The news that Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner on antisemitism, “could not recommend Jews wear a kippah everywhere and at any time in Germany”, coupled with a 20 percent reported rise in anti-Jewish crime in the country, is alarming, sad and dangerous.
No Jew needs to be reminded of the German-led destruction of European Jewry, less than 80 years ago,
or the efforts to make amends since.
Klein’s warning should therefore alarm not only Jews, but all advocates of liberal democracy.
The kippah has become a potent, if formerly unimportant, symbol of Judaism. Although the custom of covering of one’s head is ancient, there is no biblical commandment to do so at any time, and the seeming universal (for men at least) obsession with it is relatively recent.
While some Second Temple officiants wore ritual head covering and scholars of the Talmudic era did so too, head covering remained divergent in practice and a matter of local custom until the modern period.
Despite the Babylonian Talmud (Nedarim 30b) statement that “men sometimes cover their heads and sometimes not; but women’s hair is always covered; and children are always bareheaded”, the kippah gained popularity, perhaps as a reaction to the Christian practice of removing one’s hat.
A kippah was eliminated in early Progressive Judaism. But, today, an expectation of the head being covered, at least during prayer, is evident in almost all Progressive communities, even the most radical.
I feel the remarks of Felix Klein are arguably ill-judged, even if as
a public official he has a responsibility to provide appropriate and sensible advice to those who might find themselves vulnerable to attack.
The specifics of the kippah are unimportant and irrelevant, but liberal democracies are founded on freedoms, including of conscience and religion subject to their not infringing upon the rights of others.
A Jew in Germany, or elsewhere, should feel free to wear a kippah in public if they are doing so proudly, but modestly, to declare Jewish identity.
The modern state has a responsibility to protect that right and any call to restrict it yields to the enemies of democracy and ultimately makes every citizen less free.
I am now tempted to wear my kippah 24 hours a day – in solidarity, with the right so to do.
- Danny Rich is the Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism