Aron Marcus (1800-1882) wearing his kippah - painted by Ernst Josephson

A kippah (/kɪˈpɑː/ ki-PAH; also spelled as kippa, kipah; Hebrew: כִּיפָּה, plural: כִּיפּוֹת kippot; Yiddish: קאפל koppel or יאַרמולקע  Yarmulke) is a brimless cap, usually made of cloth, worn by Jews to fulfill the customary requirement held by orthodox halachic authorities that the head be covered. It is usually worn by men in Conservative and Reform communities at all times. Most synagogues and Jewish funeral services keep a ready supply of kippot

Jewish law

There is considerable debate among Halachic authorities as to whether or not wearing a kippah at all times is required.[1] According to the Rambam, Jewish law dictates that a man is required to cover his head during prayer,[2] but there is no mention of any claim that Jewish law dictates that a Jew is required to cover his head at all times.

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).[3] 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.[1]

Other halachic authorities like Sephardi posek, the Chida (Rabbi David Yosef Azulai) hold that wearing a head covering is a midat hasidut, an additional measure of piety.[1] 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.[4]

The Talmud states, "Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you."[5] 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."[6] 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.[7] Covering one's head, such as by wearing a kippah, is described as "honoring God".[8] 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,[9] and even when one is standing still, indoors and outside.[10] 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.[11] In many communities, boys are encouraged to wear a kippah from a young age in order to ingrain the habit.[12]

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 Tanach implies that covering one's head was 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.
And Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman hasted to his house, mourning and having his head covered.

The argument for the kipa has two sides. The Vilna Gaon says 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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

There is still great debate about whether or not wearing a Kippah is Halachic law or simply a custom. Many Sephardic Jews only wear a kippah when praying and eating but otherwise go without one.

Types and variation

A Passover seder with participants wearing kippot

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. Knitted or crocheted kippot, known as kippot serugot, tend to be worn by Religious Zionists and the Modern Orthodox,[16] who also wear suede or leather kippot.

Members of most Haredi groups usually wear black velvet or cloth kippot. In general, the larger the kippah, the more traditional the wearer tends to be.[17] By contrast, the smaller the kippah, the more modern and liberal the person is.[18]

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.[19]) 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.[17][20][21] A special baby kippah has two strings on each side to fasten it and is often used in a brit milah ceremony.[22]

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.

Image Type Movement
Crocheted Religious Zionism, Modern Orthodox, Conservative/Masorti Jewish[20]
Suede Modern Orthodox,[20] Conservative Judaism,[23] Reform Judaism[23] also Yeshivish when black
Terylene[24] Yeshivish, Hasidic, Haredi, Lubavitch - Popular among Rabbis teaching in yeshivas and seminaries
Black velvet Yeshivish, Chasidic, Haredi[25]
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.[26]
Bukharan[27] Popular with children,[17][27] and also worn by some Sephardi Jews, as well as liberal-leaning, feminist and Reform Jews.[28]
Yemenite Typically stiff, black velvet with a 1–2 cm. embroidered strip around the edge having a multicolored geometric, floral or paisley pattern.

Head coverings in ancient Israelite culture

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 then 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.[29] In Yemen, the wrap around the cap was called מַצַר matzar; the head covering worn by all women, according to Dath Mosha, was a גַּרגוּש gargush.[30]

In secular law

Chaplain Arnold Resnicoff, wearing the makeshift "camouflage kippah" made for him by Catholic chaplain (Rev.) George Pucciarelli, after his Kippah became bloodied when it was used to wipe the face of a wounded Marine, Beirut, 1983

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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33] This amendment was eventually incorporated into U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) regulations on the "Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services".[34]

This story of the "camouflage kippah" was retold at many levels,[35] including a keynote speech by President Ronald Reagan to the Baptist Fundamentalism Annual Convention in 1984,[36] and another time during a White House meeting between Reagan and the American Friends of Lubavitch.[37] After recounting the Beirut story, Reagan asked them about the religious meaning of the kippah.[37] 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."[37]

President Ronald Reagan, telling the story of the "camouflage kippah" in his keynote address to the Rev. Jerry Falwell's "Baptist Fundamentalism '84" convention in Washington, DC

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.[38]

A section in the same bill as the Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act, passed in July 2009,[39] reinforced an older law forbidding the wearing of religious clothing by teachers in public school classrooms.

