Question #1: Robes?
“May I daven wearing a robe?”
Question #2: Tied Up
“Must I wear a necktie when I daven?”
“Is there a halachic basis for wearing a gartel?”
Question #3: Belted?
Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses how Yitzchak and Rivkah davened for children, it provides an opportunity to discuss the laws of proper attire for prayer.
The Rambam lists five essential requirements for prayer and eight non-essential ones. An essential requirement is one that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may not daven, even if this means that one will miss davening as a result. A non-essential requirement is that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may and should daven anyway.
One of the non-essential requirements is to be attired properly when davening (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:5). A passage of Gemara (Shabbos 10a) that teaches this lesson quotes the verse, Hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, “Prepare to meet your G-d, Yisroel” (Amos 4:12), as a source for this law. As an example, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, would put on fine boots before he prayed (Rashi). The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) notes that this implies that Rabbah usually wore simpler footgear. Rabbah knew that were he to meet dignitaries, he would not wear his usual, simpler footwear, and, therefore, wearing it in the presence of the King when he is davening would also be inappropriate. In a similar vein, a different passage of Gemara (Brochos 30b) records that Rav Yehudah would put on nice clothes before he davened. Since the Gemara cites the pasuk in Amos as a source for the requirement of dressing appropriately when one davens, this concept is sometimes referred to with the word of this pasuk, hikon.
Like a servant
The Gemara in Shabbos cited above also mentions another factor to determine how one dresses when davening — one should not overdress for tefillah. For example, Rav would remove his outer garment and fold his hands over his chest before he davened, explaining that one should daven as a servant appears before his master. (Apparently, the overgarment was not a dress jacket as we are familiar with, but something very fancy, perhaps similar to the gold-embroidered glima that the Rishon Letzion wears.)
Other amora’im decided what was considered overdressed, in accordance with the situation of the world at large. Rav Ashi reported that Rav Kahana prepared himself for prayer depending on whether matters in the world were “at peace” or not: “When there were difficulties in the world, he would throw off his outer garment and clasp his hands over his heart as a servant stands to beg from his master. When there was peace in the world, he would dress in fine clothes and pray.”
The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) explains that, although we see that some of the amora’im did not wear their fanciest garments when they davened, they certainly dressed with appropriate clothing.
Weekdays versus Shabbos
The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:2) notes that, in his day, there were those who did not wear the fancy outer garment for davening on weekdays, since the world was in a time of difficulty, but that they did wear it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. On these holy days, one should not even allude to difficulties, since doing so spoils the atmosphere and sanctity of the day.
At this point, we could ask a question: Since we realize that one should dress for davening as if he is standing before the King, should one not purchase special garments to be worn only when he davens? Someone honored with an audience before a human king would certainly acquire special garments for the occasion!
The point is well taken, and, indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 98:4) mentions a practice of special garments that are worn only for tefillah. It is worthwhile to quote him verbatim: “It is appropriate to have nice-looking garments designated for prayer, similar to the kohanim’s special garments. However, not every man can afford this expense.” Thus, his conclusion is that it is a nice idea to have special garments for davening, but it is not always possible for everyone.
Do the rules of hikon apply to all of our prayers?
One would think that, since in all our prayers and blessings we are talking directly to Hashem, we should fulfill the mitzvah of hikon whenever we recite any prayers, blessings or, perhaps, even while reciting Tehillim. However, the authorities prove from the Gemara that this is not halachically required.
The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) states that if someone began eating a meal without having yet davened mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal to daven (assuming that there will be sufficient time to daven afterwards). The Gemara asks, “At what point is it considered that he began his meal such that he is not required to interrupt it?” The Gemara answers that, once he unfastened his belt in order to be able to eat comfortably, it is considered that he began the meal, and he may delay davening until he completes eating. In this discussion, the Gemara mentions that hikon requires that one daven with a fastened belt. Yet, since he opens his belt in order to eat comfortably, we see that the brochos before eating were recited with an open belt, notwithstanding that this is considered inappropriate attire for davening. Thus, a distinction is made between davening, which requires a higher level of attire, and brochos, which do not (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 91). When davening shemoneh esrei one must stand as if one is in the presence of the King (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:1; Mishnah Berurah 74:24). Although we are always in His presence, we are not required to dress in such a proper way when reciting other prayers and blessings.
