My Hat, It Has No Corners

This is a guest post from Brian Nelson, born and raised in Minneapolis, who has just started his year in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union College, the Reform Rabbinical School. Check out his blog.

One of the fantastic things about Jerusalem is that so many people here are Jewish. Aside from the few Shabbatons I spent in Saint Louis Park, I have never had a chance to walk down middle of the road on a Friday night and instead of being shouted at I get to hear “Shabbat Shalom” being called out. It’s absolutely fantastic and Jerusalem is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv on a Friday night.

Being in Rabbinical School and surround by future Rabbis, Cantors and Jewish Educators, one of my favorite parts so far has been being able to try out new Mitzvot and finding new ways to elevate my life.

During T’fillah I, as well as some other students, have adopted the practice of standing during Kaddish Yatome, but only reciting the responsive sections. In this way we can show our support as a community and yet still hold to the tradition of not reciting the prayer unless we are in mourning or remembering a Yahrtzeit.

Another custom I have always been fascinated by is the idea of wearing a kippah at all times.

Growing up as a member of a conservative synagogue, I learned that men always needed to cover their head during prayer, Torah study or even being in the synagogue. In the Reform Movement this mitzvah is a little bit different. When I first became involved in the Reform Movement I was struck by how few people actually wore a kippah during services. The more that I have learned, the more I have realized that this is a part of the Reform Movement; choosing to wear a kippah during the day or even during T’fillah.

Out for Dinner Around Jerusalem

I know that in America it is less common to see someone wearing a kippah outside of a synagogue, but I thought to myself, “Hey, you’re in Israel. You can’t walk a block without seeing five people with one. This is the perfect chance to give it a shot.”

I popped into a shop on Ben Yehudah Street and picked up a good-sized yamulke from the Kippah Man. (I will take a second to recommend that if you’re in the neighborhood and looking for a kippah, he has just about anything and I will be picking up a Twins and Golden Gophers one before I come back to the states.)

But why do people wear a kippah at all?

I did a little research in the last few weeks about the history of the mitzvah. Interestingly enough, my email inbox held an email from The Movement for Reform Judaism that I received about a week into my experiment. In it Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain explained that originally only the prayer leader covered their head. Over time the tradition evolved to a kippah being worn while doing anything involving prayer or ritual.

There are many reasons that I have heard from people about why men are supposed to cover their heads. I have also come up with my own reasons from my experiences in the last few weeks.

At first it was hard to remember to wear every day.

Part of the problem at that point could have been my lack of hair.  Nonetheless, I tried to put it on when I got up and only take it off when I was going to bed or the wind tried to knock it into the street.

I thought that I would only wear my kippah when I was studying or leading services. Quickly I realized that it could mean so much more to me than that, namely a reminder.

I needed to remember to check that my kippah had not been blown off my head into the street.

I needed to check that I had it on before I left the house.

And while I haven’t had to stop to think about covering my head when I walk into a synagogue or sanctuary, I was conscious of wearing it at all times.

What did I think about when I would realize this? The short answer is G-D. I would think about the fact that in the grand scheme of things, I am really only one person, that there is something much bigger than myself around me.

Just remembering that I am covering my head in respect is very humbling. It also has helped shape my interactions with other people. I am reminded of the fact that as a Jew is my responsibility to treat other people with a level of respect. In fact it could still be a symbol that I am engaging in some sort of ritual, the ritual that is part of daily life.

Although it is not a traditional mitzvah, I have found some value in wearing a kippah all the time. Not only will I have it on during T’fillah or studying, but out running errands, grabbing dinner with friends and checking out historic sites around Israel. I have really enjoyed taking this on and it has helped me elevate every aspect of my life.

Shalom From Jerusalem.

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About Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson has spent the last 25 years living in or near Minneapolis. After completing a B.A. in History at the University of Minnesota, he worked for Temple Israel, Mount Zion and Bet Shalom in a variety of capacities. While working in the Reform Movement, Brian developed a passion for Reform Judaism and is currently studying at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in the Rabbinical School.

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3 comments

  1. If you go to Wikipedia and look up “Kippah” it gives a number of reasons why Jewish men wear them. It bsically adds up to what you said – it’s a reminder about the presence of God. I’m glad it’s helping to remind you to interact with others in a positive way.

  2. I love the fact that different Jewish cultures have evolved different sizes, shapes and styles of kippot.

    I tend to favor the kind that don’t require clips, but I love seeing the diversity of them at shul.

  3. I do love the different traditions behind those. At some point I want to understand how the different hats, to cover the kippot, evolved as well.

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