Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Kipa Versus Yarmulke

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman (seen here with his  son Rabbi Ilan Feldman)
Former Tradition Magazine editor, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman is one of my favorite writers. I tend to agree with him on most issues. At the same time, I find myself often differing with the views of his brother, Ner Israel Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Aharon Feldman. I guess being brothers does not mean thinking alike. But I digress

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman has written a very clever article in a recent edition of Mishpacha Magazine (unavailable online) that illustrates the Hashkafos of - and differences between Centrists (like me) and Charedim.  It is written as a dialogue between a Kipa Seruga (KS) and a Black Yarmulke (BY). I think he hit the nail directly on the head.

I thought it might be helpful to see these two Kipot/Yarmulkes as protagonists in Bet Shemesh. Since this article is not available online, I will try and paraphrase it best I can.

(BY) I have never seen such a colorful yarmulke. Pretty, but isn’t black good enough?

(KS) I am showing the Judaism is multi hued consisting of many cultures and traditions but nevertheless united by our belief in God and Torah. Why are you so black? Is there no joy in your Hashkafa?

(BY) Of course there is. It is so stated in Tehilim(100:2) and our daily prayers. A Navi couldn’t prophecy unless they were in a state of joy! But I don’t believe in wearing my religion on my sleeve… or on my head. A Yarmulke is not a fashion statement. Also, we are not monolithic. There are many shades of black. What about those knitted Kipas that are the size of a postage stamp?

(KS) Our Kipas are designed to stand out as a matter of pride, not to blend in with our hair. But I do admit that the tiny ones are a bit insufficient.

(BY) Sometimes I get the impression that you are too willing to compromise with the outside world. Yes, your wearing a Kipa is important. But it does not separate you enough from the outside world. It makes your version of Judaism – Judaism- Lite! It says we are different – but not that different. Colroful Kipas are attractive and friendly - beckoning assimilation. Our black ones make another kind of statement: That we are completely separate and NOT part of your world.

(KS) True, we consider ourselves to be part of society, although of course we follow Torah guidelines. But we live in a wider world and do not totally reject it. There are many good things in that world: art, music, and science for example. Rembrandt, Beethoven and Einstein are all part of God’s world. Being a learned Jew means knowing what to accept from that world and what to reject. That’s why we include secular studies in our schools. It is important to be aware of how the world functions.

(BY) Ah… but that world with its science and mathematics that exemplified Germany did not prevent the brutalities of so called human beings that annihilated six million of their fellow human beings while listening to Bach right outside the crematoria. What good is all that beauty and philosophy if it can tolerate that?  And look at society today – perverting the basic moral standards of humanity. Is this what you want your children to imbibe? We proudly reject the assumptions of modernity. Do you tolerate it or do you embrace it?

(KS) We teach our children what to accept and what to reject. But we do not totally insulate ourselves. Your blackness represents the desire to be insulated. We join you in your belief in God, in Torah learning, and in observance. But we cannot join you in your rejection of the outside world. We want to retain our Jewish uniqueness. But at the same time learn to live as a full Jew in the world.

(BY) Your path is strewn with obstacles. Try not to trip. Let us each go our won way and serve God in reverence and joy until the end of days. In the meantime watch your Kipa. It gets windy and your hair clip is loose.

(KS) We both face obstacles. Hopefully God will redeem us from all stumbling blocks. By the way, be careful. The color black shows every speck of dust…

Epilogue: Having finished their conversation they went on their respective ways. But they agreed as they gazed at the sky on the value, importance, and God given miracle of the latest Kipa, the Kipat HaBarzel otherwise known as the Iron Dome.

While this discussion was imaginary, wouldn’t it be nice if it would really happen? And what better place is there for it to happen than Ramat Bet Shemesh.?