Reprinted at the request of many who attended Limmud Conference, Warwick, UK, December 2011
Original printing in Israel’s Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon newspaper, December 2009
Don’t be shocked. But I need to be honest. I am contemplating taking off my kippah. No, do not worry. I have no intention of becoming irreligious, or even less religious. Far from it. In fact, I want to become more religious and have come to the conclusion that my kippah prevents me from doing so.
All my life I am trying to become religious, i.e. genuinely religious, but so far I have bitterly failed. Oh yes, I am observant, even “very observant.” I try to live by every possible halacha. It’s far from easy and boy, do I fail!
But that is not my problem. My problem is that I don’t want to be observant. I want to be religious, and that is an entirely different story.
Sure, living in accordance with halacha is certainly a crucial component of being religious, but it is not what makes me religious. To be religious is to allow God entry into my thoughts, my deeds, what I see and what I feel. It is to have a constant, intense awareness of being in His presence, seeing His fingerprints everywhere, and living up to that awareness.
Halacha should be a constant reminder, an appeal to be attentive to Him, even in the midst of our day-to-day mundane affairs. But is it? It should teach us that even our trivialities need to become holy and be worthy of God, so that our common deeds reach Heaven. But does it accomplish that goal? Halacha is the external garment of an inner spiritual process which should be stimulated by those very halachic acts. But does this happen? For it to occur, much more has to be accomplished. To become religious is to face opposition, even of oneself – to dare, to defy. The way to reach God is through spiritual warfare, and all we can hope for is to catch a glimpse of His existence. It is an ongoing event. As the Kotzker Rebbe once said, if you cannot win, you must win. Only a pioneer can be heir to a religious tradition. Faith is contingent on the courage of the believer. This is the task of halacha. To teach us how to confront ourselves when standing in the presence of God and never give up, even against all odds. To be worthy.
But for many observant Jews, religion means living in security and peace of mind. This is the “dullness of observance,” a religious conditioning which turns genuine religiosity and the experience of God into a farce. People are more afraid of halacha than they are in love with God. Halacha is a challenge to the soul, not its tranquilizer.
Now I realize that one of the main reasons for my failure to be religious is my kippah. Let me explain. I want to put my kippah on, but I realize that to do so I need to take it off. I don’t want to wear it. I want to put it on as a daring religious act, a declaration to God that I wish to live in His presence. Not as a spiritual condition but as an act of elevation and moral grandeur.
The problem is that my kippah no longer carries this message. Its main purpose is to disturb, but every morning when I get out of my bed and put it on, it then disappears into my subconscious. It is always on my head and therefore never there.
When I began to be interested in Judaism and considered sincerely “giving it a try,” I started covering my head when I went to synagogue and when I ate. I even dared to sit with my kippah when having a snack with my non-Jewish friends from the Gymnasium, the high school I attended in Holland. There was no one else there of Jewish descent besides my dear brother and perhaps one more person. I was very conscious of my kippah. I needed to take it off so that whenever I’d put it on again, I’d feel it on my head. This was very exciting. It was a happening. It made me proud, and I was filled with awe. My kippah reminded me that there was Somebody above me. Yes, it existentially unsettled me. It made me wonderfully uneasy. What a magnificent and majestic feeling! Living in the presence of God! I think I was a bit afraid of it. My hands trembled when I put it on. Not because of what my non-Jewish friends would say (they were most sympathetic), but because of what I would feel. What a responsibility and privilege!
Now, 45 years later, I am so used to my kippah that I have developed a love-hate relationship with it. In fact, I realize that I lost my kippah many years ago, the moment I decided to wear it all the time. It is no longer on my head to remind me of Him. It just sits there, a meaningless object, having little to do with my attempt to be religious. It has simply disappeared from my life. So, I find myself in the midst of a “cover-up,” a depressive situation. It is most painful, and no rabbi or psychologist is able to help me. Most do not even understand what I am talking about.
But deep down I know the remedy. I need to take it off, to stop wearing it and only occasionally put it on again. Only then would I recognize it again as my friend. I would feel inspired. It would remind me once more that Somebody is above me and it is a privilege to live in His presence. It would help me to be truly religious and not merely “observant,” which is nothing but continuous boredom. If I would take off my kippah, it would once more come to life, as when I tried it in my youth. I would have a relationship with it and would begin loving it again. Oh, what a sweet thought!
