Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"But He Wears A Knitted Yarmulke!"

Funny how many things in our culture could be so simple if we wanted them to be.
Especially headcoverings.

Woman choose between a sheitel, a hatfall, bandana, a hat, a hat on Shabbos, or nothing. (Whole other story)

A woman was telling me about her son's interview at a local Yeshiva. Never met her in my life.
To stress how "not yeshivish" she considered the place, she mentioned that on the interview with her second son, she "even wore a hatfall!"

A woman I know for a many years approached me at a Bar Mitzvah saying she felt weird that she was the only one in a hat in the place. Everyone else was wearing a sheitel...

Apparently, a woman's chosen form of head-covering says a lot about her. Well, for the record, when I get married G-d willing, it's bandanas for me, as long as they're in style, and bandfalls pretty much.

It seems that what a woman wears on her head (if anything at all) and what a man chooses to wear on his, tells the world his and her level of religiosity.

"That knitted yarmulke bum? Probably didn't learn a word today!"

When I was young, I always took pride in my father's suede yarmulke--especially among the velvets in my school. I thought modern was cool, and suede was modern. Well, little did I know (until my dad switched) that knitted is even cooler. So here I am, with my dad and three older brothers in black knitted yarmulkes, and so proud of it that it's nerdy. Why, you ask?

Maybe it's the rebel in me. It could also be that it's honest. It's saying, "I'm not trying to be something I'm not." Which is what I do in my own little ways all the time.

It seems that here in Flatbush, no matter what you do, as long as you wear a velvet Yarmulke, you're an okay guy.

My dad told me even in his time, his Yeshiva gave him a hard time about wearing a knitted yarmulke. If my little brother would show up in his Yeshiva with something other than a velvet--or a bobby pin to ensure it stays on his head--HELP US ALL.

Because wearing anything other than a velvet yarmulke means you're a rebel. You're a bum. You talk to girls. You hang out. But if your wear a velvet--Tzaddik Gamur.

Anyway, the title comes from a shidduch experience in which someone "redding" me a shidduch found it important enough to mention that the guy wears a knitted yarmulke. In case that would "bother me." No, but a velvet one does.

P.S. I just posted this story in the comments, and it slipped my mind when I wrote the post: I was watching Good Day New York last year, and Mike Woods(or someone) was ioutside on some location exchanging unwanted gifts for some promo item. Sure enough, a frum guy showed up with an engagement gift he didn't like. He wore a knitted yarmulke. I was proud to see my "brother" on TV, and behave like a mensch--he wasn't loud or obnoxious, or, "look at me, I'm on TV"ish, just plain, "I got this for an engagement gift and I don't like it." I thought it was cool. The guy wasn't trying to make believe he was someone he wasn't. I was impressed. Then I thought, would I have thought the same way had the guy been wearing a velvet yarmulke?


At 12/05/2006 8:55 PM, Blogger Independant Frum Thinker said...

Frankly, it doesn't matter what's on the head, rather what's in the head.

At 12/05/2006 9:13 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

Once again, goes to show you how simple it is to judge people by their looks, and not by their actions.

As long as a woman is covering her hair _completely_, she is within the bounds of normative halacha to wear a sheitel, bandana, hat fall, etc.. My wife usually wears tichelach, but owns a sheitel which she basically only wears for weddings (she likes it because it stays on when she dances).

The problem is that women wearing hats or bandanas (or other types of head covering that could be worn incompletely) might leave an inappropriate amount of hair sticking out below - and then it becomes a question of non-observace of the halacha...

To judge people is incorrect, but to judge actions in the objective light of halacha is fair. All too often, we mistake one for the other, and condemn people instead of their actions.

[And yes, it is normative halacha that a married woman must cover all of her hair. See Kesubos 72a-b, Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer 115, and Orach Chaim 72.]

Personally, the only reason I wear a velvet kippa is that my rebbe, Rav Avraham David Niznik zatzal, felt that it was the best way to make sure that the crown of the head was covered. He was worried about knitted yarmulkes that the combined surface area of the holes would be enough that the man would not be covering his head properly.

