Cultural Imperialist

"Scathing Spats on Shallow Subjects"


Mon Aug 21




Hat Trick: Casual Jews and Skullcaps

jewyarmulkeI expect a certain percentage of religious people to wear something identifying their beliefs in public. This is commendable in our pluralistic society, and practically an outgrowth of the First Amendment, which certainly lets us wear what we want if it lets us have sex on camera for money.

What baffles me is why Jews of all stripes wear yarmulkes.

The children of Israel in this country aren't particularly devout, if my personal interactions and pop culture (Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen) are any indication. You can tell the ones who are - the men wear those hats that look like felt-covered Wolfgang Puck plates, grow beards that only squeaky teenage boys envy, and rock back and forth like they're trying too hard to honor an Asian businessman. It's certainly a way to set themselves apart, as no woman in her right mind would be attracted to a man in this getup in and of itself.

That's the point of religious garb and grooming, right? It doesn't have to be ostentacious - wearing a small cross, shaving your balls, or for evangelical pastors, donning a golf tie for your sermon. Even for gaudy garb, there's a connection between the apparel and the attitude - Muslim women cover their heads to protect their purity, and black megachurch pastors wear gold crosses that can be seen from space to protect them from the FBI and IRS.

It's really hard to miss a yarmulke, which at first glance looks like a baseball cap that shrunk in the wash. Yet you can't slap on one to hide your bad hair day, a key selling point for turbans and mitres, and those I see most often, held in place by barrettes that scream tween girl, are boringly black. They are meant to be seen and yet to say nothing - yarmulkes no more suggest your values than wearing a beret, the crown of useless hats, suggests you advise Afghan military commanders.

There are a couple explanations for this phenomenon of quasi-religious people wearing the proper attire, as opposed to pot-smoking Yalies wearing Rasta hats. Either the yarmulke is a magic force field, akin to wearing tin foil, that keeps God's wrath away from the casual Jew, or the yarmulke shows a respect for Judaism and its culture (and a modicum of morality for the tax-evading mistress-keeper) without committing oneself to, you know, believing in Yahweh. It tells the world, especially that part of Northwest Washington, D.C. that I inhabit, "I come from hearty stock whose moral code pioneered the concepts of minority rights and debt forgiveness. Hey, quit hogging the blow."

For all you disobedient children of Abraham, wear your skullcaps proudly. Like a paper bag around a fifth of cheap whiskey, it gives the rest of us hope that there's really something else under there.

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