But can I do it? Halachically, there is really no problem. There are enough opinions to allow me to walk around bareheaded without ever needing to put on a kippah. True, the great Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575) rules in his famous Shulchan Aruch (1) that one should always wear a head covering, but none other than the Gaon of Vilna (1720-1797) takes issue with this ruling. (2) Basing his view on the Talmud in Kiddushin 31a, he informs us that there is no obligation ever to wear a head covering. Not even when I pray, say a blessing or study the Torah. In fact, the Talmud reminds us that wearing a head covering is “only” middath chassiduth, a pious act, but not an obligation. (3) It somehow needs to be spontaneous, out of reverence for God. What the Talmudic sages clearly had in mind was that when we don a kippah our souls should be greatly aroused. After all, that is genuine piety. But now that it has become an obligation, it has begun to lose this very quality. And while our forefathers, who were great soul people, may have been spiritual enough to gain inspiration from it even when it became an imperative, most of us no longer feel any such uplifting experience. Who among us can make the claim that a feeling of piety grows within us when we wear it all the time? Alas, instead of having the kippah assist us in being pious, it has now become an obstacle. It has become counter-productive. We need to dispose of it so that we can put it on again as a deeply religious act.
But what will my grandchildren say when their grandfather will have stopped wearing his kippah? What will happen to their religiosity? Will they, who have been raised in a deeply “observant” society in which removing one’s kippah is an act of heresy and a sign of blatant secularism, ever understand what their grandfather had in mind? Will they become more religious when they see me bareheaded, only occasionally covering my head? Or will they conclude that since their grandfather no longer takes Judaism so seriously, they can follow suit? It scares the life out of me to think of the consequences. They may see my act as one of rebellion against what I love most: Judaism. Will it help when I tell them my reasons? Will they ever understand? Becoming more religious by taking off my kippah? It gives me the shivers when I think of it.
But it is not only my grandchildren that I worry about. It is also my students and my friends who may not understand why I decided what I did, and as a result may begin to become lenient in their commitment to Judaism and wearing a kippah. Will they understand that when they want to take off their kippah, because it “bothers” them, or it’s more pleasant to walk bareheaded, or they don’t want to be known as too Jewish, for that very reason they should wear it all the time? Will they understand that the difference between them and me is that they want to take it off and I want to put it on?
The story does not end here. Today, a kippah is a powerful symbol of Jewish identity which cannot be underestimated. It is a statement of Jewish pride, courage, and commitment to living with a mission. And if there’s anything I want, it’s to be a proud Jew! So, shall I leave it on despite my objections?
How difficult is my choice, now that it has become customary for Israeli criminals to wear kippoth while standing trial, so as to make a good impression on the judge. Do I want to walk in the path of sinners and sit in sessions of scorners? (4) As Cervantes would say, “Tell me thy company and I will tell thee what thou art.” I still recall, with affection, the days when those wearing kippoth were known to be upright people.
So what shall I do? I do not know. Perhaps the solution is to wear a kippah shkufa, a transparent kippah, which no one but the Lord of the Universe can see. But would that help me in my search for religiosity? I need to be bareheaded while wearing it all the time. Who would have thought that something even as simple as a kippah would become a religious problem of considerable magnitude? None other than Benedictus de Spinoza said that all noble things are as difficult as they are rare. (5) Was he speaking about his former kippah? A blessing on his head!
1. Orach Hayim 2:6
2. Biur HaGra, Orach Hayim 8:1.
3. It is well known that many orthodox rabbis of the past did not wear a head covering. In the famous orthodox school in Frankfurt am Main established by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-88), the students sat bareheaded when they studied secular topics. The famous German halachic authority of international repute, Rabbi Dr. David Tzvi Hoffmann (1843-1921), told the following story. When he came, with his head covered, to visit Rabbi Hirsch, the latter told him to take it off since it would be seen as a sign of disrespect. (Interestingly the Gra was of the opinion that one should wear a head covering when visiting a gadol hador.) Some maintain that Rabbi Hirsch himself wore a wig and may not always have covered his head with a kippah. For an informative study: Yarmulke: A historic cover-up, by Dan Rabinowitz in Hakirah, the Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law and Thought, Volume 4, Winter 2007, pp. 221-235.
4. See Psalms, 1:1
5. Ethica: last sentence
About Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. A sought-after lecturer on the international stage for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, Rabbi Cardozo is the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. He heads a Think Tank focused on finding new Halachic and philosophical approaches to dealing with the crisis of religion and identity amongst Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism. His ideas are widely debated on an international level on social media, blogs, books and other forums.
Elan Miller says
Interesting, and I wonder if you will earn yourself a lot of flak for this essay. I imagine that many will see this as irrelevant without actually taking the time to absorb your really point. You aren’t seeking attention for the sake of it, so I earnestly hope that people empathise.
That said, I still disagree. Other people see our kippot. Other people look at them, at us, and make a connection. Other people treat us in a certain way. These people also make conclusions, based on our actions, as to what it is to be religious. I can’t say that I am perfect either, but I know that I am very proud when I realise others notice me making a good example of what it is to be a religious Jew. I also feel shame when I let myself down in public, because – whether people say it or not – I know that they see my kippah on my head. It’s a public statement, and it demands that I be judged by the standards I aspire to. It lets others know that. And their actions then let me know that.
