Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon
Question: Is one allowed to pray while wearing a baby carrier on his or her chest with a sleeping baby inside?
Answer: First we should note that if the baby is awake and makes noise, so that he or she disturbs other people nearby, it is clear that this is a problem – both halachically and from the ethical point of view with respect to the other people. But even if the baby is asleep there are two problems to contend with.
Interfering with the Concentration while Praying
Based on the passage in Berachot 23b, the Shulchan Aruch rules, "When somebody is praying he should not hold in his hand teffilin or a holy book, or a full bowl, a knife, money, or a loaf of bread, because he will pay attention to make sure that they do not fall, and this will disturb his concentration" [96:1-2]. This was written specifically in reference to the Shemona Essrei, but Pri Megadim broadens the scope to include the rest of the prayers too (quoted in Mishna Berura 96:1). Birchei Yosef (96:1) and the Mishna Berura (96:4) write, "in the same way, one is forbidden to put a baby in front of him during prayers." This would mean that a person should not pray while holding a baby.
However, there might be a difference between the two cases. Birchei Yosef and the Mishna Berura are referring to a baby who is awake, sitting next to (or on) the person who is praying. In this case the parent is required to pay attention to the child and to make sure that he or she does not fall, and this can cause a serious disturbance to the parent. But a baby who is protected and sleeping in a carrier will not interfere directly with the one who is praying.
In spite of this, anybody who wants to bring a child with him in a carrier should carefully consider whether he or she can reach the same level of concentration as usual, or if the very fact that the child is present is a serious disturbance. (It will be necessary to repeatedly check if the baby is awake or not, and so on.) It is not easy for somebody who is praying to completely disassociate from the world around and to concentrate completely on the prayers. Holding a baby close to the body in a carrier can add a significant challenge to this important task.
An Inappropriate Way to Appear before a King
During the Shemona Esrei, when a person is privileged to stand directly before the Holy One, Blessed be He, the sages required the person to appear in a respectable way. The basic requirement is to cover the private parts and the upper part of the body (that is: the stomach and the back – see Berachot 24b; Shulchan Aruch 91:1). In addition, it is necessary to wear respectable clothing (Berachot 10b), which is defined as being such that "the people of that area" are able to stand "in front of great people" (Rambam Hilchot Tefilla 5:5; Shulchan Aruch 91:5-6). Otherwise, the respect shown for heaven would be less than that shown for a mere human being.
This obligation of a presentable appearance involves not only the clothing itself but also the appearance in general. This can be seen from the fact that the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch bring as an example that a person should not "stand up to pray with his 'aphunda.'" The Mishna Berura explains that this is "a hollow belt where money is kept," or a pouch. The Mishna Berura notes that "it is not respectful to stand this way before G-d," even though it is not an article of clothing. Thus we see that the overall appearance must be appropriate for standing "in front of great people."
In our specific case, it is clear that a person would not go to a meeting with a prominent person while wearing a carrier with a baby inside. Such an appearance is not appropriate for an encounter with "prominent people," and certainly not for a meeting with the King of All Kings. Thus, this should be prohibited under normal circumstances.
Should a Person Not Pray at all?
One subject to be discussed is the case where the only viable alternative to praying while wearing a baby carrier is to miss the prayer completely. With respect to this question, the two requirements for appropriate clothing that we saw above lead to two different conclusions.
With respect to covering the upper part of the body with a shirt, the Rambam writes, "If he did not cover his heart... and he does not have with what to cover it, since he has covered his private parts his prayer is accepted after the fact – but a priori he should not pray." [Hilchot Tefilla 4:7]. The Biur Halacha derives from this that if a man cannot cover his heart he should not pray at all (91:1). Perhaps this is also implied by the text of the Shulchan Aruch, "One is forbidden to pray unless his heart is covered" [91:1], meaning that a priori one should not pray at all in this case.
On the other hand, based on the requirement of respectable clothing like that worn when "standing before prominent people," such a statement does not appear in the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch. Thus it seems that they feel that a person without completely respectable garments can pray if there is no other alternative. The Book Avnei Yoshfeh explicitly discusses this distinction (Tefilla, Chapter 1).
In view of the above, where it is clear that what is problematic in praying while wearing a carrier is related to the need for respectable clothing, it would seem that a person can indeed pray with a carrier that has a baby, if the only other alternative is not to pray at all.
Preferably, one should avoid holding a baby in a carrier while praying, even if the baby is asleep. This is true both because of the fact that the one who is praying will not be able to concentrate properly, and also because it is not a respectable way to appear before a king. After the fact, if the only alternative is not to pray at all, it is possible to pray even while wearing a baby carrier.