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Yiddishe Kup

Monday, February 20, 2012
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Remember when I categorized the types of advice I thought I might be called on to give? I'm happy to answer my first truly wackadoo question, though I suspect this is something that has occurred to more people than are probably willing to admit it.

Dear Miriam,

Whenever I go to synagogue, I cringe a little when I take a kipah from the communal bin. Is it true that kipah bins can house lice?  I'll take one, but I still feel worried... What do you think?

Signed,
Yiddishe Kup

Dear Yiddishe Kup,

A quick review of several health-related websites (I googled the query, "How do lice spread?") all agree that lice can only live 1-2 days off of a host's head (or, kup, to stick with your moniker). If you're going to synagogue on a Friday night, you can probably rest assured that no one's worn the kipot since the previous Shabbat, and any lice didn't survive the week. If that's not good enough for you, I suggest examining the kipah before you put it on your head. Lice are small, but they're not microscopic, so you could probably spot them through some careful examination.

I have an even more practical solution, though, than you positing yourself as the creepy guy who examines each and every kipah before putting one on your head: Why don't you bring your own? Surely you have at least one souvenir kipah from a wedding or bar mitzvah that you could stick in your pocket on the way to synagogue, thus avoiding this dilemma altogether.

A more extreme suggestion is that you pick your synagogue based on who would allow you to go bare-headed into services. This article provides a brief history of head-covering customs in Jewish life and some of the distinctions between Reform practice and other more traditional denominations.

Head covering is a custom rather than a law, though it would be bold of you to buck a community's tradition by, say, walking into an Orthodox synagogue bare-headed. Though, if you did, the worst that would happen is that someone would hand you a kipah and ask you to put it on without giving you time to complete a thorough lice investigation. Better to choose your own poison, walk in with your head held high, and try to ignore any phantom itches that pop up during the sermon.

Be well,
Miriam

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