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Kippah-Wearing Jewesses

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?

Elana: Yes.

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?

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24 Comments

""Peasant Weavers' tallesims are extraordinary. They are hand woven in an array of spiritual rainbow colors. When you envelope yourself in one you feel the presence of the Schinah. He sells them at many Judaica fairs and art shows and Kallahs. I was recently in Jerusalem and spotted a woman wearing one in shades of lavendar and purple at the Wall on Jerusalem day and was able to identify it as a "Peasant Weaver" Tallis. I asked her where she got it and she said she bought it at a Judaica fair in Westchester, NY. Kol Hakavod to peasant weaver.

I'm also a jewish women, who in high school, wore a kippah every day. I felt that it made me stand out as a jew (which I believe to be a good thing). Sure, I got a lot of questions, and mumbles from the gentiles, but I continued to wear it. I contemplated taking it off, but I realize that I feel better about myself with it on.

I've always felt very similarly to the author about kippot. I have a few, always on the decorative side, but I've always felt slightly uncomfortably wearing them. Hopefully I'll manage to change that, because in the tiny synagogue which I attend during the school year it is clearly customary for everyone to wear a kippah and a tallit. I had left both of mine at home (not expecting to miss Judaism so badly) but intend to try to wear them. I've always adored my tallit though.

Why do women have to shave their heads after marriage? Anyway, there's nothing wrong if a woman wants to wear a kippah. If that's her way of showing her faith to G-d, so be it. There are a lot of designed kippot in the market and women can choose from a wide variety. Other designs don't look like a man's kippah and are adorned with different beads which suited women well.

It is the men that are separated from the women, not the other way around, in shul. The orthodox think that the men will be distracted from their prayer if they see women (since we all know, orthodox women are so HOT), so they are the ones separated. And in those synagogues that do separate (the orthodox) women are not equal at all, whether they're wearing a tallit and kippah or not, they still don't count for a minyan, which means inequality. Women aren't wearing tallit and kippah in shul to "make people realize" anything. It's just what feels right for them.

Uh, Wait... WHAT?! Wearing men's underwear is comfortable? That's totally bizarre. Wearing tzitzit is strange enough, but men's underwear? Oy G'vault!!!!

I am a twenty-year-old Jewish female who wears the kippah at all times. It was a huge decision for me when I made the choice to wear it all the time, because I knew I would face questions, criticisms, even discrimination based on the combination of my outward display of commitment to my faith and (to put it mildly) my 'quirkiness'. Others would think it was a fashion statement, I was just trying to be different, or that I didn't know what it meant. There are people who come up to me and politely ask if I am Jewish, and then if women are allowed to wear the yamulke. However, I have also gotten more offensive reactions. But anyone who has asked has gotten a very serious response, and in the end it is between G-d and myself: if this helps me to walk through each day with a heightened awareness of my actions, than I am sure that is all that matters.

I wear a kippah almost all the time, from the time I get up in the morning, until I go to bed at night. Sure you face a lot of questions about the fact of a women donnig a garment that many view as male. But hey, this is the modern world, women are even allowed to wear pants, so why not a garment that's is based on minhag (tradition) and not halachic. I love wearing it, it reminds me of the presence of G_d and yes it does change a persons behaviour, to remind me to be a better Jew all the time. A person thinks twice before doing something stupid if they are aware that they are identified as religious. It is just the way things work.

I wear a Kippah...primarily during davening and on Shabbat and Yom Tov and sometimes at pro-Israel demonstrations, but I have been considering wearing it everyday. I only for sure "don't" wear it when I attend an Orthdox shul, out of respect for their minhag.

I only wear tallit provided by my local shul when in the synagogue's sanctuary (conservative), but mainly because I haven't found one yet that I can afford for home davening use.

I was not raised religious at all. In fact I didn't even realize I was Jewish until age 9 or 10, because my dad was not Jewish and my Jewish mom was not religious, and she didn't explain it until then.

Although I have identified as a "Hebrew" or "Jew" since childhood (since the very day I found out I was a Jew). However, I only started learning Hebrew and attending shul on Shabbat Hagadol 5769 (last year). I didnt even formally receive my Hebrew name until then.

To some extent, maybe I am more excited abot wearing a kippah because of this, maybe I feel I spent too long not being clear that I was a Hebrew?

To me wearing a yarmulke has little to do with "feminism" or showing that I am "equal to men", because really, women are more* "special" than men in Judaism: woman was created after man. This implies a more advanced development. This is the reason that only women are allowed to recite the blessing "Blessed are You, Hashem, G-d of the universe, Who made me according to His will."

