Why do Jewish men cover their heads?

From the age of three observant Jewish boys wear a head covering and from that day forth they will not leave the house without a Kippa, Yarmulke or Skullcap, depending on what they call it. Kippa is the Hebrew term, Yarmulke the Aramaic term and Skullcap the English term for the same thing- the circular piece of cloth or material that covers a boy, teenager or man’s head. Some wear it small, some wear it big and some wear it huge. Either way, what is behind that head covering? Why is it worn? Let’s take a look…

What is the original source for the wearing of a Kippa?

The idea of wearing a head-covering first appeared in the Talmud and is mentioned there as a sign of piety. In fact, the Aramaic term for Kippa, Yarmulke, literally means, “awe of the King {G-d}.”

In the Shulchan Aruch it is explained that a Kippa should be worn at times of prayer, as well as being something that should be done at other times too. It can be said then, that a Kippa, according to the Shulchan Aruch is something that should be done, according to Jewish Law, during prayer and is an important custom at other times.

So when did the Kippa gain the status of being a Torah Law?

The Taz, a commentator from the mid-seventeenth century, suggested that the Kippa started off as a sign of piety but gained the status of a Torah Law. This was due to the fact that non-Jewish people had a custom to remove their hats as a sign of honor and since the Torah explicitly commands Jewish people not to follow the ways of non-Jewish people, not covering one’s head would be a transgression of a Negative Commandment of the Bible.

What about nowadays when it is no longer the way of the gentiles to remove their hats as a sign of honor?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that there is room to be stringent based on the Taz’s ruling. However, he also adds that according to the Taz’s ruling there is also space for leniency today considering that today it is no longer the way of the gentiles to remove their head coverings as a sign of honor- no to speak of the fact that most don’t wear a head covering at all. There is therefore room, in his opinion, to state that an uncovered head is no longer regarded as a Torah prohibition.

Uriel Sela is selling Kippot at Ajudaica.com
If you are intrested in shopping for a Kippa (Yarmulke) Please visit: http://www.ajudaica.com/category/22/Kippot/
Photo by GoRun26, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

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