The Case Of The Missing Tallis – Informality vs. Kavod Hatzibbur & Kavod HaTorah – הטלית האבוד : לבישת טלית לכבוד הציבור ולכבוד התורה בין האשכנזים

Ashkenazic tradition is to wear a טלית (gadol) in Shul even at times when such is not  generally worn by the congregation at large, for example at a weekday mincha davening, when one is carrying out certain tasks, e.g. acting as the שליח ציבור, or חזן, leading the prayers and representing the congregation. The same goes for when leading the evening tefilloh commonly referred to as ‘maariv’, when getting an aliyah or leining at תפלת מנחה of שבת, and other occasions.

This practice is faithfully followed to the present day in (German) Ashkenazic congregations, as well as elsewhere, for example Lithuanian type Yeshivos, and such type ‘Yeshivishe minyonim’.

In other places, e.g. many Eastern European Ashkenazic Shuls, there has been an erosion in this aspect of the Ashkenazic tradition, due to, it seems, Chassidic influence, as well as perhaps modern trends toward informality. In such places, one can see people going to the amud to lead the services at maariv, and sometimes even at mincha, without a tallis gadol. And also leining and going up for aliyos at mincha of Shabbos similarly.

Some people believe that they may not wear a tallis when standing before the amud at maariv it seems, with the reasoning being that לילה לאו זמן ציצית, evening is not the Biblically ordained time for tzitzis. But what they don’t realize is that a טלית is worn then according to minhag Ashkenaz, not for the mitzvoh of tzitzis, but rather, since it is the uniform of a shliach tzibbur, for the honor of the congregation. As an aside, I strongly suspect that those same people, while they are davening maariv, are wearing their טלית קטן, under their shirt, despite it being evening. That seems somewhat inconsistent.

What is even harder to understand is why such people don’t wear a tallis gadol when acting as shliach tzibbur for mincha, before nightfall, especially when they are davening some time before evening, e.g. if they are davening mincha, מנחה גדולה, during lunch break in an office building not long after chatzos hayom (midday). It is then broad daylight and far from night.

Wearing a tallis gadol during such occasions is an ancient and holy minhog, which brings a nice measure of majesty and respect to the divine services.

As the fine English Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz synopsis (translated by R. David Silverberg)  that came out around last Chanukah puts it, wearing a tallis at such times “serves as an expression of dignity and respect. In addition to its being the official garb of the chazzan……(it) also shows esteem for the Shekhina (Divine presence) and elicits a sense of reverence and awe.” The synopsis chapter concludes that people should then wear a tallis as an expression of respect for the congregation and הקדוש ברוך הוא.

Nowadays, thoughtful people are looking for ways to make תפילה more meaningful and less of a mechanical, rote practice. Here we have an ancient practice that can (ideally) significantly contribute to the above, which does not cost money – לית ביה חסרון כיס – as people already have talleisim. I humbly propose that this be considered in such a vein alongside other worthy measures. Hopefully, even if people have neglected it in the past, they will consider returning to it, as it is spiritually helpful and desirable, sends a  loud (though silent) message that there is something special going on where and when  it is practiced, is ancient מנהג, and is backed by great authority.

In the zechus of our actions to increase kavod hatzibbur, kavod hatefilloh, and kavod haTorah, may we be zoche that our תורה and תפלה become more meaningful, relevant, and powerful, and are נתקבל ברצון למעלה.

Sources – מקורות

In order to give more background to the above, here are some sources for the ancient minhog that every שליח ציבור wears a tallis gadol, not only in the morning (from the comprehensive twenty nine page chapter entitled טלית משום כבוד הציבור in שרשי מנהג אשכנז חלק א).

Basis – the minhog is derived from the gemara, תלמוד בבלי מסכת ראש השנה דף יז, עמוד ב, where it is stated מלמד שנתעטף הקב”ה כשליח ציבור. That tells us clearly that a typical shliach tzibbur is נתעטף. No distinction is made there between שחרית, מנחה, and ערבית.

R. Avrohom Gombiner, the מגן אברהם, in שו”ע או”ח, סימן ח’, סעיף קטן ב, states “דכל עובר לפני התיבה צריך להתעטף כדאמרי’ מלמד שנתעטף הקב”ה כש”ץ“.

The ט”ז, R. Dovid HaLevi Segal, in או”ח סימן תקפ”א, סעיף קטן ב, in a discussion re a shliach tzibbur wearing a tallis at night, writes ” דודאי בלא עטיפה כלל א”א משום כבוד השכינה“.

R. Yechiel Michel Epstein, the ערוך השלחן, in אורח חיים, סימן י”ח, סעיף ז, writes, referring to the gemara cited above, דכל ש”ץ העובר לפני התיבה צריך להתעטף בציצית.

R. Yisroel Meir HaCohen of Radin, the חפץ חיים, in his Mishnah Berurah, in או”ח סימן י”ח, סעיף קטן ה, writes “ וכל העובר לפני התיבה צריך להתעטף“.


