on, it became the general “custom of always keeping the head covered,” is likewise without any foundation in the sources. The covering of the head was especially considered a sign of respect which one must show to his elders or to scholars. Thus we are told (B. Kiddushin 33a) that R. Jeremiah of Difte considered it impudent on the part of a man passing him without showing him the respect of covering his head. It is evident from the context there that R. Jeremiah did not mind the man’s going without a hat, for even in Babylon it was not a generally observed custom for men to cover their heads (see Rabbinnovicz in Rahmer’s Literaturblatt XXII, 1893, no. 15, p. 58). But R. Jeremiah expected the man to show him the respect due to a scholar by not passing him without covering his head. Rabina, who happened to be with R. Jeremiah, however, sought to mitigate the man’s offense by suggesting that that man might have come from Mata Mahasya, where the people were rather on familiar terms with the rabbis and not so punctilious in the usual manner of showing respect to scholars. The covering of the head seems also to have been considered as tending to help one acquire the fear of God. Thus, the mother of R. Nachman b. Isaac, whom the astrologer had told that her son Nachman was destined to become a thief, would never allow him to go around bareheaded, evidently fearing that such conduct on his part might tend to hasten the evil destiny predicted for him by the astrologers. She would also say to her son: “Kasei reishach, ki heichi detiho alach eimta dishmaya,” “Cover your head so that the fear of Heaven may be upon you” (B. Shabbat 156b). According to J.H. Schorr (Hechalutz VII, p. 34), the practice of covering the head, and especially the idea that it is disrespectful to go without headgear, was borrowed by the Babylonian Jews from the Persians. One is also justified in surmising that there were some elements of primitive superstition connected with this practice (comp. Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. VI, p. 539). But be this as it may, this much is certain, that among she Babylonian Jews already in Talmudic times the covering of the head was considered a sign of respect. It was observed especially in the presence of prominent men. It was also regarded as conducive to inculcate in one the fear of God. Pious people would be careful not to walk around with uncovered head. A prominent scholar’s outfit included also a headgear (B. Kiddushin, 8a, case of R. Kahana), though even prominent scholars would not wear a headgear before they were married (ibid., 29b, case of R. Hamnuna. According to R. Abraham ibn Yarhi in Hamanhig Tefila 43, Berlin, 1855, p. 15, it would have been regarded as presumption or haughty pride, “demechezei keyohara,” on the part of an unmarried scholar to cover his head. But for the people in general, there was no fixed rule. Some of them would cover their heads and some would go bareheaded: “Anashim, zimnin demichso reishehu vezimnin demiglo reishehu” (B. Nedarim 30b). As to how they appeared in the synagogue we have no record. Scheftelowitz’s statement that the scholars in general and those who read the prayers would always keep their heads covered (op. cit., l.c.) has no basis in the Talmudic sources. Some pious people, however, would, no doubt, cover their heads when praying. For, we are told in the Talmud (B. Berachot 51a) that R. Ashi (not Asi as in the printed editions; see Rabbinnovicz, Dikdukei Soferim, ad loc.) would cover his head when reciting the benediction after the meal. We may justly assume that he would also cover his head when reciting other benedictions and prayers. In the very early post-Talmudic times, however, we find that the Babylonian Jews considered it already forbidden to utter the name of God in prayer with uncovered head. (This is the opinion of “yesh omerim,” “Some say,” in Tractate Soferim, which, as already suggested above, represent Babylonian authorities.) In the Chilufei Minhagim (published by Joel Mueller in Hashachar VII), it is stated that one of the differences in custom and ritual between the Palestinian and Babylonian .Jews was that among the former the priests would recite their benedictions bareheaded, while among the latter, the priests were not permitted to recite their benedictions with uncovered head: “Benei Bavel oserim sheyevarechu hakohanim leYisra-el verosham parua; be-Erets Yisra-el mevarechim kohanim leYisra-el verosham parua.” This is the correct reading (comp. Mueller’s discussion there, no. 44). This, by the way, also implies that even in Babylon it was not absolutely forbidden to enter the synagogue and participate in the religious service with uncovered head. Had this been