Confession: I am a progressive Jewish feminist with a strong aversion to wearing a kippah. I often parade around town wearing men's cargo shorts, I sport short-and-spiky fauxhawk-ish hair, and can feel at home in a tie and blazer over baggy khakis. I usually wear a tallit when I pray. But wearing a kippah in synagogue makes me feel shockingly unfeminine and terribly self-conscious.
When I was instructed by my rabbi (in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah) that it was mandatory to cover my head on the bimah, I told my mother that I would wear a wide-brimmed classy hat. So off we went to Monsey, NY—home to a thriving ultra-Orthodox community—to pick out two dazzling hats (one for Friday night, and one for Saturday morning) intended for the heads of shul-going married women. It took several attempts before a Monsey saleswoman actually agreed to do business with a soon-to-be Bat Mitzvah girl, but when I finally marched out of a store with the hats of my dreams adorned with delicate bows and velvet, my kippah-free pride was unparalleled. Now, when I chant Torah, I generally wear my $5.00 hipster hat or some kind of bandanna in lieu of a kippah, a doily (which my mother taught me was for a cake, not for a head), and in lieu of a femininely styled wire-constructed kippah with pearls and rhinestones.
But deep down, I would like to be a woman who can wear a kippah comfortably and feel proud in it. I admire kippah-wearing women. I almost envy them. And if I'm amenable to wearing a tallit, why should I have a problem with a kippah? Often, women wear them together as a color-coordinated set. I tracked down a fellow feminist Jewess who is my age and not a rabbinical student. As it happens, she used to wear a kippah all the time. In fact, she wore it to her job at Planned Parenthood. So I inquired:
JN: What about wearing a kippah appeals to you?
Elana: When I wore a kippah all the time, (or "rocked the yarmulke 24/7" as my brother put it) it was out of the feeling that it brought me some sort of protection and reminded me to live my life in service to G!d -- to be holy at all times. I also liked that people recognized that I was Jewish immediately when I wore it. I liked that I could wear it at work and be visibly feminist and pro-choice by the nature of my job -- and also visibly religious. When I worked in the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, it made me think more about the power (and dare I say, holiness?) of what I was doing. I asked G!d for help a lot in those days, to help the very troubled and often abused women I worked with. I also enjoyed the sort of gender-bending status it brought. Jews and non-Jews alike were surprised to see me, a woman, wearing it. It made me feel subversive and powerful.
JN: You enjoy wearing it in synagogue, but why wear it all the time?
Elana: I guess for the reason of reminding me that G!d is with me, G!d is everywhere, all the time, not just in synagogue.
JN: Did it ever make you self-conscious?
Elana: Absolutely. People would often holler "SHALOM!" at me. I felt more visible, not only as a Jew, but just less anonymous in general. I got a lot of questions about it, pretty much on a daily basis.
JN: Do you think all progressive Jewish women should be required to wear a kippah in synagogue?
Elana: I think it's a personal choice. I don't think there is a "feminist stance" on the issue or that wearing one is right or wrong. Wearing a kippah for men or for women is not a matter of halacha (law), it's a minhag (custom). I do think that since men must wear one while on the bimah reading Torah or leading services, women should too. I think the choice should be made out of reasons deeper than fashion.
JN: What ultimately led you to stop wearing your kippah during the day?
Elana: It wasn't really a thought-out decision. I'm ashamed to say it, but I think a big part of it was the visibility, the questions, the self-consciousness. I went to Dyke March in San Francisco and I wanted to wear my kippah and march shirtless. I felt like I couldn't do both! And what about when I took the train on Shabbat to go to synagogue? Should I take off my kippah on the train because I was breaking Shabbat? Another big reason was that I moved out of the dangerous California neighborhood where I lived and moved back to MA, and worked for a Jewish organization, so I didn't feel the need either for protection or to wear my Jewish identity so visibly. I still consider going back, though. I kind of liked it. I really like hats in general, and I feel a sense of security and presence when I take the minute, with kavannah (intention), to put a kippah—or something to serve as one—on.
JN: If you had two children, a girl and a boy, would you require both to wear a kippah in synagogue?
That’s just one perspective from one kippah-wearing Jewess. Surely, there are others of you out there with your own stories to share. How do you feel about women wearing kippot? And how do you feel about other head-coverings as part of ritual practice or self-identity?
How to cite this page
Namerow, Jordan. "Kippah-Wearing Jewesses." 10 July 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 2, 2016) <https://jwa.org/blog/kippah-wearing-jewesses>.