The French government banned the wearing of kippot, hijabs, and large crosses in public primary and secondary schools in France in March 2004.[40]

Wear by non-Jews

It is considered a sign of respect for anyone in a synagogue to wear a Kippah.[41] Yarmulkes are often provided to guests at a Bar or Bat Mitzvah.[42] 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.[43]

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kippah.
Look up kippah in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. 1 2 3 "Wearing a Kippa". Daily Halacha. Rabbi Eli Mansour. Retrieved 8 December 2011.
  2. Mishneh Torah, Ahavah, Hilkhot Tefilah 5:5.
  3. Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 2:6.
  4. Yosef, Chief Rabbi Ovadia. Responsa Yechavei Da'ath.
  5. Shabbat 156b.
  6. Kiddushin 31a.
  7. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 2:6.
  8. Shaar HaTzion, OC 2:6.
  9. Ber Heitev, OC 2:6, note 4, who quotes the Bach, Taz and the Magen Avraham.
  10. Mishnah Berurah 2:6, note 9, 10
  11. KSA 3:6
  12. Ber Heitev, OC 2:6, note 5
  13. "Yarmulke: A historic cover up?" (PDF). Flatbush Journal of Jewish Law.
  14. Klein, Isaac. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1979.
  15. Scharfman, Rabbi Harold (1988). The First Rabbi. Pangloss Press.
  16. Boyarin, Jonathan. Thinking in Jewish, University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 51. ISBN 0-226-06927-3.
  17. 1 2 3 Wendy Elliman (July 7, 2006). "A guide to Jewish head-coverings: Kippot no longer only come in one style, but a medley of colors, shapes and designs". Jewish Independent. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012.
  18. "Jews' coverings reveal much about the wearer", The Salt Lake Tribune, May 4, 2007
  19. Lifestyle; "The Yarmulke Is Now a Fashion Item", The New York Times, 23 Sept 1990
  20. 1 2 3 Living Jewish – Jewish Attire!, Mazor Guide. Retrieved December 19, 2010.
  21. "California firm offers kippot for women", The Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2005
  22. "From baby kippah to Tylenol, Bris Kit has everything but the implement", J Weekly, 18 Jun 2004
  23. 1 2
  25. Barring violence, The Jerusalem Post, Yigal Grayeff, February 9, 2006
  26. On New Year, thousands flock to Rabbi Nachman's grave in Ukraine, HaAretz, Yair Ettinger
  27. 1 2 Hats Off To Fashion: Yarmulkes go beyond basic black, Traverse City Record-Eagle, Associated Press, April 13, 2008
  28. Kippah Couture, The Forward, Angela Himsel, September 29, 2006
  29. "Head-dress", Jewish Encyclopedia
  30. "Clothing of the Yemenite Jews",
  31. "Goldman v. Weinberger". IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
  32. Congressional Record, 100th Congress, 11 May 1987.
  33. "Solarz Passes Religious Apparel Amendment", The Jewish Press, 22 May 1987.
  34. "Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Services", Department of Defense Instruction
  35. Bonko, Larry. "Rabbi's Camouflage Yarmulke Woven With Tragedy, Heroism," Norfolk Ledger-Star, 13 January 1984.
  36. "Remarks at the Baptist Fundamentalism Annual Convention". The American Presidency Project. 13 April 1984. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  37. 1 2 3 "Rabbis Explain 'Top to Top'". Wellsprings (No. 12 (Vol 2, No. 7)). Lubavitch Youth Organization. August–September 1986.
  38. Benning v. Georgia, 391 F3d 1299
  39. Does religious clothing have a place in the classroom?,, July 17, 2009
  40. French Senate backs headscarf ban, BBC News, 3 March 2004.
  41. Artson, Bradley Shavit (1998). Jewish Answers to Real-Life Questions. Torah Aura. p. 23.
  42. Marjabelle Young, Stewart (1997). The New Etiquette. Macmillan. p. 21.
  43. Stein, Jay M. (2009). "Non Jews and Kippah in the Synagogue" (PDF). Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.
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