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.
- 1) Is one required to wear a kipah? Unless you are in a Reform Temple of 30 years ago there seems to be no question that wearing a head covering is standard attire.
- 2) Is there a difference between wearing a kipah by a male or female? Very few people accept a kipah as regular head gear for women. Sometimes if a married woman enters an Orthodox synagogue without a head covering she will be requested to wear the only available covering, a kipah. Regular attenders will enter the synagogue with their own hat or other head covering.
- 3) May one wear a kipah with a corporate symbol? This would seem to have two possibilities. A) One receives compensation or B) One does not receive compensation. If you receive compensation from the company or work for the company then wearing of a kipah with a corporate symbol would be forbidden because you would engage in a commercial enterprise on Shabbat. This would be work forbidden by the Torah.
- 4) Does the sports season or team matter? If you are in Chicago and see a kipah from a New York team perhaps you could become confused. If you see a kipah with for a summer sport team during the winter perhaps you could make a mistake and say mashiv ha-ruah in the wrong season? If you see a team symbol from your favorite team who just lost their game maybe you will be sad. In other words after a losing season a kipah with a symbol of the Chicago Cubs could be a sign of mourning. Signs of mourning are forbidden on Shabbat.
- 5) Is the kipah in the general category of oneg Shabbat, the delight and joy of the Shabbat. The power of a community to enact ordinances is limited only by the consent of the resident scholars. If the scholars agree that the action is for the purpose of strengthening Jewish Law and intended for their own time and place, then there is a good chance that it (the change in action) will be accepted. A congregation could say a particular kind of kipah or other clothing is not conducive to the mood of prayer in their building. Anyone who does not comply could be forced to comply or leave the premises. If the people around you are annoyed or disturbed by a sports symbol kipah then it is forbidden because it then not a device of oneg Shabbat. The argument that this is a free country would not apply when one person is doing or wearing something that is so offensive to the community that they compromise oneg habbat. In other words--Those sitting near you are the resident scholars. If they are offended don't wear any offending kipah.
- 6) Is there a difference between wearing a Knicks kipah during the off season or on season? Will the people around you become confused with the seasons? If so then one should not wear the kipah. The second issue depends on whether they had a winning or losing season. If they had a losing season and the people around you are reminded of the pain of losing then the kipah is a sign of mourning and is forbidden on Shabbat.
- 7) Is there a difference between a youngster (pre-Bar Mitzvah age) wearing the Knicks kipah vs. an adult? This is a question of tolerating one behavior in a child that for an adult would be forbidden. Is the question of oneg Shabbat different when observing the head gear of an adult or child? If an adult wore a kipah with children's characters or symbols on it, the congregation would have a different level of respect than if he wore a kipah closer to the norms of the congregation. If the people around the adult are confused or annoyed with the non-standard kipah its use should be restricted.
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.
- 8) Would it make any difference if you are in New York or Chicago? In addition to the considerations of oneg Shabbat and being confused over the correct season we must consider: Will someone who is not familiar with the wearer, kipah, or synagogue be confused? Will a stranger think he is in the wrong city? For regulars this is not a problem. For people who travel a lot, one city looks like another. If you are a New Yorker in Chicago, see a New York Knicks kipah, then you could be confused and think that you are in New York. If you think that you are in New York, you could end Shabbat at the wrong time. Ending the Shabbat at the wrong time is clearly a reason to forbid the wearing a sport team kipah in the wrong city.
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: home.earthlink.net/~ddstuhlman/liblob.htm. He can be reached via e-mail at: DDStuhlman@earthlink.net.
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©2001 Last revised October 1, 2002