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Prayer Gear
by Rabbi Yossi Braun

Dressing up.

Casual wear. Evening wear. Formal or informal. These are the big issues facing many of us daily as we consult our wardrobe, often with limited success.Chabad Shul

Every occasion has its style, fashion and flare. And even when a dress code hasn't been formalised, there is always a hidden protocol or etiquette governing the scene. Would you attend your first interview for a position in a major bank while wearing jeans, sneakers and chewing gum? These are the type of stuff that can cost you your future employment.

Yet, many of us don't think twice about how we attend the most-important business meeting, The Fundamental, Vital, Essential, Crucial and Critical Conference with the CEO of Universe Incorporated. Moreover, He actually has designed an explicit and clear Code of Conduct for all visitors in attendance.

Fortunately, Shulchan Aruch gives us guidance in so many areas of our life. Davening gear is no different. Left to our own devices we would be lost in a sea of endless choices, ranging from the outlandish couture to the run of the mill everyday wear. Imagine agonising thrice daily over the ubiquitous and vexing question of "What should I wear" and the eternal answer of "I have nothing to wear".

The DDC (Davening Dress Code)

Below are some basic guidelines as defined in the Code (the Code of Jewish Law), how to impress and dress for success at our interview with the Boss. These are all in accordance with the bare-bones basic Halacha. How much more so as far as Chassidim are concerned. Chassidim have always placed special emphasis on avodas ha'tefillah (effort in prayer) and embraced the gartel as high priority in the davening "must have" lists. We ought to excel in this area.

But before that, let's stop a second and pause to think. Have you ever considered the following simple questions?

Are hats and jackets obligatory for men? Are work clothes or pyjamas (at home) acceptable for davening? Is it permissible to daven while wearing a coat, scarf or gloves?

What's better: davening alone with noble clothes, or with a minyan wearing casual garb?

Let it be known that Halacha deals with all of the above and more.

For starters, based on the possuk, "Prepare to meet Hashem" (Amos 4:12), Chazal derive that one must prepare for davening, i.e. dressing for the occasion as one would when standing before an important dignitary. Imagine you're scheduled to meet the Bank Manager, President of USA or, closer to home, you've been privileged to have a private audience with - lehavdil - the Rebbe. What would you wear for the occasion?

To put it another way, here is the Shulchan Aruch's (O.C. 91:4) take on it: "it is suitable that one should have special nice clothing set aside for davening like the bigdei kehunah (priestly garments)!"

Hats and Jackets

Some think that hats and jackets for men during davening is just a societal, cultural norm that may be overlooked. True but not true. Though this might be ethnically accepted in some environments more than others, if truth to be told, there are halachic sources for this minhag. As a matter of fact, the Rebbe (Igros Kodesh X: 393) suggests that this custom has a source in nothing less than a Mishna (Shabbos 16:4. See also Chulin 138a).

From a halachic point of view: the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 91:6) informs us that "the manner of Torah scholars and their students is not to daven unless they are wrapped". As for the definition of the ambiguous term "wrapped" - we find elsewhere in Halacha (Alter Rebbe O.C. 183:6) that "wrapping" refers to wearing a hat (or tallis) and/or jacket. Mishnah Berurah (91:12) says so clearly:

"nowadays, one must wear a hat above the yarmulke during davening". Although this is described as "the manner of Torah scholars and their students", meforshim indicate that this is a reference to the general populace (See Kaf Hachaim ibid.).

Some say that the hat is related to the Kohen Gadol wearing a mitznefes during services in the Beis Hamikdosh. Kabalistic sources indicate that the double head covering refers to two distinct aspects of the neshama (chaya and yechida). In Chassidic literature, the jacket is linked with the level of or makif (literally, encircling light), referring to the transcendent, subliminal elements of the soul, attainable only to Jews. [That's why we put on jackets at special occasions, whereas gentiles generally remove their hats and jackets when wishing to demonstrate respect - B'nei Yisachar Tishrei 10:7]. The jacket, the makif, has the ability to attract such a lofty Divine light, protecting us and chasing away all prosecutors and negative forces in our way (Toras Moshe Pesach Shir Ma'on).

Nonetheless, it's clear that one need not protest and give a dressing down to the jacketless worshippers in locales where it's common to walk around without a hat and jacket even in the presence of dignitaries. After all, it's a matter of custom.

Having said that, one who has a ray'ach Torah (hard to translate, something like 'a Torah-steeped Jew') should do everything to avoid davening bare-yarmulked and bare-shirted. Though it is quite common in today's day and age to walk around in such a manner (the VIP's do so too!), many contemporary poskim point out how this is due to the deterioration of society at large. We shouldn't allow the street to have an effect on the shul (Divrei Yatziv I: 60).

Certainly, one who wouldn't attend his child's wedding or approach his Rebbe without a hat and jacket must garb likewise for davening.

