As summarized in the last post on this topic, the primary halachic authorities maintain that there is no actual obligation for a Jewish man to cover his head. Nevertheless, it is a middas chassidus (pious practice) and a universally accepted custom. In this post we will discuss whether or not there is another reason to prohibit Jewish men from having their heads uncovered: the prohibition of following in the chukos ha’akum (the ways of non-Jewish religions; see Vayikra [Leviticus] 18:3)
The Taz (Orach Chaim § 8(3)) states that although there is no inherent obligation for a Jewish man to cover his head, it is forbidden for one to leave his head uncovered. The reason for this is because, at that time (in mid-17th century Poland), the prevalent custom of religious non-Jews was to uncover their heads to show reverence to their deity. According to the Taz, this is sufficient to qualify the uncovering of one’s head as a chok ha’akum. Consequently, Jewish men must not have their heads uncovered, especially since the practice of covering one’s head is to instill humility and fear of God in one’s heart. (See also Chasam Sofer, Nedarim 30b, making the same assertion.) This would apply even if one is sitting or standing in one place, unless it is clear that one’s head is uncovered for a specific reason (e.g. cooling off or getting a haircut).
Nevertheless, in modern times, a number of prominent halachic authorities have said that the Taz’s reasoning no longer applies. For example, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Dei’ah, vol. 4, § 11(3)) states that the prohibition of chukos ha’akum does not apply to a course of action that all people follow, even the irreligious. Thus, hypothetically, if a religious group of non-Jews would eat a certain type of food as a religious practice, Jews would not be prohibited from eating that food, since even irreligious people eat such food. The same reasoning applies to uncovering one’s head. In current day America and Europe, all men walk around with their heads uncovered (even irreligious ones) because it is more comfortable for them. Thus, the uncovering of one’s head is not prohibited as a chok ha’akum.
Despite the fact that there is no inherent obligation for a Jewish man to cover his head, it is still a universal custom amongst Torah-observant Jews (which itself makes the practice almost mandatory). Additionally, a Jewish man should cover his head in order to distinguish himself as Torah-observant, and to avoid being suspected by fellow Jews as lax in his religious observance. (See Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Yabia Omer, vol. 9, § 1) Finally, as will be discussed in a future post, there are some circumstances when covering one’s head is absolutely required, such as during prayer (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim § 91(3)).