A person must prepare himself for prayer, feel awe towards God’s majesty and glory, and be happy that he is about to stand before the King of Kings in prayer. This should also be apparent in his dress; one’s clothes should be respectable, fitting for one who stands before the King.
Men are obligated to cover their heads while praying, while reciting the name of Heaven, and before entering a synagogue (Shulchan Aruch 91:3). However, in practice, based on the custom accepted in Judaism, men are careful to wear a kippah (yarmulke) all day long (Shulchan Aruch 2:6). In any case, the obligation to wear a kippah while praying, when reciting God’s name, and while in a synagogue is greater, for it is rooted in law and not just in custom.
Additionally, although there are those who say that single women must also cover their heads while praying and reciting berachot, it is customary for women not to be strict about this.
One should wear a belt while praying, for the belt creates a division between one’s upper body, including the head and heart, and one’s ervah (nakedness). In that regard, prayer is superior to other matters of sanctity, for concerning other matters of sanctity it is unnecessary to wear a belt specifically, rather any separation between one’s heart and one’s nakedness is acceptable. Therefore anyone wearing underwear has a divider between his heart and his ervah. However, out of respect for the prayer service, it is a mitzvah to wear a belt, for that is the respectful way to pray, as it is written (Amos 4:12), “Israel, prepare to meet your God.” Nevertheless, someone who normally walks around the whole day without a belt need not put one on before praying.
It is an extra pious act to always put on a belt for prayer because a belt signifies the separation between the lofty side of a person, comprised of the brain and the heart, and the lowly part of a person, containing his ervah and legs. Most people are deeply involved in their bodily desires, their brains and hearts occupied solely with matters of the moment and materialism. However, the Jewish people, who received the Torah from Heaven, are capable of overcoming their baser inclinations. They can direct their minds and hearts to superior matters, subsequently returning to the world of materialism and action in order to repair it. That is what the belt worn during prayer represents. The Chachamim even instituted a special berachah concerning this in the morning blessings – “Ozer Yisrael bigevurah” (“Who girds Israel with strength”). This explains why Chassidim enhance the mitzvah by wearing a special belt for prayer (a gartle).
. A person whose kippah fell off and was blown to a distance farther than four amot may cover his head with his hand while walking to pick it up. However, while praying and reciting berachot it is not enough merely to cover one’s head with one’s hand. Since he is obligated to cover his head, one part of his body cannot be used to cover another part; although his friend’s hand may be used (Shulchan Aruch 91:4; Mishnah Berurah 91:10; Mishnah Berurah 6:11-12). Concerning the size of one’s kippah: the Igrot MosheOrach Chaim, part 1, 1, writes that one can fulfill his obligation by wearing a kippah that does not cover the majority of his head even when saying Hashem’s Name. By contrast, the Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:13 and Yabia Omer, part 6, 15:5 write that when praying and mentioning Hashem’s Name, which by law requires a head covering, one must wear a kippah that covers the majority of one’s head. Nonetheless, in practice, one who is lenient has on whom to rely, since it is a rabbinic ruling and regarding rabbinic rulings, the halachah follows the lenient opinion. Furthermore, in Masechet Sofrim 14:15 there is a dispute concerning whether or not one is obligated to cover one’s head when reciting a berachah. Or Zarua, part 2, 43, writes that the custom of our ancestors in France was to recite berachot bareheaded. Although according to most poskim the halachah is that we are obligated to cover our heads while reciting a berachah, in any case, the lenient opinion is incorporated to strengthen the opinion expressed in Igrot Moshe. Even so, it is good to be stringent out of respect for the prayer service. Moreover, if one wears a larger kippah during the prayer service,this is likely to cause a person to wear it throughout the whole day, thereby sanctifying God’s Name and accepting the responsibility to observe the Torah and mitzvot.
. Shut Ish Matzliach 1:24-25 obligates women just the same as men in terms of head covering when reciting God’s name. The Yabia Omer, part 6, 15 writes that single women should not be prevented from reciting a berachah bareheaded; however, it is proper for them to cover their heads while praying. As we already learned in the previous note, there are even those who say that there is no obligation for a man to cover his head while praying and mentioning God’s name. Since it is a rabbinic ruling, and it is customary for women to be lenient regarding this matter, they need not change their practice. Tzitz Eliezer 12:13 writes that according to the minhag, women do not need to cover their heads. He cites the explanation given by the Chatam Sofer that since gentile women were accustomed to cover their heads in their houses of worship, there is reason to refrain from practicing as they did. All this may be further studied in Peninei Halachah, Tefillat Nashim, 10:6, note 6.
. The Rishonim are divided into three opinions. The Terumah, Ran, and Hagahot Maymoniyot maintain that no matter what the situation, one must wear a belt while praying. In contrast to them, Rashi holds that one need not wear a belt at all for prayer; rather the important thing is that there be a divider between one’s heart and his ervah. The intermediate opinion is that of Rabbeinu Yerucham who maintains that one who normally wears a belt the whole day must also wear one while praying. So it is written in ShiboleiHaleket 17, in the name of Rav Sa’adyah Gaon, as well as in Magen Avraham 91:1, whom many Acharonim cite as the way to practice. From the Shulchan Aruch 91:2 it can be inferred that he rules according to the stringent opinion, which is how the Mishnah Berurah 91:4 is inclined to rule as well. In any case, the minhag is according to those who are lenient, and since it is a rabbinic ruling, the ones who are lenient have the advantage. The Or L’Tzion, part 2, 7:13 explains that in the past when people wore robes without belts, they looked unkempt, but today we wear pants, and therefore it is unnecessary to be stringent regarding this. Hence, it is an extra pious act to be careful to always wear a belt while praying. The Chassidim enhance the mitzvah even more by wearing a special belt for prayer.