Librarian's Lobby
by Daniel D. Stuhlman

February 2001

In honor of Purim, I would like to depart from my usual kind of column. This month is "Purim Torah" for your amusement only. I am not a posek or a rabbi.

A Question of Proper Headgear

Shealah: On Shabbat in Chicago is one permitted to wear a kipah with a New York Knicks symbol on it?

On a Shabbat morning I saw a youngster wearing a kipah with the sports symbol of the New York Knicks Professional Basketball team. I wondered, "Why would someone born and raised in Chicago wear a symbol of a sports team from another city especially since the basketball season was over? Would wearing a New York kipah confuse a fellow worshiper?"

Let's explore the background of wearing a head covering. In the Talmud Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that it is forbidden to walk four cubits bare headed. The covering of the head is associated with Yirat shamayim and as a continuation of the practice of the Babylonian scholars.

According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein in his tshuva in Arech Hayyim aleph, page 5, a man is required to wear a covering if he intends to go more than 4 amot (about 6 feet). If the man is sitting at his desk, he does not need a head covering until he gets up.

In the Talmud Rabbi Nahman's mother told him to cover his head so that the fear of heaven may be upon him. The kind of head covering is not mentioned.

Tradition (or perhaps mothers) requires men to cover the head as sign of modesty before God and for women as a sign of modesty before men. This covering is a matter of Halacha l'Moshe mi-Sinai, law from the time of Sinai without a written commandment in the Torah. We are unclear as to the exact source for the custom. The custom is illustrated in both the Encyclopedia Judaica (1971) and in the Jewish Encyclopedia(1904).

The covering on the head became one of the hotly debated points of controversy between the Reform and Orthodox movements. At one time many Reform congregations forbade head coverings; later they tolerated them; then they were made optional; now many Reform rabbis wear head covering during services and many of the congregation wear them too. They have come to the conclusion the head covering is Jewish.

Let us examine our question is greater detail by trying to ascertain the questions within the question.

In certain areas there is intense rivalry between cities. This may cause a danger if you are wearing the wrong team's symbol. It is advised not to wear a St. Louis Cardinal's kipah in Chicago irrespective of the day of the week. However, in Jerusalem I saw people wearing St. Louis Cardinals's T-shirts next to those wearing Chicago Cubs T-shirts without any problems.

Conclusion: Adults should think carefully before wearing a kipah with a sports or other corporate symbol. The kipah could be making a statement that you are not intending. One should not confuse or annoy the people around you because that would be against the principal of oneg Shabbat. For a child the statement made by a sports symbol kipah is much less serious. If the kipah could be considered a way of adding interest to attending services at the congregation or to add to the enjoyment Shabbat for the children, then the kipah is oneg Shabbat and is permitted. If not, the wearing of this kind of kipah is discouraged.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, Chicago, IL, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: He can be reached via e-mail at:


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