Moreover, one who regularly wears a hat and jacket for davening should not daven without them, unless a later minyan is not available (Halichos Shlomo 2:15).

Crocs or Shoes?

Crocs rocks. It really kicks and has won over many hearts and soles. They are comfortable, practical and, arguably, stylish. While you might be an avid crocs fan, even describing it as "the best thing since sliced bread", you should hold off from the statement: "G-d bless the day that crocs were invented". Well, at least say that in shoes.

Don't get me wrong. Crocs are definitely not mentioned in Shulchan Aruch. But, maybe you can be your own judge. Sure, in the name of comfort or fashion society might soon replace pants with pyjamas too. But, it's high time we put our foot down. As far as Torah is concerned, the litmus test is simple: if you wouldn't wear it to who knows what, then it certainly is out of place for davening.

Davening barefoot is another story altogether. You're shooting yourself in the foot or starting off on the wrong foot. Basic Halacha dictates that one may not daven barefoot or while wearing sandals only, though the tefilla is acceptable in the event that one did daven barefoot (Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:68:4). Exceptions apply for countries where barefoot is "the way to go" even in the presence of bigwigs. Do we walk barefoot before important people? My foot! We wouldn't be caught barefooted at wedding or fancy business meetings. Well, we ought to pull up our socks and start sticking to the same standards for davening. Shoes, slippers or crocs, but you certainly must wear socks (Magen Avrohom & Alter Rebbe O.C. 91:5). 

Down to Work

It all fits like a glove now. We are to appreciate davening for what it really is - an earnest supplication to the One Above. Hence, it's becoming of us to dress for the occasion in a dignified fashion. That being the case, it's no doubt that the following are all totally out: overalls and pyjamas, robes and nightgowns. Obviously, exceptions apply to people who are unwell.

Furthermore, even gloves are not acceptable during davening (Alter Rebbe O.C. 91:5). Contemporary poskim question the permissibility of scarves, raincoats and boots. There are those who distinguish between fancy gloves or work gloves which are forbidden and gloves protecting from the elements which might be permissible (Halichos Shlomo Tefila 2:18).

Some say that women may daven in a house coat it it's nice, clean and respectable enough to entertain guests.

The bottom line: Davening with noble clothes must be made a top priority. Sure, wearing our work gear to davening might be convenient and practical; after all, we can run out to shul at a hat's drop. But, we shouldn't make short work out of our davening. If we value our davening for what it's worth, we would care about what we wear. Yes, we might have to change our habits and adjust the morning ritual. However, it's not that all difficult and we need not get overworked. All we need to do is plan our schedule in advance. If we are committed to change, we can buckle down, roll up our sleeves and do it.

The Bible Black Belt

Think you've got it all under your belt? Gird yourself for the following. There is more to DDC than the above; there is one other prayer article mention worthy for Chassidim specifically. Though we have halachically 'covered' the basics, Chassidim have added another notch to the belt. As far as Chassidus is concerned, the wearing of decent attire during davening is just skin deep; davening gear runs much deeper than that.

A gartel. It's quite cheap and won't tighten your belt or burn a hole in your pocket. But it makes all the difference to your davening. While Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 91:2) also requires a physical divide at the waistline during davening, this can be equally achieved with a regular belt or even with the waistband of your trousers if they are tight around the body (Mogen Avrohom 91:2).

True, from a halachic point of view, one ought to don a specific designated gartel for prayer. But, this is far from simple. Suffice it to say, accusing a gartless individual of violating Halacha would be out of line and below the belt.

The Chassidic explanation for donning a gartel goes along the following lines: the very thought that a soul garbed in physicality and corporeality would consider entreating the Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Unlimited is inconceivable. As a basic prerequisite to prayer, one must first leave one's own boundaries and free oneself from all existing limitations. While throughout the various stages of davening, one ascends the different rungs on the ladder of spirituality, the sine-qua-non of davening is the act of shtellen zich davenen (getting into davening mode). Gearing up for prayer is represented by the gartel - the classical davening gear (Likutei Sichos II: 358).  

On a final note: Moshiach is described in Tanach (Yeshaya 11:5) as one who possesses the two belts or girdles of justice and faith. "Justice will be the girdle of his thighs and faith the girdle of his loins".  Wearing an extra belt designated for davening, hastens the realisation of the two girdles of Moshiach.

After enduring so many years of wear and tear in this long and bitter Golus, our patience is starting to wear thin. We have been told that we are standing on the threshold of Geulah and that Moshiach's arrival is imminent. We look forward to the fulfillment of the Rebbe's words (Shabbos Bereishis 5751): "May Moshiach come speedily in our days, this very instant, without any delay whatsoever, not even the time needed to tie the gartel or borrow a gartelfrom a friend to be prepared to greet Moshiach Tzidkeinu!"



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