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About the Kippa

A kippa, (כִּפָּה or כִּיפָּה, plural: kippot כִּפּוֹת or כִּיפּוֹת), hech cap (US only), or yarmulke (also called a skullcap or kappel), is a thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by observant Jewish men, and sometimes by both men and women in Conservative and Reform communities. Its use is associated with demonstrating respect and reverence for God.


There are different proposed etymologies for the word yarmulke. According to most mainstream etymologists, it is a Yiddish word (Yiddish: יאַרמולקע yarmulke) deriving from the Polish word jarmułka, meaning "cap", ultimately possibly of Turkish origin.

A folk etymology proposes that it is derived from an Aramaic phrase, yarei malka, meaning "fear of the King [i.e. God]," or from the Hebrew, ya'arei me'Elokai, "those who tremble before the Lord."

The Hebrew-language equivalent, yarmulke actually means "dome", same as Arabic qubbah (قبة). The Gothic word kappel (cf. chapel) still exists in the Yiddish term (קאַפל kapl) today and survives as kappl (cap, hat) in several South German dialects. The equivalent of the Hebrew word is the French calotte and the Italian calotta, both referring to an architectural dome.


The sources for wearing a yarmulke are found in the Talmud. In Shabbat 156b a mother urges her son: "Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you." In Kiddushin 31a it states, "Rabbi Honah ben Joshua never walked 4 cubits (2 meters) with his head uncovered. He explained: 'Because the Divine Presence is always over my head."

As to the obligation of wearing a yarmulke, halakhic experts agree that it is a minhag (custom). The prevailing view among Rabbinical authorities is that this custom has taken on a kind of force of law (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 2:6), because it is an act of Kiddush Hashem. From a strictly Talmudic point of view, however, the only moment when a Jewish man is required to cover his head is during prayer (Mishneh Torah, Ahavah, Hilkhot Tefilah 5:5).

Even this interpretation is in question; as recently as the 1600s, scholar David HaLevi Segal of Ostrog, Ukraine, suggested that Jews should never uncover their heads in order to help distinguish them from Christians especially while at prayer.

A Hasidic/Kabbalistic tradition states that the yarmulke reflects several ideas. One is that God covers us with His Divine Palm; indeed, the Hebrew word kaf means either "cloud" or "palm of the hand." The Hebrew letter Kaph is the first letter of the word yarmulke.

Reasons given for wearing a yarmulke today include:
  • Recognition that God is "above" mankind;
  • Acceptance of the 613 mitzvot (Torah commandments);
  • Identification with the Jewish people;
  • Demonstration of the "ministry" of all Jews.
Some Jews wear two head coverings, typically a yarmulke covered by a hat, for Kabbalistic reasons: the two coverings correspond to two levels of intellect, or two levels in the fear of God. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the Temple in Jerusalem also used to wear a woolen yarmulke under his priestly headdress (Chulin 138a).

Read more about Kippa at Wikipedia