[Just to characterize: I am typing this wearing my velvet kippa, a black button-down shirt, and tan pants. And I just got back from night seder, where I am learning for semicha in Orach Chaim. And, from my previous comment of the last post, you may remember that I am also a scientist-in-training - horror of horrors, I work! Goes to show you that there is more to a person than the way they dress, as long as it is within the "four amos" of halacha.]

At 12/05/2006 11:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just curious. What's the significance of the combined area of the holes?

Another anon.

At 12/06/2006 2:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have no clue if your female or male but im guessing male obviously it does show that knitted kippas show a different afilliation if you were not on the internet then maybe i would consider that yea knitted or suede dosent make the man more or less frum but then again here u are on the internet and for all we know yo ucould be talking to as many wemon as you please on here so in some ways maybe it does denounce you as being less frum.

At 12/06/2006 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha im sorry i thought that you were a male i dont know how i came to that conclusion. so the post above is invalid and just plain stupid lol sorry about that.
but in some ways i concure with frum thinker yet yet still i want my husband to have a black kippa velvet or if he is really intelligent then i guess i wouldnt mind a knitted or a suede one lol im so lame!

At 12/06/2006 6:26 AM, Anonymous Zev said...

Gavi: what would your rebbi say about a suede? They don't have any holes, although they also happen to be very ugly.

At 12/06/2006 7:26 AM, Blogger anonym00kie said...

your points are alwasy interesting, but i always seem to differ with your conclusions :)
i hear that it makes no sense to judge by suede, knitted, velvet.. but how is you having a bias against velvet any better than their bias against suede?

At 12/06/2006 7:31 AM, Blogger Kaila said...


the halachos of hair covering for a woman are different dependng on the status of the hair. certain hair is categorized by the fact that it can't be covered by a head scarf- this hair is ok to show. Meanwhile, shaitels can be worn to show one's own hair. In fact, many women use their own hair to cover the shaitel's conspicuous hairline. In addition, while the point of the halacha may not be to show that your hair is covered, many men and non-Jews are not familiar with custom shaitels and cannot tell the difference between those and real hair. I have a friend who was asked by a non-Jew why her hair was uncovered when she was obviously married. She was wearing an expensive shaitel that looked real. She had to move it around on her head to prove it wasn't attached.
The problem is not with wearing hats and bandanas; it is the fact that girls are not properly educated as to the proper standards of hair covering. Most women do what their mothers do, and the mothers have not been educated either. I call upon all Kallah teachers to cover the halachos of hair-covering with their students. Kallahs--if you don't know the specifics, ASK.

At 12/06/2006 9:13 AM, Anonymous gavi said...

In answer to the anon #1 and the zev:

Rav Niznik would have probably been OK with suede kippot. He preferred velvet because of the double covering.

The issue with the holes in a kippa serugah is that if we take the combined area of the holes, it may add up to a significant area, such that the yarmulke is not covering rov rosh. But then again, it is one opinion.



Points well taken. But the way you phrased your comment can be taken in a few different ways - some OK, some not - all I can say is to ask your LORR (local Orthodox rabbi and rebbetzin)...

At 12/06/2006 10:02 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Anon who thought I was male: Although you apologized afterward, males with my opinion might have been offended by what you said. Even I was, and I'm female.

ind: ideally, yes. Realistically, in Brooklyn--sorry, you're outta luck.

gavi: I like what you said about judging people based on objective Halacha :-)

At 12/06/2006 11:11 AM, Anonymous King Solomon said...

Don't you know that a velvet yarmulke is mechaper al avonos - forgives all sins?

At 12/06/2006 4:40 PM, Blogger pobody's nerfect. said...

i'm with mookie. Like many of your posts, you ruined a perfectly good argument by concluding with hypocrisy. You're 100% right that it is wrong to look down at a person who chooses to wear a suede or knitted kippah. However, you are 100% wrong for reacting to that by looking down upon velvet-yarmulka wearers. It's that attitude which is elongating our painful stay in Galus.

on a separate note, check out http://serandez.blogspot.com/2006/09/you-are-what-you-wear-or-are-you.html for an excellent take on the topic.