Gib Kissinger says
This is how I see it. To not wear a kippah for selfish reasons, recognizing the confusion of grandchildren, for instance, is to seek an excuse to rid oneself of some external symbol, one the author wants to “love” as he once did.
I think more acts of kindness, patience, forgiveness and such would lead him closer to others and therefore to HaShem while continuing to be, even becoming a better role model to the young, to the struggling, and to the cynics too.
Thank you for the thoughtful essay on what we in the Observant world are losing, and need to regain, a spiritual journey, and not just an external parade of rituals that polarize the Jewish world into a destructive attitude of “us against them.” We need more thought-provoking Jews to reframe the challenge in every generation and I think you’ve articulated and help bring the issue into greater focus, thank you.
Dovid Shu"b says
Sholoum Ngaleichem Rav Cardozo , leoureech joumiem touviem
It’s a very strong point the Rav made , know exactly the feeling ! This feeling , undoubtedly , got its impulse from the surrounding we live in . . .
Thanks for sharing he thought !
This seems to have little to do with the kippah, and more to do with the common feeling among ba’alei teshuvah that they’ve lost or are losing the excitement of doing things for the first time, for the purpose of serving G-d, and not as a ritual. It seems that you need to spend less time rationalizing why it’s ok to not wear a kippah and more time making it (and your “observance” more generally) personally meaningful.
David Chaim ben Chaim Pesach says
I started wearing a kipah back 2000 when I decided to become more observant. After a relationship that had gone horribly wrong with a controlling alcoholic, I moved in with my rabbi and his family. After living with them for a short while, I had an epiphany: I started keeping kosher and wearing a kipah. I wanted to be more observant as it provided me with comfort, guidance, spirituality, and a closer relationship with G-d. Now, almost 11 years later, I feel as you do, Rabbi Cardozo. I teach in a secular high school, and I have never had a problem wearing a kipah there. In fact, it’s prompted many discussions about “why”, and it’s helped my non-Jewish students understand more about me. But, I feel the same way you do. I wear the kipah for me and my relationship with G-d, but it doesn’t define my relationship with Him. I wonder if it’s even relevant anymore since my faith and understanding of Torah goes far beyond the circle of cloth clipped to my head. I still struggle with removing it because I don’t want to have to explain to those who know me why I am choosing not to wear it all the time. I revere G-d in my own way, and I sometimes feel that I would be showing the world that I no longer have the same relationship with and understanding of G-d. I still struggle with this, but I am sure that I will find my answer soon. Todah rabah, Rabbi.
Joe the Jew says
I think you are going about this the wrong way. Besides the kippah you can say the same thing about many things. Maybe you can stop keeping Shabbos just to make Shabbos more meaningful. You can start eating treif to appreciate kosher food better. You can stop saying brochos before eating so that you can appreciate thankfulness to the Creator of the world. Why not go out and hang out only with non-Jewish friends so you can appreciate the fact that you are Jewish? You can stop doing many things and then re-start. I think your logic is a bit twisted. As someone above pointed out, this is not only about you. People will see you without a kippah, your family and friends and nobody will understand and rightfully so. We don’t stop doing things just cause you don’t get that’feeling’ anymore. If you want the kippah to mean more go learn some Torah about it. I think this article creates a dangerous precedent because it suggests that when something is not meaningful anymore we just stop doing it. Besides, what’s to say that if you take if off you’ll ever put it back on….Oh, I guess you’re different. You are one of the strong ones.
maybe thats why the Rav chose kipa= an action/ ritual which as he showed is entirely minhagic in obligation- as opposed to the Torah based and rabbinic based mitzvot you mentioned… but maybe these details are trees for the forest… maybe the Rav wouldn’t even approve of such yeshivish defense…
I don’t see how your kippa is supposed to somehow give you G-d awareness. No particular mitzvah or act has the power to give you constant G-d awareness. Only your mind has that power.
Wearing a kippa is just an external statement that you are a Jew doing your best to serve Hashem!
Are you or aren’t you?
many of you miss the most important line in this essay (in my opinion). “How difficult is my choice, now that it has become customary for Israeli criminals to wear kippoth while standing trial, so as to make a good impression on the judge. Do I want to walk in the path of sinners and sit in sessions of scorners?” Given how the “Religious” are acting lately (not all, I admit) not being viewed as a part of them may be the real spiritual journey-to be able to relate to G-d without others assuming you are “one of them”-who wear a Kippa and act in ways even the most secular person would find immoral
Daphna Oren says
Identity and identification are necessarily but perhaps unfortunately two different things. The Rabbi is wrestling with implications of identity, but implications of identification are blurring the issues. Coming to peace with the former is the fundamental act of living – isn’t that what it’s all about? figuring out who we are and why we’re here? – but ironing out the “details” of the latter is similarly a complex and and teethgrinding process…
Rabbi Cordozo, yasher koach for openly talking about the tension between observance and religiosity.
