Kippah / Yarmulke

 

This booklet is written with the idea of providing a means to get started in this study. It is by no means an effort to answer every question or give you all the proof you need. To truly understand, you need to do some research on your own. Most of the Scriptures quoted are from The Interlinear Bible, by Jay P. Green, Sr., as general editor and translator.

Introduction

Many Jewish men are seen wearing something on their heads, some of them all the time, others only when they go to worship or pray. It is a small, circular covering that lays against the head. They may be plain or colorful or have designs on them. These are known as a kippah (kippot in the plural) or as a yarmulke in Yiddish.

Should we as Yahweh's people be wearing one? Are they in the Scriptures? If not, where and when did it originate?

Historical Sources

Journey Through Judaism, Alan D Bennett, editor, page 26-27 -

"Another practice shrouded in mystery is the wearing of a head covering, or kipah, a custom that was not enshrined as law until the sixteenth century, when Joseph Karo declared in the Shulchan Aruch that a man is not permitted to walk four cubits (about 72 inches) with head uncovered.

"In biblical times bareheadedness among men was customary. The stories of Samson (Judges 13-16) and of Absalom (2 Samuel 14:26) speak of their hair as a crown of glory, indicating that their heads were uncovered. The priests covered their heads as a sign of dignity, and the High Priest wore a golden diadem on his miter inscribed with the words 'Holy unto the Lord.'

"The wearing of a head covering during worship might have been influenced by the practice of Roman priests, who offered sacrifices with covered heads. Muslims, too, worship with heads covered. The Talmud speaks of the desirability of covering one's head as a sign of fearing God. In one passage, Rabbi Huna, son of Rabbi Joshua, would not walk four cubits bareheaded, saying: 'The Shechinah (Divine Presence) is above my head' (Kiddushin 31a).

"According to the Talmud (Berachot 60b), the morning blessing, 'Blessed art Thou, O Lord who crownest Israel with beauty,' was written to add sanctity to the act of covering the head. But the practice of wearing a head covering never fully gained acceptance in the talmudic period, remaining a status symbol and a sign that a man was married.

"Centuries passed before the head covering was accepted as a religious symbol. As late as the thirteenth century, it was not customary in France for Jews to cover their heads during worship; yet during the same period in Spain the opposite was true. But by the sixteenth century it became a Jewish law, capturing the imagination of the Jewish people and gaining universal Jewish acceptance. Elijah of Vilna (1720-1797), known as the Vilna Gaon, acknowledged that the practice is based on custom."

 

The First Jewish Catalog, Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld, page 49 -

"Throughout Jewish history, the attitude toward covering the head has varied. Drawings from the third century C.E. depict Jews without hats. In the Middle Ages, many Jews wore hats only during prayer and study. Gradually it became a binding custom to wear hats at all times.

"The use of a kipah - skullcap or yarmulka - instead of a hat is of post-talmudic origin. Lately, kippot have become a symbol for Jewish identification and are often worn for that reason alone."

 

Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pages 662-663 -

"In Jewish tradition, covering the head conveys the wearer's sense that there is a force in the universe above him.

"The head covering generally worn today is much smaller than a hat. Known in Hebrew as a kippah, it is usually made of cloth and is several inches in diameter.

"Although the kippah might symbolize to many non-Jews a high level of Jewish religiosity, wearing one is a custom, not a law. Nowhere does either the Torah or Talmud mandate that a Jewish male wear a head covering."

 

Sacred Origins of Profound Things, Charles Panati, page 18 -

"The earliest Jewish reference to a head covering exists in Exodus 28:4, which lists the vestments that set the priest apart from the congregation: 'a breastplate, an ephod [a richly embroidered outer garment], a robe, a brocaded tunic, a miter [turban or headband], and a sash.'

"The miter was called a mitznefet and was the tonsorial crown of the priest's wardrobe. Whereas several biblical references view a head covering as a sign of mourning the dead, the Talmud associates headgear with the concept of reverence toward God and a gesture of respect by the faithful."

 

To Be A Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, pages 180-181 -

" 'It is a custom not to walk under the heavens bareheaded' (Orach Hayim 2:6). Though never legislated by the Sages, the custom of not going about bareheaded at any time - at home, in the synagogue and outdoors - extends back several thousand years in time. In many ways, it has today become a mark of Jewish piety.

"To wear a headcovering was the ancient Roman stigma for a servant. Free men went bareheaded. The Jews adopted this practice in a House of God and in prayer or whenever God's name was mentioned in blessings (such as during meals which are preceded and followed by blessings) to emphasize that they were the servants of the Lord. Gradually, the practice was extended to wearing a headcovering also under the open skies. It became the Jewish way of showing reverence for God. 'Cover your head, so that the reverence of Heaven be upon you' (Shabbat 156b).

"The head covering that is usually worn, especially indoors, is a skullcap known in Yiddish as a yarmulke and in Hebrew as a kippah. No religious significance is attached to this particular type of headcovering."

 

From www.exo.net/bluethread/different/mattfull.html -

"There is no biblical commandment for anyone except the kohen (priest) to cover the head. And in the Talmud, the married women were required to cover their head in public (exposing their hair was considered to be an indecency), the practice of covering the head by men (other than those who were fasting, in mourning, under the ban, or afflicted with leprosy) appears to have been limited to scholars and other dignitaries, and to have been a voluntary act of special piety and humility. Indeed, for an 'ordinary' man to cover his head was considered in some circles to be presumptuous. In Palestine it was not required even that kohanim cover their heads during their recitation of the priestly blessing, although in Babylonia this was required."

