Men's head covering

Jonathan Katz (frisch1@MIT.EDU)
Mon, 02 Dec 1996 14:55:32 EST

I have been asked to give a summary of the issue of practical halacha which
dealt with the halacha of head covering for men.

This was written by Naftoli Biber <> at the
Melbourne Kollel Lubavitch - Melbourne, Australia. See below for
information about subscribing to the prac-halacha mailing list.

The following issues are discussed in relation to head covering for men:
a. The basis of covering the head
b. Its status in halacha
c. In the present day
d. In matters of k'dusha (holiness)
e. Using one's hand
f. Size of the covering
g. Considerations of income and employment

[Note: I include only the first 3 sections here. Please contact
me if you want me to send you the rest.]

The Basis of Covering the Head

The Gemora [1] relates that Rav Huna, the son of Rav Yehoshua, would not
walk four amos (about six feet) bareheaded, explaining that the Shechinah
(Divine Presence) "is above my head". The mother of Rav Nachman bar
Yitzchok constantly instructed him to cover his head so that the fear of
Heaven should be upon him [2]. The Zohar [3] similarly states that one
should not walk four amos bareheaded since the light of the Shechinah is
above his head drawing down life to him. Accordingly the ruling of the
Shulchan Aruch [4] is that one may not walk four amos without a head covering.

Its Status in Halacha

There is a difference of opinion as to whether being bareheaded is
forbidden by halacha [5] or whether it is only an act of piety (midas
chassidus) to wear a head covering [6]. Some authorities maintain that
walking more than four amos bareheaded is forbidden and less is only midas
chassidus [7], although most do not make this distinction [8].

The Tzemach Tzedek [9] writes that those authorities who term it midas
chassidus are referring to temporary head covering. They, however, will
agree that to be bareheaded for an extended period of time is basically
forbidden. He continues that even according to the opinions that it is not
a requirement of halacha, it is nevertheless desirable (a mitzva) to cover
one's head in order to draw yiras shomayim upon one; and it is this to
which the b'rocho "He crowns (the people of) Israel with glory" refers.

In the Present Day

Even according to the lenient opinions above, there are special reasons to
say that today one is halachically required to cover one's head.

The Rashal [10] writes that since today it has become a Jewish practice to
cover one's head, going bareheaded is a transgression of basic Jewish norms
(Das Yehudis).
The Taz [11] rules that since it is the gentile practice today to remove
any head covering when seated, a Jew doing so transgresses the injunction
not to "walk in their [non-Jewish] statutes" (Chukas haGoyim).
The Alter Rebbe [12], moreover, writes that since "today" people at large
usually cover their heads it is immodest not to do so. Moreover, in those
countries where it is the practice to uncover one's head, there is the
additional prohibition of Chukas haGoyim in addition to the traditional
standards of modesty preserved by Jews.

[1] Kidushin 31a
[2] Shabbos 156b
[3] Parshas Balak
[4] Orach Chayim 2:6
[5] see Orchos Chaim, Laws of Tefilah 48
[6] see Responsa Rabbanu Yona
[7] Tzemech Tzedek, Piskei Dinim 2:4
[8] see Machtsis Hashekel 2:6
[9] loc. cit.
[10] Responsa 72
[11] 8:3
[12] 2:7

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Jonathan Katz
410 Memorial Drive, Room 233F
Cambridge, MA 02139