Q. What is the meaning of the early morning blessing which praises God “who crowns Israel with glory”?A. The early morning b’rachot derive from a passage in the Talmud (B’rachot 60b). They form the liturgical accompaniment to the sequence of a person’s actions in the morning.
When the cock crows its wake-up call, we praise God who gave it intelligence to discern between day and night. Then one comes to, one praises God “who has not made me a heathen… a serf… a woman” (some mitzvot were not obligatory on women, and men thanked God for the extra duties they had to perform). Opening one’s eyes one blessed God “who opens the eyes of the blind”.
Going further, putting on one’s shoes led to praise of God “who has supplied all my wants”; on putting on his belt, a man praised Him “who girds Israel with might”, and on putting on his cap (literally, his turban), he praised Him “who crowns Israel with glory”.
The turban was wound round a person’s head. The Jews of ancient Babylon regarded it as a mark of morality, piety and humility. A certain woman believed she could protect her son from a life of crime by making him wear a turban at all times, but when he was a child his turban accidentally unwound and he could not resist the temptation to take a bite at someone else’s fruit.
Whilst covering the head gradually became widespread amongst Jewish males, the rise of Islam made it difficult to continue wearing turbans, which were called “the crown of the Arabs” and “the badge of Islam”. As a tolerated minority in Arab lands Jews sometimes had to wear a distinguishing mark on their turbans and at times their turbans could not exceed a certain length of winding cloth.
Maimonides is often depicted as wearing a turban, but these depictions arose long after the sage’s death; an early printer, knowing that Maimonides lived in an Islamic environment, may have decided for himself that this is how the rabbi looked. Nonetheless, Maimonides was certainly an eminent exemplar of the b’rachah that speaks of God crowning Israel, especially the sages, with Divine glory.