The Kippah

Mosaica Press, 2016
Wearing a Kippah seems to be something that many Jewish men do without having a clear grasp of the origins of this practice, or necessarily, what it is intended to achieve.In terms of origins, some claim that Kippah wearing began during the Talmudic period, while others consider it to be a modern phenomenon. Similarly, in terms of purpose, some claim that this practice reminds them that ‘the divine presence is above their head’ (based on Kiddushin 31a), while others state that they wear a Kippah to express their Jewish pride or to distinguish themselves as Jews in a non-Jewish society (as implied by the Taz, Orach Chaim 8).

In The Kippah, Rabbi Moshe Becker offers a thorough, and honest, examination of this practice with reference to the Talmudic, Zoharic, Pietistic and Halakhic sources, while also including insights from laypeople and thereby adding a further layer of social commentary to help understand this now common practice. I should stress the word ‘honest’ because there have previously been attempts to rewrite history and thereby claim that all Jews always wore kippot (see the fascinating article by Dan Rabinowitz titled ‘Yarmulke: A Historic Cover-up?’ in Hakirah Vol. 4 – However, precisely because Rabbi Becker provides all the relevant texts from Talmudic sources to Responsa literature in both Hebrew and English, the reader is able to participate in an intellectual journey led by Rabbi Becker to understand how this practice has evolved.

But beyond Rabbi Becker’s explanations, which are written with a light & engaging tone, the origins of The Kippah and the background of its sponsor are no less fascinating and deeply moving.

Like many other Jews, the ancestors of Dr. Samuel Leibovici M.D. were Torah observant. But, as he explains in his Foreword, ‘unfortunately, with pogroms, the Holocaust, and modernity, my family went from grandparents who were very observant and knowledgeable about Judaism to grandchildren who were much less so.’

Dr. Leibovici continues to explain how he, along with his wife Danielle, ‘are bringing back what was lost in our family by instilling Judaism in our children’, but as he points out, ‘before we can do that, we must first instil those teachings in ourselves.’

While he found that there are books about the laws of tzizit and tefillin, Dr. Leibovici came to realise that there were no books which explains the origins and significance of wearing a Kippah, and as a Kippah wearer in Norfolk, VA, where few Jews wear a Kippah in public, Dr. Leibovici felt the need to understand this practice further both for himself and for those who wished to know more about its purpose. Consequently, he commissioned Rabbi Becker to write The Kippah (of which all profits will be given to tzedakah) to help both himself and others learn about this practice.

The Kippah is a delightful, engaging and informative book which I thoroughly enjoyed, and both Rabbi Becker, and Dr. Leibovici, should be applauded for this wonderful new addition to the Jewish bookshelf. To purchase a copy of The Kippah, click here.