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Reason & History of Yarmulkes

Have you ever wondered why we wear a Kippah, Kipah, Yarmulka, Yarmulke or whatever you want to call it?

There are many reasons for people to wear Kippot; some are law based some are custom oriented and some are for social reasons. I will try to outline the different aspects with regard to Yarmulke wearing.

Law based

The first source for head covering is biblical. The Torah in Exodus defines the different garments a Cohen (priest) must wear while he is conducting service in the holy temple. One of the garment is a head covering similar to today's Kippah, which would give us reason to wear a Kippah while we are involved in our service of G-D i.e. prayer. It is stated by our sages that prayer today takes the place of sacrifices in the Temple.

The next documented source for Kippah wearing is from the Talmud. The Talmud states that that Rabbi Hunah the son of Rabbi Yehoshua never walked 4 cubits with his head uncovered (he had some form of Kippah). The reason he gave is that "The divine presence is always resting over my head". In reverence of the Divine presence and to acknowledge G-D's presence we would wear a yarmulke. Also the Yarmulke is a constant reminder of G-D's presence. There is also a reference in Tractate Shabbos (156B) "cover your head in order that fear of heaven be upon you". 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" eludes to the Yarmulke. Similarly the Zohar writes that a person should not go 4 cubits without a head covering being that the light of the Shechina (divine presence) is above him and draws down life to him.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:6) states as a ruling that one may not walk 4 cubits without a head covering i.e. yarmulke

Custom oriented

When something becomes a Jewish custom it is like law and must be followed. The Rashal writes "being that Jews wearing kippot has become universally accepted it maintains the status of law and becomes a requirement for Jews."

The Taz write that being that it is a gentile custom to remove ones head covering while seated, a Jew has the requirement to wear a yarmulke in order not to transgress the commandment of "do not go in the ways of the gentile".

Social reasons

When a person identifies himself as Kippah wearer he creates a certain responsibility to act as G-D fearing Jew should act. The Kippah helps him act accordingly. The Kippah is also worn with pride identifying a person as a member of G-D's chosen people. Many Jews began wearing Kippot after the 6 Day War when they felt tremendous pride in being Jewish.

There is also the social aspect of the Kippah announcing you traditional affiliation. People wearing black velvet or cloth Yarmulkes tends to affiliate themselves with the so-called Yeshivah-style crowd. Modern Orthodox Jew tends to wear leather or knitted Kippot and people who affiliate themselves with Harav Kook might wear large Knitted Yarmulkes. People also use kippot to let people know their name or sports team affiliation or any other announcement of affiliation they might want to advertise.

In conclusion, today it is a requirement not to go 4 cubits without a yarmulke, however shape, color and size is up to the individual.