Business Ethics

For the week ending 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

Wearing a Kippah in a Government Workplace

by Rabbi Ari Wasserman
Library Kaddish

QUESTION

I am considering taking a job with the United States government, which would require me to have dealings with foreign countries (not only Israel). I currently wear a kippah to work in New York in the private sector. But I have been told by a knowledgeable person that wearing a kippah while working for the government, especially in the type of position that I am looking to fill, is not as simple. Therefore, my question is: can I take the kippah off?

It’s tough to know for certain, but it’s possible that I would get the job even with the kippah. It’s really an unknown. Also, I am gainfully employed in New York and would simply be switching jobs. It’s not the situation of being unemployed, not having a salary, and only having one source of livelihood which requires removing the kippah.

However, the added variable here is that the senior officials who would decide whether or not to hire me could look askance at the kippah. Were I to outwardly represent myself as an Orthodox Jew, I would be seen as being biased pro-Israel, and therefore less effective in my job because certain foreign countries would likely be turned off by that, especially if I am dealing with Middle East security matters.

I think I could benefit the Jewish People in general, and the State of Israel in particular, if I were to hold this position, but from the government’s perspective the kippah could be seen as a hindrance.

HALACHIC BACKGROUND

Contemporary poskim are in agreement that wearing a head covering (whether a kippah, a cap or hat) is definitely obligatory at all times. Some forbid going bareheaded even for a livelihood, while others are more lenient, permitting it under certain conditions.

Rav Moshe Feinstein has ruled that one may be lenient and go bareheaded when there is a question of substantial loss. (The question of what would constitute a substantial or a minor loss should be discussed in each instance with a competent halachic authority.)

Rav Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss, a noted 20th century posek, specifically addresses the issue of removing the kippah for government work. In a responsum written in England in 1965, he states that it is impossible to establish a blanket policy for such cases, and each must be decided with consideration for the particular circumstances of the place and the time.Certainly, if the governmental agency does not object to the wearing of a kippah at work, there is no basis to be lenient about removing it.

In addition, before deciding to remove the kippah for an interview, some soul-searching is in order. Is there a sound reason to believe that a kippah-wearing Jew will definitely not be hired for this position? Or is it merely a hunch, a gut feeling, or just speculation based on a rumor? A hunch is not sufficient grounds to remove the kippah; there must be solid evidence. None of the poskim – even those who have ruled leniently, permitting the removal of the kippah for the sake of livelihood – allowed going bareheaded simply on a hunch that it could jeopardize a potential job offer.

RESPONSE

I have posed your question to Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz shlita, and I summarize his answer below:

As a matter of basic logic you should not remove your kippah. First, there is no economic need. Second, whether this would affect your chances of getting the job is speculative. Third, while the Jewish People would benefit from your holding this position, it is doubtful that this is essential to our national welfare. If Hashem wants you to be in this position, He will put you there.

Rabbi Breitowitz added: “We should not be ashamed of who we are and what we believe in. It is not our responsibility to cut corners or seek leniencies because we think it will be for the greater good. We have to believe that obeying Hashem’s laws will ultimately bring good to us and others.”

Finally, Rabbi Breitowitz advised that if you do indeed get the job, it may be appropriate for you to remove your kippah in certain situations, and that is something you can mention during the interview.

§ L’iluy nishmas Yehudah ben Shmuel HaKohen

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