John Davison
Last updated: 5 February, 2015

For fearful Jews, the ‘magic kippa’ blends into hair

At his unisex hairdresser's shop in central Israel, Shalom Koresh carefully clips to a boy's head his latest business innovation -- a discreet skullcap for Jews fearful of anti-Semitic attacks.

At his unisex hairdresser’s shop in central Israel, Shalom Koresh carefully clips to a boy’s head his latest business innovation — a discreet skullcap for Jews fearful of anti-Semitic attacks.

“The idea first came to me about six months ago,” he said, gesticulating with a pair of scissors a little too close to the bemused teenager’s face.

“I had customers coming in who had travelled in Europe and talked about growing anti-Semitism there. So I thought, why not make a kippa that blends in with the hair?”

Koresh says his product, which looks impressively convincing, allows Jews worried about racist violence to disguise their religious identity while remaining observant.

The kippas, no larger than a few inches in diameter, look like small wigs, and are tailored to the colour and texture of the owner’s hair.

A synthetic hair kippa costs the equivalent of 49 euros ($56). One made of real hair, which Koresh buys specially, is more expensive at 70 euros.

Some might consider that pricey, coming from the nondescript suburbs of Rehovot, a city where anti-Semitism is not a pressing concern.

Two female customers sun themselves outside the small salon while their hair dries, and conversations are interrupted by the Jewish state’s warplanes soaring overhead to land at a nearby airbase.

But Koresh’s product is destined for export. The 48-year-old believes that in Europe, genuine fears of rising anti-Semitism give cause for the hair kippa.

And it is clear where most of Koresh’s custom comes from. He sports a black t-shirt with gold lettering that reads “La Kippa Magique (The Magic Kippa)” in French.

– Anti-Semitism rising –

“The most requests I’ve had for the kippas, or for samples, have been from France and Belgium,” he said.

“Since the events in France, I’ve had more emails asking how to get hold of the kippas, and there’s been some media publicity which should help things take off.”

In January, an Islamist gunman shot dead four Jews in a kosher supermarket in Paris before he was killed by police, two days after a deadly attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

President Francois Hollande vowed to combat what he called an “unbearable” rise of anti-Semitism, after figures showed that anti-Jewish acts in France had doubled over the past year.

Koresh is confident that in this climate, his kippas will catch on.

“Of course it will become popular!” he exclaimed excitedly, accidentally pulling a female customer’s hair.

– Kosher kippas? –

But Jewish sociology experts are unsure, saying disguising a kippa might defeat the purpose of wearing one.

“The idea behind the kippa… is to make Jews appear different from so-called goyim, or gentiles, and to make that very obvious both to the outside world and to themselves,” Professor Gideon Aran of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University told AFP.

In cases where Jews wish to hide their religious identity, “sometimes rather than wearing a kippa… Jewish men abroad will wear a baseball cap to look like anyone else.

“Many simply take it off so as not to stand out.”

In any case, “there is in fact no rule, nothing mentioned in the Torah, that commands Jews to wear a hat,” Aran said.

“It’s a kind of custom that became de facto obligatory over the course of generations… especially since the emergence of the Jewish Orthodoxy, which is part of Jewish modernisation and goes back some 200 years or so.”

Professor Tamar El Or, also of the Hebrew University, was incredulous at the idea of a hair kippa too.

“There’s obviously a new opportunity here, someone has had an idea and he’s trying to make money from it,” she said.

“I don’t think he’s going to become a millionaire.”

Koresh, as if by duty to protect the buyers and the business, did not reveal how many of the hair skullcaps he had sold, or how many orders were coming in.

“Like the kippas — it’s a secret,” he said.