A kippah (// kih-PAH; also spelled as kippa, kipa, kipah; Hebrew: כִּיפָּה, plural: כִּיפּוֹת kippot; Yiddish: קאפל koppel or יאַרמולקע), or yarmulke (//, pronunciation //), is a brimless cap, usually made of cloth, worn by male Jews to fulfill the customary requirement held by Orthodox halachic authorities that the head be covered. It is usually worn by men in Orthodox communities at all times, and according to Pewforum.org, up to 82% of the people who wear kippot identify as Orthodox. Most synagogues and Jewish funeral services keep a ready supply of kippot.
The term kippah (Hebrew: כיפה) literally means "dome". The same concept is used in Islam, in which the term taqiyah, which refers to a skullcap worn for religious purposes, is derived from Persian ṭāq (طاق) which means 'arch'.
There is debate among Halachic authorities as to whether or not wearing a kippah at all times is required. According to the Rambam, Jewish law dictates that a man is required to cover his head during prayer.
However, according to some authorities, it has since taken on the force of law because it is an act of Kiddush Hashem (lit., "sanctification of the Name", referring to actions which bring honor to God). The 17th-century authority Rabbi David HaLevi Segal (The "Taz") suggested that the reason was to distinguish Jews from their non-Jewish counterparts, especially while at prayer. He held that nowadays, wearing a kippah is required by halacha.
Other halachic authorities like Sephardi posek, the Chida (Rabbi Chaim David Yosef Azulai), hold that wearing a head covering is a midat hasidut, an additional measure of piety. In a recent responsum, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef ruled that it should be worn to show affiliation with the religiously observant community.
The Talmud states, "Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you." Rabbi Hunah ben Joshua never walked 4 cubits (6.6 feet, or 2 meters) with his head uncovered. He explained: "Because the Divine Presence is always over my head." This was understood by Rabbi Yosef Karo in the Shulchan Arukh as indicating that Jewish men should cover their heads, and should not walk more than four cubits bareheaded. Covering one's head, such as by wearing a kippah, is described as "honoring God". The Mishnah Berurah modifies this ruling, adding that the Achronim established it as a requirement to wear a head covering even when traversing fewer than four cubits, and even when one is standing still, indoors and outside. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch cites a story from the Talmud (Shabbat 156b) about Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, who might have become a thief had his mother not saved him from this fate by insisting that he cover his head, which instilled in him the fear of God. In Orthodox communities, boys are encouraged to wear a kippah from a young age in order to ingrain the habit.
The Talmud also implies that unmarried men did not wear a kippah: Rabbi Hisda praised Rabbi Hamnuna before Rabbi Huna as a great man. He said to him, 'When he visits you, bring him to me.' When he arrived, he saw that he wore no head-covering. 'Why do you not have head-covering?', he asked. 'Because I am not married', was the reply. Thereupon, he [Rabbi Huna] turned his face away from him, and said, 'See to it that you do not appear before me again before you are married.' [Tractate Kiddushin 29b]
The Tanakh implies that covering one's head is a sign of mourning:
And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went.
[Judah mourns,] and their nobles send their lads for water: they come to the pits, and find no water; their vessels return empty; they are ashamed and confounded, and cover their heads. Because of the ground which is cracked, for there hath been no rain in the land, the plowmen are ashamed, they cover their heads.
The argument for the kippa has two sides. The Vilna Gaon said one can make a berakhah without a kippah, since wearing a kippah is only an midos chassidus ("exemplary attribute"). Recently, there has been an effort to suppress earlier sources that practiced this leniency, including erasing lenient responsa from newly published books.
According to Rabbi Isaac Klein, a Conservative Jew ought to cover his head when in the synagogue, at prayer or sacred study, when engaging in a ritual act, and when eating. In the mid-19th century, Reformers led by Isaac Wise completely rejected the kippot after an altercation in which Rabbi Wise's kippah was knocked off his head.
There is still debate about whether or not wearing a Kippah is Halachic law or simply a custom. Many Sephardic Jews wear a kippah only when praying and eating.
Types and variation
In the Middle Ages in Europe, the distinctive Jewish headgear was the Jewish hat, a full hat with a brim and a central point or stalk. Originally used by choice among Jews to distinguish themselves, it was later made compulsory in some places by Christian governments as a discriminatory measure. In the early 19th century in the United States, rabbis often wore a scholar's cap (large saucer-shaped caps of cloth, like a beret) or a Chinese skullcap. Other Jews of this era wore black pillbox-shaped kippot.
Often, the color and fabric of the kippah can be a sign of adherence to a specific religious movement, particularly in Israel. Knitted or crocheted kippot, known as kippot serugot, are usually worn by Religious Zionists and the Modern Orthodox, who also wear suede or leather kippot. In the United States, however, different kippot tend not to carry socio-religious connotations.
Members of most Haredi groups wear black velvet or cloth kippot.
More recently, kippot have been observed made in the colors of sports teams, especially football. In the United States, children's kippot with cartoon characters or themes such as Star Wars are popular. (In response to this trend, some Jewish schools have banned kippot with characters that do not conform to traditional Jewish values.) Kippot have been inscribed on the inside as a souvenir for a celebration (bar/bat mitzvah or wedding). Kippot for women are also being made and worn. A special baby kippah has two strings on each side to fasten it and is often used in a brit milah ceremony.
