Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hats on the Hazzan

יש רעה ראיתי תחת השמש כשגגה שיצא מלפני השליט׃

I understand why certain people insist on wearing hats and jackets when they pray. I don't agree with the reasoning - hats aren't considered business or formal wear any more, and lots of high ranking executives now go coatless - but I understand the reasoning: Once upon a time, you put on a hat and jacket to speak to an important person, and Judaism tends to ossify. We don't update our practices to reflect new realities.

I also understand why some congregations demand that their prayer leader / chazzan put on a hat and jacket. Its an impulse that's not unique to Orthodox Jews. Many other Jewish denominations, as well as other religions, have congregations that prefer to have their prayer leader dressed in a particular costume.  Even Orthodox Rabbis once wore“canonicals” (ministerial vestments)  in Western and Eastern Europe, and you can still find an occasional Orthodox chazzan who likes to put on his funny hat for special occasions.

But what I can't understand are the mindless compromises RW orthodox congregations make when it comes to chazzan attire.  The other day, I prayed with a chazzan who was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, but to satisfy the congregation's sense of decorum he borrowed a  jacket from one of the other members, and used a dirty, beat up loaner hat that that the synagogue keeps handy for hatless chazzans. The guy did not look dignified or respectful, nor did he look like anyone who was prepared to meet with a dignitary. So what was the point?

I know that the general position is lo plug - any type of hat, including baseball caps are okay, so long as you're wearing a hat, but this is a corruption of the original intent. Our ancestors didn't force their chazzans to wear hats just for the sake of being yotse a (non existent) requirement to wear a hat. They did it because they wanted the chazzan to look nice!

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