It is so easy to forget, even for ba’alei teshuva, why we live as Jews or why we chose Judaism in the first place. “I live as a Jew because I am a Jew and I can’t imagine living any other way” is perhaps a good enough answer for people whose religious sentiment is defined by tradition, community, and habit. But for those of us who seek to drink the living waters of the Divine Presence, to hear God’s voice, to see his providence, to feel his love, and to live our lives in conscious awe and wonder of the Creator, blessed be he, that answer is not, and can never be, enough. We will not be satisfied unless and until Torah and Mitzvot, Tefila and Jewish community all serve as chanels for personal dveikut with the divine. (Such is the teaching of the Slonimer Rebbe and other Chassidic masters).
You want your kippa (and I want my skirt and future head scarf) to be more than symbols of identification with a particular segment of the Jewish population, but to signify and to arouse true yir’at shamayim within ourseves. Here is my suggestion to you: try putting on a different kippa than the one you’re used to every week. If you don’t want to draw attention, cover it with a black hat. But the very act of chosing a kippa that may be outside of your comfort zone will bring you back to its deeper significance.
As for me, I did stop wearing skirts for several years when I specifically did not want to be identified with the Orthodox community anymore. Baruch Hashem, when my spiritual quest came full circle, and I rediscovered that there is no better path for me than the one trodden by my ancestors, I was able to reclaim my place in the Orthodox world with new ferver. Now I know that yes, I am able to dress and live differently, but I make a conscious choice to embrace the value of sanctity, modesty, and humily, and the skirt then becomes a symbol of just that.
Dan Rosen says
While I understand the quest to attain a level of spirituality through challenge, wearing the kippah is not culprit and thus shouldn’t be the scapegoat. It has attained a position as a sign to other Jews and non-Jews. Taqking it off as a personal statement will get lost. If you want to, move somewhere where wearing it is still considered unusual. I have spent time in all sorts of neighborhoods and in many of them, I am still making a statement while wearing it. Then, when I return home, to a neighborhood in which wearing it is only somewhat unusual, I appreciate it even more.
Instead of reacting by removing the kippah, maybe remove yourself from a comfort zone. Remember — the Pilgrims came to the new world not because of religious intolerance, but because of tolerance. With no outside opposition in Amsterdam, they succumbed to assimilation.
Rabbi Cardozo wants to provoke in order to provoke thought. And this is one of his best articles so far. He is one of the only Rabbis that I know that are honest and believe that struggling with his religion is a good thing.
@David: The Rabbi would more likely pronounce it as Shalom Ngaleechem Chacham Cardozo , leorech jamiem tobiem! 😉
Izzy Kakau says
Footnote 2 should read Biur HaGra, Orach Hayim 8:6
Ayala Zonnenschein says
Rabbi Cordoza, I want to say that I attended your teachings back in the earliest days of Ohr Sameach for women. You were my portal back into Judaism and I will forever be grateful for the thought-provoking teachings you shared with us on Wednesday evenings in Jerusalem.
I find this article exciting – we all need to look at the things we do by rote and force ourselves into a new awareness. There are too many wearing kippot who have forgotten what a kippah is meant to do. Thank you for reminding us.
Frank Smith says
This guy’s taking off his kippah, Matisyahu’s taking off his beard, the Reform are taking out liturgy, Conservative take themselves out from being a public influence. On the other end of the spectrum the haraadim are taking out women…
Our own identity we are finding, “offensive”… Can’t we just be ok with being Jews – in the business of being a “beacon of light onto the nations” – and stop with our own navel-gazing? Just put “it” (the words and acts of Hashem) out there, and stop with the self-infatuation!:)
Thanks for sharing!:)
K Gersen says
Wow… such brazen honesty. Major kudos, Rabbi, I wish I experienced that type of candor growing up amongst the Orthodox community that was far more worried about what others thought about them than what G-d did. The commenters here who think that removing the Kippa sets a dangerous precedent are missing the point. It is unfortunate to me that Leah has returned back to her cherished ritual which is familiar to her. She equates the Kippa and wearing skirts as Orthodox. Quite frankly, it’s modern day hooey.
All too many children these days read Hagadahs and believe that Moshe Rabbeinu wore a black velvet kippa and skirts were “women’s clothing only.” Yet how funny it is to also see other Hagadahs showing the Egyptian men wearing their own “skirts/kilts/dress” and seeing pictures of Orthodox social gatherings 50 years ago with numerous women in fashionable yet modest women’s slacks. This lie to our community, taught in our own Yeshivot, to have our people believe that this type of external display was always what “Orthodox Jews” were all about.
