Taking on the Kippah Challenge

This past Friday night at services I spoke about the kippah as a symbol of Jewish identity and pride.  The wearing of a kippah is not a mitzvah (a commandment).  If it were, there would be a blessing recited before putting it on, in the same way that there is a blessing for the wearing of the tallit or tefilin.  But the kippah has become over time an almost universally recognized symbol of Judaism.  Virtually every observant male Jew (and some women in the Conservative and Reform Movements as well) wear kippot most of the time.  That is to say, not only when we are in shul, or engaging in ‘religious’ ritual – but all the time – at the bank, in the foodstore, at the ballpark, walking the dog, and on and on.  In this practice we not only keep ourselves connected to the tradition throughout the day, we also are wearing our faith on our sleeves, or in this case, on our heads.

I believe this is a statement that has become more powerful as Jews have become more assimilated.  Today, a Jew can navigate his or her life in every phase and never be recognized as a Jew.  Even one generation ago this was simply not possible.  Yes, our names might still identity us as Jewish, and perhaps in the fall when we take a couple of days off to attend shul for the High Holy Days, or in the winter when others celebrate Christmas and we are lighting the menorah it might still be clear that we are different.  But the vast majority of time that difference, that distinctiveness, is lost.

On the one hand this is a good thing.  It means, if you will, that we have finally ‘arrived.’  On the other hand one can easily make the argument that it has been our distinctiveness that has, in large part, enabled a sense of Jewish peoplehood to continue to exist for thousands of years.  We are right now living through the first period in Jewish history where our sense of being different may be going the way of the dinosaurs.  Perhaps it is time, in small ways, to reclaim that sense of difference, and even to celebrate it.

So in that spirit on Friday night I proposed a ‘kippah challenge.’  Pick one day this coming week (I suggested Friday the 14th) and wear a kippah all day.  If you are going to school, if you are going to work, if you have a meeting, if you are out in your neighborhood, whatever you are doing, wherever you are, wear a kippah.  If you are not used to doing so, you will feel consciously Jewish in a new way.  You will be simultaneously connecting to an ancient heritage and celebrating a modern value of respecting differences.  You will also be reminding yourself that there are still places in this world where a Jew cannot comfortably wear a kippah in public.  

At the end of services a number of people told me they would give it a shot, including some of the teenagers who were there.  I would like to hear from folks who take the kippah challenge about their experience.  You can respond here at this blog, or at the Beth El FB page – https://www.facebook.com/pages/Beth-El-Congregation-of-Baltimore/203980667310?ref=hl

good luck!  have fun!  and keep your head up high – 



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3 responses to “Taking on the Kippah Challenge

  1. Stanley Nachimson

    I have been pondering your Friday night sermonette, as well as recent discussions on the future and relevance of Conservative Judaism. What I see as the key to the future is explaining how being Jewish and following the laws and customs in directly relevant to, and beneficial to, everyday living and creating a better world. I understand your challenge regarding the wearing of a kippah – but I would like to suggest some further challenges. Perhaps we can take a lesson from one of the next few portions of the Torah and challenge folks to apply it in their family relations, or in their business, or in some of their other social circles. And then see how it makes either their life, or their family’s life, or the world for that matter, a slightly better place.

    I had an interesting discussion with a friend who works at a public school. While prayer is not allowed, they say a “school pledge” every day in which they promise to respect others, work hard, etc., etc. These are qualities which come from, I believe, some of our basic tenets – the Ten Commandments and other early sources. If we can show that living a Jewish life according to the Torah and other laws actually makes the world a better place, perhaps we have a chance at convincing later generations that it makes sense to be Jewish, to act Jewish, to join a synagogue, and to participate Jewishly.

    Appreciate your putting a challenge out there – please know that each of your sermons challenge me intellectually and morally; whether or not I agree with them!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful post – I agree with you %100 that our most significant challenge is reminding people how important a role the wisdom of the tradition can play in their lives on a daily basis. And Judaism does have something to say about business ethics, bioethics, parent-child and spousal relationships, etc, etc –
      The question is how do we get the word out? maybe one answer would be to have some kind of monthly ‘challenge’ – i.e., like the kippah challenge – but one might be business ethics, another might be say 5 blessings a day – the list could go on and on –
      hope to see you this Shabbat –

      • Stanley Nachimson

        Might be an interesting monthly series! We could meet and decide (with your guidance of course) on the challenge.

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