"Here’s my hat; it holds my head; the thoughts I’ve had and the things I’ve read…” These are the opening lines of one of my favourite poems, by Tony Mitton. And indeed, I often wear a woolly hat, even when I’m just sitting at my desk working, even now, writing this piece.
What I’d really like to be wearing is a kippah – and whenever I’m in a Progressive shul, I revel in the opportunity to wear one. Buying my own (from an unsuspecting Golders Green Judaica shop) was an exciting moment. But I don’t wear it all the time — it would be too much of a head-turner and start conversations I’m not ready to have.
I’m dismayed, though, by Jennifer Lipman’s suggestion (JC, February 14) that women might just discard their shul hat, on the basis that it’s for modesty reasons and, if one doesn’t wear a “modesty” headcovering week-round, there’s no reason to do so on Shabbat. Plenty of men wear kippot only in shul and, as I understand it, they’re wearing it for religious reasons, as a ritual signal of the separation between earth and heaven. To put one on is to acknowledge, in Tony Mitton’s words, that “there’s me below it, the sky above it”. This is a beautiful ritual, comparable to covering one’s head with a tallit, uttering a brachah and entering a spiritual space.
I’m not a dressy person and I loathe the shul hat as much as the next woman. For my daughter’s non-orthodox wedding, I wore a “male” trilby hat. Now she is a married woman, by the way, she covers her hair with a variety of beautiful tichels and she’s opened my eyes to these, as an alternative to the hat. Take a look at Wrapunzel.com. A tichel, too, can be less about modesty and more about expressing faith through clothing, in the same way as one might do with a kippah but in a manner that is frum-friendly.
Why don’t more women cover their head every day, with a tichel, if not a kippah? And by the way, I can’t really enthuse about those larger kippot with flowers and sequins that some women seem to prefer. We don’t need a ladies’ kippah any more than we need a ladies’ gallery.
OK, kippot aren’t going to be adopted by women in United synagogues any day soon. But women who feel the hat has had its day should consider its spiritual dimension and maybe try a tichel, or a kippah if they feel comfortable with that — on Friday night, perhaps. I wouldn’t be without my kippah. As Mitton says, “it’s my lid — and I love it.”