At 12/06/2006 6:01 PM, Anonymous yeah, that's right said...

And maybe, just maybe, some people who wear velvet kipas are not either trying to be something they're not. Maybe they simply consider them to be practical, convenient, affordable, and tasteful. And maybe, just maybe, people who wear suede and knit make themselves out to be what they're not in other ways. I know my father and brother wear the standard cloth ones, and they still express their individuality, doing what they think is right despite what others think, so frankly, this whole topic is rather ludicrous because you aren't much what you wear, whether for the positive or for the negative, and to assume the opposite of what you claim these people are assuming is presumptuous.

Also, it seems like most people who try too hard to not "fit into the mold" end up being pretty ridiculous about it and looking down on others- not very endearing qualities.

At 12/06/2006 6:36 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"Most women do what their mothers do, and the mothers have not been educated either."

Curious. Isn't that exactly what mesora is?

See here: http://www.lookstein.org/links/orthodoxy.htm

At 12/06/2006 7:11 PM, Anonymous Zev said...

While we're on the topic of head coverings, Michelle - what's your take on black hats?

At 12/06/2006 8:19 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Sorry, y'all, I didn't realize how seriously you take me. I think velvet yarulkes have their place in society, but not in movie theatres.

Black hats--perhaps for another post?

Now, re the yarmulkes--interesting story: I was watching Good Day New York last year, and Mike Woods(or someone) was in Central Park exchanging unwanted gifts for some promo item. Sure enough, a frum guy showed up with an engagement gift he didn't like. He wore a knitted yarmulke. I was proud to see my "brother" on TV, and behave like a mensch--he wasn't loud or obnoxious, or, "look at me, I'm on TV"ish, just plain, "I got this for an engagement gift and I don't like it." Then I thought, would I have thought the same way had the guy been wearing a velvet yarmulke?

At 12/06/2006 9:01 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

Michelle: I go to movie theatres wearing my velvet kippa, and my wife wearing her tichel - what are you incinuating? (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, saynomore, saynomore) ;-) Seriously though, why should I not be wearing my headgear of choice when I go to the movies?

And yes, anyone wearing a yarmulke should be behaving like an mentch at all times... you do know that yarmulke is a shortening of the Aramaic "yerei malka" or "fear of the king"... Also Orach Chaim 1:1!!

At 12/06/2006 10:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I don't understand about the area of the holes is if the total circumference of the yarmulke is enough and the holes are so small that you barely know they are there, then doesn't the yarmulke serve it's function? I just don't see the point of being so literal about yarmulkes.

Another anon

At 12/07/2006 6:17 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

In terms of what someone wrote about the velvet being a double covering--I don't know much about this, so I could be wrong--why does that not negate the "need" for the hat? I heard that the hat is there to serve as a double covering.

As for going to the movies in a velvet yarmulke--I guess you could tell me, "Well, Michelle, don't go to the movies in a long skirt because you're pretending to be someone you're not." But, wearing jeans is assur, so i couldn't. But when I went to the movies, I dressed casually like I always do (the same wardrobe that makes me "modern"-whatever the hell that means) so I wasn't pretending to be someone I'm not.

At 12/07/2006 8:40 AM, Blogger Kaila said...


In response to your question, if we had proper mesorah these days there would not be such an urgent need for girls' yeshivas. Nowadays girls' yeshivas teach their students things they are expected to learn from their mothers--keeping a kosher kitchen, for example. The fact is that in today's society, hair covering is a) accepted as hair covering even if it is not properly done, and
b) a relatively new practice. A couple of generations back saw a large percentage of Jewish women in America not covering their hair. In fact, it was prevalent in areas of Europe not to cover one's hair, either, for a very long time.

The continuity of mesorah in this respect has been broken, and I do believe that it is very necessary for women to find out the specifics, even if they think they know what they're doing.

At 12/07/2006 12:40 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


Did you read the article I posted? The whole move to the right in recent decades is due to literalism and rebbe-to-student transmission. A healthier Judaism - and the way it has really been for centuries - is simple parent-to-child transmission. Judaism is best to be a living tradition. It is actually unnatural to have it being followed like a rulebook.