the case, the special mention of a law prohibiting the priests from pronouncing their blessings bareheaded would have been gratuitous. There was, accordingly, a difference in custom between Palestine and Babylon regarding wearing hats. In the former, the people would not cover their heads while praying or when in the synagogue, and in general would be bareheaded; in the latter, however, it was the custom of pious people to cover their heads. This custom, however, had not been brought to Babylon from Palestine by Abba Areka, as Marmorstein assumes (Ha-olam, 1926, p. 1010, and Revue des Etudes Juives, 1928, pp. 66-69). The custom could not have been imported from Palestine where it did not exist. And we have no indication in the Talmud that Abba Areka ever observed it. The Geonim do mention among the ten practices of extreme piety (asara milei dechasiduta) observed by Rav, the practice not to walk four yards with uncovered head (see responsa of the Geonim, Sha-arei Teshuva, no. 178, Leipzig, 1858, p. 18, and Sefer Ha-ora of Rashi, ed. Buber, Lemberg, 1905, p. 4). They also add that his disciple R. Huna followed this practice. But the Talmud reports this practice only of R. Huna, the son of R. Joshua, who lived one century after R. Huna (the disciple of Rav), and nowhere does the Talmud say that Rav himself observed this custom. Marmorstein’s arguments for his theory that the Palestinians would cover their heads and the Babylonians would go bareheaded (ibid., l.c., also Ha-olam, 1926, no. 8, pp. 159ff) are not at all convincing. The contradiction which he finds between B., M.K. 24a and B., Berachot 60b, can be explained without recourse to his theory (comp. also A.S. Hirschberg, Ha-olam, November 1926, no. 47, pp. 889-890). Like the two centers in Asia–Palestine and Babylon–the European countries in the Middle Ages (at least up to the 13th century) were also divided as regards the propriety of covering the head during prayer or not covering it. Spain followed Babylon, while France and Germany followed Palestine. The Spanish rabbinical authorities require the covering of the head during prayer and in general consider it praiseworthy to avoid going bareheaded. Thus, Maimonides declares that one should not recite his prayers with uncovered head (Yad, Hil. Tefila IV.5) and he also says that it is the proper thing for a scholar not to go bareheaded (ibid., De-ot V.6). The Zohar in Va-etchanan (Lublin, 1872, p. 520) likewise says that one must cover his head (“Uva-ei lechafaya reisheh”) when praying. R. Abraham ibn Yarhi in Hamanhig, Tefila, 43 (Berlin, 1855, p. 15), states that it is a custom to pray with covered head, and he recommends this custom as well as the general practice of covering the head; but he expressly characterizes them as the custom and practice of the Jews in Spain. (This plainly contradicts the statement of David ben Yehuda Chasid as quoted by A. Marmorstein in Monatschrift fuer die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1927, p. 41). R. Jeroham b. Meshullam, in his Toledot Adam VeChava I, Nativ 16 (Kopys, 1808, p. 118b), requires the covering of the head when reciting benedictions. Judah Asheri, in his responsa Zichron Yehuda, no. 2 (Berlin, 1846, 4a) recommends the covering of the head when studying the Torah, but would not insist upon it in hot weather, when one feels uncomfortable to have his head covered. And Joseph Caro, in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 91.3, merely mentions that some authorities forbid the uttering of the name of God in prayer with uncovered heads, and also that some authorities would even prevent people from entering the synagogue with uncovered head, but he himself does not decide the question. He recommends, however, as a pious practice (midat chasidut), not to go around bareheaded (ibid., 2.6, according to R. Abraham Abali Gumbiner in his commentary Magen Avraham to 91.3; comp. also Tur, O. Ch. 2 and the discussion of Isserles in Darchei Mosheh and especially of R. Joel Sirkes in Bayit Chadash, ad loc.). In France and Germany, however–following the Palestinian custom–there was no objection to praying or reading from the Torah with uncovered head. Thus R. Isaac b. Moses (Or Zarua) of Vienna (1200-1270) expressly reports that it was the custom of the French rabbis to pray with uncovered heads: “Minhag raboteinu shebeTsarefat schemevarechin berosh meguleh” (Or Zarua 2.43, Zitomir, 1862, p. 20), though he does not favor it. Likewise, R. Meir of Rothenburg (1215-1293) is quoted by his disciple R. Shimshon b. Zadok in Tashbaz 547 (Warsaw, 1875, p. 93) as having said that it was not forbidden to go around bareheaded. He is said to have explained the conduct of R. Huna the son of R. Joshua (reported in Kiddushin 31a and Shabbat 118b) as having been an exceptional case of extreme piety which the average man need not follow. Compare also Kol Bo, Tefila, XI (Lemberg, 1860, 8a). Beginning, however, with the 13th century, the Babylonian-Spanish custom began to penetrate into France and Germany. We accordingly find Ashkenazic authorities of the thirteenth century and of the following centuries favoring the Spanish custom and recommending or requiring that one should cover his head when praying or reading from the Torah (cf. R. Isaac of Vienna, in Or Zarua, l.c., and R. Moses Isserles in Darchei Mosheh to Tur, Orach Chayim 282.3, arguing against the French custom, and in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 282.3, forbidding one to read the Torah bareheaded, and many others). But even as late as the 16th century it was in German-Polish countries not generally considered as forbidden to read the Torah or to pray bareheaded. R. Solomon Lurya, one of the greatest rabbinical authorities of his time (1510-1573), in his responsum no. 72, referring to the above, expressly says: “Ein ani yodea isur levarech belo kisui harosh” (“I do not know of any prohibition against praying with uncovered head”). (Comp. also Joseph Solomon Delmedigo in his Matsref Lechochma, Odessa, 1864, p. 76.) In the 17th century, R. David Halevi of Lemberg (1586-1667), in his commentary Turei Zahav, to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 8.3, advanced the argument that praying with uncovered head be forbidden on the ground that, since it is a custom generally practiced by non-Jews, it should be regarded as Chukat Hagoy. This argument, however, is fallacious. For, according to the definition given by R. Moses Isserles in Sh. A., Yoreh De-a 178.1 (comp. also Tosafot to Avoda Zara iia, s.v. “ve-i chuka”), only such non-Jewish practices as are observed by the non-Jew because of some foolish superstition (leshem shetut) or because they express or symbolize some of his peculiar religious beliefs are to be regarded as Chukat Hagoy, which the Jew is forbidden to imitate. But practices which the non-Jew observes for the sake of comfort and convenience or because they are expressions of politeness and good manners, not involving any particular doctrine, cannot be classed as Chukat Hagoyim, and the Jew need have no scruples in practicing them as the non-Jew does (comp. A. Chorin in Igeret Elasaf, Prague, 1826, pp. 23-24). And, indeed, many great rabbinical authorities of the 17th and 18th centuries utterly disregarded this argument on the ground of the law against Chukat Hagoy and declared that there is no prohibition against praying with uncovered head. Thus, R. Hezekiah Silva (1659-1698) in his commentary Peri Chadash to Sh. A., Orach Chayim 93.1, says: “The opinion of those who permit the utterance of the name of God in prayer with uncovered head seems to be reasonable and valid” (“Mistabera keman dematir lehotsi azkara berosh maguleh”). And R. Jacob Reischer (died 1733) in his responsa Shevut Ya-akov III, referring to the above says: “Veisur giluy harosh ein lo ikar umakom barur baShas.” And the famous Gaon of Wilna in his commentary Be-urei Hagra to Sh. A., Orach Chayim 8.6, expressly says: “According to Jewish law it is permitted to enter a synagogue and to pray without covering one’s head” (“Demidina afilu lehitpalel velikanes leveit hakeneset, hakol mutar”). And after some discussion in which he cites many proofs for his statement, he closes with the following words: “There is no prohibition whatever against praying with uncovered head, but as a matter of propriety it would seem to be good manners to cover one’s head when standing in the presence of great men, and also during the religious service” (“Kelala demilta, ein isur kelal berosh meguleh le-olam, rak lifnei hagedolim vechen beet hatefila”). In the 19th century, as a reaction to the first attempts of modern Reform, which suggested the removal of the hat by the worshippers in the synagogue (see Igeret El-asaf by A. Chorin, Prague, 1826, pp. 17-24 and 29b-31b), the strict Orthodox rabbinical authorities became more emphatic in their insistence upon the requirement of covering the head when entering a synagogue and when praying or performing any religious ceremony (comp. Chayim Chizkiya Medini in his Sede Chemed, vol. II, Ma-arechet Beit Hakeneset, Warsaw, 1896, pp. 159160, where most of the authorities are quoted). But none of these authorities succeeded in proving that there is in Jewish law or tradition an express prohibition against praying with uncovered head. (Recently it has been argued that the custom of covering the head during prayer is against the Halacha; see Kahan in Revue des Etudes