Everything you need to know about kippot, kippah, and bar mitzvahs

Kippot conundrums

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dear Cantor Matt,

I’m supposed to order kippot for my daughter’s bat mitzvah. What kind should I get? How many should I order? Who’s supposed to wear them? Doesn’t the temple already have all the kippot they need?

— Flipping My Lid

Dear Lid,

Hat’s off to you for the great topic, even though I have to put a cap on all those questions. But, let’s try to head this subject off at its core, which is why kippot are necessary in the first place, and then we’ll try to cover the subject completely.

First, in most temples, it’s customary for at least all the males to have their heads covered while inside the building and during services. The traditional way to do this is to wear a kippah (kippot is plural), also called a yarmulke, mostly by people over the age of 127.

Note that in many secular settings, it’s considered a sign of disrespect to wear a hat inside or at solemn moments. Even at a ball game, you should remove your cap during the National Anthem. But Judaism treats the act of covering one’s head as a sign of respect and humility — as if to say that you’re never quite as important as you think you are. Basically, the idea is that there’s always something more important over you.

Only men were required to wear a kippah traditionally. Today, it’s increasingly common for women to also wear some kind of head covering, whether it’s the same one that the guys are wearing, or maybe something a little more feminine looking. Women might be provided with white, lacy things that look like doilies to clip to their coiffure. These are actually called “chapel caps” (no, I did not make that up) and are pretty popular among the Florida grandmothers. Some temples require that all worshippers, male and female, have their heads covered, while others might simply encourage it, and a few may ask that only those going up on the bimah during the service be wearing a kippah. Unlike other ritual items, like wearing a tallit, even non-Jewish guests should wear a kippah while in the temple, as a sign of respect.

And to answer that last question, your temple undoubtedly has a vast collection of different kippot, but it’s a nice touch to order a bunch for your own bar or bat mitzvah. You can order the style, color that you like, and even coordinate the color-scheme to match your reception’s decor. Most often, you will have the opportunity to have your child’s name and bat mitzvah date printed on the inside as well, which is a nice keepsake. It has also become incredibly simple and relatively inexpensive to order online from one of the myriad Internet Judaica sites where you can check out all the different choices and styles. You might want to arrange to have enough on hand for your guests (both Jewish and non-Jewish), or some fraction of that number if you think most females won’t need to wear them.

Plus, don’t you want your kid’s kippot to be a part of a timeless Jewish tradition? It’s become customary for each synagogue attendee to reach into the temple’s bottomless vat of leftover b’nei mitzvah kippot that have been collected for generations, pull one out, and ask a friend, “Who’d you get?” You get two points if you know the person, one if you don’t, and extra bonus points if the color is something only produced during the 1970’s.

Cantor Matt Axelrod (Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains, NJ) is the author of “Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider’s Guide.” He’s always happy to hear from you and he might answer your question in a future column. You can email him at cantormatt@mattaxelrod.com.

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