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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Capping off a year in a yarmulke

Sunday marked one-year (on the Western calendar) since the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Today marks one year since, in reaction, I began wearing a yarmulke.

So what have I learned after a year?

• While I said at the time I did not know how long it would last, I am happy to say I have no plans to change. My daughter's Bat Mitzvah was in January and we have leftovers to keep my head covered for another 25 years. The expression of Jewish community and the sense of humility before Hashem represented by the head covering (and awareness of it--I always feel it there) remain and I do not intend to give them up.

• Strangers become friendly. There is "The Nod" from other Jews, even more-observant Jews in tzitzit; several have struck up conversations in airport security lines. A person approached me on the street once to say "God bless you." And I cannot forget the Lyft driver in Boulder who wished me a "Happy Shabbat Shalom," earning high marks for effort.

• My students enjoy the many times it flies off during class.

• I continue to struggle with the idea that wearing a yarmulke means I must refrain from certain activities or at certain times--driving on Shabbat, eating non-kosher food, etc. My rabbi explained it by the concept of not leading others into sin--by eating at a certain restaurant or driving on Saturday afternoon, I send an erroneous signal to other Jewish people that it is ok to engage in those activities, which may cause them to do so. Others explain it as sending mixed signals to the world--how can this Jewish person do that?

The rabbi's solution is to wear a hat over the yarmulke when he eats in a non-kosher restaurant or drives on Saturday, which I do at times. Even if I do not refrain, I am conscious of engaging in certain conduct while wearing it. I did not order shrimp in a restaurant last week because I thought of how it would read to my (non-Jewish) companions. On the other hand, the principle seems under-inclusive: Why do these obligations attach to this expression of Jewish identity but not others; why does more-observant Jewry define the obligations that attach to different Jewish symbols. As I said, I have been thinking about this for a year and I do not believe I am closer to an answer. I mostly live my life as before, but with my head covered.

• I am conscious of walking into some truly non-Jewish spaces, such as my daughter's Episcopalian school. I am not conscious in "mixed" spaces. As I said, living my life as before, but with my head covered.

• I will be reading Torah at the weekly minyan in a few weeks. The rabbi chose the story of Joseph and his coat, which speaks to a piece of this--the idea of clothing and how we dress instilling humility. Or, in Joseph's case, not, prompting his brothers to throw him in a hole and sell him into slavery.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 30, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion | Permalink

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