Rabbi Rachael, Where is Your Kippah?

Weekly Bulletin

Sent Out October 12, 2017

Rabbi Rachael, Where is Your Kippah?

By now you may have noticed that I don’t wear a traditional kippah. You may have also noticed that I do wear a headband/headscarf or a hat. Sometimes the headscarves are small, dark, and hard to see, other times they are colorful, large, and elaborate.

The custom of a kippah is just that, a minhag, a custom. There is no commandment in Torah to wear a head-covering, though you can find a Talmudic story about a young boy covering his head as a way to remind himself of God’s presence. Today, the kippah signals Jewish identity, and it remains, for some, a reminder of God’s presence in this world.

Hundreds of years after the custom began for people to wear a head-covering in prayer, and later at all times, one of our Law Codes, the Shulchan Aruch (16th c.), codified that you should not walk bare-headed for more than a few meters! 

Okay, but what does it mean to cover our head? How much of our head should be covered? What’s the smallest thing you can wear, what’s the typical size? 

These were questions I thought about as I decided to find an alternative way to cover my head. For me, the kippah has not been the right fit for my Jewish and feminine identities. Even the beautifully decorated, more feminine kippot never felt like an authentic representation of my Judaism and the way I am and seek to be in the world.

So I turned back to our tradition. I wondered, how have women covered their heads besides wearing a kippah? The most common forms were and remain: sheitels (wigs), hats, and headscarves, typically worn as a sign of modesty after a woman became married. 

A sheitel does not really fit with my Jewish identity, but hats and headscarves sparked an interested. Hats are tricky because American customs typically recommend removing a hat indoors, but during the winter you will sometimes catch me with a hat as my head-covering. 

My usual go-to is the headscarf. During rabbinical school I started putting one on every morning, I experimented with different sizes, and after I got married, I decided to try to keep the width of the band to about the size of my palm. Going back to the question of the size of a head-covering, I discovered a plethora of forums and blogs about kippah sizes. Most of the “rulings” were from individual, Orthodox rabbis who were essentially guessing in the same way that I would guess. “Size of the palm sounds about right,” “make sure someone else can see it from any side,” or “two corners of a yarmulke when folded into quarters should extend from the knuckle of the forefinger to the knuckle of the baby finger when making a fist” — you can see that the opinions vary greatly, but for my needs, the palm of my hand seemed like the most compatible opinion.

As a female Reform rabbi, I had found my fit, the headscarf. In many ways it is a daily reminder of God’s presence around me, and in connecting back to a sign of modesty, it is a reminder for me to be humble in this world. It empowers me to think more about how I behave in this world rather than how I look (I can worry a lot less about my hair), and at the same time, I feel strong and grounded.

As I wrap the scarf around my head each morning I recite the following:

“As I place this fabric over my head, I acknowledge that there is something greater than me in this world, and as I wrap the fabric around, I know that I am part of what makes this world great. I am strong. I can conquer the day.

Blessed are You, Adonai, who strengthens my steps.”