We all know committed Jews of all genders who wear kippot and other head coverings all the time, some of the time or not at all. What lies behind these varying practices and what is the ideal today?
Shockingly, for something so central to Judaism, there is nothing in the Torah. The only possible related Biblical commandment is to “not follow their ways” about non-Jews.
In the Talmud, there is a sense that people may have worn wrapped functional head coverings, but that these were not required for piety’s sake.
During the era of the rabbis, there was a notion that head covering was spiritually respectful, though most Jews were not doing this all the time.
Only in Shulchan Aruch, the 16th-century codification of Jewish law, do we see the firm rule to cover the heads when invoking God’s name.
The practice of wearing a head covering always didn’t enter Jewish communities until the 1600s in Poland – with the idea that it would proudly distinguish you as Jewish. In the early days of Liberal Judaism, we adopted the ways of the wider European gentile society, which did not cover heads even in houses of worship.
But as our movement developed, we began to re-understand the practice as something that, first, might help focus our internal spirituality and, second, might be a mark of Jewish pride. Kippot are now much more abundant.
Finally, gender identity complicates this choice. The notion of covering one’s head for piety was not probably originally gendered – and yet many more male-identified people wear kippot than female-identified.
Covering and not covering are both parts of Jewish tradition. As Liberal Judaism believes non-gendered practice is important, we work to ungender this practice so all Jews can make the choice for themselves.
Rabbi Leah Jordan is Liberal Judaism’s student chaplain