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Jewish IdentityWhat is a Kippah?

What is a Kippah?

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Last Updated on December 30, 2021

The Kippah – what is it?

Call it a Kippah, Yarmulke or Skullcap – is it obligatory to wear one or is it only a custom?

A crocheted Kippah or Yarmulka – Image credit Wikimedia by Remi Jouan

Kippah is the Hebrew word for a head-covering or skullcap traditionally worn by Jewish males.  Among Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) it is referred to as a Yarmulke (a Yiddish word)The plural of Kippah is Kippot.

Is it obligatory for a Jewish male to wear a kippah or is it only a custom?

There is considerable debate as to whether a yarmulke or kippah must be worn at all times.  The wearing of a kippah or head-covering is not a Torah commandment but a sign of respect. There are those that say that ‘G-d’s presence is above my head’ so I should keep my head covered at all times.

Kippah or hat?

In mainstream Jewish Orthodox communities, religious boys and men will keep their heads covered all the time (except while bathing), some men prefer to wear black hats (styled according to their tradition and religious affiliation).  Men who choose to wear hats mostly wear a kippah underneath the hat.  Should the hat come off, a man’s head will still be covered with a kippah.

Some say that covering one’s head is only necessary during prayer or Jewish study.

Kippah designs and fashion trends

As small and insignificant as it might seem, Kipppot make a definite fashion statement and the way they are worn identifies the wearers religious affiliation or political views.

Haredi men – Ultra Orthodox – wear large black kippot covering about 3/4 of the head, mostly from satin or velvet

Religious and traditional men wear a slightly smaller kippah.  They also often wear crocheted/knitted kippot in a variety of colors and with intricate woven patterns; emojis, a personalized kippa with your name, a rainbow design, Mrs. Simpson, flags, fair-isle designs, peace signs and religious symbols can all be woven into a crocheted/knitted kippah.

Men in the secular community do not keep their heads covered unless they are in the synagogue, participating in religious study or at some type of religious gathering; a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a funeral.

Religious and observant men serving in the Israeli Army generally wear a khaki colored crocheted kippah that matches their uniform.

Some men wear small crocheted kippot on the sides of their heads. We cannot say for sure if that is a tradition, a fashion statement, or just a hot-head trying to cool down.

Young boys will usually wear a kippah according to the tradition of their fathers.

Keeping the kippah on your head is also a science especially if you wear a smaller one or are bald.  A regular hairpin was used for ages until the invention of the snap-on hair clip which became popular in the 1970’s and revolutionized the problem of keeping a kippah from blowing away in the wind.

Kippot for women

A married Jewish woman is supposed to keep her head covered as a sign of modesty – mostly with a hat or headscarf.  In the Reform movement, women choose to wear kippot during prayer.  The shape and style of these kippot are different to men’s kippot; bright colors, embroidery, sequins, beads, crystals and even lace decorate the women’s kippah – they can be a fashion statement.

Kippot for sale

Their are many women who design, make and sell their kippot. Your mom, aunt, sister or girlfriend might make one for you.

A young bride might make kippot for the all the men in the wedding party with elements of her dress possibly incorporated into the design.

In the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem there is a dedicated kippah store.  Whether this store actually has a name or not, we cannot be sure – all the references we found referred to it as ‘The kippah store in the Mahane Yehuda Market’.  Ask anyone – they’ll direct you.

You’ll find vendors selling kippot on every street corner in Israe and if you’re an online shopper, you’ll find plenty on Amazon, Etsy, Judaica webstores and the like.

A simple fabric Kippah can be bought for as little as 2 NIS from the dollar-shop.  Most men have more than one kippah and it is very common when a man’s father passes away, his father’s kippah will become a special treasure and possible heirloom.  White kippot are traditionally worn for the high festivals or by a bridegroom on his wedding day, black velvet or satin for daily use or funerals and multi-colored kippot can be seen everywhere.

Every kippah tells a story about its owner and just like parents keep their children’s first shoes, sentimental moms will keep their son’s first kippah as well.

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