Friday, July 07, 2017

Women and the Kipa

Image from My Jewish Learning
One of the things I have always wondered about was why female rabbis in the Conservative movement wear a Kipa. I don’t recall the exact answer I was given by a female cousin of mine that was ordained by Conservative Judaism's flagship institution, JTS. But I believe it had something to do with having the same Halachic requirements as men who become rabbis do. (Not that this makes any sense to me. But I digress.) Nevertheless, I thought it quite odd to see a woman wearing a Kipa…  even if she is a rabbi. I still feel that way.

The Kipa in Jewish law is indeed a Halacha or Minhag (custom) designed specifically for men. The exact reason for that has always been a bit unclear to me as well. But the best answer I can give as to why we men are required to wear one is to have a constant reminder that there is Someone (God) above us. And behave accordingly. Why women are not required to do so for the same reason is yet another thing that escapes me.

There is also some question about whether wearing a Kipa is a Halacha or just a very strong Minhag that is treated as Halacha. In the times of the Gemarah, the common religious Jew did not cover his head. Only the more learned and holy men did. Today it has become universal for men to cover their heads. Although not necessarily with a Kipa. Any covering will do. A fedora works just fine as does a baseball cap or football helmet.

It is also a rather well known Teshuva (responsum) by R’ Moshe Feinstein that if an employer requires an employee to be bareheaded on the job – he may do so.  (There were many jobs like that in the past. Today, most employers do not require it anymore.  In the multi cultural society of today’s America there are people at work in all kinds of jobs with all kinds of head coverings.)

Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt about one thing. The Halacha (or very strong Minhag as it were) is for a man to cover his head. A Kipa is just a convenient way to do it.

This brings me to an article in JOFA’S Torch. I couldn’t help but have a feeling of ‘Nebech’ as I was reading it.

The writer, an Orthodox woman by the name of Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, pays homage to a very bright woman named Linda (she gives no second name) who wears a Kipa whenever she is involved in anything holy. Such as studying Gemarah and some of its commentaries with her Chabura:  a group of women from diverse religious backgrounds that study together.

The holiest of women in our day do not cover their heads. (Unless they are married – for entirely different reasons). This apparently did not matter to her. Linda sees wearing a Kipa as a holy garment that gives honor to the Mitzvah she happens to be doing. 

I can understand and appreciate Linda’s belief that wearing the Kipa itself is an act of piety. I can even admire the fact that she wants to honor all of the holy things she participates in by wearing a Kipa. But the fact is that a Kipa has no intrinsic Kedusha. There is nothing about a Kipa that is holy. It is merely a convenient head covering for men that has no application for women. That Linda sees it that way means that she is woefully ignorant of that fact or doesn’t care. 

Either way she vests it with a holiness that does not exist. And even if she would point to the fact that men are required to wear Kipa, that simply isn’t true. As I said, it isn’t the Kipa that is important. It is covering the head.

So that when the writer laments the fact that Linda was denied her desire to wear a Kipa at the Kotel, Linda was not denied the opportunity to achieve the  highest spiritual level a human being can at the Kotel  even without a Kipa. Even if one might say that a woman covering her head has some spiritual value, she could have done it with a hat. That she insists on wearing a Kipa means that she believes it has Kedusha that it does not really have.

That being said, if I would have been in charge, I would have allowed her to pray at the Kotel wearing her Kipa. But I would have been saying ‘nebech’ to myself the whole time.