Dear Rabbi I was wondering about the different customs of the Shaliach Tzibbur wearing a talis for mariv. I understand that some do not have the practice to do so as there is a doubt whether the mitza of tzitzit applies at night. At certain shuls I have seen if the Shaliach Tzibbur wear a hat and not a talis. However, at the same shul, if the Shaliach Tzibbur does not have a hat then they put on a tallis. I was wondering what difference the hat makes in this situation and why this would mean that a talis would not be required?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are correct that there are different customs about the Shaliach Tzibbur (Chazzan) wearing a tallit for the evening service. The Mishna Brurah (18, 4) implies that the normative practice is not to wear a tallit for the evening service, and this is certainly a widespread custom. However, in many Lithuanian Yeshevot, and synagogues that follow the Germanic customs, a tillit is worn by the chazzan. On the other hand, the custom found in Chabad communities is that the chazzan does not wear a tallit for the evening service, and not even for the afternoon service. Each community should follow its own customs. As to your question regarding a hat – many communities continue the practice of wearing a hat (and not just a small kippa, or yarmulke) during the prayer services (or putting the tallit over their head in place of a hat during the morning service). This is true of all those praying, and not just the chazzan. The source for this is found in halacha, where wearing a hat is a standard sign of respect and proper dress. Those communities that pray wearing just a kippah explain that in today's society wearing a hat is no longer a normative part of dress, and point out that even the president does not wear one even at state events. Both practices have halachic validity. Now, I imagine that the practice you mention for the chazzan to either wear a hat or a tallit, is probably based on the custom of the synagogue that wants the chazzan to be dressed in a most fitting manner. Wearing a hat (as we wrote) is mentioned in traditional sources as correct attire for prayer (though, as we mentioned, that may well have changed in modern times), and as such the synagogue may have a rule requiring the chazzan to wear a hat. If he does not have one, he could wear a tallit instead, which, when worn over the head, takes place of the hat. In short – the chazzan should certainly follow the practices of the synagogue – hat, tallit or not, as the case may be. I hope this is of some help to you. Blessings.