Men's Head Covering in Synagogue: Reform Judaism's Views

Changing ideas about whether men should wear a kippah (skullcap) during prayer reflect development and maturation of American Reform attitudes toward tradition.

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Making Informed Choices

Other Reform Jews continue to regard the kippah either as irrelevant to their religious experience or reject it as a reminder of a style of observance that the movement has long since left behind. Today, therefore, many choose to wear a kippah during worship and study, while others do not. According to Reform doctrine, neither choice is necessarily the better one; both are legitimate exercises of the personal religious autonomy that the movement holds dear. But if the movement is officially neutral on the choice, this does not mean that the issue is trivial one, nor worthy of careful thought.

To wear or not to wear the kippah is no simple, flip-the-coin choice of "hat on or hat off." Indeed, because it partakes deeply of the realm of symbolism, because it can serve as a concrete expression of the way in which an individual approaches Jewish prayer and Jewish life, the decision to wear a kippah  or not to wear it can be the most serious kind of religious decision a Reform Jew can make. For those concerned about building strong and vital religious communities, the challenge is to create the kind of atmosphere in which individuals can make these decisions freely, without being subjected to the sort of pressure that says: "there is only one right answer for a good Reform Jew."

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Rabbi Mark Washofsky

Rabbi Mark Washofsky, Ph.D., is associate professor of rabbinics at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, Ohio, and serves as chair of the Responsa Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.