Samaritans once wore distinctive blue head coverings to separate them from Jews who wore white ones, but today, they more commonly wear fezes with turbans similar to that of Sephardi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Today, Samaritans do not usually wear head coverings, except during prayer, Sabbath, and religious festivals.
|Crocheted||Religious Zionism, Modern Orthodox|
|Suede||Modern Orthodox, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism|
|Terylene||Yeshivish, Hasidic, Haredi, Lubavitch – Popular among Rabbis teaching in yeshivas and seminaries|
|Black velvet||Yeshivish, Hasidic, Haredi|
|Satin||Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism|
|White crocheted||Many Jerusalemites wear a full-head-sized, white crocheted kippah, sometimes with a knit pom-pom or tassel on top. The Na Nach subgroup of the Breslov Hasidim, followers of the late Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, wear it with the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman phrase crocheted in or embroidered on it.|
|Bukharan||Popular with children, and also worn by some Sephardi Jews, as well as liberal-leaning, feminist, and Reform Jews.|
|Yemenite||Typically stiff, black velvet with a 1–2 cm. embroidered strip around the edge having a multi-colored geometric, floral, or paisley pattern.|
Head coverings in ancient Israelite culture
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The Israelites on Sennacherib's marble relief appear with headdress, and although the ambassadors of Jehu on the Shalmaneser stele have head coverings, their costume seems to be Israelite. One passage of the older literature is of significance: I Kings 20:31 mentions חֲבָליִם havalim, which are placed around the head. This calls to mind pictures of Syrians on Egyptian monuments, represented wearing a cord around their long, flowing hair, a custom still followed in Arabia.
Evidently the costume of the poorest classes is represented; but as the cord gave no protection against the heat of the sun, there is little probability that the custom lasted very long. Much more common was the simple cloth skullcap, dating back to Egyptian times when those of high society routinely shaved their heads, to prevent lice. Conversely, their skullcaps also served as protection against irritation from their wigs.
The Israelites might have worn a headdress similar to that worn by the Bedouins, but it is unknown whether a fixed type of headdress was utilized. That the headdress of the Israelites might have been in the fellah style may be inferred from the use of the noun צַנִיף tzanif (the verb tzanaf meaning "to roll like a ball", Isaiah 22:18) and by the verb חַבָּש habash ("to wind", comp. Ezekiel 16:10; Jonah 2:6). As to the form of such turbans, nothing is known, and they may have varied according to the different classes of society. This was customary with the Assyrians and Babylonians, for example, whose fashions likely influenced the costume of the Israelites—particularly during and after the Babylonian Exile. In Yemen, the wrap around the cap was called מַצַר matzar; the head covering worn by women was a גַּרגוּש gargush.
In Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986), the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5–4 decision that active military members were required to remove the yarmulke indoors, citing uniform regulations that state only armed security police may keep their heads covered while indoors.
Congress passed the Religious Apparel Amendment after a war story from the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing about the "camouflage kippah" of Jewish Navy Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff was read into the Congressional Record. Catholic Chaplain George Pucciarelli tore off a piece of his Marine Corps uniform to replace Resnicoff's kippah when it had become blood-soaked after being used to wipe the faces of wounded Marines after the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing. This amendment was eventually incorporated into U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) regulations on the "Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services".
This story of the "camouflage kippah" was re-told at many levels, including a keynote speech by President Ronald Reagan to the Baptist Fundamentalism Annual Convention in 1984, and another time during a White House meeting between Reagan and the American Friends of Lubavitch. After recounting the Beirut story, Reagan asked them about the religious meaning of the kippah. Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the leader of the group, responded: "Mr. President, the kippah to us is a sign of reverence." Rabbi Feller, another member of the group, continued: "We place the kippah on the very highest point of our being—on our head, the vessel of our intellect—to tell ourselves and the world that there is something which is above man's intellect: the infinite Wisdom of God."
Passage of the Religious Apparel Amendment and the subsequent DOD regulations were followed in 1997 by the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). However, the Supreme Court struck down RFRA as beyond Congress' powers to bind the states in the 1997 case City of Boerne v. Flores. RFRA is constitutional as applied to the Federal government, as seen in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal.
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA), 114 Stat. 804, 42 U. S. C. §2000cc-1(a)(1)-(2), upheld as constitutional in Cutter v. Wilkinson, 44 U.S. 709 (2005), requires by inference that Orthodox Jewish prisoners be reasonably accommodated in their request to wear yarmulkas.
Wearing by non-Jews
It is considered a sign of respect for anyone in a synagogue to wear a kippah. Yarmulkes are often provided to guests at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. They are also often provided at bereavement events and at Jewish cemeteries. According to the Conservative Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, there is no halakhic reason to require a non-Jew to cover their head, but it is recommended that non-Jews be asked to wear a kippah where ritual or worship is being conducted out of respect for the Jewish congregation as well as out of respect for the non-Jew.
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