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Ashkenazic Single Men Without a Tallit at Shaarei Orah

May we permit Ashkenazic single men to sit in Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, without a tallit? Sephardic practice follows straightforward reasoning—a bar mitzvah is responsible for all mitzvot. Thus, why should he wait until marriage in order to wear a tallit during tefillah?

Most Ashkenazic men, however, do not don a tallit until marriage. Should we at Shaarei Orah require Ashkenazic single men who visit to wear a tallit?

Justifying the Ashkenazic Practice

The late Rishon the Maharil cites the custom for single men not to cloak themselves in a tallit. He relates this minhag to the juxtaposition in the Torah of tzitzit and marriage (Devarim 22:12-13). Important Ashkenazic authorities including the Mishna Berura 17:10 have difficulty justifying this minhag. However, Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 20:8 has no problem with it.

Teshuvot Divrei Yatziv (Orach Chaim 44) justifies the practice, arguing that since tzitzit pronounce the need to keep all mitzvot, and a single man has not fulfilled the mitzvah of getting married, withholding the tallit encourages him to marry as soon as possible. Rav Daniel Mann of the Eretz Hemdah Institute offers another suggestion:

“The Radvaz (I, 343) posits that one should cover his head with a tallit during davening (see opinions in Mishna Berura 8:4). He says that if this were not so, we, who wear tzitzit, would not wear a tallit. Yet, the Magen Avraham (8:3) says that singles and possibly married men who are not talmidei chachamim should not cover their heads with a tallit (see Kiddushin 29b and 8a), apparently to avoid appearing haughty. If we accept these important poskim’s assumptions, it is pointless for a single man to wear a tallit, which explains the minhag.

This reasoning does not apply to Sephardim, who permit single men to cover their heads with a tallit even before marriage.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik told me that he believes it is proper for single Ashkenazic men to wear a tallit before marriage. I vividly recall that his grandsons Rav Moshe Lichtenstein and Rav Meir Lichtenstein wore a tallit before they married. However, the Rav told me that one should honor his father’s custom if he did not wear a tallit before his wedding.

The Advice of Rav Shlomo Maimon and Rav Baruch Gigi

When the venerable Rav Shlomo Maimon of Seattle visited Shaarei Orah in 2002, I asked him whether I should demand that Ashkenazic visitors wear a tallit. He replied that I should let them sit without a tallit. When Rav Baruch Gigi, rosh yeshivat Har Etzion, visited Shaarei Orah in 2017 he offered the same advice.

The halachic basis (in addition to the pastoral aspect of not wanting to make another Jew uncomfortable) is the halachic concept of shnei batei din b’ir echad, two rabbinic courts in the same city (Yevamot 14a). Although the prohibition of lo titgodedu (Devarim 14:1) is interpreted by Chazal as teaching “lo ta’asu agudot agudot,” do not separate into different groups, this does not apply when there are two rabbinic courts in the city. This reasoning applies when the community includes people of different halachic backgrounds. Thus, a Sephardic congregation can tolerate someone publicly observing a different practice as long as it does not interfere with the smooth proceeding of the tefillah.

Rav Gigi ruled that this applies to the varying practices to sit or stand for Lecha Dodi. While there are differing practices in the Sephardic community, I stand—following the practice of Chacham Ovadia. At Shaarei Orah the members follow the two different practices. Rav Gigi told me this is acceptable and common practice in Israel. The same applied to the varying minhagim regarding standing or sitting for the Kaddish before Barechu on Friday evening.

I should note, however, that I posed the same question to Rav Shlomo Amar when he visited Shaarei Orah in August 2017. His response was that it is preferable for a kehillah to maintain a unified position but it is acceptable to maintain varying practices if the rabbi determines that this is in the best interest of the congregation.

Conclusion

Two respected Sephardic rabbanim from significantly different backgrounds, Rav Maimon and Rav Gigi, agree that it is acceptable for Shaarei Orah to allow Ashkenazic single men to sit in our beit knesset during Shacharit without wearing a tallit.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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