Do I Let My Son Wear a Kippah To a Cousin’s Christening?

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Dear Miriam,

My Jewish family is attending the Christening of our nephew/cousin this weekend. (This part of our family lives in a rural part of the country and is, obviously, Christian.) Our 7-year-old, who wears a kippah to school and to Shabbat services weekly (but not usually at other times in his life) has asked if he can wear his kippah to the church. (His dad won’t be wearing his kippah during the visit.). I want my kids to be proud of being Jewish, and to tell them they can’t wear a kippah seems wrong. But, at the same time, I’m hesitating. (FWIW, his preferred kippah of choice has a big Jewish Star in the center. It’s not subtle). What say you?


Kippah at the Christening


Dear Kippah,

I would start by asking your son why he wants to wear his kippah. Ask the question, without judgement, and then wait a long time for him to answer. I expect you’ll learn a great deal by giving him an uninterrupted opportunity to process his own request. It’s not fair for me to speculate, but I imagine this will be a chance for you to gain some insights into his thinking about the different religions within his family, about his own religious identity, and about being a Jew in America right now. 

That’s not an answer about whether to wear or not to wear his kippah, but it’s an important part of parenting, and taking this time is more important than whatever the eventual outcome is. But, I understand that you will also need to come to a conclusion about what to do this weekend.

One option is to tell your son that since it’s not traditional to wear a kippah in a church, out of respect for the religious practices of this side of his family, he actually shouldn’t wear one. You could make a comparison to what happens when a non-Jew enters a synagogue and is asked to put on a kippah. You could also use this as an opportunity to talk about other kinds of religious headcoverings, which may provide some additional context (perhaps including some Catholic headcoverings that look an awful lot like kippot). 

Another option is to tell him that you are happy he wants to represent himself Jewishly at the event, but the best option is to pick a kippah that blends in a little more. This could be a chance to talk about how different clothes are good for different occasions. If he wears a school uniform or plays a sport, you could draw comparisons with the idea of conformity in certain settings. You could also generally talk about what it means to blend in versus stand out and in what circumstances we might choose one option or the other.

You can also talk specifically about what it means to be a Jew in a non-Jewish space. You can say that people where this part of your family lives don’t know a lot of Jewish people. You can say that people might ask him a lot of questions or make assumptions about him, and while sometimes that’s fine and he can choose that path, on a day that’s about his new cousin and his family, you’d prefer that the attention stay on the baby.

My answers would be different if your child wore a kippah every day, and if his dad did, too. My answers would also be different if you mentioned any specific religious tension with this part of your family. In the absence of information in either direction, I think you have to use your best judgment that balances allowing your kid to express himself Jewishly while also creating the best possibility for a comfortable experience for all of you. 

Lest you think you’ve gotten to the end of this column and I haven’t told you what to do, I also think you should ask the parents of the new baby, or, if possible, another relative who lives in their town and goes to their church. The way they respond will likely give you helpful insights into the potential reaction of their community at large. Maybe that response will help sway you one way or the other, or at least you can gather information that will help prepare you for what you, and your son, might encounter.

Be well,