At 12/07/2006 4:14 PM, Blogger Kaila said...


have you heard of assimilation? The "move to the right" as you put it may be in part because a lot of Jews are returning to their roots. What about a man whose grandparents decided they're atheists and chose to provide their offspring with absolutely no hint of Judaism in their upbringing. Can you call that Mesorah? I think not. And guess what- the Torah is a rulebook. Supposing a friend successfully went on the new "in" diet, and you want to try it. do you eat as you see she's eating? Or do you read the book on the subject and find out the balance of nutrients needed in order for the diet to work. You can start out as you see your friend and copy her, but success comes with the rulebook, not with observation. It also doesn't work if you look at the rulebook and decide that you will change or substitute rules because you only like some.

At 12/07/2006 4:17 PM, Blogger Kaila said...

I'm not negating the effects of Mesorah, by the way. It works fine in many cases, but it's good to do research anyway.

At 12/07/2006 8:17 PM, Blogger pobody's nerfect. said...

michelle- from what you added to the post, i think you missed my (our?) point. Nobody should use their choice of yarmulka to define their level of avodas Hashem. And yes, contrary to what you seem to be expressing, there are many acceptable ways of serving Hashem. My high school pushed this tolerance perhaps more than New York schools tend to do, but that's no excuse. There's a beautiful mashal to explain the diversity of G-d fearing Jews: When you hold a prism up to a light, white light enters the prism and causes a rainbow of colors to be reflected. When a person uses Torah as the basis for making decisions, no matter what "color" he chooses to express himself- it'a all just a reflection of the pure light of Torah. It is the responsibility of every Jew- from the Kollel-learning black hatters to the Kippah Srugah university professors- to be an accurate representation of a mentsch and Eved Hashem. Period.

At 12/07/2006 10:53 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"have you heard of assimilation? The "move to the right" as you put it may be in part because a lot of Jews are returning to their roots."

I don't see people 'returning to their roots.' I don't even see people properly understanding Halachah and making wise decisions. I see people piling on chumrot and new practices that have no history or sometimes - at best - only a tenuous theoretical connection to traditional practice.

By lauding the rulebook over familial experience you have, in fact, dismissed the centrality of mesorah in Jewish life.

What this all leads to is an increasingly absurd reliance on the theoretical constructions of roshei yeshivot from around the world rather than the practical considerations of a local community. When Blumenkrantz becomes the Pesach authority instead of grandpa, Judaism fails to be a living tradition.

"What about a man whose grandparents decided they're atheists and chose to provide their offspring with absolutely no hint of Judaism in their upbringing. Can you call that Mesorah?"

As R' Soloveitchik goes over in his article, the primary sources of this textual prominence is from places like Lakewood. Hardly areas that would suggest a real need to not rely on memetic tradition.

At 12/08/2006 8:19 AM, Blogger Kaila said...


you separated two of my sentences. they were meant as one point-someone whose family has NO MESORAH may be returning to his roots. And if that means turning to a rosh yeshiva, kol hakavod. and in the instance of hair covering, the topic at hand, the mesorah has been so broken that even the people who cover their hair do it in a way they learned from people who probably had no tradition of doing so in their family. And Mesorah is based on the written text. and by text, I mean the Original. You cannot possibly say that the Torah is not meant to be followed.

And by the way, who says that everyone in Lakewood has been religiously educated by his parents? have you done a survey?

And about Blumenkrantz--
Not as many people as you think follow him to the t.

At 12/08/2006 10:16 AM, Blogger Orthoprax said...


"And Mesorah is based on the written text. and by text, I mean the Original. You cannot possibly say that the Torah is not meant to be followed."

This is your mistake. Mesorah is based on oral tradition - not on text. That really is what the Oral Law means. There is no rule in the written Torah about women covering their hair.

"And by the way, who says that everyone in Lakewood has been religiously educated by his parents? have you done a survey?"

Not the point. The point is that the large majority of people there very well could learn Judaism memetically but they have chosen not to.

"And about Blumenkrantz--
Not as many people as you think follow him to the t."

