Annual Tzitzit check-up

It’s been four years and one month since I started wearing tzitzit daily. A few times a year, I do a little check-up on my tzitzit practice here at The Shuckle.

The latest is actually a comment that I just wrote in response to a comment on this recent post about the TSA and tzitzit.

Isak BK Aasvestad asked:


Why do you refuse to wear s kippah?

Don’t you get weird looks from other Jews trying to figure out a guy who wears tzitzit out, but goes bareheaded? (I’m not saying that avoiding weird looks is a reason in itself to wear a kippah, but to me the two goes together like a horse and carriage…)

And my response was:

Reason #1: I hate being told what to do. No one will ever tell you to use this siddur, not that one you brought with you. No one will ever tell you that you can’t daven in this community or that community if you don’t have tzitzit on. There is no reason I can find as to why this ritual, out of all of the Jewish rituals out there, has become a line in the sand. Yet, kippot have come to occupy a bizarre emblematic place in Jewish life, which leads me to the second reason….

Reason #2: The kippah seems to occupy a mere symbolic place in Jewish life. Despite what everyone says about being reminded that God is above you, there is no consensus on the historical reason for kippot. I don’t like doing things for no reason. And if the only reason we can come up with is that kippot symbolize God’s location at a higher altitude than us, then I am not interested in engaging with this ritual. It becomes a theological absurdity.

And as for the notion that kippah and tzitzit are a natural pair, let’s consider first that they have no relationship whatsoever, except that both are articles of clothing. One is a biblical injunction, the other a minhag–albeit a minhag with tremendous traction. (But, given my distaste for the literal application of minhag hu halachah, I’m not interested.)

Isak, it is interesting that you think the two articles of clothing are tied together. Most Jews I meet think it’s totally ordinary–whether they think it good or not–to wear a kippah, but not tzitzit. So it’s normative, in the collective Jewish consciousness, to engage in a particular minhag, but to ignore a full-fledged law that bears a resemblance to the minhag. That brings me to my third reason….

Reason #3: Not only do I not think that there’s a whole lot in the discussion of tzitzit and kippot that makes no sense, but I also think that people have an obligation to point out things to make no sense. So, in wearing tzitzit, but no kippah, I am a living testament to why the whole thing makes no sense.

As an aside, on this historic occasion of my four-years-and-a-little-more-than-one-month anniversary, here is the best of my tzitzit-related blogging, starting with the post I wrote on the first day that I wore them:

David wears anti-asshole fringes

Assface and the tzitzit


Previous “Ack” is hereby rescinded

ציצת טליסמן

The secret to keeping your tzitzit clean and untangled

Out here on the fringes, we wear the fringe

As the fringe gets longer, the conversation gets wider

, , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses to Annual Tzitzit check-up

  1. Yakov Wolf December 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    Thanks for this, David. Since I’ve been wearing tzitzit out, I’ve been wearing a kippah out as well. As Isak pointed out, it seemed like a package deal–if I wore tzitzit as an identifier, I “ought” to wear the other. There’s a few Chabadniks walking around here and I guess instinctively followed their example.

    This was definitely a slippery slope, though. I started wearing darker clothes and a fedora, the whole nine yards. After a few months, my fiancee confronted me and said she really was not into the direction I was heading–she was not interested in going out in public with someone who looked like he was playing hooky from yeshiva every day.

    So I toned it down a little. But I still wore the kippah–it still seemed obligatory if I was doing tzitzit. After these last few posts of yours and the related discussions, I’m feeling a little more liberated in how to choose my personal level of practice. So, thanks for that.

    • David A.M. Wilensky December 13, 2010 at 10:19 am #

      You should come over and we’ll have a kippah-burning party together.

    • Geoff December 13, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

      Haha…I actually have been wearing a fedora off and on for years (as well as white dress shirts), for reasons of style alone (I love hats). After becoming somewhat more traditionally observant and clued-in to orthodox practices such as “the levush”/dressing like a penguin, I decided to buy a grey hat to replace my black hat, at least when I’m wearing my standard dark pants and white shirt. Maybe the time when I showed up in a shul I’d never been to and someone asked me if I was with Chabad made me self-conscious (this was after I’d taken the hat off for davening, btw, and I don’t THINK my tzitzit were showing).

      • David A.M. Wilensky December 14, 2010 at 5:35 pm #

        Yeah, I’ve always imagined that all of this was much less of an issue 50 or 60 years ago when all men wore hats, Jewish or not.

      • Yakov Wolf December 14, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

        Still wearing the kippah today at work (I had hat hair and it covered it up. Honest!) and I’ve been asked if I’m a Hasid Jew twice today.

  2. Laura December 27, 2010 at 2:32 pm #

    As a womyn, I never understood why anyone wouldn’t want to wear a kippah (or a tallit, I guess, for that matter). Maybe it’s because I can’t wear them lest I elicit confusion and anger…

    But I like your reasons. I don’t know if most people want to admit this, but it’s totally symbolic and not a halachic requirement.

    • David A.M. Wilensky December 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

      Most people will admit it, but then accuse me of just trying to stir shit up. It’s proof to me that halachah means little to many–those who hide behind it while trying to convince everyone else that what they grew up with is correct.