It’s time to face the facts. We are losing much of our community due to it being polarized by “custom” and Rabbinical interpretation, not the pure Torah. We are not a united people because nobody can eat together – he waits 1 hour, she waits 3, he waits into the fifth hour and she waits 6 hours. One group eats rice on Pesach and the other fears seeing a grain in the house. Our single women are having children on their own with a “heter” – yet another compromised joke in the Orthodox world. And if she wears skirts, modern orthodox is usually too “modern” as is a girl who wears skirts around a shorts and t-shirt modern orthodox man. How on earth could all these “Orthodox” Jews become maritally incompatible?
It’s about time Orthodox Jews remembered what the great R. Hillel said long ago and what makes us Jews, along with the fundamental tenets of our religion. It’s hundreds of years of differences of Rabbinic law that is dividing us and there is no time when we are more desperate for Jewish Unity. If you think that means the Jewish World must wear a Kippa you’re missing the point. Jewish Beauty is far more than skin deep. We need to return to SUBSTANCE over form. Poor Leah will probably live in Borough Park and have a real hair shaytl, which is about the most mind numbing exercise of defeating the point of Rabbinic law I’ve ever seen. It’s about time we stopped fooling ourselves and being a united, Jewish people, especially religiously.
I read your essay yesterday and have not been able to get it off my mind.
I think the problem you present is not just a “ba’al teshuva” problem. It is a problem all of us struggle with daily. And if you’ll forgive my brazen chutzpah, I feel that the solution you present here is something of a cop-out. Perhaps one *can* find halachic and otherwise legitimate leniencies that would allow him to create for himself a more meaningful experience of donning his kippah. However, he will still be faced with myriad observances that present the exact same challenge, which it is not so easy to squirm out of. Prayer, for instance. That is one area in which I have struggled for years as an “FFB”. I am so frustrated when instead of having a daily conversation with my Creator, I am sitting with this book mumbling words out of it just to get it out of the way, not able to connect to them in any way because I am just so used to them. Does this mean I should stop praying? Only pray on Shabbat or Yamim Tovim? Absolutely not, say Chazal. You have an obligation.
I read an article by a very wise woman about the halachot of Taharat HaMishpacha which many women struggle to connect with. She said something that really stuck with me. She suggests that before we agree or disagree, before we protest our discomfort, let us listen to what Chazal are telling us by fashioning these halachot in this particular way. What are they telling us about our nature as women or as Jews? What are they telling us about their vision of an ideal relationship between us and our fellow man, between us and God? And what does our comfort or discomfort with these halachot tell us about us?
It appears that Chazal very deliberately created the obligation of tefilla to be tedious and routine. They could easily have ruled that three spontaneous, heartfelt prayers of our own invention could be made throughout the day, and perhaps a set liturgy only on Shabbat and Yom Tov. But instead they created a very lengthy and strict liturgy to follow every single day. Before I accuse them of having made a mistake, of creating a situation in which it is impossible to connect to God through this kind of prayer, and try to find a way to wriggle out of this obligation… let me ask myself, what are they trying to tell me? What are they trying to achieve? What can I learn from my discomfort about myself and my weaknesses in serving Hashem in the way He wants to be served?
I’m not sure I have a good answer. I was hoping I might find one at the end of your essay, and I was disappointed. If I may be forgiven for saying so, I feel that putting the “religious experience” before the “tachlis” halachic obligation is an unfortunate approach that leads many people away from Torah, and it completely misses the beauty and subtlety of the insights we could otherwise be learning from the fact that Chazal did, in fact, rule the way they did.
I hope you don’t find my remarks to be disrespectful and if you do I sincerely apologize. I just felt a need to share my thoughts after mulling this essay over since yesterday.
“But deep down I know the remedy. I need to take it off, to stop wearing it and only occasionally put it on again.”
A perhaps simple solution (due to it being permitted by Halacha) would be to occasionally take it off. This could be done when one is performing spiritual acts (or whenever spiritual inspiration is needed) while one is alone and thus avoids the other issues cited. The Kippah itself has no inherent active value (at least not regarding these matters). The value is in the fact that something is different about one’s head (being the reminder of Hashem above). When you were young the excitement and inspiration came via deviation from the norm (which happened to be not wearing a Kippah). The fact that the new norm is to wear a Kippah should not disallow the opportunity to deviate and find meaning in it.
The world is changing and we as a people are changing. We must look forward so to keep our wonderful Jewish heritage.
Some comments above are pure nonsense, no way would you or anyone like ever do anything that is G-D forbid against the Halacha but to tweak/update it so to inspire/rejuvenate your identity is only for the good.
