Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Question & Answer With Neil Harris - A Black Knitted Yarmulke

A Simple Jew asks:

What prompted you to recently switch from wearing a black velvet yarmulke to a black knitted yarmulke?

Neil Harris answers:

I have, until two weeks ago, worn a black velvet for the past seven years. Before that I had worn a black knitted for ten years.

Since Rosh Hashana I had been debating about making the switch back. Initially I had switched to velvet when I was living in community of about thirty shomer Shabbos families. I had thought then that based on my current outlook on things and that I was one of a handful with any formalized yeshiva background (after finishing public high school) that wearing a velvet yarmulke would somehow strengthen my own yiddishkeit within a community in which my Torah observance placed me in the minority. It was, at the time, the right move, I think.

Over the past two years, though I felt that part of my personality had sort of been confined by my own doing. I had found myself restricted by the, for lack of a better phrase, image of "right-of-center-yeshivish" connotation of a black velvet. I hadn't given up part of who I was, but I could tell that I was downplaying parts of my personality. I saw myself slowly falling prey to small signs of frumkeit (emphasis on the external trapping of being frum resulting in false-piety). While this wasn't due totally to wearing a velvet yarmulke, I became aware that somewhere down the line I had begun to change. This troubled me, because that not what I'm really all about. I try to stay clear of things relating to frumkeit.

During the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I realized that I really needed to get "back to basics" in terms of my Avodas Hashem and the things that I initially loved about Yiddishkeit when I became observant. Since then I have gone back once again read, with a new perspective, many seforim that have sat on my bookshelves, seforim that I felt I had "out grown". As I attempted to refresh my Yiddishkeit I decided that sporting a velvet yarmulke wasn't something that reflected me and I returned back to a black knitted yarmulke.

When it comes to issues of chizonius (external) and penimius (internal) expressions of our Yiddishkeit there's a time and a place for each. Each of us has to know when to make the call.


At December 10, 2008 at 8:05:00 AM EST, Blogger frumhouse said...

Interesting post. Of course, that got me to trying to remember if you were wearing velevet or knit last time I saw you (I guess it was about 2 weeks ago?). I can't remember.

For a man, the decision on what yarmulke to wear might not be as as "obvious" as a woman deciding to stop wearing a wig and only wear hats/tichels or vice versa. Mainly because a man's head covering is so much smaller. :)

However, as you have illustrated, the decision about what type of kippah to wear can be just as deliberate and involved.

At December 10, 2008 at 8:15:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Rocking the black Knit.

At December 10, 2008 at 10:12:00 AM EST, Blogger G said...

Umm, yeah...why not just wear thr one you like better.

Crazy theory, I know

At December 10, 2008 at 10:39:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am inspired.
I'll wear TWO kipas from now, as I want to be really, really Frum. And without bobby pins.

Both will be extra super-black velvet. What's frummer, with a band around the rim or without?

Wow, maybe that'll make me the gadol hador!

Yossi Ginzberg

At December 10, 2008 at 11:03:00 AM EST, Blogger AS said...

Frum satire had a funny post on this once at:

At December 10, 2008 at 12:52:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its all about returning to Pashtus.

At December 10, 2008 at 1:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frumsatire says this about black knit kippas:

"Arguably even more neutral then black suede, solid black knit yarmulkes have been made the yarmulke of choice for folks who need to drop the black velvet and go with something more accepting and casual. I have known of several black hat types who for business purposes needed to change the yamy they sported and went from yeshivish velvet to solid black knit. From afar it is hard to discern whether they are knit, suede, or velvet- thereby creating a dilemma with most folks who cannot decide what status to give the solid black knit wearer and allowing a more diverse clientele."

Neil, does this correspond to how you understand your black knitted kippa?

At December 10, 2008 at 1:07:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

My return to the knitted black really wasn't based on my profession. But Frumsatire makes a good point that you really can't tell what kind of yarmukle it is at first glance. I had been wearing my black knitted for about a week before a friend even noticed.

For me, it's back to basics.

At December 10, 2008 at 1:50:00 PM EST, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

Kippah is an article of tznius.

Tznius is all about privacy — about denying chitzoinius an opportunity to define you.

Wearing a kippa that expresses one’s identity is anything but tznius. Kippa is not a fashion statement. It’s a simple act of doing Hashem’s Will.

At December 10, 2008 at 2:03:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Crawling Axe: You're correct. What does that say about the begedim worn by the Kohanim?

At December 10, 2008 at 2:36:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CA: Another point of view would be to say that the kind of kippa one wears is a matter of minhag. If your community has a minhag to wear a certain kind of kippa, there's nothing wrong with wearing it -- indeed one could argue it's required. If you are not a member of a community with a well-defined minhag regarding kippot, then the individual has a choice, and I don't see why one's identity should not influence that choice. It may just me a matter of doing what feels right or comfortable to the individual, not making a "fashion statement." But I agree with you that it's nice to wear a kippa (or a hat) that makes it difficult for people to define you, so that people think of you for who you are, and not based on their stereotypes of the group you're in. That's why the black knitted kippa seems like a nice option -- as the Frumsatire piece suggests, it's very "neutral." From one point of view, it's also better than the other neutral option of suede, since it's made of cloth and instead of a dead animal that (in all likelihood) was not kosher-slaughtered. The only disadvantage I see is that some may see the knit and assume that nationalist (Israeli) politics is a part or a big part of your identity. Then again, maybe that applies only to non-black knitted kippas.

At December 10, 2008 at 4:31:00 PM EST, Blogger Ezzie said...

Interesting post...

At December 11, 2008 at 1:39:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have pictures of ancestors wearing larger black kippot..this is gerrer hasidim in poland. they are not velevet, but more like pillbox type.

remember those?

and of course we have photos of reb nachmans' anyone questioning his dvekus?

people who make an issue of it do harm to klal yisrael. if a person changes kippas and it helps him, gzunterheit for gosh sakes.

where in chumash it says you should wear black velvet???

i respect the litvish or hassidshe people who wear black velvet, shekoiach!!

i think this piece just shows the writers honesty and journey. no problem at all.

except maybe... a dig at what he calls 'frumkeit'. there's a subtle implication of negativity.

At December 11, 2008 at 9:52:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

It was hints of 'frumkeit' only regarding myself.

At December 11, 2008 at 1:08:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's that photo of Rebbe Nachman's kippa. Thanks for mentioning it, anon.

For some reason it never occurred to me that the white-kippa-with-tassel custom may have come from Rebbe Nachman himself!

At December 13, 2008 at 1:58:00 PM EST, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

sorry dude, seriously dont identify with this sort of thing. rather go bare headed and work on tachlis than worry about things that are probably not even a derabonan, and most definately not an issue for anything other than the possibilty of issur shatnez.

At December 14, 2008 at 7:54:00 AM EST, Blogger tea mad hatter said...

hi, sorry previous comment by me looks bit harsh. not meaning to be judgmental.


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