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“.