Politicians and Yarmulkes

I have always found something faintly ridiculous about the perennial photos of gentile politicians donning yarmulkes to wolf down lox and bagels in Jewish neighborhoods. And I would be hard-pressed not to vote for any gentile politician who refused a proferred yarmulke on the sensible grounds that he is not Jewish.

Apparently my view is not universally shared, however. When the Turkish Prime Minister visited Israel last week, he was told Israel would take a dim view of his failure to wear a kippah on a visit to Yad Vashem. He didn’t anyway, apparently on the grounds that many of the voters of his Islamic party would take an even dimmer view of his being seen wearing a Jewish religious symbol.

Isn’t this nutso? Some noted that Yad Vashem is not a synagogue, but even if were what disrespect would he have been showing by not wearing a yarmulke? Is he expected to daven? Would a Jew be disrespectful if he declined to take communion in a Catholic Church? (Assuming he did not know it was asur (prohibited by Jewish law) to be there in the first place.)

The last time I was in Yad Vashem was on Tisha B’Av, and my children and I were accompanied throughout by a group of American teenagers asking such questions as, “Did you see who Jennifer was with last night?” When we exited, they were already out on the grass having a picnic. Now that is something to feel bad about, not whether a Moslem visitor wears a yarmulke or not.

It is a safe bet that most of those who sought to make a diplomatic incident out of a Moslem’s refusal to wear a yarmulke do not themselves wear a kippah and rarely see the inside of a shul. What they want to do is appropriate religious apparel and to use it to make some statement about Jewish pride completely divorced from the halachic basis for that apparrel. Reminds me of fasting on Yom Kippur when I was nine as a statement of Jewish pride — again almost certainly asur — and spending the afternoon watching the World Series.

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3 Responses

  1. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Rav Moshe Feinstein notes in his first responsum in Orach Chayim that there are two reasons for wearing a Yarmulka; to show awareness of and respect for Hashem’s presence, and to reinforce our cultural separateness from the gentile world. The latter limits the former; if we were to require head covering for non-Jews, it would no longer function as a distinction.

  2. Victor says:

    I have never seen a non-Jewish worker wear a kippa in a shul. What’s the difference? I would venture that the people that took issue don’t wear kippas themselves.

  3. Mo says:

    Excellent piece !

    There was a similar case recently with Russian President Putin.

    I would rather have a gentile with pride in who he is, who doesn’t wear one, but acts positively toward us, than one that allows it to be pushed on him as window dressing, and then acts detrimentally, G-d forbid.

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