Again, not the point. The point is that he is out there writing books and people are following what he says in addition to - or even in contradiction with - their own mesorah.

At 12/09/2006 4:43 PM, Anonymous gavi said...


Who says that I am pretending to be someone that I am not? I daven, I learn, I work, I wear a velvet kippa, I wear a black hat for evening davening on shabbos (in the morning I have my tallis over my head - that's one of the benefits of being married). I should probably wear a hat consistently for evening davening during the week as well, but am lazy - but will probably start doing so...

I go to movies wearing my velvet kippa... Granted, I am selective as to what I watch - not all that Hollywood puts out is worth wasting time and money on... This is who I am. Is there something wrong with that?

By the way, the reason for the hat is not to have a double covering - it is simply because a hat is respectful - see Mishnah Berurah 91 se'if kattan 12. This is why one can make cogent arguments as to why we men don't have to wear hats to daven anymore - I wear it because I wore it in yeshiva, and it has become my minhag.

And why should you have to wear a certain skirt length when you go to the movies? Be more concerned that you are acting tzanua, wearing clothing which is tzanua (normative halacha - even though it contradicts a clear tosfos in Yemamos that says that "shok" is the ankle - is that a girl should be wearing a skirt that covers the knee). Also be concerned about what you watch... And who said that jeans are "assur"? I don't wear them because I don't find them dignified for myself, and I don't like the cut - but I know plenty of benei torah who do wear them, and they are no less benei torah for that. And my wife does own a jean skirt - granted it doesn't have a slit, but it is made out of denim...

[Another BTW - normative halacha is not to permit slits. Rav Yonoson Sacks of YU is the only posek I know of who permits slits below the knee. It is felt that they are "megarrer" - drawing the eye in an inappropriate fashion. Rav Avishai David therefore recommended that slitted skirts be sewed with kickpleats.]


I simply don't see why I am "pretending to be someone I'm not."

At 12/09/2006 4:47 PM, Anonymous gavi said...


You might also enjoy this article - it conveys some of the points I tried to advocate, in a much more eloquent style:


At 12/09/2006 5:01 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

When I wrote that jeans are assur, i was referring to women. Jeans are not assur for men!!

At 12/09/2006 5:44 PM, Anonymous gavi said...

Why should jean skirts be assur for women? Jean pants, on the other hand, like any other pants, are not appropriate clothing for a Jewish woman...

But you still haven't answered me as to why I am pretending!

At 12/12/2006 11:49 AM, Anonymous an old family friend said...


having only glanced through this page, it's quite possible that my subsequent comments have already been adressed and i'll be guilty of beating a dead horse, but i nonetheless feel the need to respond to something you wrote that caught my eye...

while true many in our society tend to think of religiosity level in terms of fabric type and color, i think we here can all agree that nothing can be more superficial and, in truth, pathetic. that said, i wear a velvet yarmulka - not because i think i'm holier than thou (believe me i'm not) and not because i'm trying to keep up some frummy image. i wear it because - you all ready for this? - that's what i've always been wearing and that's what i (therefore?) feel i look best in. THAT said, am i supposed to change to a suede one or a srugi whenever i want to go to mcdonald's...ummm, i mean a movie? why must i feel compelled to adhere to our society's sad, meaningless distinction between yarmulka types?? i mean, i think it's clear if you see me going to borat that i'm not mr. yeshivish kollel guy, nor am i trying to act like him...if i was (trying to act like him, that is) i would be at home watching the illegally downloaded version on the tv set tucked under my bed that i got in an air conditioner box. i lost my train of thought and i have class now...to be continued?

At 1/14/2007 7:19 PM, Anonymous hesh said...

I have been devoting a lot of time and space on my blog to the stupid ways Jews judge each other within the frum community. I even posted about how folks can judge from peoples living rooms and the way they shuckel durring shmona esray. Great post and keep up the good work.

oh is there an email address for you

At 1/16/2007 7:48 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Thanks---AHH the SHUKELING!! I just had a little joking argument with my lil bro about that. He said I wasn't sincere because I don't shukel.


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