blog | about | contact | origins | help

On Kneeling, Kippot and National Anthems

Share Share
For the past couple of years, my attention towards the NFL has been steadily decreasing. The games are extremely long with a surprisingly small amount of actual action, and I would generally rather spend my Sundays on a hike than watching television anyways. 
However, recently, the National Football League offered a form of entertainment, excitement, and publicity that immediately caught my attention. Yes, the NFL of all things has become the recent center of the political battleground that has enveloped the entirety of American society and culture.
Starting last year with Colin Kaepernick, a small number of football played have begun to kneel during the national anthem in protest of the institutional racism that they argue is ubiquitous in our county’s institutions. While this subtle protest was initially just a small side show, it suddenly exploded. After a comment by the President denouncing said protesters, hundreds of NFL players along with some owners came up with various ways to protest during recent games. Some teams stayed in the locker room during the anthem, others locked arms, while others continued the recent tradition of kneeling.
Now, since a plethora of natural disasters hitting both our country and the international community is not enough to worry about, this has become the hot topic. From talk shows, to articles, to news anchors everyone seems to have a strong opinion on the matter.
Well, given that I generally like to think about current events through the lens of my Jewish identity, I figured I would take a stab at it here, albeit in an indirect way. For years I have wrestled with myself regarding what to do with my kippah whenever the national anthem is being played. To this day, I do not have a consistent rule that I follow, and sort of switch back and forth depending on my immediate mood.
Interestingly enough, having your head covered during the anthem is actually prohibited by law (United States penal code Title 36, Chapter 10.) but there is no actual punishment for disobeying it. However, when one reads all of the other laws governing the American flag and national anthem, they will soon realize that everyone (even those with the noblest of intentions) constantly break the rules (printing the flag on clothing and using it for advertising purposes are just a few). It seems that these laws are more representative of general guidelines of proper conduct, than literal rules, and therefore it is doubtful that wearing a kippah would actually be ruled as illegal.
A better reason to take off a kippah, however, is public perception, or as known in the Jewish world: Chillul Hashem. There have been times, at various sporting events, that I have been asked by other fans to remove my kippah mid-anthem. Now it may be that they have no idea what a kippah actually is, thinking that it is equivalent to a baseball cap (or to hide our classic Jewish bald spots). Or, people may start to feel like certain Jews are viewing their Jewish identity as more important than following the proper conduct of the country.
Well, it may be true that our Jewish identity is and should be placed over our identity to the country (even though I believe that these identities are fundamentally intertwined). Nevertheless, this is an issue that I think needs to be thought out and we need to understand that wearing a kippah during the anthem is statement in itself.
Given that I am truly undecided myself in this manner, I figured I would lay out what I believe to be the arguments on both sides of this debate and leave it to you to come to your own conclusion. I believe that this issue contains a bit of a values paradox of sorts. On the one hand, America has been the only country in history (aside from Israel) that, from the outset, has protected religious diversity and made Jews feel comfortable and equal under the law. Our flag and anthem represent America’s foundational values that allow us to be free and practice Judaism safely and openly, and for that we need to be forever grateful and respectful of the country.
The flipside is, of course, that inherent in these values is the idea that we do not need to alter or hide our religious practice if it comes into conflict with the values of our country. In other words, one of the great part of America is that we can openly disagree with, disrespect, and advocate against its values, laws, and leaders. Part of being in a free country is not having to place public or political opinion before your own interests as a citizen or citizen group. As long as we are law abiding citizens (again I am assuming that wearing a kippah during the anthem is not actually against the law), we should feel free to wear a kippah even if others think that it is disrespectful to the country.
It feels weird that the very flag and anthem that represent our right to wear a kippah during the anthem, would appear to be disrespected by not taking off our kippah. To me this is a question of the chicken and egg and I am truly not sure which one should be given primacy. 
What do you think?
Have something to add? We'd love to hear from you. Please comment below to share.
What does Jewish law say about combat sports like boxing? See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search our repository of over 700 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.

Share Share


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Delivered by FeedBurner

Jewish Values Online | email:

Home | Search For Answers | Ask A Question | About | Contact Us | OriginsUseful Links | Blog | Help | Site Map

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. Jewish Values Online