Respect to you Rabbi.
levi kranz says
Dear g-d look at how much ur people r trying to get closer to u …
My holy brother I read ur essay and the responses .l Love wearing my kipa may I respectfully suggest a solution to ur problem with feeling connected when wearing ur sweet holy kipa maybe its time to get a new and bigger kipa so u phisicly feel it on ur head and it won’t fall off as much even when u sleep
Now as for keeping Toda laws halacha most sacred my grandfather many genorations back the dubno maggid liked to explan in moshel. If a person needs heart surgury would he go to a shoow maker no why because the show maker does not have the knowledge that a Dr has so too we need to learn the laws to have the knowledge how to approach g-d
In life when we want to get close to a person we need to know about them and if we practice the same activities and injoy the samoe thingoos we can get to be. Closer friends and spend more time together maybe even fall in love and get married forever together….so too is in our relationship with g-d we practice the laws so we can be holy and ultimately get closer and closer to hashem …
When I was in yeshiva teenager years we useto learn late Thursday nigh miishmar so I brought some food drinks for the chevra and made a matziv geshmack pleasentful inviorment and we learned shmoozed and had some nash every Thursday night the balhabatim from town came to learn in the yeshiva they were very disterbed eating nashing in the house of g-d not proper so we had a big conflicked the bottom line I said as fllows we love u balhabatim dearly but u come hear once a week we live hear in the house of g-d so we feel at home no need for introductions were close to the holy one please come more often and ul feel the same
My deer friend even as a zaidy come more often ull feel more close to the holy one ….
I use to wear a blue kipa with a big silver Mahanadi David that was my favorite kipa start a kipa collection have a different one for each day or action injoy the journy getting closer to g-d and wearing a kipa as a reminder he is keeping us safe from above ….
Ori Kahn says
Very well written and really respect your argument. For a change we have people thinking outside the box a little.
Why not just add another item to your attire, one that will symbolize that which you seek and will become mitigated by rote? Wear it when it will do you good, remove it when it seems to become too frequent.
I really admire your search for religiosity, but I’m not sure that taking off your kippah will really provide you with the push you need, whether or not it is halachically permissible. I think there are many other ways in which you can increase the feeling of your relationship with HaKadosh Baruch-Hu. I think about that sometimes when I’m davening without kavanah, but I don’t think that NOT davening and then only davening when there is something seriously wrong is going to strengthen my relationship with Hashem. I think that learning how to daven with kavanah even when everything is going well will do more to strengthen that relationship. Perhaps you should learn how to recognize the kippah on your head without having to take it off to do so? And will it really be the same as when you were younger, since you are amongst Jews and you are so used to it that you know there’s no inherent danger or risk to wearing it? Also, we must all understand that we are only human, and we can’t always be on the same spiritual level we once were. What is important is that you are maintaining the desire to strive for that, in my opinion.
It occurs to me that you might be talking about a metaphorical “kippah”, in which case, ignore my aforementioned comments.
It is a mitzvah di’oriyta for a Kohen to wear a head-covering when serving in the Temple.
We, therefore, have a strong tradition that one should cover their head when reciting the name of God.
Take off your kippah, but wear it when mentioning the name of God. Like the Kohen in the Temple, you have special garments for the service of God.
Ezra W says
Elan Miller – As this essay expresses a personal religious conflict, I do not think it is really a question of “agreement” or “disagreement”. Rabbi Cardozo seems to be playing with the idea that, for himself, the benefits of removing his kippah might outweigh the costs of not wearing it full-time; nowhere does he appear to be advocating to OTHERS within the observant community to remove their kippot. You make the noteworthy point that constantly wearing a kippah provides one with a unique opportunity to “be a light onto the nations”; but that in itself does not contradict the Rabbi’s suggestion that an important element of the religious experience is lost in making the kippah “too standard”. As with any life decision, there is a cost-benefit analysis that needs to be taken into consideration: particularly since this is not a matter of halakha, it seems reasonable to suggest that each individual ought to make the most meaningful decision for himself, accordingly.
For a less controversial option, try taking off and then putting back on your kippah when you make a bracha, or touching it to make sure it’s there. Then it’s clear that your intent is to be aware of your kippah rather than to go against the grain.
How about an argument for taking your pants off for a couple of weeks?! There’s nothing technically wrong with that either!
The fact that you’re even debating this is a testament to the fact that you are actually very aware and self conscious about your kippah – especially in places where you stand out because of it.
Chaim Solomon says
1. Firstly, the Gra you mentioned is in 8:2, not 8:1 for anyone looking.
2. I am a little bit confused with your conclusion from the Gra. All he is pointing out is that according to the technical letter of the law it is not required from the Gemara. He does not discuss whether or not it would be halacha if it was accepted as a minhag (which undoubtedly it has been). Furthermore, he concludes over there, “holy individuals who constantly stand before G-d [will wear a kippah] the rest of the day (i.e. besides when meeting a talmid chochom when it is obligatory to wear a kippah or during davening as proper behavior, see over there for more information). It seems the Gra comes to the opposite conclusion. Can you please elaborate?
