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Question: Despite having Jewish ancestry, I never really observed the religion until during the last several months. There is obviously so much I have yet to learn, but have always been taught that it is proper etiquette for any Jewish male to wear a kippah at any part of a synagogue or its grounds that he visits. However, this does give the impression that a man would be observant and know all the rituals/etiquette/customs well. In my case however, the appearance could be deceiving because I do not consider myself Orthodox (yet, at any rate) and don’t want to surprise people if I am not exactly what I appear to be. So, my question is are there any types of kippah that indicate a higher level of religiosity or awareness than others? I want to represent myself as honestly as possible especially since I am basically a newbie at being an observant Jew.
Answer: This is a great question, Benjamin. In our article about head coverings, we talk about how wearing a kippah can be a badge of membership and commitment to the Jewish people. Though the kippah itself doesn’t have any inherent meaning, it does serve as a marking of a Jewish person (usually a man) who is heavily invested in Jewish life.
What you’re talking about is closely related to the famous Jewish concept of maarat ayin, or the appearance of impropriety. Basically, Jews are discouraged from doing anything that could appear inappropriate or wrong, even if it’s actually not problematic. For example, a traditionally observant Jewish person who needs to use the bathroom while walking around a city on Shabbat would be discouraged from walking into a bank or a restaurant to use their facilities.
It may be technically permissible to use a bank bathroom on Shabbat, but a passerby might see the person in the bank and think the person is going to withdraw or deposit money, which is prohibited on Shabbat. Maarat ayin is aimed at preventing behavior that could be misleading to others, and that’s exactly what you’re trying to avoid by wearing a kippah.
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