Saturday, October 17, 2009


As most people know, it is a tradition among Jews to keep the head covered.

Whether one covers the head at all times or only when engaging in religious activity is one of those matters that distinguishes between the various denominations. Orthodox (and some Conservative) Jews always keep their heads covered; Conservative Jews typically while at synagogue or at other religious functions; Reform Jews not at all.

Wearing a headcovering is a way of acknowledging God’s presence. While the Talmud states that one should cover the head “in order that the fear of heaven be upon you,” there is no formal requirement that one do so: it is neither a Torah commandment nor one of rabbinic origin. It is, rather, a custom (minhag) that through long and widespread practice has acquired the force of law.

The archetypical Jewish headcovering is the skullcap, AKA the yarmulke (in Yiddish) or kippah (in Hebrew). Another Yiddish term, kappel, comes to us through the old Gothic and is related to the word “chapel,” the distinctive architectural feature of which is the skullcap-like dome.

Kippot come in all styles and varieties, from the velvet hemispheres favored by ultra-religious Haredi Jews (who will also wear a black fedora atop their kippot), to the half-dollar-size knitted versions used by Modern Orthodox. Amongst Conservative Jews, you’ll see everything from the classic sateen “beanie” (with or without a button at the apex, lined or unlined) to medium-sized leather versions.

It’s common practice to hand out customized kippot at special events such as weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, et al. Usually these are inscribed with the names of (say) the bride and groom, the location, and the date of the event, and make dandy keepsakes. Over the years, I have amassed a considerable pile of these giveaway yarmulkes... in no small measure because of my regular Sabbath attendance at synagogue.

I have yarmulkes in every style and color. I have yarmulkes that range in age from over sixty years old to brand spanking new. And, in an effort to curb my natural Pack-Rat Tendencies, it’s gotten to where I am very picky about the kippot I keep. These days I favor the leather models, although cloth versions may pique my interest if they have a suitable design.

Yes, design. Kippot can be had with all kinds of nutty motifs: music, baseball, you name it Some people wear personalized kippot with their names embroidered or stitched in; some have their favorite sports teams’ logos appliquéd... the varieties are mind-boggling.

But last Saturday, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were present at a Bat Mitzvah where the Giveaway Kippot were... strangely inappropriate.

No, it’s not like they had crucifixes or crescents imprinted upon them. (Man, that’d be weird.) No, there were cream-colored leather, with various Designer Logos imprinted thereon in silver. Dior. Dolce & Gabbana. Fendi. Chanel. You get the picture.

A kippah is supposed to remind you that God is always above you. These seemed to be intended to remind people that the Shopping Mall is just down the street. Feh.

SWMBO and I looked at each other, thinking the same thing. Blogpost!

Did I keep one? Of course I did. For evidence. Plus, it was leather.

My motto: “Finders, kippahs... losers, weepahs.”

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