Reader Response, Vol. 7, Issue 5

Etiquetteer was gratified that several readers leapt to his defense after reading about Etiquetteer's experience wearing a yarmulke at a Jewish funeral while not actually Jewish himself: 


From a child of a mixed-faith household:  It is always proper and a sign of respect to wear a kippah (yarmulke) at a Jewish funeral home, or in Temple or at a Rabbi's home even if one isn't Jewish. My dad, who converted when he was 70, always wore a kippah in Temple when we would go for a funeral or a Bat Mitzva or Bar Mitzva or wedding. It is customary to offer one to every gentleman to wear so that they can cover their head out of respect. What was out of line wasn't that you were wearing one (which was very nice of you to do) it was the disrespect of the two drug users in question who were also in attendance. That really was shameful behavior!


From a Jewish lady:  My husband and I were distressed by at the ignorance and stupidity of people who questioned your right to wear a yamulke ( kippa in Hebrew). It is considered correct religious etiquette to cover your head during a Jewish religious event, be it a Sabbath service, wedding,funeral, or Brit Milah (circumsion ceremony). As someone who is not Jewish, you would not be expected nor permitted to wear a prayer shawl, a tallit during a worship service. So please do not let the rude remarks concerning your head covering prevent you from applying the kippa to your head again if you find yourself in a Jewish religious setting.


From a well-known on-line journaller, photographer, and actress who knows Randy Newman:  I respectfully disagree with something in your last column, about non-Jews wearing yarmulkes at Jewish ceremonies.  Just as one removes one's shoes in a mosque no matter what one's religion, and women used to cover their heads in Catholic churches no matter what their religion, if you are in a temple and you are a man, you wear a yarmulke.  Now, I notice that this was not in temple but in a Jewish funeral home, but I would imagine that the rule would still apply, proper respect requires the wearing of the yarmulke.  The laughers were, of course, morons.  


After such a brisk and chivalrous response, Etiquetteer did a little checking for "chapter and verse." Happily, a wonderful resource bore out the correct instructions of Etiquetteer's readers: How to Be a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious Ceremonies, edited by Arthur J. Magida. And indeed, the yarmulke is required of all men attending a Jewish service. 

Reader Response, Vol. 4, Issue 18

Dear Etiquetteer: What has this world come to?This week's letters are the final straw for me.... not the most egregious examples, just the final straw. I'm grown horribly tired of these people who have nothing better to do than become squeamish over the passing of crumbs or the touching of fingers or being anywhere where someone's dry lips may have passed. If I see one more anti-bacterial product I think I really will become sick. Oh yes this woman at the book club used her cracker as a scoop... really, so what is quite so terrible? Nice suggestion from you to the host that she encourage use of the knife provided but all these guests grossed out? I find myself wondering what sort of plastic bubble they live within.I appreciate that our modern, polite society pays attention to hygiene and is thoughtful enough to wish to avoid passing illness onto others. Covering one's sneeze, not sniffling all day over a co-workers desk, rodent control and all -- wonderful progress. But science has shown that living in too sterile an environment is actually bad for one's health.I hear about people absolutely disgusted by people who lick their fingers in order to effectively separate stuck papers. Not the nicest thing I suppose but is that really worth getting one's knickers in a twist? Unfortunately many are responding to this sort of grousing so that at mass on Sunday some communities are no longer encouraging worshippers to exchange a handshake as a gesture of peace. The latest and most distressing are calls to no longer share the communion cup of wine -- the very symbol of the faith and commonality -- because it's "gross." Really. Good enough for our Lord Jesus Christ but we're all above it all now I guess.Just when is this going to stop? I fear we are becoming a cold people, unable to appreciate the sensuous pleasures of life and love. I appreciate concerns about passing of colds or VD or unpleasantness of any kind. I appreciate common manners and would never encourage slob-like dinner guest but really, things are going too far. Dear Forthright: Thank you for expressing your opinion so thoughtfully. Like you, Etiquetteer laments the super-fussiness of those who cannot stomach sharing a Communion chalice or even shake hands. We are losing what Nathaniel Hawthorne once called "the chain of human sympathies." If more people remembered to wear their crisp white kid gloves to church we wouldn’t have these problems . . .Now all that said, Etiquetteer needs to leap gallantly to the defense of the book club made squeamish by the pillaging of the Brie. Etiquetteer was not present at the time, but it certainly does sound as if Brie Woman’s standard of personal hygiene was not at the level of the others present, perhaps not anywhere near it. Imagine, if you will, that Brie Woman had thoughtfully covered a sneeze with her bare hand and then reached over with a small cracker to chop out more Brie, which unavoidably got all over her fingers. Anyone watching this would automatically think that the residue of her sneeze was all over the Brie. Etiquetteer would definitely passing up the cheese course under those circumstances . . .So Etiquetteer must both agree and disagree with you. Now let us join hands and pray each to the Deity of One’s Choice that our common humanity will emerge victorious in the long run.

Dear Etiquetteer: Having eased the pain of a Monday just a little by reading Etiquetteer, I want to mention, for clarity's sake, something that gave me an uncomfortable twinge while reading about doorway décor. A mezuzah is, indeed, a religious symbol, yet discreetly applied, and in a very particular way. Unlike a wreath or a celebratory banner, however, it is not an option -- it is an obligation, a commandment. It is not a statement to the world, either -- it's a reminder of personal responsibility to the inhabitant who has placed it on his/her doorpost. The idea that it is "allowed" suggests that it might be "disallowed," which suggests a misunderstanding of its presence. (I don't even want to think about the issue of Chanukah menorahs.) Dear Doorposting: Quite true, but what Etiquetteer has seen, alas, is that what is commanded by one’s religion is not always allowed by one’s condo association. Like you, Etiquetteer firmly believes that such a gesture is not an option. And this means that one must examine one’s condo documents very carefully to be sure that no such restriction is in place. Good heavens, the fondness for gated communities (talk about removing oneself from "the chain of human sympathies" . . . ) with restrictions of yard display has kept patriotic Americans from flying the flag on their own property, which certainly can’t be right.

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