Research Unit Law

Negotiating Visibility

A Cultural History of Wearing the Kippah

There is hardly a more characteristic symbol of Judaism than the kippah, yet the traditional Jewish head covering is increasingly disappearing from European society. Although it may seem like an unremarkable object, the kippah touches upon some of the deepest paradoxes in modern Judaism. This study will examine five of the complex aspects relating to the kippah as a special symbol of Jewish visibility: First, the emergence of the kippah in modernity as a symbol of the ambivalent position of Jews in the modern world. Second, the contemporary disappearance of the kippah from the European public sphere. Third, inner-Jewish debates around the kippah, in which this object appears less as a uniting than a dividing symbol. Fourth, the gendered aspect of the kippah as a traditional male item of clothing and various attempts to challenge, through it, patriarchal horms. And fifth, the surprising decisions by various Jews either to remove their kippah or to resume wearing it – a conversion that is more a reflection of the dynamics of secularism of the past decades than of the tradition in which the kippah is allegedly grounded.

This project is part of the cooperative project »Turning Object into Subject. Communicating Jewish Everyday Culture in Germany« funded by the BMBF.


Itamar Ben Ami