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High School Student Needed Rabbi's Note to Wear Yarmulke in School


"It looked like the head covering we see some Rastafarians wear."

Image source: Flickr user Harrington Events

A Maryland high school student and his parents are seeking an apology after the teen's principal said he needed a note from his rabbi in order to wear his yarmulke in school, the Washington Post reported.

Caleb Tanenbaum said he was told last month to remove his head covering in the school's cafeteria, but declined to do so on religious grounds.

Yarmulkes are traditionally worn by Jewish men when they pray, though some opt to wear them all day. Most are small, though Caleb's was "a large, black hat that had been knitted by his mother and which covered his dreadlocks," the newspaper described.

Caleb, a junior, said he told school officials to call his parents to confirm he was wearing the covering for religious purposes, which they did. Still, the principal asked for a letter from the family's rabbi to confirm it.

Northwood High School Principal Henry Johnson Jr. told the Post the school doesn't usually question students' religious wear, but with "all these different religions and cultures, we have to validate sometimes."

“This wasn’t what we traditionally see as a yarmulke or a kippah," Johnson said. "It looked like the head covering we see some Rastafarians wear."

The family procured the note from their rabbi, but Caleb's father is still upset. Steven Tanenbaum said he thought the principal overstepped, and that once he and his wife confirmed what their son said, "that should have been enough."

“Instead of saying that’s fine, the principal wanted a letter from a rabbi,” Tanenbaum told the Wheaton Patch. “Our word was not good enough? We’re his parents!”

Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, who wrote the note, told the news site he's never seen a student have to justify their religious wear before. He wrote in the letter, "I ask you, in the spirit of religious acceptance, to allow him to wear his Kippah in the school.”

Caleb, who was born in Jerusalem, said he's been trying lately to re-embrace his Judaism. According to the Post, religious head coverings for Jews and Muslims are common at the school, which does not have any guidelines prohibiting students from wearing hats.

“He wanted me to prove my religion,” Caleb said.

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