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12 Responses to “The Case Of The Missing Tallis – Informality vs. Kavod Hatzibbur & Kavod HaTorah – הטלית האבוד : לבישת טלית לכבוד הציבור ולכבוד התורה בין האשכנזים”

  1. reader Says:

    “I strongly suspect that those same people, while they are davening maariv, are wearing their טלית קטן, under their shirt, despite it being evening. That seems somewhat inconsistent.”

    Not really. The Tallis Koton is put on in the morning and not removed. But the Tallis Gadol is not worn all day, hence it may be problematic to don at night if night is not consistent with the Mitzvah of Ureisem. Kavod for the Amud notwithstanding.

  2. Milhouse Says:

    Not the same at all. A beged yom volaylo is obligated in tzitzis at night as well. So if the talles koton is worn at all times then by wearing at night one is fulfilling the mitzvah of tzitzis. Whereas since a talles godol is only a beged yom, it’s not obligated in tzitzis at night.

  3. mmai Says:

    “But I think my point still stands. That if wearing a tallis at night is such a problem, it should affect the tallis koton too.”

    What do you suggest…that as soon as it becomes layla, everyone should remove their tzitzit? But certainly it is understandable that one may not be required to initiate the wearing of a tallit for arvit.

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      As I stated, the purpose of the tallis, according to minhag Ashkenaz, is מפני כבוד הציבור, for the honor of the congregation, since it is the uniform of a shliach tzibbur, based on the words of the gemara in Rosh Hashanah. The primary intent is not the mitzvoh of tzitzis, which people fulfill nowadays with a טלית קטן, but rather to have the prescribed dress of a shliach tzibbur.

  4. gilad73 Says:

    I have seen in some shtieblach that they distinguish between mincha and maariv – at mincha the shatz will wear a tallis over his head, whereas at maariv the shatz wears a tallis on his shoulders and keeps his hat on. I assumed this was their way of demonstrating that maariv is reshus.

    Has anyone seen this minhog? Any sources/reasons mentioned in seforim?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Wow, interesting, that is new to me.

      Where are these shtieblach located and what nusach do they daven (if you wish to say)?

      When I hear the word shtieblach, normally I think of a nusach Sfard, Chassidish type place, but there are some places where they daven a type of nusach Ashkenaz that are sometimes referred to that way as well. In the cases that you mention, I assume that they daven nusach Ashkenaz. Correct?

      Actually, there is another issue involved, which hasn’t been discussed here so far, which perhaps we will have to get into.

      Namely, the influence of the Arizal re wearing a tallis at night, or after shekiah, which it seems is behind the custom of most Chassidim not to have their shliach tzibbur wear a tallis at mincha and maariv (during the week – Shabbos and Yom tov is another matter).

      However, that is at night. Davening mincha or getting an aliyah during the day, before shkia, is a different situation.

      • Joe in Australia Says:

        I understand that this is the Chabad minhog for maariv on motzoei Yom Kippur. Generally Chabad Chassidim don’t wear a tallis for mincho or maariv, but on Yom Kippur they wear a tallis all day and lower it to their shoulders for maariv, with a hat replacing it on their heads.

        I think it would be strange to have such a precise minhog limited to one day a year. Perhaps it’s a remnant of an earlier minhog in which a tallis was generally worn for mincha and lowered to the shoulders for maariv. When this custom died out generally it remained in place for Yom Kippur (because there was no reason to *remove* the tallis that was worn for shachris and musaf) and the minhog of removing the tallis from the head and wearing a hat also remained.

      • gilad73 Says:

        I was trying to recall where I had seen it, and thinking back, you are probably correct that it was not nusach Ashkenaz. It was probably when I lived in Washington Heights and from time to time I would daven maariv at Dombrov.

    • D.C. Says:

      I once heard the following explanation:

      Due to the machlokes (alluded to above) as to whether a beged yom (such as a tallis) requires tzitzis when worn at night, there is a question as to whether one who is putting on a tallis at night should make a beracha. In order to “avoid the question,” the shatz puts on a tallis at maariv for kevod hatzibbur, but does not do a “proper atifa” (by covering his head with it), which is what would potentially obligate him in a beracha.

  5. R. Rallis Wiesenthal Says:

    Could you discuss the following topics?

    1) The “Group Mishebayrach L’Choulim” on Shabbos and Youm Touv?
    2) a)Reciting Oleinu between two tefillous that follow each other?
    b) Reciting Kaddish after Oleinu
    3) Yizkour on Sholosh Regolim
    4) Reciting Selichous on Youm Kippur (Shacharis, Musaf, and Mincho)? As evidenced from the Selichous recited from 3 days before Roush Hashonoh, Selichos does not begin with “Chotonu Tzuraynu Selach Lonu Youtzraynu”!

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