Why wear a kippah? What does the Jewish skullcap mean?
In France, one meaning is "walking target," as an attack on a Jewish teacher in Marseilles shows.
The brutal machete attack has prompted a public debate among Jewish leaders over whether to stop wearing the traditional headgear in public. Beyond that, however, media accounts seem to lose interest.
Here are some of the horrendous details, as reported in the International Business Times:
A teenager who attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in France claimed he acted in the name of the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) group, authorities said. Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin confirmed the stabbing was anti-Semitic and involved some degree of premeditation.
The victim, a 35-year-old teacher at the Franco-Hebraic Institute in the southern city, was on his way to work on 11 January when the boy of Turkish Kurd origins charged him from behind.
The youth, who will turn 16 next week, first slashed the man's shoulder and then went after him as he fled. The teacher eventually fell on to the ground and fought off a second attack using his arms, legs and a holy book, Robin said.
The assailant dropped the weapon and ran away before being caught by police some 10 minutes later. Upon arrest he invoked Allah and IS also telling officers that "the Muslims of France dishonour Islam and the French army protects Jews".
You could hardly ask for stronger religious angles in a news story: jihadism, anti-Semitism, marking an enemy by his religious garb, use of a holy book as a shield. Even the machete recalls the half-dozen hacking attacks on secular bloggers in Bangladesh.
But like IBTimes, most media ignored or downplayed the religious facets. They didn’t even ask about the "holy book" used as a shield by the teacher. Among the very few that did was Yahoo News; it says the book was a Torah, a collection of the first five books of the Bible -- the basis of Jewish law and theology.
More typical is the account by the BBC:
The main Jewish leader in the French city of Marseille has urged men to stop wearing the skullcap after a violent, anti-Semitic attack on a teacher.
Zvi Ammar, head of Marseille's Israelite Consistory, said the "exceptional measure" was needed to protect Jewish lives.
However, France's chief rabbi urged Jews to keep covering their heads.
The teacher was stabbed by a boy who reportedly said he had done it for the jihadist Islamic State (IS) group.
BBC notes that the attack came just after the anniversary of a jihadi attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. The story adds that Jews have been attacked two other times in recent months in Marseille.
But why is it a big deal to wear a kippah? Here the article suddenly turns squishy, saying merely that Jewish men often wear one "as an outward sign of their religion." Thanks for that revelation.
Let's check Reuters. Its follow-up has more on the debate on whether to wear or not to wear.
"Not wearing the kippah can save lives and nothing is more important," Jewish leader Zvi Ammar says. But France's Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia urges Jews in France to wear the kippah and form a "united front."
As do other media, Reuters notes that France has the largest Jewish and the largest Muslim population in Europe. The article reminds us that the nation is still under a state of emergency since 130 people were killed in attacks in Paris last November.
But what and why the kippah? Reuters says only that it's a "traditional brimless cap."
Even Jewish media tended to slight the matter. Like Yahoo News, The Forward puts the religious details up front:
A teenager who attacked a Jewish teacher in Marseille on Monday is a Turkish citizen of Kurdish origin who said he acted in the name of the militant Islamist group Islamic State, the prosecutor in the southern French city of Marseille said.
The victim used a Torah book as a shield, according to one news website, which carried a photo of the blood-stained book. Its leather binding showed a deep cut.
“He claimed to have acted in the name of Allah and the Islamic State, repeating several times to have done on behalf of Daech (Islamic State),” the prosecutor, Brice Robin, told a news conference.
The Forward says also that in the November attack, one of the three attackers was "wearing a T-shirt with the Islamic State logo." But the kippah? Still a barely visible ghost, as in the other stories.
The Algemeiner even names the type of Torah the teacher used to defend himself:
It was a Chumash (a Torah in printed form) that most likely saved the life of the victim of Monday’s machete attack in Marseilles, local French newspaper LaProvence reported on Tuesday.
A copy of the Hebrew Bible in Benjamin Amsallem’s pocket apparently blocked the blow of the blade, preventing a more serious injury. Amsallem is a Bible teacher at the Franco-Hebraic institute “La Source,” where the attack took place.
That would explain why he was carrying a Torah on the street. Many people hear the word and think of a sefer Torah, a large, heavy scroll that has been hand-lettered in Hebrew. Nothing on the headgear that drew the machete attack.
And it's not hard to learn about it -- the stylebook of the Religion Newswriters Association has an entry that lists the word under yarmulke: "Pronounced 'YAH-mi-kuh.' Yiddish name for the skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish men in synagogue, and by some Jews at all times. It is a symbol of humility and submission to God. It is sometimes also referred to by its Hebrew name, kippah, which means 'dome.' "
Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish organization, has an expanded rundown:
A kippah (literally: dome) is the Hebrew word for skullcap, also referred to in Yiddish as a yarmulke, or less frequently as a koppel.
Jewish law requires men to cover their heads as a sign of respect and reverence for G d when praying, studying Torah, saying a blessing or entering a synagogue.
This practice has its roots in biblical times, when the priests in the Temple were instructed to cover their heads.
Traditionally, Jewish men and boys wear the kippah at all times, a symbol of their awareness of, and submission to, a "higher" entity.
Funny thing is, the BBC itself has a tidy little standing article on the purpose of the kippah: "The most common reason (for covering the head) is a sign of respect and fear of God. It is also felt that this separates God and human, by wearing a hat you are recognising that God is above all mankind." It even cites Shulchan Aruch, a compendium of Jewish religious law.
That article was posted back in 2009. Why didn't BBC at least link it to the story on the attack in Marseilles?