Dear Rabbi Simon,
TY for your reply re the nature of the mitzvah of tzitzit [Kesher Connections newsletter two weeks ago]. The discussion to which I referred then developed into a debate about wearing a head covering – in that this too was purported to be a midat chasidut (“practice of the pious”, ie not universally required as normative). Granted, everyone seems to have taken it on, however this doesn’t change its “optional” halachic status… whereas I thought that the same principle (as with tzitzit) should apply – by the recognition that everyone is doing it, makes it something that we must follow.
Many thanks in advance.
All the best.
Although in our times this has become the near-universal uniform of a mitzvah-observant Jew, the matter is actually more equivocal than tzitzit (which is explicitly a mitzvah, as per our prior exchange). The Talmud identifies head-covering as a practice of the pious, when in a synagogue or when praying (even at home, for example). Against this, the Shulkhan ‘Arukh (2:6) states that [a man] should not walk even 4 cubits bareheaded. Taz adds that nowadays, since Christians uncover the head as a show of respect, or while in church, it is forbidden to even sit in one’s place without a kippah. The basic halakhah, however, would seem to be in accordance with Sh”A 91:3, that at work, gym, etc., the essential halakhah does not require wearing a kippah. Indeed this was a widespread practice among many mitzvah-observant Western Jews in recent generations, and is validated (in a situation of need) by respected authorities (such as Rav Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe OH 4:2).
Still and all, IMHO nowadays for a Jewish man to habitually comport himself bareheaded is quite difficult to justify. I will end with a (true) anecdote I heard from my father z”l: Dr Kurt Stern was a religious German-Jewish scientist. He once visited a synagogue in a suburban town in the USA. The shamash, who was showing him around, noticed his visitor’s kippah. Thinking he had put it on just for the occasion, he said “Prof. Stern, there is no need for a koppel here; this is a Reform temple.” Dr Stern replied, “that’s OK, G-d is everywhere.”
I hope this “covers the subject” for the moment.
Rabbi Rashi Simon