Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politicians and Kippahs

Using web applications like Google Analytics and sitemeter, I can track the web searches that have referred visitors to my blog.

Ever since the '08 presidential election and President-Elect Obama's nomination of Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff, there have been hundreds of searches for "Rahm Emanuel Kippah" that have landed web surfers to my blog. Apparently, a few mentions of the word kippah (or yarmulke) throughout my blog and a blog post about Rahm Emanuel are enough for search engines to put my blog in their search results listing. This tells me that there are many people out there interested in seeing a photo of Rahm Emanuel wearing a kippah. Well, sorry to disappoint but I haven't seen one either!

Bill Clinton KippahPutin KippahHowever, I have seen many pictures on the Web of other politicians wearing kippahs (yarmulkes). There are photos of Jewish and non-Jewish politicians donning the Jewish headcovering -- from Rudy Guiliani to Bill Clinton (left) and George Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left). But alas, no picture of a Rahm Emanuel under a kippah.

I asked my friend who attends Rahm Emanuel's modern-Orthodox synagogue in Chicago who told me that when Emanuel shows up (not so often) he wears a black suede kippah.

But what's interesting to me is not that so many people are jonesing for the pic of Emanuel wearing a kippah in the same skeptical way people reacted to Joe Lieberman's claims of being an Orthodox Jew in the 2000 campaign, but rather that there's an expectation to see politicians wearing Jewish religious attire.

I think politicians should wear a kippah if they are speaking in a synagogue, especially in the sanctuary. And maybe they should be expected to cover their head when they do the required photo op at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem. However, the kippah photo op at Yad Vashem for politicians has always struck me as odd. I know I'm not the only one. In 2005, blogger Jonathan Rosenblum wrote:

I have always found something faintly ridiculous about the perennial photos of gentile politicians donning yarmulkes to wolf down lox and bagels in Jewish neighborhoods. And I would be hard-pressed not to vote for any gentile politician who refused a proferred yarmulke on the sensible grounds that he is not Jewish. Apparently my view is not universally shared, however. When the Turkish Prime Minister visited Israel last week, he was told Israel would take a dim view of his failure to wear a kippah on a visit to Yad Vashem. He didn’t anyway, apparently on the grounds that many of the voters of his Islamic party would take an even dimmer view of his being seen wearing a Jewish religious symbol.Isn’t this nutso? Some noted that Yad Vashem is not a synagogue, but even if [it] were what disrespect would he have been showing by not wearing a yarmulke? Is he expected to daven? Would a Jew be disrespectful if he declined to take communion in a Catholic Church? (Assuming he did not know it was asur (prohibited by Jewish law) to be there in the first place.)

Blogger Dov Bear essentially made the same argument earlier this year in a post about Barack Obama's visit to Yad Vashem where he wore a white yarmulke (right). Adam Dickter, in a New York Jewish Week blog post in March, wrote about Republican nominee John McCain's odd choice for a kippah during his visit to the Kotel. Rather than going for the cheap black kippah (favored by Bill Clinton), he sported an elaborately emroidered white kippah that cutely matched his traveling buddy Joe Lieberman's kippah.

Perhaps one of President Obama's first acts in office will be to set some clear rules on the kippah wearing expectations of politicians. Synagogues-yes. Holocaust memorial centers-no. Funerals-yes. Jewish or Israel organization fundraising events at hotels-no. Kotel-optional. Maybe congress could even pass legislation on a standard political kippah. Something like a navy leather yarmulke with a tactful embroidered American flag would be nice!

In the meantime, if anyone has found a picture of Rahm Emanuel in a kippah, please leave the link in the comments section. Emanuel wearing a tallit? Even better!


LisaM at ThoseHeadcoverings said...

Did you see the "McKippah" and "Obamica" website? The creator there also put together a slide show of famous politicians in kippa. Much joy to you...

LisaM at ThoseHeadcoverings said...


Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Lisa: See my post about the Vanity Kippah website here. Also, Bangitout.com has a celebrity kippah site.