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Question: Must one wear a hat during Shabbat meals?

Answer: Increasingly, Orthodox Jews tend to wear hats during Shabbat meals. They see it as a sign of honor. But is this custom halachically necessary or proper?

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The Talmud (Berachot 51a) states that in honor of the kos shel berachah before Birkat Hamazon it is customary to perform “ituf,” or “wrapping [of the head].” The Gemara offers two examples of ituf. “Rav Pappa,” it states, “wrapped himself with a talit and Rav Asi placed a hat on his head.”

The Bach (Orach Chayim 183) maintains that Rav Asi wore a yarmulka during meals but put on a hat in honor of the kos shel berachah. The Magen Avraham (Orach Chayim 183: 11) cites the ruling of the Bach and suggests that “those who have fear of the Lord” adopt this practice. The Mishnah Berurah writes that wearing a hat complies with the Talmudic edict of ituf. He also notes that common custom is to place a hat on one’s head for Birkat Hamazon even without a kos shel berachah.

The simple interpretation of these sources is that a hat was not worn during meals in the time of the amora’im and the poskim quoted above. Otherwise putting on a hat for Birkat Hamazon would not have been regarded as a special mark of homage to the kos shel beracha.

Thus, it would seem that the proper way to act is to wear a yarmulke during meals and only put on a hat for Birkat Hamazon in order to afford honor to the kos shel beracha” and/or Birkat Hamazon.

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Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of eight sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Jewish Prayer the Right Way” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and select Judaica stores.
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