Based on this discussion, the early authorities discuss whether one is required to wear a belt and a hat while davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:1) explains that one should wear a nicer belt, which he calls an eizor, when davening. This is the source for those who put on a gartel, a special belt, prior to davening. The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, contending that one who does not usually wear a belt is not required to put one on in order to daven. Someone who usually wears a belt as part of his clothing is required to have his belt on and closed when he davens. The Mishnah Berurah (91:4) cites the approach of the Magen Avraham as the normative halacha, but he adds that it is, nevertheless, considered exemplary conduct to put on a belt when davening, even if someone does not usually wear one.
Is one required to wear a hat when davening?
The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:5), mention that Torah scholars and their disciples should have a full head covering when they daven. To quote the Rambam: “All chachamim and their disciples are careful not to pray without their head atufim,” a word meaning that their heads are covered in a respectful way. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:6) writes that, in his country, one may not daven without a hat, since no one walked in the street without one. It would seem that he would agree that in a place where it is common for people to walk in the street without a hat that one may daven wearing only a yarmulke or similar head covering.
Thus, we have a general direction for appropriate davening attire. One should dress as one would be attired when meeting someone prominent. If times are peaceful, one should even consider “dressing up” for the davening; but when times aredifficult, one should dress appropriately, but not fancily. At this point, let us examine some specific halachic questions about proper attire.
Based on halachic sources, the rishonim discuss whether one may daven barefoot. Their conclusion is that one may not pray barefoot, except on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur (Tosafos, Shabbos op. cit.). The Bach adds that people should not daven wearing footwear that leaves their ankles exposed. One could argue that this depends on what is considered appropriate footwear in the place where you are living. This is based on a statement of the Aruch Hashulchan that if people do not wear respectable footgear, or walk barefoot in the place where you are, you are not required to don nice footgear in order to daven, but one should still not daven barefoot, even when that is common in your location (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:5).
May one daven midday and midweek in the rough clothes required for the work that one does to earn a living?
Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach discusses a person who works wearing shorts or other garments that one would not wear when visiting a respected individual. He rules that one should not daven this way (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).
One can actually find a Talmudic source for this ruling. In a different context, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that one should not serve one’s master his meal while wearing the same clothes used while cooking his meals. The clothes used to cook are presumably food-stained and sweaty; a respected master expects to be served by a waiter or servant wearing clean and smart-looking clothes.
Pajamas and robes
May one daven wearing pajamas, bathrobes or similar attire?
Since it is inappropriate to appear in front of respected people wearing pajamas, one should not daven that way either. I note that in one contemporary source, I saw that he ruled that someone who is ill may daven wearing pajamas (Tefillah Kehilchasah Chapter 7, footnote 78). Personally, I would suggest putting on nicer clothing on top of the pajamas in order to daven, if not too ill or weak to do so.
As far as davening while wearing a robe, it would appear that this depends on the type of robe in question. If it is a bathrobe that you would only wear in the house, you should not daven attired this way (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:6). However, I see no problem davening while wearing a smoking jacket or a fancy robe.
Is a man permitted to daven wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket over it?
I was once asked this question, when I was on a visit to the Miami area. I answered that this depends on whether an attorney would enter a courtroom dressed this way. At the time, I was told that in Dade County (where Miami is located), it is acceptable for an attorney to represent a client in court without wearing a jacket.
Subsequently, I found that this question is disputed by some late authorities. Rav Ovadyah Hadaya, in his Shu”t Yaskil Avdi, ruled that one may not daven wearing short sleeves, since this is not considered a respectable way to dress when meeting dignitaries. However, Rav Ovadya Yosef disagreed, ruling that one may daven this way (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 4:8).
