Simanim 90:16-26 and 91 A Fixed Place for Praying

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #52:Simanim 90 16-26 and siman 91

Pages 245-248


by Rav Asher Meir





            Does a person need to sit in a specific seat each time or in a general area?  See MB s.k. 60.




            The Rema refers to "garments which are printed with inanity [tiflut]."  Evidently, such garments existed even in the time of the Rema, and even in the time of the Rosh, whom the Rema is citing.  However, I can not believe that this phenomenon reached in their days the truly epidemic proportions it reaches today.  Even many serious yeshiva bachurim do not seem to see anything wrong with printed t-shirts with pictures and slogans which can be quite offensive to any educated sensibility - not to mention a religious sensibility.  I have found myself davening facing some very shocking messages and images.


            What does the MB feel?  See s.k. 72.


            It is fairly common among Sefaradim to print sidurim with pictures of tzadikkim.  This would seem improper according to Ashkenazim, who follow the Rema who forbids this.




            We will learn in siman 104 that one should not budge during the Amida unless the situation borders on danger.  However, if the movement is FOR one's prayers and not IN SPITE of them, it is permissible - SA 90:26 and 103:2; MB 96:7.  Logically, one is even more obliged to move in order to enable the congregation as a whole to pray.


            For that reason, many authorities rule that if your child is disturbing prayers, you should take the child outside.  Many parents seem to think that the Amida is the perfect opportunity to teach their children that there are times that Abba and Ima can not be disturbed and no amount of screaming will move them, but I doubt that the synagogue is the ideal locale for this lesson.  Almost invariably, when I see parents get angry at children for disturbing prayers it is the parents who are at fault.  A four-year old is not old enough to be brought to shul - if he or she creates a disturbance, there is no justification for getting angry at the child.  The child should be accommodated or removed.


            I personally feel that there is a certain irony in a parent begging mercy from HaShem, saying "Have mercy upon us, as a father has mercy upon his children," at the very moment that this same parent is pointedly ignoring his own child's entreaties.  We may feel that our young children's demands are trivial and insignificant, but we should remember that God may have similar feelings about some of our own more mundane requests.


            More on this when we get to siman 98.







            The gemara Shabbat 9b explains that once the company has removed their belts before the meal (the custom in Babylonia was to wear a tight belt which disturbed eating), they may continue with their meal even if the time for Mincha arrives - we do not trouble them to retie their belts.  The gemara (10a) then brings an objection:


"Rav Sheshet attacked this view - is it really any trouble to tie a belt?  Furthermore, let them stand and pray just as they are! [That's impossible] because it is said, (Amos 4) "Prepare ["hikhon"] yourselves before your God, oh Israel!

Rava Bar Rav Huna used to put on elegant shoes before praying, saying 'Prepare yourselves etc.'  Rava would REMOVE his coat and wring his hands before  praying, saying, '[This is] like a servant before his master.'  Rav Ashi said, 'I observed that Rav Kahana during a time of misfortune would remove his coat and wring his hands and pray, saying, Like a servant before his master; during a time of peace he would dress up and cover himself and wrap himself to pray, saying 'Prepare yourselves before your God, oh Israel.'"


            From this gemara we see that even someone who is properly clad for saying berakhot (after all, the company sitting at the table were prepared to say berakhot on their food) is not necessarily properly clad for prayers - for standing before God.  In particular, someone who CUSTOMARILY wears a belt is required to wear one when he prays.  (It is obvious from the gemara that the students did NOT wear a special belt for tefilla - rather it was inappropriate for them to pray without a belt that they ALWAYS wore.)


            The evident reason for this custom is to present a dignified appearance when standing before God, as one would before a human dignitary.  From this point of view, a gartel would be, if anything, counterproductive, since it is not customary elegant attire.  However, the idea of preparation - "hikhon" - also involves a PERSONAL preparation for the experience of encountering our King; from this point of view, a gartel contributes to an appropriate frame of mind for someone who is accustomed to one, especially with its symbolic significance of demarcating man's upper and lower aspects.  (We pointed out in a previous shiur, regarding immersion in the mikva, that it is especially the Chasidim, who emphasize the ability to sanctify mundane aspects of existence, who feel the need to go to greater extremes in order to show where the line is drawn between holy and profane.)


            The distinction between a troubled and a peaceful time is brought down in the Rema at the very end of our siman.


            What about a hat?  According to the reason brought in MB s.k. 12 for wearing one, there is no reason for wearing one today.  Certainly there is no obligation.  However, in my opinion there are good reasons for wearing a hat.  Here are some:


1. It may be there is something inherently dignified about wearing a hat.  John Kennedy was the first U.S. President to make his inaugural procession without a hat - this was only one generation ago, and he explicitly meant to convey a message of reduced formality.  Ronald Reagan conformed to previous custom.  At any rate, within Charedi Jewish culture, a hat is NOT merely a "religious" appurtenance; within that culture a hat IS a sign of respect and dignity, and a Charedi Jew WOULD be careful to wear a hat when meeting a dignitary - even a non-Jewish one.


2. The reason mentioned for wearing a gartel would apply also here.


3. The gemara (Berakhot 51a) mentions that a "kos shel berakha" (a cup of wine accompanying an important blessing) demands "ituf" - "cloaking."  One of the opinions in the gemara is that this refers to an additional head covering.  In other words, a hat seems to have a religious importance.


            Within a cultural framework where a hat is seen as ridiculous, these reasons are not sufficient to justify wearing one.  But within synagogue culture, these reasons give a basis to consider whether a dignified hat for a man might not contribute to the gravity and dignity of one's prayers.




