In order to assess whether women are required to cover their heads when praying or reciting berakhot, we must first clarify the law regarding men. Originally, a few eminent sages practiced the extra pious custom of not walking four amot bareheaded. Rav Huna b. R. Yehoshua is praised for not having walked four amot without a head covering (Shabbat 118b). He said, “Indeed the Shekhina is above my head, so how can I go around with it uncovered?” (Kiddushin 31a). Similarly, the Talmud teaches (Shabbat 156b) that after it was made known to Rav Naĥman bar Yitzĥak’s mother that he would become a thief according to his astrological sign, she was extremely meticulous about keeping his head covered constantly, enabling him to grow in Torah and mitzvot. Once, when his head covering fell, the evil inclination attacked him and his temptation to steal dates from the palm tree overtook him. He then understood his mother’s strictness. In time, this extra pious act became accepted in all of Israel until it became an obligatory custom (SA 2:6).
Some poskim say that there is an obligation to cover one’s head while mentioning God’s name and reciting berakhot. Others maintain that while there is no specific obligation for men to cover their heads when mentioning God’s name and reciting berakhot, accepted custom requires the covering of one’s head throughout the whole day, including when mentioning God’s name. Shulĥan Arukh cites the stringent opinion as halakha, according to which one is required to cover his head when mentioning God’s name and reciting berakhot (91:3; 206:3). 1
- Sofrim 14:15 states that according to the tanna kama it is permissible to mention God’s name bareheaded, whereas others forbid it. Rabbeinu Yeruĥam and Or Zaru’a 2:43 rule that it is forbidden to recite berakhot without a yarmulke, and this is also the ruling of SA 91:3 and 206:3. However, Or Zaru’a states that the rabbis of France customarily recited berakhot bareheaded. Rambam’s opinion (MT, Laws of Prayer 5:1 and 5) is that a head covering is necessary for the Amida, but when reciting berakhot there is no need. Pri Ĥadash 91:3 and Gra 8:6 state that a head covering is not technically required for reciting berakhot, as implied by the Gemara’s explanation of the order of Birkhot Ha-shaĥar (Berakhot 60b): all the berakhot recited before Oter Yisrael are recited without a yarmulke. Thus, Rosh, Mikhtam, Rashba, and other Rishonim, as well as Beit Yosef §46 and Responsa Maharshal §72, who interpret the Gemara to mean that each berakha of Birkhot Ha-shaĥar was said immediately upon performing the action, would agree that there is technically no requirement to wear a yarmulke to say God’s name. However the practice for men is clear: they need a yarmulke for all matters of sanctity, as SA rules. It has even become the accepted custom not to walk four amot without a yarmulke (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 5 n. 3). ↩