To me, the kippah serves the same function as it does for men, but it doesnt make me any more "like a man" than studying Torah does. I do have short hair, but no one thinks I'm a man when they see me in a kippah, they think I'm a "Jew".

A kippah reminds me that there is always someone "above" me, providing some humility.

It also, for me, represents identification with the Jewish people. Since I'm half black and half Ahskenazic / Irish Jew, Most people think I'm Hispanic from looking at my skintone/hair. My kippah makes clear that I am not ashamed to be a Jew, and that I do have some degree of religious observance. Most non-Jews do not know if men or women wear kippot, they just know it's something that "Jews" wear.

This is why I plan to wear it more often now, as well as the fact that G_d is not just above me while davening, but all the time!

B"H

I started wearing a kippah when I had an experience in my workplace that tested my ability not to humiliate someone in public.

I have a Design degree in Fabrics and started making kippot, since I wear these every day and need something to match my whim. Lately I have made kippot for fund raising at our shul.

I like georgeous fabric,pearls, beads, crystals, ribbons, sequins, bells, flowers, whatever stikes my fancy. Some kippot are are elegant in Breakfast at Tiffany's kind of way, others are so light they hardly exist. For every kippah I make clips to hold them covered in the same fabric. My kippah come in many shapes, and I'm constantly trying new things.

Men's kippot are boring....womens kippot need to be a welcoming accessory in order to work for me. I am constantly getting compliments on my kippah (almost regardless of wich on I wear) and I want to be a visible Jew in a city with a visible muslim population.

I wear a kippah in order to feel the hand of G-d on my head as a reminder to find the mitzvah in the moment. My life is brighter since I started wearing a kippah.

My parents came to this country from Russia as young teenagers (later meeting in Chicago) in 1909 and 1911, the same era in which "Fiddler" takes place. At that time it was indeed the custom in devout families for the wife to work while the husband/father studied Torah. I have been told that in my maternal grandparents' marriage--traditionally arranged, with their first meeting under the chuppah--my grandmother ran a grocery store until they left Russia, so that my grandfather could continue his Torah studies. Once they arrived in this country, however, because of both the language barrier and what they perceived of American customs, interpreted by an adult son who preceded them here, my grandfather found work (at $3 a week!) and my grandmother then became a fulltime homemaker. My understanding today is that in many ultra-Orthodox communities, both in the U.S. and other countries, it is still the custom, if economically feasible, for the husband to remain the student and Torah scholar, the wife being the bread-winner.

As a Jewish woman who grew up in a secular/reform house and decided to become orthodox during my college years I have a very different view of headcoverings. I started covering my head/hair when I got married and wear scarves, hats and wigs. I mainly wear wigs because I work in the corporate world and my headcovering allows me to look normal.

I grew up attending egalitarian/reform services in which there were many female rabbis and other congregants who wore kippot/tallis. I actually had a bat mitzvah and did the same. I now sit on the woman's side of the mechitza among a sea of women in hats and feel completely comfortable connection to G-d in this way.

I do not shave my head and neither do my friends. There is a small percentage of Satmar Chasidim who still adhere to this practice, instituted after villages were raided by various pogroms in Eastern Europe. Some of my friends keep their hair short mainly for comfort and practicality. I leave my hair long and choose to keep it under a wig in public but wear my hair down in my own house. My headcovering is a crown upon my head. Honestly, I think if Jewish women want to wear kippot in the synagogue or public it's a good thing because they are covering their head and showing that G-d watches over us.

my chorus class is going to perform "fiddler on the roof" and in the opening song "tradition" something surprised me. maybe you can help me -- the line that i found this in was "who must know the way to make a proper home, a quiet home, a kosher home. who must raise a family and run the home, so papa's free to read the holy book." i was under the impression that in that time period, only the rabbi was permitted to read the torah. i informed my teacher of my suspision that perhaps the line is wrong and was only used for rhyming purposes. she, in turn, told me to research it and find out as much as i can. please help me. thank you.

-amanda

I am a reform jewish female who always wears a Tallit for prayer at the synagogue and sometimes also at home when I pray in the morning. However I could never get myself to wear a kippa. For me it is a totally male thing. The mitzvah of Tzitzit applies to everybody but the kippa developed as a male coustom. If women feel the need to cover their head to be reminded of G-ds presence, there should be more female ways to do so, there are some beautiful crochet kippot for example which don't look like the ones men wear. For myself I decided to wait to wear one untill I get married, than it like a mixture of wearing a Kippa and covering because I am married.

