by R. Daniel Mann
Question: I daven in an outdoor minyan due to Corona. Is it permitted to wear gloves while davening in cold temperatures?
Answer: First, I am proud to be in the same nation as a person as sincere as you. The Bach (on Orach Chayim 91), an early Acharon, is the first major source to raise a problem of wearing gloves during davening. The Magen Avraham (91:5) and Mishna Berura (91:12) cite the Bach without opposition, so your question has merit,
A look into the root of this ruling will help us apply it to your case. The Bach’s statement is cryptic and he cites a harsh pasuk as applying to wearing gloves during davening. Most tefilla/clothing rules relate to the body being insufficiently covered (Shulchan Aruch, OC 91:1, 3-5). It is unusual that covering too much could be a problem.
Some understand (see Halichot Shlomo 2:18) that the Bach viewed wearing gloves during davening as haughty, which fits the cited pasuk. This is surprising, considering that “dressing up” is usually desired for davening (Mishna Berura 91:12). However, it is possible that some types of over-dressing go beyond nice and are haughty.
The Netah Sorek (OC 6) connects the Bach to a gemara (Pesachim 57a) that roundly criticized the kohen gadol, Yissachar Ish Kfar Barkai, for wearing gloves while working with korbanot. This was forbidden due to chatzitza (a disqualifying break) but also was a sign of haughtiness (Rashi ad loc.). There is clear room to distinguish between the contexts. A kohen’s mitzva includes serving with his hands, and for it to be beneath his dignity to touch things is disgraceful. Tefilla is carried out with one’s mind, heart, and mouth. Is it necessarily a disgrace if, at the same time, his “handwear” is haughty? His logic is apparently that since clothing for tefilla is important, just as insufficient is offensive, so too excessive fanciness can set the wrong balance when approaching Hashem.
Several Acharonim make the simple argument that if one wears gloves because of the cold, there is no haughtiness (Be’er Moshe IV, 39; Halichot Shlomo ibid.). While the Neta Sorek (ibid.) agrees to the concept, he argues that it is only permitted regarding gloves that are clearly worn due to cold (which I have to believe is your case).
The Magen Avraham (ibid.) presents the Bach’s problem with gloves as their being clothes that travelers wear, and Kochvei Yitzchak II, 20 attributes this idea to the author of the Terumat Hadeshen. While one may daven on the road when needed (Mishna Berura 90:11), it is best to daven indoors (Shulchan Aruch, OC 90:5) and well-settled there (see similar idea, ibid. 20). It is unclear if the Magen Avraham means that gloves are road-related because outside it is cold, and one should look different inside. If so, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 91:6) allowing to wear an outer coat during davening when it is cold is instructive. If he means that travelers wear them as a type of work glove (which the Halichot Shlomo says is one of the things the Bach objects to), this should not apply to gloves made to protect from the cold.
In short, we believe, like Halichot Shlomo and Ishei Yisrael (10:4) that in the context of clear protection from the cold, it is permitted to wear gloves, even without extenuating circumstances (like Corona). If someone would want to be machmir (which, again, is not indicated from the sources) as a matter of valor, something would have to give. One of the hardest things in Halacha is, in a situation where something less than ideal is necessary, how does one decide which option is least objectionable. Halacha forbids self-inflicted suffering (see Bava Kama 91b), and it also detracts from kavana, a factor which is behind many halachot of tefilla. The option of davening indoors without a minyan is certainly far less desirable than an unnecessary stringency. Our biggest concern is that chumra could be a tipping point (for someone) toward davening in an indoor minyan. Currently in your location, that could be a deadly mistake. Therefore, one should not entertain stringency on the matter.