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Bare Head

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Topic: Revealed Heads, Aramaic Idiom

Sidney Davis wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

How is one to understand the wearing of the kippa (skullcap-yarmulke) in light of the following from the Targum? The Targum on Judges 5:2 suggests: "The wise men sit in the synagogues...with the head uncovered to teach the people the words of the law;" and Judges 5:9 has these words: "Deborah in prophecy said, I am sent to praise the Scribes of Israel, who when they were in tribulation did not cease from expounding the law; and so it was beautiful for them to sit in the synagogues with the head uncovered and teach the people the words of the law, and bless and thank before the L-rd."

Dear Sidney Davis,

The Targum says that Devorah praised the Sages for teaching Torah with "reish g'lai." Taken literally, this means "with a revealed head." This is wrong for two reasons: First of all, it makes no sense. Is there something praiseworthy about teaching Torah while bare-headed? Why would Devorah praise them for that? Second of all, we find the exact same expression regarding a verse in Exodus: "The Children of Israel went out of Egypt with a high hand." The Targum translates "high hand" as "reish g'lai" - "a revealed head." Obviously, this can't be literal. What does a revealed head have to do with a high hand? When they picked up their high hands, did they knock off their yarlmulkes? Rather the Targum is taking the Hebrew idiom "high hand" and translating into the Aramaic idiom "revealed head." It means, as Rashi comments - a bold, public show of strength. It's like saying: "The Jews left Egypt with their head held high." So too, in the verses you quoted "reish g'lai" means "a bold, public display of strength" meaning that the Sages taught Torah unabashedly, with their head held high.


  • Exodus 14:8 and Rashi

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