 

From www.wzo.org.il/en/resources/view.asp?id=41 -

"Wearing a headcovering for men was only instituted in Talmudic times (approximately second century CE). The first mention of it is in Tractate Shabbat which discusses having the idea of respect and fear of God. Some sources likened it to the High Priest who wore a hat (Mitznefet) in order to remind him that there was always something between him and God. The idea has both a philosophical and psychological point. Philosophically it makes us all like the high priest and turns us into a 'holy nation.' Psychologically, wearing something on your head reminds you that there is always something above you. In addition on a more practical bend, it automatically categorized you as a religious Jew, making it a bit harder to do 'wrong' since you and everyone around you would know what you are and what is expected of you.

"This became common practice during Medieval times, and it was reinforced by the converse idea of removing one's hat as a sign of respect took hold in the Christian world."

 

Harper's Encyclopedia of Bible Life, Madeleine S and J Lane Miller -

From page 86 - "Headdress - Apparently, Jewish men wore a headdress for special occasions (Isa 61:3), on holidays, or in times of mourning (2 Sam 15:30). We first see the headdress mentioned in Exodus 28:40, as a part of the priest's clothing.

"Hebrew men probably used a head covering only on rare occasions, though Egyptian and Assyrian men wore them often. Some ancient headdresses were quite elaborate, especially those worn by royalty. The common Egyptian man wore a simple headdress consisting of a square cloth, folded so that three corners hung down the back and shoulders. This may have been the type used by the Hebrews,

From page 485 - "bonnet - a bonnet was worn by the ordinary priest. This bonnet was made of fine linen (Exod 39:28). The Hebrew word (migbaoth) from which bonnet was translated means 'to be lofty'."

 

Oxford Concise Companion to the Jewish Religion, Louis Jacobs -

From page 14 - "Bare Head - It would be difficult to find a more trivial matter that was the source of greater controversy in Jewish life than the question of whether or not it is permitted for males to pray with uncovered head. From the very few references in the Talmud it would appear that only men noted for their piety covered their heads, not only for prayer but at all times, out of respect for God 'on high,' that is, above their head. As late as the eighteenth century Elijah, Gaon of Vilna could write (note to the Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, 8) that according to the strict law there is no need to pray with covered head and that to cover the head is no more than an act of piety. For all that, especially in reaction to Christian worship, it became the universal practice among the Orthodox to cover the head (either with a hat or with the yarmulka) at all times."

From page 306 - "Yarmulka - The skull cap worn so as not to pray or study the Torah with bare head. The etymology of this Yiddish word is unknown.

"Orthodox Jews wear the yarmulka at all times, not only for prayer and study.

"The yarmulka is, however, simply a convenient head-covering and has no significance as a religious object in itself."

There are a few Scriptures we can look at regarding the covering of the head of the men.

Exodus 28: 36-38

36 - And you shall make a plate of pure gold. And you shall engrave on it the engravings of a signet: Holiness to Yahweh. 
37 - And you shall put a ribbon of blue on it, and it shall be on the miter, to the front of the miter it shall be. 
38 - And it shall be on Aaron's forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity of the holy things which will sanctify the sons of Israel to all their holy gifts. And it shall be on his forehead continually, for the acceptance of them before the face of Yahweh.

"Miter" is the Hebrew #4701, metsnefet, defined as a tiara, i.e. official turban (of a king or high priest); diadem, mitre.

The miter was a special item. It was to be worn only by Aaron. Or after his death, the next high priest. No one else was to wear it.

Exodus 28: 40

And you shall make tunics for the sons of Aaron; and you shall make girdles for them; and you shall make bonnets for them, for glory and for beauty.

The word "bonnet" is Hebrew 4021, migba'ah, meaning a cap (as hemispherical).

Bonnets were made for the other priests, the sons of Aaron. Not for all the Levites - just for the descendants of Aaron.

II Samuel 15: 30

And David was going up in the ascent of the olives, going up and weeping, and his head was covered, and he was going barefooted. And all the people who were with him each had covered his head, and had gone up, going up and weeping.

This event occurred after a death. This was a part of their mourning procedures. What did he cover his head with? Probably the cloak that he wrapped around himself.

I Corinthians 11: 4

Every man praying or prophesying, having anything down over his head shames his head.

Interesting. All Jewish men have their heads covered when they pray, either by a kippah, a tallit, or the black hat the Orthodox wear. But, of course, they do not read the writings of Paul!

Also, if you use the scriptures by Paul here to insist that a woman wear a headcovering, then it would be totally wrong to ignore this one and have the men put a headcovering on. What would be the purpose? Wouldn't that be hypocritical?

There are times the people of Israel probably did have their heads covered - with the cloak they wore. It would protect them from the glaring sun, from the cold, from the wind, from blowing sand, show they were in mourning, etc.

Some points to consider about the kippah:

  • There is no mention of a miter, bonnet, kippah or such in Scriptures for the average Israelite man, outside the priesthood. 
  • The kippah is not mentioned in the Torah or the Talmud. 
  • The kippah is based only on custom and tradition, not on any law. 
  • The kippah has no religious significance. 
  • The kippah was not widespread until the second century C.E.

There have been a few suggest that since we will someday be priests of Yahweh (I Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:10) then we should be wearing bonnets and priestly clothes now.

Why? Based on what? Certainly not on Scripture. We are not the descendants of Aaron. We will not be of the Levitical priesthood. We have no idea what we will be expected to wear. It may not include anything on the head. The clothing may be completely different from what the family of Aaron wore. Wouldn't it be presumptuous of us to take that decision on ourselves? Wouldn't it be best to wait and see what Yahweh Himself has in mind?

 

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