For the week ending 26 February 2005 / 17 Adar I 5765

Kippa at Work

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Richard in London

Dear Rabbi,

I've decided to become further committed to Judaism, but I recently started a new job for a non-Jewish firm. I was wearing my yarmulke all the time, but my father requested me not to wear it to work. Although I'd prefer to wear it, do you think it may bring up feelings of prejudice in the office or of clients? And to what degree does respect for my father mean I shouldnt wear it? I've been wearing a baseball cap when eating and when outside, but this isnt really an ideal solution. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Richard,

I am glad to hear that you are strengthening your commitment and observance.

The Talmud states, "cover a childs head so that he will have the fear of heaven" (Shabbat 156b). The Talmud also associates a covered head with humility (Kiddushin 31a). In "Guide for the Perplexed," Maimonides writes that a bare head was repellent to the early Sages. Based on these sources and the age-old custom among nearly all Jewish communities, a man is required to cover his head according to halacha in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:6).

The nature of the covering can and has varied according to time and place but some type of acceptable covering is necessary. If a baseball cap is appropriate, fine. If not, another type of hat may do. What about a turban? A relatively inconspicuous kippa is also good. You know, a really big one with snoopy dog or a bouquet of flowers printed on it and the like. Alternatively, you might choose a smaller kippa that blandly blends with your hair color. It's up to you.

An exception may be made if one would suffer monetary loss or physical harm as a result of wearing a kippa. The Talmud states that one doesn't need to forfeit more than a fifth of his wealth in order to fulfill a positive commandment. Therefore, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that if a person cannot find work unless he removes his kippa, when he is at work he is not required to wear it (Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chaim, vols. 1 & 4). However, one is not usually subject to significant loss because of wearing a kippa, and even if he occasionally loses a client, whos to say that for every one bigot there arent two others who are impressed by his ideals and commitment.

While keeping this halacha may incur some anti-Semitic reactions, nearly no one in civilized countries comes to physical harm over such a thing. More often than not, people will respect you. And at worst, people's reactions are an opportunity to explain what Jews and Judaism are really about. (When explaining yourself, however, never get into an argument.) I'm sure you'll be a truly gifted and eloquent representative of G-d and the Torah.

While your parents' opinions are very important, and you should make every effort to accommodate their wishes (after all, you owe them a lot, and I'm sure they are wonderful people) when it comes to halacha that you are both obligated by, you are expected to listen to G-d just as they are (Rashi on Lev. 19:3, Yevamot 5). Therefore, while your parents' objections are well-founded and certainly well-intentioned, in such a case you should try to minimize any conflict by explaining the importance and significance of keeping Jewish Law and custom, while assuaging their fears and concerns.

Ultimately, you are an adult and have the right to make your own decisions. Demonstrate to your parents that your interest in Judaism is not a rejection of what they've taught you, but a natural continuation of everything good they've instilled in you all of these years.

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