Are Dirty Army Uniforms Appropriate for Prayer?

Tank soldiers holding Mincha service before going into battle during Second Lebanon War. (Courtesy of American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate)

Tank soldiers holding Mincha service
before going into battle during Second Lebanon War. (Courtesy of American Friends of the IDF Rabbinate)

— by Rabbi Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was very meticulous and stringent in every phase of Hilchot Tefillah, the laws of prayer. He often cited the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefilah 5) that eight specific aspects of prayer should be adhered to while standing for Shemoneh Esrei (the central element in all Jewish prayer), the fourth of which is Tikun HaMalbushim, proper and dignified attire.

A person who prays must be careful to tend to eight matters….. They are: 1) standing, 2) facing the Temple, 3) preparation of his body, 4) proper clothing, 5) proper place, 6) control of his voice, 7) bowing, and 8) prostration. (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefillah 5:1)

The Rav was once visited by a student who served in the Israel Defense Forces who asked him the following question: He worked in the tank division and his job was cleaning and maintaining the tanks. Often, his uniform would get covered in oil and grime and he wanted to know if he needed to change clothing before reciting the afternoon prayer, Mincha. He emphasized that it would be possible to do so but it would be quite inconvenient and difficult.

The Rav looked at him in amazement and said out loud, “Why would you need to change? You are wearing bigdei Kodesh, holy clothes!”

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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