AskDefine | Define yarmulke

Word Net

yarmulke n : a skullcap worn by religious Jews (especially at prayer) [syn: yarmulka, yarmelke]


Alternative spellings


From (yarmlke), from the jarmułka and the (yarmulka), skullcap. This is probably from the yağmurluk. This term entered English in 1903.



  1. A skullcap worn by religious Jewish males (especially during prayer).





Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary 10th Edition (1997) definition of yarmulke
"Kipa" redirects here. For the supermarket, please see Kipa (supermarket). Distinguish from kipper.
A kippah or yarmulke (also called a kappel) is a thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by Orthodox Jewish men and sometimes by both men and women in Conservative and Reform communities during services.

Head coverings in ancient Israelite culture

The Tanach (The Hebrew Bible) makes references to special head coverings for Jewish males in biblical times , and the prevalence of this custom is supported by archeology: The Israelites on Sennacherib's marble relief appear with headdress, and although the ambassadors of Jehu on the Shalmaneser stele have a head covering, their costume seems to be Israelite. One passage of the older literature is of significance: I Kings 20:31 mentions חֲבָליִם havalim together with שַׂקּיִם saqqim, both of which are placed around the head. This calls to mind pictures of Syrians on Egyptian monuments, represented wearing a cord around their long, flowing hair, a custom still followed in Arabia. Evidently the costume of the poorest classes is represented; but as it gave absolutely no protection against the heat of the sun to which a worker in the fields is so often exposed, there is little probability that it remained unchanged very long, although it may have been the most ancient fashion.

Possible modern analogues

The Israelites might have worn a headdress similar to that worn by the Bedouins. This consists of a keffieh folded into a triangle, and placed on the head with the middle ends hanging over the neck to protect it, while the other two are knotted together under the chin. A thick woolen cord (’akal) holds the cloth firmly on the head. In later times, the Israelites, both men and women, adopted a turban-like headdress more like that of the Fellahs of today. The latter wear a little cap (takiyah), usually made of cotton cloth folded doubly or triply, which is supposed to shield the other parts of the head covering from perspiration. With boys, this often forms the only head covering. Under this cap are placed one, often two, felt caps (lubbadah); and the national head-dress of the Turks, the red tarboosh. Around this, finally, is wound either an unbleached cotton cloth with red stripes and fringe, a gaily-flowered mandil, a red-and-yellow-striped keffich, a black cashmere scarf, a piece of white muslin, or a colored cloth. Such a covering not only keeps off the scorching rays of the sun, but it also furnishes a convenient pillow on occasion, and is not seldom used by the Fellahs for preserving important documents.
That the headdress of the Israelites might have been of this kind may be inferred from the use of the noun צַנִיף tzanif (the verb tzanaf meaning "to roll like a ball," Isaiah 22:18) and by the verb חַבָּש habash ("to wind," comp. Ezekiel 16:10; Jonah 2:6). As to the form of such turbans, nothing is known, and they may have varied according to the different classes of society, as was customary with the Assyrians and Babylonians, whose fashions likely influenced the costume of the Israelites -- particularly during and after the Babylonian Exile.
Middle Eastern and North African Jewish community headdress may also resemble that of the ancient Israelites. In Yemen, the wrap around the cap was called מַצַר massar; the head covering worn by all women according to Dath Mosha was a גַּרגוּש "Gargush".

Codification in Jewish law

According to the Shulchan Aruch, a code of Jewish law, men are required to cover their heads and should not walk more than four cubits without a hat. Wearing a kippa is described as "honoring God". The Mishna Brurah modifies this ruling, adding that the Achronim established it as a requirement to wear a head covering even when traversing less than four cubits, and even when one is simply standing in place. This applied both indoors as well as out.
This ruling is echoed by the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, a concise version of the Shulchan Aruch authored by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried. He cites a story from the Talmud (Shabbos 156b) about Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok who might have become a thief if his mother had not saved him from this fate by insisting that he cover his head, which instilled in him the fear of God.
In many communities, boys are encouraged to wear one from a young age in order to ingrain the habit.
According to Rabbi Isaac Klein's Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, a Jew ought to cover his head when in the synagogue, at prayer or sacred study, when engaging in a ritual act, and when eating.


