Got a question? E-mail me to submit a question.
While walking home yesterday, I saw a kippah on the ground. It had clearly been there for a while and was dirty and no longer what I would consider wearable. It looked like a relatively generic mass-produced bat mitzvah favor, so likely didn’t have a lot of personal value. I didn’t feel comfortable leaving it on the ground, keeping it, or throwing it away. What should I have done?
Kippah Keeper (or not)
Surely, you either walked away or picked it up, both of which are their own kind of decisions. Since you’re not telling me which one, I’ll play out all the scenarios for the next time this unlikely event happens to you. And in the meantime, I’ll just have to wonder how much time you spent staring at the kippah on the sidewalk before doing, well, something.
Kippot (or singular, kippah), ritual head coverings, also called yarmulkes (but pronounced more like ya-mu-keh) are ubiquitous signs of Jewish identity. But they’re not actually sacred objects. So while some people may say that a tallit (prayer shawl) or tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) should be buried like holy texts, or at the minimum disposed of in a respectful manner, in my quick online research, I don’t see anyone saying that kippot deserve special attention once they’re no longer being used.
When a kippah falls off someone’s head, the wearer may kiss it before putting it back on, but that seems to be purely a matter of tradition and not an indication of a kippah as a holy object. That is to say, it makes sense that you feel it is wrong to see a kippah on the ground and also the wrongness is in the eye of the beholder. Probably countless people walked past the kippah and didn’t know what it was and treated it like any other piece of sidewalk debris (we’ll save littering at large for another column). Leaving it where it was, assuming you weren’t out cleaning up other trash, would make sense.
On the other hand, a kippah is deeply symbolic to many people and even if it’s not wrong per se to leave it there, it may legitimately feel wrong to leave an item associated so strongly with Judaism on the ground for anyone to trample. One step further could be to think that if someone else sees it on the ground, they may assume a level of disrespect for other items associated with Judaism. A stretch, perhaps, but it feels deeply icky to think about days’ worth of people trampling this discarded kippah. So, it also makes sense to pick it up.
But what then? You, surely, do not want this kippah. Based on your description of it, probably no one else wants it either. You could leave it on a stoop or elevated ledge near where you found it. There is a Jewish value of returning lost objects, and you may be facilitating its return to its owner, but it’s a long shot. You could do something radical like look up the name of the Bat Mitzvah kid on social media and tell her you found this. Or, you could do what I think is the most straightforward and reasonable, and pick it up and throw it away. No one else will step on it, and you won’t have to wonder if you should have done more. This advice doesn’t apply to other ritual items, or even a nicer kippah that someone would have been more likely to look for, but in this case, I think whatever you did was fine.