Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A Hats Halachic Style

The RNs tickle me. Not literally, of course. But in a safe, sane, and purely metaphorical manner.

Just recently I was speaking with J, a fine boy with a regulation haircut and a properly brimmed hat, who takes pains to stress, in proper religious fashion, that his highly-paid vocation is "just a job" and "not a career." We were at Mincha, on Shabbas afternoon, and J thought the blue shirt I was wearing deserved a comment.

Now, Mincha chatter is seldom noteworthy. In the whole history of the republic I doubt anything important has ever been said at Mincha on Shabbas afternoon. But I think this took an interesting turn.

J: I see you're wearing a blue shirt.
Me: I see you're not wearing a tie.

And so on, until:

Me: Let me ask you this: I see you are wearing a hat and a jacket but no tie. Why does the tie come off before the hat? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
J: Well, a tie is just style. A hat is brought down in halacha.

Thankfully, I left it there. Instead of responding, I thought: I don't need to make my case in the middle of shul. I'll use my blog. So here goes:

1 - The Mishna Berurah tells us in 91:12 that during prayer we are required to wear a hat because it isn't normal to stand before an important person without one. A strong argument can be made that today we are not required to wear a hat during prayer because today it is quit enormal to stand before an important person without a hat (most people speak to their rosh yeshiva bareheaded, and no one approaches the president or a king with a hat on.)

2 - Even if this is a requirement the halacha would not require us to wear a black, Barcelona hat. any other hat would be sufficient.

3 - The phrase "brought down" is absurd. It's used to suggest that though all the halachas were known to all the original sages, some were not revealed until a later authority"brought it down." If it's true that the hat was "brought down" then it must also be true that all the original sages wore hats. Sadly, hats, as we know them with brims and shaped crowns, did not exist until rather recently. And if we say that the word "hat" is subjective, and it refers to whatever people happened to wear their heads in those days (a turban for the Rambam, a rag-like kefiya for Moshe Rabbenu) we're right back where we started: No one wears hats today.

4 - Agreed, a black hat is not "stylish" in the sense of Milan or Vogue Magazine, but if everyone is wearing them the reason, most likely, is style.

I hope J can find a moment during his busy job, but not a career, to read this.