Juives, vol. LXXXIV, 1927, pp. 176-178.) Neither do the reasons for the custom of covering the head in the synagogue and the arguments for retaining it, advanced by modern Orthodox authorities, have any validity. Thus, to mention but a few of them: Gaster, as reported in the Jewish Chronicle, referring to the above, said that one of the reasons why the Jews covered their heads when praying was because the Roman slaves used to go bareheaded. The Jews did not wish to appear as slaves, hence they covered their heads when praying. But according to Rava (B. Shabbat 10a), it is the proper attitude when reciting the prayers to appear like a slave: “Ke-avda kamei mareh.” An anonymous writer in Orient-Literaturblatt VII, p. 388, arguing in favor of retaining the custom of covering the head in the synagogue, although ordinarily it is a sign of respect to remove the hat, gives two reasons for it. The first one is that we need not be so formal with God as to show him the ordinary outward signs of respect, for only man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart: “Dem alten Gotte des Judentums sollen keine Komplimente gemacht werden, er soll ueberhaupt nicht auf aeussere Erscheinung sehen sondern in den Herzen lesen.” But according to this argument, God would not mind if we came to him without a hat but with a pure heart. His second reason is that the covering of the head while in the synagogue shows that the worshippers are like one family and feel themselves at home in the synagogue without any need of observing the social convention of removing the hat while there. But by such an argument one might excuse any lack of decorum in the synagogue. Compare further G. Deutsch, Jewish Encyclopedia II, pp. 530ff, s.v. “Bareheadedness”; and “The Covering of the Head,” in The Jewish Chronicle of London, October 10, 1919, p. 15). In summing up the discussion, I would say that from the point of view of Jewish law or ritual there can be no objection to either covering or uncovering the head in the synagogue, or when praying or reading the Torah. The custom of praying bareheaded or with covered head is not at all a question of law. It is merely a matter of social propriety and decorum. As such it cannot, and need not, be the same in all countries and certainly not remain the same for all times. For it depends on the ideas of the people as to what is the proper attire for worshippers in the temples or what is the proper thing to wear or not to wear at solemn occasions and at public worship. These ideas are, of course, in turn subject to change in different times and in different places. Hence, in countries where the covering of the head is a sign of showing respect and reverence, it certainly would be improper to appear before God in the house of prayer with uncovered head. And even in countries where it is generally regarded more respectful to remove the hat, if there be congregations who still feel like their grandfathers and consider it disrespectful to pray with uncovered heads, they are within their right if they retain the custom of their fathers. We can have no quarrel with them and should rather respect their custom. In visiting them in their synagogues or when participating in some religious service at their homes, we should do as they do. For their motive and their intentions are good, and they observe these practices out of a feeling of respect and a sense of propriety, misguided as they may appear on this point to the occidental and modern mind. On the other hand, no one should find any fault with those people who, living in countries where it is considered to be disrespectful to keep the hat on while visiting in other people’s homes or in the presence of elders and superiors, deem it proper to show their respect for the synagogue by removing the hat upon entering it. These people also observe the practice with the best intentions and with a respectful spirit. They are not prompted by the desire to imitate non-Jewish practice. Their motive, rather, is to show their respect for the synagogue and to express their spirit of reverence by praying with uncovered head. And although in the last century this question of “hat on or hat off” was the subject of heated disputes between the Conservative and Liberal groups of Jewry, we should know better now and be more tolerant and more liberal towards one another. We should realize that this matter is but a detail of custom and should not cause arguments between Orthodox and Reform. It is a detail that is not worth fighting about. It should not separate Jew from Jew and not be made the cause of breaking up Jewish groups or dividing Jewish congregations.Jacob Z. Lauterbach
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.