Ask the rabbi: Origins of head coverings

Vol XXI: When did Jewish men start having to wear a head covering according to "halacha" or is it a fallacy that one must cover their head?

Rabbi Brovender (photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen)
Rabbi Brovender
(photo credit: Courtesy Yaakov S. Cohen) is happy to announce the launch of its newest Ask the Expert column -- Ask the Rabbi, in cooperation with Rabbi Chaim Brovender, president of the ATID Foundation ( and Rosh Yeshiva of Web Yeshiva. To read more about Rabbi Brovender, click here for Jerusalem Post columnist Barbara Sofer's June 22, 2007 article titled, "The Human Spirit: Synthesizing past and present," in which she details the Rabbi's achievements. Or click here for the recent "In Jerusalem" profile. Send us your questions and please leave your comments on the Q&A below. * * * For Vol I-III Click here For Vol IV-V Click here For Vol VI-IX Click here For Vol X-XII Click here For Vol XIII-XV Click here For Vol XVI-XVIII Click here For Vol XIX-XX Click here Vol XXI Q: A close relative of mine wants to marry a Cohen in Israel. Her father was not Jewish. She claims that the halakhah is very unclear and that she is going to circumvent it. As an Orthodox Jew myself, I am very concerned. If they cannot get married in Israel they will fly to Cyprus. A: The question seems to imply that one can get "married" either in Israel or in Cypress. Howeverl, in this context "Israel" means a Jewish wedding and Cyprus means a non_Jewish wedding. (By the way it is possible under certain circumstance to have a civil marriage in Israel and save the airfare). I don't imagine that the Rabbinate will allow the daughter of a non-Jew to marry a Kohen but this should be clarified in advance with an Orthodox Rabbi who knows the case well. Q: When did Jewish men start having to wear a head covering according to "halacha" or is it a fallacy that one must cover their head? What portion of the head must be covered? How large must the covering be? Is the halacha still applicable today? Can one say a blessing or eat without a head covering? Same questions for married women. A: Head covering for men is mentioned in the gemara as hasidut; beyond the normal accepted obligation. It was done in order to emphasize that we always walk in the shadow of Gd. With the passing of time this was accepted as a discriminating factor for Jews who are devoted to the halacha. While in the days of the Talmud one assumes that the style and size of the head covering was in line with the accepted norms for generally worn head covering, today most Jews wear a special small head covering called a kippa. Even those who are less devoted usually wear this head covering when they attend synagogue or events that imply to them a measure of sanctity. In modern times the kippa sruga, a knitted or crouched kippa has become popular. The kippa has become a distinguishing feature of a man's dress indicating which part of the political spectrum he is part of. For the person who accepts that halacha is binding it would be unthinkable that he would perform any obligatory act, making a bracha on eating food for example without a head covering. Q: When people come to the office collecting money for a tzedaka, which can happen at least once or twice a week, what is the right thing to do? - Should I let them in and allow them to bother everyone asking for money? - Should I sent them on their way? - Should I give them money and send them on their way? A: Giving Zedaqa is a mizva, but that doesn't mean that the amount is unlimited. Everyone has to decide for himself what that amount is. Traditionally ten percent is reasonable but many give much more. It is not clear that giving zedaqa also means giving time in an unlimited way. There is no reason to allow the requests to take time away from work or home life. Recently I visited a person who I know is a serious giver of charity. On other occasions, there have been lines of poor people assembled outside his door and he would see them all. This time I noticed a sign on his door asking the petitioners to leave their names and addresses and a short petition and assured them that they would be answered. I think that this is a good suggestion. The office is obviously a place of work. It is reasonable to insist that the petitioners leave their names and addressed, or alternatively that a secretary deal with them according to some agreed upon scale. I hope that you will always be able to fulfill the mizva of Zedaqa and create much good in the world. Q: I was having a discussion with someone regarding one's Jewish status. I was under the impression that if one were to convert to a religion where idols were worshiped or if they converted to a religion that believed in more than one G-d, that they would no longer be considered Jewish and would have to reconvert to Judaism. Is this true, or am I mistaken?  A: Confusion is certainly a transgression, but we can repent our confusion. It is difficult to classify the major religions in the world today as idolatry, and so anyone who thinks that they converted probably retains his status as a Jew, and can repent his or her foolhardiness. Tshuva is a powerful Jewish force and overcomes almost all of the transgressions imaginable. Many years ago there was a Brother Daniel, who as a catholic priest insisted that since he was born to Jewish parents should be accepted by the State of Israel as a Jew and given all the privileges of one born Jewish. This was a strange idea and rejected by both religious and secular authorities. In that case, he was not interested in doing Tshuva. Q: Can I donate my organs for transplant upon death? Is it halachic? A: You may definitely donate your organs, and contribute to saving a life, or repairing damaged organs in others. However, you have to give permission in advance. No one can use the organs unless you donate them. It seems to me that this is a great hesed and one that no one should avoid. Sometimes people feel that there might be a problem in burial but that is not true. As long as the cadavre is given the proper Kavod, organ donations are not a problem. Q: My son has been dating a goy for 2 years already. We as a family are not happy at all. We won't accept her at all even if she converts. We came here to be with our own people and to marry a Jewish person from birth. We all are very upset and  my son doesn't care. What do we do to stop this non-Jewish girl from living with your son and taking him away from his Jewish home. We are a religious family and we need your advice. Thanks A: Naturally, I agree that your son living with a non-Jewish woman is tragic and everything should be done to break up the relationship. However, I disagree that converts are somehow different than other Jews. The process of conversion is difficult and it intends to certify that the convert truly deserves to be Jewish. Tactically there are two possibilities. The first is to shower your son with love and appreciation and hope that he comes to understand that what he is doing is hurtful and destructive to the family. We have to recognize that we have responsibility for each other and to each other. This might work. The other possibility is to do the opposite; disconnect and disregard and hope for the same reuslt. I think that you have to consult with professionals who know the case who might help you decide what the best option is. Hoping for your success. Q: Does a Beit Din resolving matters of divorce, such as custody, asset division (but not gett), need to consist of three members? A: A bet din has to have the full compliment when making a decision which is imposed on the litigants. However, when the bet din serves to clarify matters and helps to determine what is agreed upon by the parties even one judge is sufficient * * * Cafe Oleh experts have been chosen for their knowledge and reputation. Cafe Oleh does not take responsibility for any advice they offer. Send your comments >>
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