            Here are only a few early sources:


1. Once the elders were sitting at the gate, when two youngsters passed by.  One covered his head, one revealed his head.  Of the one who revealed his head, R. Eliezer said, he's a mamzer; R. Yehoshua said, a ben nida (i.e., conceived while his mother was not permissible to her husband); R. Akiva said, both a mamzer and a ben nida!  They said to him, R. Akiva, how do you dare to contradict the words of your colleagues?  He replied, I will prove it.  [The beraita then relates how R. Akiva convinced the youngster's mother to reveal the circumstances of his birth, thus bearing out his conjecture.]  Then they said, Blessed be HaShem, the God of Israel, who revealed His secret to Akiva Ben Yosef  (masekhet Kalla, 1:16).


2. A ragged person [poche'ach], for example if his legs are visible or his clothes ripped, or one whose head is uncovered, may "pores al shema" (say Barkhu on an abbreviated part of the service).  Some say that if his legs are visible or his clothes ripped he may "pores al shema," but one whose head is uncovered may not utter God's name  (masekhet Sofrim, 14:12).


3. Rav Huna barei deRav Yehoshua said, may it be accounted to my credit that I never walked four paces with my head uncovered  (Shabbat 118b, towards the end).


4. The astrologers told Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak's mother, your son is destined to be a robber.  She would never let him go out without his head covered, saying, Cover your head so that the fear of heaven should be upon you, and beg mercy [for your soul].  He never know why she spoke this way.  One day he was sitting under a palm tree reciting his learning, and his hood fell off.  Immediately, his evil impulse overcame him and he climbed up and cut off a bunch of figs with his teeth  (Shabbat 156b).


5. Rav Chisda used to sing the praises of Rav Hamnuna before Rav Huna, saying that he was a great man.  He [Rav Huna] said, when you meet him bring him to me.  When he came, he noticed that he did not cover his head with a mantle.  He said to him, why do you not spread a mantle [over your head]?  He [Rav Hamnuna] replied, it's because I'm not married.  He [Rav Huna] sent him back, saying, See that he doesn't come back until he's married [because a single man has more difficulty concentrating on his studies]  (Kiddushin 29b towards the end).


6. Rav Huna barei deRav Yehoshua never went even four paces with his head uncovered, saying, The divine Presence [Shekhina] is above my head  (Kiddushin 31a).


7. Repentance is called life, of which it is said [Mishlei 4:23] "For from it will life come out to you."  For these are the souls of Israel.  And this is the breath which leaves and enters a person's mouth, without any strain or effort, this is the "hei" of [Bereishit 2:4] "Behibar'am" [which is written in reduced size in the Torah], and of this it is said, [Devarim 8] "For by all that goes out of Hashem's mouth does a man live."  And it is over a person's head.  And of this it is said, "And he saw [as it were] the image of God;" [Tehillim 39:7] "Only in [God's] image will a person go."

And since it is over a person's head, it is forbidden to go four paces bareheaded, for if it were to disappear from over a person's head, immediately his life would also disappear  (Zohar Naso, Raya Mehemna, page 122b)


8. He began to say, [Kohelet 2] "A wise man has eyes in his head."  And where indeed are any person's eyes - on his body?  or on his arms?  Why does it only speak more of a wise man than of any other person?  But the meaning of the verse is certainly thus, as we have learned, a person should not go about four paces with his head uncovered.  Why not, because the Shechina dwells over his head.  And every wise person, his eyes and his words are "in his head," that is, they are always occupied with that which dwells over his head  (Zohar Balak, page 187a).


9. "Ituf" [a cup of blessing requires 'cloaking,' as we mentioned above]: he must cloak his head, because the Shekhina is on his head.  For thus the masters of the Mishna established, that a Talmid Chakham is forbidden to go four paces with his head uncovered, for [Yeshayahu 6] "The whole earth is full of His glory."  So much the more for a blessing, and any time the holy name is mentioned, [is he prevented] from having his head bare  (Zohar Pinchas, Raya Mehemna, 245b).


            From the story in Kalla (1) we see that it is considered brazen to neglect a head covering in public;

from the gemara in Shabbat (3) we see that it is praiseworthy, though not necessarily mandatory, to cover one's head whenever one goes about, even if it is not in the public thoroughfare;

the other gemara in Shabbat (4) shows that keeping one's head covered is a "segula" (a means) of controlling negative impulses;

from the story in Kiddushin (5) it seems like this is necessary only for a married man - but this gemara is commonly understood to be talking about covering the head with the tallit during prayers, a custom which is usually adopted after marriage (according to some, this is the source for not wearing a tallit at all until marriage for the Ashkenazim who have this custom);

from the beraita in Soferim (2) it seems that when mentioning God's name, a head covering is mandatory;

the other source in Kiddushin (6) and the citations from the Zohar (7,8,9) connect covering one's head with the awareness that the Divine Presence dwells over a person's head.  It is clear that in (7) this does not refer to the general awareness that God is "over us," in heaven as it were, but rather to a specific manifestation of Divine Presence which inheres specifically over a person's head.


            See also the gemara on Berakhot 51a, cited above, to round out the list of sources.


            Note that the Pri Chadash on our siman (s.k. 3) adopts a much different approach from that of the Shulchan Arukh and Mishna Berura.




            It seems evident from 91:3 that a head covering the size of a hand is adequate.  Some posekim say that it's better if most of the head is covered.  Rav Ovadia [Yechaveh Da'at IV:1] stresses the importance of having a head covering which is visible from all angles, so that from any point of view people can see that one is showing one's reverence by wearing a head covering.  Rav Moshe Feinstein, in the very first responsum in Igrot Moshe (OC I:1), rules that there is no particular minimum size for a head covering, as long as it is evident that the garment is being worn to cover the head.




            What does the SA say in our siman about using the hand as a head-covering?  See se'if 4. How does this compare to what the MB says in siman 2 s.k. 11 (towards the end)?