Rabbi, I think I understand exactly the distinction you are trying to make. As a woman, I have been wearing a kippah all the time to keep me mindful of Hashem–and that I am not the highest being in the universe–since 1994 or 1995. Because I am a woman and there are no rules of any degree requiring me to wear a “crown” covering (as opposed to “hair” covering), and because I am frequently challenged–or at least questioned–about why I am wearing a kippah, (“women don’t do that.”) I am able to maintain a greater consciousness of my purpose in doing so than I would if it were automatic and expected. However, now I face a similar issue. We are planning to make aliyah in the next year, and as a tourist, my kippah is smiled at benignly. But I know that living in Israel this will not fly. So I am trying to find a “head/crown” covering which will have the same significance to me, but not raise eyebrows in Israel. Interesting twist on the issue. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They are very helpful to me in my search.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo says
Response by Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Thank you for all of your observations. I have learned a great deal and there is no need to apologize for disagreeing. “Great controversies are great emancipators.”
Here are some interim observations:
For those who read the essay carefully it should be clear that my sole purpose was a wakeup call. The dilemma of the Kippah is nothing more than the illustration of a much larger problem with which every religious person should struggle. Whether it is observing Shabbat, putting on Tefilin or saying the same prayers every day, the issue is how to deal with routine, imitation, and a kind of spiritual plagiarism, even of ourselves. The problem is inherent to Jewish tradition. Judaism has to deal with the need of conformity versus spontaneity, law and inwardness, halacha and aggada. It asks us to be spiritual pioneers while steeped in an old tradition. That is a difficult task.
Routine should hold us ready for the few moments in which our deeds are in agreement with our souls. To live a religious life is to live in tension. It is a kind of warfare. Judaism is a religion of the common deed and everydayness which needs to transform those very deeds into something extraordinary.
The greatest problem is that for many religious people this issue is no longer an issue. We have become so used to observance, stagnation and religious self satisfaction that we have all together forgotten that Judaism is about spiritual dissent.
Halachic living is in danger of becoming an escape from God. The question which we need constantly to ask ourselves is: What will make us perceptive to God’s presence?
I deliberately took the example of the Kippah since it was my personal first encounter with this problem and because the need of covering one’s head is not bound by absolute halachic standards and allows for some halachic options.
I will surely continue to keep my Kippah on because I am proud of trying to be a religious person. But I also want my wearing of a Kippah to disturb me and to make me feel uneasy.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
David Freedman says
As I became religious, I did not wear a Kippah right away. During my first years as a Baal Tshuvah, I wore Tzitzit under my shirt, but not a Kippah. When I chose to wear one, I wore one every day, but I have bought many colorful and different ones and change them often, so that I remember why I am wearing them. Ask my wife about my Kippah drawer and recently, I gave away over 30 of them. I still have about 25. But I also struggle with the idea of the Kippah, especially when I see a man wearing one that is dirty and tattered. I think that person doesn’t get it. For me, the choice to wear a Kippah is about nullifying my ego to G-d. So I do it! But I keep changing mine to remind me that surrendering to G-d doesn’t mean, I have to surrender myself.
Yonatan Gershon ben Chaim says
Erev Shabbat Shalom Rav
Many years ago – 24/5 – i spent some time listening to your unique Torah on a tour to Israel.. You always has a different perspective and even now when i read your columns i enjoy the provocative and stimulating discourse.
Perhaps as others have mentioned, there is a need to step back into simplicity. As a South African Jew, coming from a frumish home, i have never referred to a kippah as such but always to a yarmulke – yaarmie – in our vernacular. I do believe that the words we use play a huge role in the manner in which our minds filter ideas.. so i think you are right… if its meerely a head covering, then we’ve all lost the plot. If its merely a national symbol of some sort, then we are truly rolling down a slippery slope. But if it creates a consciousness of needing to behave in a certain way in a wider society, i believe that it is fulfilling its purpose.
Perhaps, the fact that people who don all the various styles are able to behave in an attrocious manner, waters down the import and gravitas for those who are trying. Nonetheless, chazak veamatz – – you have sparked a new consciousness and may Hashem continue to bless you with success.
Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW says
The outward doing of mitzvot can be accompanied by learning Kabbalah or Hasidut (especially Rebbe Nachman or Tanya, depending on what draws you personally). I also recommend the writings of Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, z”l; in particular, “Jewish Science and Health.” Despite a more or less contemporary presentation, he’s teaching classical Jewish (cognitive) hasidut. The change in your thinking and perception, as a result of your spiritual learning, can illuminate the doing of the mitzvot for you. Kal Tuv.
Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW says
Mrs. Tehillah Lichtenstein, wife of Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, daughter of Rabbi Hayim Hershenson, and sister-in-law of Rabbi David de Sola Poole, wrote: “…G-d cannot be perceived through the mind [i.e. intellect; even doing mitzvot] alone. If you would know G-d, do not seek merely to prove His existence, but turn to Him with your heart; affirm your union with Him, affirm His responsiveness to prayer, pray to Him; if you actually turn to G-d … speak to Him in your heart, you will be astonished to find how close He is to you, you will feel His nearness, you will have found G-d.” (“Applied Judaism,” p. 96, based on an article she wrote in the 1940’s).
Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW says
“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha said: “Why was the section of ‘Shema’ (Devarim 6:4-9) placed before that of ‘Ve-haya im shamoa’ (ibid. 11:13-21)?…one must first accept upon oneself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, and then the yoke of the mitzvot.” (Berakhot 2:2)
Elsewhere, of course, “na’aseh v’nishmah” — the emphasis is on first “doing,” etc.
“Doing” isn’t necessarily the same as inner devotion. But we’re certainly to understand that the ideal includes both.
The problem you’ve raised is that if one wants to “do,” copious directions are available. But the way to increase inner devotion (hasidut) might not be as clearly defined. The study of kabbalistic and/or Hasidic texts can be helpful, if it’s not an “intellectualized” study. Such learning has to be accompanied by some kind of practice, like Rebbe Nachman’s “hitbodedut,” or some other formal or informal meditation/contemplation. These practices support the application of the ideas into our personal, everyday lives.
Im not sure but i think that another name for kipah is yarmulkah which really means yareh malka fear of heaven . if so then when we think of the term of yirat hashem and ahavat hashem the two are on going mitzvahs that can be performed at all times ,subconsiously or not ,there are no mitzvas that can be performed to there upmost capacities, rather we strive to keep them whether in succeding to fulfil them to there upmost or not .in the mida of zrizut we are not informed of doing things in a fast manner even though the literal translation of zariz is quick !rather we are instucted to be zrizim to be aware that our situation is to be positioned in a manner that we will be able to fulfill the mitva and not machmitz (miss) it.there fore zariz .By taking of my kippah i can be MISSING OUT ON some mitzvas that come my way including being asked by another jew questions about judaism even someone looking for a minyan might bypass me also the sages thought that one sould not teach to another student if that student is not yareh shamayim ,there fore even the oppotunity to be thaght by another rabbi might be lost him thinking that i gave up the common custom that is practiced among the majority of other observant jews!! my respond is keep the lid and stay a yid!!!
Steve Brizel says
I agree with Ron. Wearing a kipah is supposed to remind the person who wears the same and the outside world that he responds to a Higher Authority. BKavod HaRav, the message that wearing a kipah is an an act of exclusion is apologetics writ large.More profoundly, the Talmud tells that since the destruction of the Temple, HaShem can only be found in this world in the proverbial four cubits of Halacha. Thus, the assertion that fear of Halacha precludes fear of HaShem strikes me as antinomian and almost R”L suggestive of the anti-Halachic views of early Christians, and heterodox critics of Halacha.
I do not understand the premise of the essay.
If a kippa has little relevance in terms of religion and halacha – why does wearing it have to evoke religious emotion? The two concepts, wearing a kippa and being religious are independant of each other.
Is the purpose of this essay to make us realise that we focus too much on the kippa or is it an exploration into moving forward in our relationship to G-d?
I would argue that if someone wants to feel religious through wearing an item of clothing, then they should look towards tefillin. HaShem tells us to “place His words on your heart” and the physical mechanism for this follows in the next verse – which describes teffillin. (Shema).
Indeed one is supposed to wear tefillin all day and we read stories of sages who did. In fact the reason we no longer wear tefillin all day is precisely because of the reasons outlined in this essay. One has to be in a suitable frame of mind when wearing tefillin and the average person cannot keep this up from dawn till dusk.
But perhaps that is our modern challenge. To develop ourselves to focus on a closeness to G-d until we are capable of wearing tefillin all day. With work and diligence, a religious Jew will reach a point where a glance at the straps on his arm will trigger the first verse – “you shall love HaShem your G-d” and evoke a genuine emotion of love towards his creator. I think such a person can then feel they have made progress towards “religious.”
These days, the kippah is really a effective symbolic representation associated with Judaism identification that can not be glossed over. This is a declaration associated with Judaism satisfaction, bravery, as well as dedication in order to coping with the objective.
Alden Solovy says
Thank you for this column. The heart and soul reflected in your examination of the kippah is just what I needed to hear. A friend of mine pointed it out to me after I published an essay about why, after making aliyah, I did not continue my practice of wearing a kippah in Israel. Here’s a link: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/my-kippah-is-usually-in-my-pocket/.