I totally agree. Bald women' heads after marriage are totally unacceptable.

Tzitis,

I fell upon your comment that you wear men's underwear because you find them more comfortable. I understand what you mean. I believe preference of underwear can vary depending upon size and shape of the individual, and their preference to the type of material. I am a heterosexual male who has found the same about some women's underwear. In general, I believe men's are comfortable, but accept that God made me with a rear-end shaped more like a woman. I have to buy clothes about two sizes larger in the waist to accommodate it. I believe this problem also caused men's underwear (briefs are my preference) to pinch me in the legs, since they are not made with elastic. Well, I tried several types of women's underwear and found most to be at least equally uncomfortable for various reasons (shape, size, material, etc.). There were two that I found that I find more comfortable. I do wear them sometimes, but because of the fear of people finding out and thinking I wear them because of orientation or a fetish, I usually wear men's. It is also too embarrassing to me to shop for and buy them. Do you feel the same?

Women who wear kippot do so for a variety of reasons and our observance varies widely.

True, men are also separated from women. However, with all due respect, what bothers me about the mechitza is that the women have no access to the Torah (it is on the men's side) and are not allowed to read Torah. So this is not a case of "separate but equal" if that is even possible. Also the mechitza makes me feel objectified and exoticized.

Some women do wear peyos. Some don't. Again, this is individual choice and interpretation.

Just my 2Ìâå¢. My opinion. I know others feel similarly, however.

This is just plain out of curiosity, I don't mean any offense, so I hope I don't upset anyone:

I must say I don't really understand the reason a woman should wear a kipa, talit, or tzistizit. I suppose it is to make people realize that women are equal to men? These women who do wear kipot do they also do the things required of women? Family purity laws for example... or do they just take on what men do?

People always notice and mention to me how "women are seperated from men in shul" yet who says the women are anymore seperated than the men? Maybe the men are seperated from the women? In any case if wearing tzistziit etc is to show that women are equal to men what good is it? Isn't it G-d's rule so how can one disprove what G-d has decided? And if it is to prove to men then what good is following a religion that a man has made?

Is a wig or a scarf considered opressive? Why not wear a woman's hat? In any case if kipot are ok why don't women shave off their hair and only leave the sides long (lange payes)? Men also do that...

Just my thoughts, again I don't mean any offence.

Thanks. chavatzellet@yahoo.com

I grew up Orthodox as a young child and then Conservative in the years when Conservative was close to Orthodox. In my teens my parents joined the Reform Temple. I could not shake the idea that tallit and kippah were for men only.

I was once refused an aliyah to the Torah because I could not bring myself to put on a kippah and tallit.

It was only when I had an adult Bat Mitzvah at the Conservative synagogue at the age of 53 that I finally donned a kippah and tallit, given to me, by the way, by an Orthodox male Israeli for my Bat Mitzvah. Since then I always wear the kippah and tallit. I love the way the tallit envelopes me and the way the kippah completes me in making the transition from daily life to the sphere of prayer and focus on the spiritual.

I don't think Orthodox women actually shave their heads (at least not most). Isn't the point of wearing a head covering or wig so that the woman's hair is only for her husband's view/touch? I don't think the wearing of a wig or other head-covering is inherently misogynist.

I relate to a lot of what Elana said! I am a rabbinic student and I often wrestle with questions of what it means to be "kavod kippah" and when I should don or doff my own kippah. (I am not kavod kippah all the time; at this point, I wear a kippah whenever I am actively "doing Jewish," e.g. leading services, studying Torah, davening, pastoral care visits, etc.) I wrote a post about this at my blog last year, which is still one of my favorites; it's called Being Visible.

When I think about women wearing kippot, I think about the (to me) barbaric issue of women shaving their heads after marriage and wearing wigs. If we can separate the idea of having something on your head as a sign of being a religious Jew (not that I personally wear a kippah, myself), then maybe we can separately attack the (to me) misogyny of shaving women's heads after marriage, and then the wearing of wigs as kippah-equivalents.

Well, I don't know that I "advocate" for it, but I'm a woman who wears tzitzit... I also wear men's underwear, though... not that I find the two to be related. Men's underwear is higher quality and more comfortable. I wear tzitzit to remind me to be holy.

Not to be a wise guy, but I have never heard, or heard of, women advocating that women wear tzitzis, despite their insistence on donning kippah and talit. Is this because most interested women view tzitzis as men's underwear and therefore have an aversion to them? My question may be silly, but it's sincere.

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How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Kippah-Wearing Jewesses." 10 July 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 22, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/kippah-wearing-jewesses>.

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