Issues in Practical Halacha

Issue Number 1 --- 8 Tammuz, 5754

Compiled and Published by Kollel Menachem - Lubavitch (Melbourne, Australia)

in the zechus of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, o.b.m.

Head Covering for Men

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

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 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.

In Matters of K'dusha (Holiness)

According to the majority of opinions [13] it is forbidden to mention Hashem's name, say a b'rocho, read the Torah publicly or enter a Beis Hak'nesses without a head covering.

According to the Rashal [14] learning Torah should also be with a head covering even if one does not mention Hashem's name.

The Vilna Gaon [15], however, is of the opinion that it is only an act of piety to have a head covering when mentioning Hashem's name; nevertheless, it is fitting for all to take upon themselves this piety.

Using One's Hand

The Taz [16] and the Alter Rebbe [17] rule that while merely sitting or walking one may use one's own hand as a covering as a gesture to differentiate oneself from gentile practice. However, when involved in any of the above matters of k'dusha one's own hand is not sufficient since it is part of his body and a body cannot cover over itself. The hand of another person would suffice.

The Mishna Brura [18] rules that even while merely sitting it is still better to cover one's head with something else, such as one's sleeve.

The Size of the Covering

According to R. Shlomo Kluger [19], when walking outside, the entire top of one's head (or the majority of it) requires covering.

R. Moshe Feinstein [20] rules that while one may be stringent like R. Kluger by wearing a hat or large kippa, this measure is not required, even outside and even while saying a b'rocho. So long as one's head can be said to be "covered" it suffices.

R. Ovadia Yosef [21] stipulates that the kippa needs to be visible from all sides of the person. He rules, however, that during tefilah and reciting the sh'ma the majority of the head should be covered. Some have the custom to wear a hat during tefilah.

The Mishna Brura [22] writes that this is because one would don a hat when speaking to dignitaries (although today this is not the case).

Others [23] write that since it is the practice to cover one's head with a talis for the duration of tefilah, when a talis is not worn (at mincha and ma'ariv) a hat should be worn instead.

Similarly, the Alter Rebbe [24] and Mishna Brura [25] state that a G-d fearing man (yirei shomayim) should wear a hat for birkas hamozon. The above rulings concerning a hat, however, are only stringencies, not required by the basic letter of the law.

Some have the custom to have two head coverings.

This is based on Kabalah [26]; the two coverings correspond to two levels of intellect, or two levels in the fear of Hashem. The Kohen Gadol also used to wear a woolen kippa under his priestly hat [27].

Considerations of Income and Employment

The Maharam Brisk [28] writes that he cannot assent to a Jew, purporting to be a G-d fearing man, removing his kippa in order to obtain a job. Rather he should take measures to find a job where wearing a kippa will not be an obstacle.

R. Moshe Feinstein [29] rules that if one will not be given a job because of his kippa and he cannot find work elsewhere, he may remove it.

[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
[13] see Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chayim 91:3
[14] loc. cit.
[15] 8:6
[16] loc. cit.
[17] loc. cit.
[18] 91:10
[19] Responsa Ho'elef Lecho Shlomo, Orach Chayim 3
[20] Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1
[21] Responsa Yechave Doas Vol4:1
[22] 91:12
[23] see Yaskil Avdi Vol6, p292
[24] 183:6
[25] 183:14
[26] see Imrai Pichos p81
[27] see Chulin 138a
[28] Responsa 8
[29] Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim Vol4:2

The above is not intended to decide halachic questions, but rather to clarify them in a clear and concise form. Please refer all your practical questions to your local Rabbi.

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