The area where I’m staying in Los Angeles has a large Orthodox Jewish population. I’m quite fond of experiencing diversity in my surroundings but I have to say that I find being among strong religious communities rather off-putting. It emphasises for me the way that religion is a kind of mass delusion that encourages people to do very silly things.

For example: the Talmud states that, as a devout Jew you should ‘Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you’ and Jewish men are strongly recommended not to walk more than four cubits with their head uncovered. To this end, I see many local men in this neighbourhood wearing the small skull cap called a kippah (or yarmulke) as they go about their business.

Yesterday while I was in the supermarket, I noticed a guy wearing a kippah which must have been pretty much the most minimal thing you could put on your head and get away with calling a ‘head covering’. It was not much more than the size of a Ritz cracker, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that he bent down to take something off a lower shelf, I doubt I would have seen it at all.

The problem I have with this kind of thing is the way that humans have decided to interpret an edict from the Holy Scripture to suit their own, human, purposes. Followers of many religions propose that something is The Word of God and then seem comfortable with adding as many human caveats and qualifications as they see fit. They act like disobedient children, who, when asked to do something they don’t like, interpret it to suit their own agendas. Where is there any kind of rigor in this way of thinking? It is yet another example of the countless double-standards that riddle religious doctrine.1

I’m betting that the original intention of the Talmud was that you should wear a proper head covering like a hat or a scarf.2 It’s obviously a pain in the ass to wear a hat all the time, so someone, somewhere got the idea that they could interpret the ruling a little more loosely, and a generous head covering became a cap, and a cap became the kippah we usually see today. The ridiculous little cheese cracker that I saw yesterday seems to me to be the most grudging acceptance of religious commitment. It prompted me to wonder why, instead of wearing the daft thing at all, the guy didn’t just go bare-headed and pretend that the supermarket was less than four cubits from his house. As far as I can see, it’s exactly the same kind of logic.

  1. Not that I’m advocating fundamentalism, you understand, but at least the logic of it is coherent. []
  2. Which, even in itself, is a berserk religious instruction that makes little rational sense. []