Exploring the history and meaning of the kippah

If you live in or near a Jewish community, you have probably seen Jewish men wearing colorful head coverings as they go about their daily routine. What are these head coverings? Why are they worn and what is the meaning behind them? Why do they seem to come in different sizes and styles?

This head covering is most popularly known as a kippah (the Hebrew word for “dome”) or yarmulke (a Yiddish adaptation of the Aramaic word for “fear the King”) and is viewed as a way of honoring God as well as a symbol of the wearer’s connection to the Jewish People. Unlike other popular symbols of the Jewish faith (such as the mezuzah, tzitzit or shofar), there is no Biblical commandment to wear a kippah. Rather, the custom of wearing a kippah grew alongside the development of Judaism from a Temple-based religion to one based in personal religious practice and centered around the synagogue.

Originally, the only people commanded to cover their heads were the Kohanim (priests) as they performed their duties in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the years after the destruction of the Temple, certain Rabbis began to adopt the custom of covering one’s head as a way of honoring God and to symbolize their pious reverence for the Almighty. Even then, some Rabbis held that one cannot walk a minimal distance without covering their head while others believed that only married scholars or the particularly pious were required to wear them. During the Middle Ages, the practice of a Jewish man covering his head became more prevalent and was even codified in one of the basic Jewish legal texts, the Shulchan Aruch. Even though some later scholars still held that the head only needed to be covered during prayer, learning or religious rituals, the accepted custom within many Jewish communities became the wearing of a head covering at all times.

Originally, the custom of wearing a kippah was only adopted by Jewish men, based on a mystical teaching that women have a stronger connection to God and don’t need to supplement their faith with external accessories. Nevertheless, the last 50 years has seen a growing movement of Jewish women deciding to wear a kippah.

Today, you can see dozens of kippahs boasting various sizes, styles, colors and materials. This diversity is due to the rich tapestry that makes up the modern Jewish community. Some kippah styles signify the ethnic origin of the person wearing it (for example, Bukharian Jews from Central Asia wear large kippahs that feature colorful and floral designs) while other styles symbolize the denominational community that the wearer feels a part of (for instance, many Modern Orthodox men wear suede or knitted kippahs while velvet kippahs are popular among Ultra-Orthodox men).

Now that you have a better understanding of the rich history of the kippah/yarmulke, feel free to check out our wide selection of kippahs and find the perfect one for you.