Kiss This, Not That

Are you a kipah-kisser?

We’ve all seen it countless times. You’re wearing a kipah in temple—it falls off your head and onto the floor. You bend over, pick it up, give it a little kiss, and replace it on your head.

Please, in the name of everything that is holy in this world, stop kissing your kipah.

In fact, that’s precisely why you should stop—because we save that specific action only for items that we consider holy. And within the Jewish tradition, that’s usually limited to anything that contains the printed name of God, like a Siddur or Prayer Book.

Where did this strange custom of kissing a head covering come from?

I would assume it gets passed around by well-meaning Hebrew school teachers who are making the effort to instill a sense of respect in their students. I suppose the reasoning is that when kids come into the synagogue building, they put on a kipah—which then takes on the aspect of a ritual or holy item.

But it’s not even close.

A kipah (sometimes called a yarmulke—there, that really cleared it up) is nothing more than something used to cover your head. Period. Jews are instructed to keep their heads covered as a sign of respect—to symbolize that as important as we think we are, there is always something even more powerful and in control over us. So whereas the general public is trained to remove their hats as a sign of respect, we Jews do the exact opposite.

Kipot come in many forms—whether it’s the colorful satin ones that you can use as bar mitzvah trading cards (“Look, I got Sidney Goldblatt, November 1972!”), or the old standby black ones. But those are just provided for people’s convenience. Any hat would do—whether it’s a fedora, baseball cap, or sombrero (go ahead, I dare you). Could you imagine how silly it would be for a kid to drop his baseball cap in temple, and then kiss it before putting it back on his head?

But the bigger issue is that when we treat everything as holy, then really nothing is. It’s as if we’re putting a ratty shmata on the same spiritual plane as the Torah. Reserving our reverence exclusively for ritual items that contain the name of God helps us put our actions and thoughts into a larger context.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below…



Cantor Matt Axelrod has served Congregation Beth Israel of Scotch Plains, NJ since 1990. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a national officer of the Cantors Assembly. Cantor Axelrod is the author of Surviving Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah: The Ultimate Insider's Guide, and Your Guide to the Jewish Holidays: From Shofar to Seder.

13 comments on “Kiss This, Not That

  1. AMEN. Though if I could add Sandy Koufax’ bar mitzvah kippah to my collection that would be amazing.


  2. Susan S.

    Thank you for the ‘re-education’. It’s so hard to unlearn all of the ‘stuff’ thrown at us back in the day. I’m still having a hard time not kissing the mezuzahs I pass…..


    • Cantor Matt Axelrod

      I’m not a fan of kissing the mezuzah either, but at least in that case there’s actually a scroll inside which contains the name of God–so I guess one could make a case.


  3. Planning the best time to whip out the sombrero in services.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marge Maas

    Matt: as usual you amaze me. I have learned the plural of kippah. I have learned what is holy. I have also learned that I have something new to look forward to— your blogs.


  5. adzucker

    Matt, I never wore a kipah at Temple, I went to the University of Delaware and sometimes wore one there. I also don’t kiss my kipah when I drop it on the floor unless its the one commemorating the Phillies 2008 world series win. But I kiss it for the same reason my buddy from Mass would eat a Baby Ruth Bar every year on opening day ( so that he could digest the babe and thus eliminate the curse, It obviously worked). Great post Matt, So far you hit two homers!


  6. Bravo! I still enjoy, though, seeing the reaction of most people when I throw a tattered kipah away without fanfare.


    • Cantor Matt Axelrod

      Along those same lines, when people are cleaning out their homes and come across a million old kipot, they always feel the need to bring them in, as if we’ll do something special with them. Sorry to say they’re going in the trash!


  7. Anonymous

    I enjoyed reading this. I Miss being a part of CBI. This brings me closer now.


  8. Pingback: A God by any other name… – Cantor Matt Axelrod

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