May one daven wearing winter clothes, which you would not usually wear in the presence of a respected person?
One may wear these garments when it is cold, since one would greet a respected person outdoors dressed this way (see Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18).
May one daven wearing gloves?
The Bach writes that one should not daven while wearing gloves. However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach explained that the Bach was referring to work gloves, since one would not greet a respected person without taking them off. If it is cold where you are, you may daven wearing winter gloves, since you would also greet a respected person this way (see Mishnah Berurah 91:12 and Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18, ftn 29).
Is a man required to wear a necktie when he davens?
According to what we have seen, the rule is that the attire for davening should be the way people dress in your location when visiting a respected individual. If, in your place, this would not be done without wearing a necktie, one should wear one when davening. If this is not expected where you are, it is not required.
There are also early sources that imply that one’s clothes must be reasonably clean when one davens (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10; Rema, Orach Chayim 53:25). This is certainly a problem if the clothes have an objectionable odor.
One of the examples mentioned by the early halachic authorities is an interesting situation. In a certain town, the chazzan, who apparently led services during the week as well as on Shabbos, also worked as the town shocheit, a very common practice in earlier times. (There is even a term used for this position, a shovshatz, which stands for shocheit ubodeik, sheliach tzibur, referring to all the roles in which this individual served the community.)
In this particular town, the shocheit apparently had the habit of showing up to mincha and maariv wearing the same clothes he had worn to shecht earlier that day. The people complained both about the physical appearance of his clothing and the odor that emanated from them. The Kolbo, a rishon, ruled that the shovshatz should be advised to change his clothes to cleaner ones before he arrives in shul to lead the services. If, after being warned to do so, he ignores the admonition, this provides grounds for dismissal (quoted in Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10).
Wearing clothes respectfully
Not only should one wear respectable clothes when davening, but one should be careful to wear them in the proper way. For example, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that someone should not daven with a jacket draped over his shoulders, since one does not speak to prominent people attired in that fashion (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).
Hands over heart
Proper davening requires more than just proper clothing. When the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) discusses these laws, he adds the following: “He should place his hands folded right over left on top of his heart and stand like a servant in front of his master in awe, fear and trepidation. He certainly should not place his hands on his hips because this appears haughty.” While davening, one should cast his eyes downward and think of the Might of Hashem and the lowliness of man. One should think: “How can I, poor and despised, come to approach the King of Kings?” (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 95:5).
Right over left
The Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam’s statement that the right hand should be bent over the left hand and both on his heart. Although the Rambam mentions placing one’s right hand over one’s left, there does not appear to be a Talmudic source for this. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 95) explains that there is a kabbalistic reason for this practice, in that it alludes to the midas harachamim, symbolized by the right hand, being stronger than the midas hadin, symbolized by the left. Some authorities add that one should have one’s right thumb inside his left hand or a similar position whereby the fingers are coiled inside one another. Later authorities note that this particular position should be assumed only when it is a time of difficulty (Graz, Orach Chayim 91:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:7).
The Magen Avraham (95:2) comments that the hands over the heart and related positioning depend on how servants stand to supplicate in a particular place. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should stand in the position that, in your location, a servant would assume when beseeching his master.
Versus tefillah betzibur
What is the halacha if changing into appropriate clothes for tefillah will cause him to miss davening together with the tzibur? Which takes priority, the mitzvah of hikon or tefillah betzibur?
If he can find a later minyan with which to daven, he should wait until he has a chance to change. However, if he will not be able to daven with a later minyan, the mitzvah of hikon does not override the mitzvah of davening with a minyan (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).
The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!
The Kuzari notes that every day should have three, very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. When we recognize that tefillah is so valuable, we must certainly realize that it must be treated as a special time, and our attire when we daven should reflect this. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisroel!