Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hiding the Yarmulke

A friend once told me, with some pride, that although her uncle had done his “exploration” thing as a young adult, he never left off the levush.

(Side question: has it become a normal thing for chassidish guys to go off the derech for a few years between their teens and twenties? Like the Amish right of passage?)

My reaction was not exactly what she’d been expecting. I was horrified.

“You’re saying he was in strip clubs with his peyos and yarmulke and tzitzis hanging out?” What a splendid representative of our people. I argued that to the contrary, he should have disguised himself as a non-Jew, so he might recognize that he was not behaving as his garb demanded. And at the same time, he won’t be giving others the wrong impression of what religious Jews are like.

A colleague once tried to wheedle me into trying some non-kosher snack. “You don’t really keep it seriously,” he said knowingly. “I know. There was this guy – with the thing on his head and the strings - who used to come into my uncle’s store and buy this high end Dutch yogurt. It wasn’t kosher. He told my uncle he kept kosher for everything, but he had to have his yogurt. Don’t you ever do that?” I heartily wished the man had taken off his yarmulke and tucked in his tzitzis before buying his yogurt, and kept his mouth shut to boot.

Of course, that technique isn’t always perfect. Some guy got mad about my driving in Boro Park. The details aren’t important, because when it comes to driving, the other guy is always the idiot. Anyway, he pulls up to the red light, gets out of his car, and comes over to harangue me. I gaze at his livid face impassively until he gives up and gets back in his car. That’s when I noticed that his hand, which was behind his back while he delivered his diatribe, was holding his yarmulke. He had enough shame to try to hide his Jewishness while being a jerk. I appreciated the gesture, though it would have been more effective if he could have removed his beard, and maybe changed from his white shirt and black pants.

But that’s the thought process we should be going through whenever we start to do something not completely straight. “Do I need to take off my yarmulke for this?” is a good question to ask when planning a new escapade. And if the answer is “Yes,” then please, do yourself and your nation a favor - drop it.


  1. Once, many, many, years ago, I was in a (non- Jewish)supermarket in a nice Jewish town. I am bearly five feet and some 6 foot guy, with a black yarmulka and tzitzit out, asked me if i could kindly get something off the shelf for him. I said sure, but asked him puzzled, why he would want me to get something down for him, when he was a foot taller. He said "oh, yeah, I just wanted to see your shirt go up".At that moment I turned to him and said"At this point you might as well take off your yarmuka and tzitzit, becuase they mean nothing"

  2. I'd be interested to hear what the counterpoint to this post is.

  3. There is a tshuva by Rav Moshe that disagrees with you

  4. anonymous - did you think that wearing a yarmulka and tzitzit meant something other than wearing the customary dress of a specific jewish social group?

  5. Anonymous where is this tshuva of rav Moshe?

    Tova's Dad

  6. Isn't there a whole discussion about someone who needs to do something like that wearing dark clothing that makes him less recognizable?

    I've always wondered on this one...

    But my simple solution is to try and not do something that would embarrass whatever I may be representing with my dress.

    FWIW, it's similar to things like blogging: I'd rather not be anonymous, even if it keeps me from saying certain things, than be anonymous and feel free to say things I wouldn't/shouldn't be saying.

  7. I believe there is a gemara that says that if you really cannot stop yourself from doing an aveira, then go do it far away and in disguise.

    ALso, I remember fairly recently, there was an op-ed in the YU Commentator about those who cheat on their exams so that they can spend the studying time studying Torah. In addition to the old "well that Torah learning is worthless", he added that if you get caught, and have to stand before the academic disciplinary committee, then please remove your kippah while you're there...

  8. I have to agree with Bad4 on this one. Some people are going to sin; the only question is what they will be wearing. I vote "no" on the kippah/tzizit combo.

  9. My friend one time went into the Romantic Depot, and took off his yarmulka. Except he left his tzitzis hanging out. Good job!

  10. When I have to go out for business to eat in treif restaurants, I'm always bothered.

    I have to eat something to keep my colleagues satisfied, but should I wear my kippa when in a totally treif restaurant? (I usually eat fruit, since I won't eat from salad bars with cut-up vegetables).

    Usually, I take it off, because I think its worse to be seen eating in a treif restaurant with a kippa, than without.

    Hmm - reminds me of a story when I ate with a Saudi business man and his Molsem staff. Now I have something new to post :-)

  11. Cut up fruit is ok? :-/

  12. My point was kind of also that if you acknowledge the need to take off your yarmulke than maybe you should skip the action.

  13. GM: Whole bananas still with their skin.

  14. The Gemorah in kedushin at the bottom of page 30A, I believe, agrees with this post 100%. It says that if one can't overcome his sin then he should change his clothes and commit the sin where no one will recognize him. This is obviously to avoid a chilul hashem. We should realize that the way we act, as openly acknowledged Jews, affects peoples attitudes towards all Jews and G-D.