Ask the Rov: When and how should a gartel be worn?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
Halacha mentions two reasons for wearing a gartel for davening. Besides for the requirement to separate between one’s heart and one’s private area — which is already the case by default with contemporary clothing — there is an obligation for men to “prepare (hikon) to greet Hashem” by girding their loins.1
Poskim rule that one who goes about the entire day without a belt or sash does not need to wear one for davening. Thus, in contemporary society where a girdle isn’t considered a sign of respect, a gartel isn’t considered a halachic obligation. Yet, it still is midas Chassidus to uphold this age-old hanhaga, and chassidim are particular about it.2
Unlike the custom of other chassidic circles, the Chabad custom is that bochurim don’t wear a gartel outwardly until marriage, as the Rebbe Rashab instructed bochurim who arrived in Tomchei Temimim. The Rebbe explains that a gartel, like a tallis, is connected with makifim, which is more relevant to the avoda after marriage. Still, a bendel or gartel worn to keep tzitzis from crumpling is somewhat of a substitute. In the early years, the Rebbe reportedly instructed bochurim to wear a gartel inconspicuously under their clothing when entering for yechidus.3
Halacha specifies a gartel for davening — Shmoneh Esrei — and rules that it isn’t necessary for other brachos, as long as one’s heart and private area are separated. Still, Chabad custom is for married men to wear a gartel for several mitzvos and special occasions, including havdala, kiddush levana, lighting the menorah, Tehillim on the night of Hoshana Rabba, and more.4
The gartel is meant to display respect for Hashem and should be dignified (i.e., not a scarf tied around one’s waist). In Chabad, the gartel is traditionally worn over the outer garment at the height of the elbows, similar to how the Kohanim would wear their avnet.5
Some have the custom al pi kabbala to specifically tuck the retzuos of the tefillin into the gartel, though Chabad isn’t particular about this.6 Some quote a tradition from the Baal Shem Tov that the unused sleeve when wearing tefillin should not be under the gartel, rather should left hanging loose.7
It would seem that one who doesn’t have a gartel on hand should not miss davening with a minyan on account of this.
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash
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