I have been fascinated by Kippah/Yarmulkes for longer than I’ve been practicing Judaism for many reasons. The first time I saw a Jewish person wearing a kippah was when I was still in the semi truck with my ex-husband making a delivery in New Jersey. A Jewish man was at the building we delivered to and he was wearing a kippah.
A kippah is clearly the most identifiable mark of a Jewish person.
But why do Jews wear these head coverings to begin with? A very good question to me so that is the topic for this article.
The first source indicating Jewish necessity for wearing a kippah is found in the Torah. In the book of Exodus are definitions and descriptions of the various garments a cohen (priest) is supposed to wear and a head covering (kippah) makes the list.
The Talmud is our next stop in Judaism defining a kippah and its necessity in Jewish life. “The Talmud states that Rabbi Hunah, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, never walked 4 cubits with his head uncovered (he had some form of Kippah).”
What’s a cubit, you might wonder? An ancient unit of length based on the length of the forearm.
When something becomes a Jewish custom, it is akin to Jewish law and must be observed by Jews as such. Jews are instructed to never walk 4 cubits with their heads uncovered. But why? This particular sage goes on to say a kippah is a reminder that God’s presence is hovering over, His presence is always near.
It’s in acknowledgement and reverence to God that a Jewish person wears a kippah. It also defines an observant Jew striving to practice the keeping of Torah and Jewish life.
In another source I found regarding the wearing of kippot: “There is another reference to Kippot in Tractate Berachot, which states that the blessing that we say in the morning prayers “he who crowns Israel with splendor” alludes to the Yarmulke.”
In the Western world, it is a sign of respect to remove a head covering; it is the reverse through Jewish eyes.
Another rabbi states it this way: “It’s easy to remember God while at the synagogue or around the Shabbat table. But Jewish consciousness is meant to pervade all aspects of our lives — how we treat others, how we conduct business, and how we interpret world events.”
In my exposure to Orthodox Judaism, I have learned that a kippot is worn only by men because Jewish men are solely responsible for the keeping of the Torah.
One commentary states that some Jews don their kippot because they are proud to be Jews. There is much kvetching going on in this debate and I participate in it, although ironically in non-Jewish circles. At work, many customers have questions about me wearing one because they understand that traditionally only men wear kippot and it takes place within the confines of synagogue life. Not the case at all. As a woman with feminist leanings and my understanding of Jewish law and tradition in all its fascinating evolution, I see Jewish women as equally responsible for the keeping of Torah. I am also proud to be Jewish and for these reasons I wear a kippah and continue to learn more about the hows and whys of Jewish life, law, and ceremonies.