The kippah, a small ritual cap used to partially cover the head, is a defining symbol of Jewish identity. Traditionally worn by male Jews, the covering of one’s head is meant to instill a perpetual awareness of an Omnipresent Creator. While observant Jewish men wear a kippah all day, even Jews who don’t will put one on while attending the synagogue and other holy places. Where did this practice come from?
While the concept of the kippah is essentially non-existent in the Bible, various Talmudic passages provide the foundation for its later appearance as an act of piety and humility. For example, in Kiddushin 31a, R. Honah ben Joshua declares that he “never walked four cubits with his head uncovered . . . Because the Divine Presence is always over my head.” Similarly, tractate Shabbat 156b states, “Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you”; and in Berachot 60b, it is written, “When he spreads a cloth upon his head he should say: Blessed are you (God)… Who crowns Israel with splendor.” Nevertheless, it seems at this time to be only a custom of the righteous or perhaps just spiritual advice.
In the early Middle Ages, this custom continued to evolve as various communities proscribed the covering one’s head during prayer and Torah study, and this notion was even codified by Maimonides himself (1135-1204). By the mid 16th century, the Shulchan Arukh (Jewish Code of Law), stated that one may not walk more than four cubits with an uncovered head. The custom of wearing of kippot at all times had taken on the force of law.
Over the centuries, owing to the organic development of custom, along with geographical, sectarian and denominational differences, head coverings have taken on various colors, shapes and sizes. Indeed, today the world’s diverse Jewish communities show an array of stylistic interpretations of the kippah, and manufactures use a wide variety of materials, colors, sizes and designs. So whether for everyday use or for special occasions, the kippah is a unique combination of tradition and style, which connects you to Am Yisrael wherever you go!