A Jewish headdress, the “skull cap” usually worn by Jewish men. Kippah means “covering”.

The wearing of head coverings in the Jewish Tradition dates back to the inception of the Mosaic Law, when the priesthood of Aaron donned the “mitzneft” (from the root word “to wrap”), which was a sort of turban. The mitzneft symbolized the moral perfection that was characteristic of the Almighty One (may He be blessed).

At first, this custom only applied to the priesthood, and with the destruction of the Second Temple, and the ensuing Diaspora, the tradition seems to have been lost for a time. The Babylonian Jews, of the Geonic Period, reinstituted the custom specifically for whoever was reading the Torah or saying the Prayer before the congregate. These teachers, or Rabbis, felt the need to express an immediate, incessant awareness that their God was present, so the cap became a symbol of that awareness, that “God is above us, and aware of us.” Simply, it is a symbol of piety, of the obligation Jews have towards their God, which is the meaning of another popular name for the Kippah – “Yarmulka”, a slight aberration of the words “Yarey Malka”, meaning “Fear of the King.”

With the passage of time, it would seem, that desire – the desire to symbolize a persistent connection with their God – was taken up by Jews on all strata, until the wearing of the skullcap became synonymous with Jewishness. There is no “law”, as such, for the wearing of a Kippah, but on some levels it has become such a correlative with their faith that in some communities the choice to not wear it equates with a choice to not follow the Torah, to no longer be faithful to the Jewish religion in general.

But this severity is hardly a rule of thumb.

In his responsa to the question “May women wear Kippah?”, Rabbi Jo David (reform) wrote:

In a word, “yes.” Today, there are kippot made especially for women, or women may wear traditional kippot. Personally, I never liked the plain black or white “lace” head coverings you find in many synagogues. I wear many different types of kippot and try to color coordinate them with my wardrobe! There are many different styles to chose from. Enjoy!

A simple word search for “Kippah” on www.google.com will confirm the Rabbi’s assertion – there are thousands of different Kippahs to choose from. From jigsaw “assemble it yourself” styles to the ever popular “diversity” rainbow skullcap. Truly, there is a Kippah out there for everyone.

Shalom!


Sources:
www.jewish.com
www.us-israel.org
www.kehilatdvarhashem.org

A Kippah is the Hebrew word for the small circle of cloth that many observant Jewish men wear on their head. This is often also known by the Yiddish terms, Kuppel and Yarmulke. There are many theories as to where the concept came from, stretching from a sign of the covenant with G-d, to a derivation of a priestly head covering. The truth is, we don't know. We know where most Jewish laws come from because we can read the Rabbinic arguments in the Talmud and the Mishnah. We cannot do that with a Kippah, because those arguments simply do not exist. The Kippah does not feature anywhere in the Torah, the Mishnah, the Talmud or the Mishneh Torah, and only appears for the first time in the Shulchan Aruch, which was written as recently as the 16th Century, and the Kitzer Shulchan Aruch which was written in the 19th Century.

I have asked many scholars and Rabbis where the tradition comes from, and have got a broad range of answers. The answer that most satisfies me is that the tradition comes from a passage of the Talmud which talks about the man who codified the Mishnah, Yehudah HaNassi, or Judah the Prince. A passage says about him (this is only a broad translation, it is not in any way accurate) that Yehudah HaNassi was a very pious man. In the next verse, it says that he never left the house without a head covering. This was later interpreted to mean that he was a very pious man THEREFORE he never left the house without a head covering, and so pious men must wear a head covering. It should be noted at this point, that he lived in one of the warmer parts of Israel, a place called Yavneh, which is often so hot that it really isn't a good idea to leave the house without a head covering.

It should also be noted that Jewish men ARE directly commanded to wear Tsitsiot, or tassels on the corners of their clothing, in all of the Jewish books. Then again, I know far more Jewish men who wear Kippot but not Tsitsiot than men who wear Tsitsiot but no Kippah.

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