The kippah is traditionally worn by men. Observant women who have been married (including widows and divorcees) cover their heads more completely with scarves, hats, or wigs, but for a totally unrelated reason. The tradition for women comes from a different source than that of men and originates from the laws dealing with a suspected adultress implying that a Jewish married woman should cover her hair under normal circumstances. Today, some women, mainly Reform and Conservative Jews, wear a kippah. Some Jews wear kippot only while praying, eating, reciting a blessing, or studying Jewish religious texts.
In modern contexts, it is also common for non-Jews to wear a simple kippah or cover their heads as a sign of respect when present at Jewish religious services. If a non-Jew goes to the Western Wall in Jerusalem it is required that he don a skull cap once he is near the Wall. This point is marked out by a ramp down towards the wall from the rest of the plaza and skull caps are provided to non-Jews. They are re-usable caps that are given back after usage.
Any form of head covering is acceptable according to halakha (Jewish law). There are no hard and fast rules on the subject, although the compact, lightweight nature of a kippah, along with the fact that hats for men have fallen out of fashion in the West over last few decades, may have contributed to its popularity. Kippot have become identified as a symbol of Judaism over the last century. Haredi men, who mostly wear large black cloth or velvet kippot, often wear fedoras with their kippot underneath. In the Hassidic community, this double head-covering has Kabbalistic meaning.
Often the color and fabric of the kippah can be a sign of adherence to a specific religious movement. The Israeli Religious Zionist community is often referred to by the name kippot serugot (Hebrew כיפות סרוגות), literally "knitted kippot," though they are typically crocheted. American Modern Orthodox Jews often wear suede or leather yarmulkes, requiring clips to hold them in place. Members of most Haredi groups usually wear black velvet or cloth kippot. Because of this, men who wear these kippot are sometimes referred to as kipot shekhorot (Hebrew כיפות שחורות), literally "black kippot".
In the early 19th century in the United States rabbis often wore a scholar's cap (large saucer-shaped caps of cloth, like a beret) or a Chinese skullcap. A famous Californian rabbi, the Moldavian Rabbi Benjamin ben Benjamin (Rabbi Benjamin II), is pictured in a beautiful engraved portrait wearing a Chinese silk skullcap.
Other Jews of this era wore black pillbox-shaped kippot. During the Polemic Wars in the mid-1800s, Reformers led by Rabbi Isaac Wise stopped wearing kippot altogether.
More recently, kippot have been observed in the colors of sports teams supported by the wearer, especially football. In the United States, children's kippot with cartoon characters or themes such as Star Wars are popular. (In response to this trend, some Jewish schools have banned kippot with characters that do not conform to traditional Jewish values.) Some Breslov Hasidim, known commonly as "the Na-Nach Breslovers" the followers of the late Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, wear a large white knitted yarmulke with the Na Nach Nachma mantra on it. (Rabbi Yisroel found this mantra in the form of a little note that fluttered out of a book he was perusing, one day in 1886 or 1887. The note, called the "Letter from Heaven" and "The Holy Note", is hand copied onto parchments that are worn around the neck.) The mantra, "Na Nach Nachma Nachman me'Uman", refers to Rabbi Nachman and his death in the town of Uman- but the mystical secret of the phrase "me'Uman" is difficult to understand.
Na Nach Breslovers most commonly wear full-head-sized crocheted yarmulkes. Lately these have come to be called "Frik". Breslovers are named for the town of Breslov, the birthplace of Rabbi Nachman, in the Ukraine. Most of the 'regular' Breslovers, actually the larger percentage of the Breslov community, who do not follow Rabbi Yisrael Ber Odesser, dress more like the other Hassidim, i.e. Black velvet kippahs, long black suit jacket, etc.
Samaritan Israelis once wore distinctive blue head coverings, to separate them from Jews who wore white ones, but today they more commonly wear fezzes with turbans similar to that of Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Today, Samaritans don't normally wear head coverings except during prayer, Sabbath, and religious festivals. This is thought to be a recent development brought on by the constant Jewish criticism of Samaritan habits.


The word yarmulke is a Yiddish word, deriving from the Polish jarmułka, meaning "cap." The popular claim that it comes from an Aramaic phrase yari malka, meaning "fear of the King [i.e. God]," or from the Hebrew ya'are m'elokai, "to tremble before the Lord," is without evidence. The popularity of these folk etymologies probably owes to the idea that the yarmulke is a tribute to God, an interpretation that resonates with Jews.
In Hebrew, kippah means dome. The Goth word kappel (cf. Chapel) still exists in the Yiddish term today and survives in the Viennese dialect word Kappl (Hat). The equivalent of the Hebrew word is the French calotte and the Italian calotta, both meaning an architectural dome.


The sources for wearing a kippah are found in the Talmud. In tractate Shabbat 156b it states: Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you. As well, in tractate Kiddushin 31a it states Rabbi Honah ben Joshua never walked 4 cubits (2 meters) with his head uncovered. He explained: "Because the Divine Presence (Shekhina) is always over my head."
As to the obligation of wearing a yarmulke, halakhic experts agree that it is a custom. The prevailing view among Rabbinical authorities is that this custom has taken on a kind of force of law (Shulkhan Arukh, Orach Chayim 2:6), because it is an act of Kiddush Ha-Shem, "Sanctifying the Holy Name." From a strictly talmudic point of view, however, the only moment when a Jewish man is required to cover his head is during prayer (Mishne Torah, Ahavah, Hilkhot Tefilah 5:5).
Even this interpretation is in question; as recently as the 1600s, scholar David Haley of Ostrog, Ukraine, suggested that Jews should never uncover their heads in order to help distinguish them from Christians- especially while at prayer.
A Hasidic/Kabbalist tradition states that the kippah reflects several ideas: one is that Ha-Shem covers us with His Divine Palm; indeed, the Hebrew word kaf means either "cloud" or "palm of the hand". The Hebrew letter kav is the first letter of the word kippah.
Reasons given for wearing a kippah today include:
  • recognition that God is "above" mankind;
  • "acceptance" of the 613 mitzvot (commandments);
  • "identification" with the Jewish people;
  • demonstration of the "ministry" of all Jews.
Some Jews wear two head coverings, typically a kippah covered by a hat, for Kabbalistic reasons: the two coverings correspond to two levels of intellect, or two levels in the fear of God. The High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Kohein Gadol, also used to wear a woolen kippah under his priestly headdress (Talmud Chulin 138a)

Non-Jewish equivalents


Many Muslims wear a kippah equivalent called a topi. The origin of this practice, and any other practice of men covering their heads with various head gear, is the general sunnah (or normative practice / example) of the Prophet Muhammad to cover one's head. Until more recent times, men in most Muslim societies were rarely seen without headdress of some sort. A kufi covers most of the head. Covering the head is seen by Muslims to transcend many religious traditions, confirming Muslim belief in the practice's Divine origin, as, according to Muslim belief, all Prophets of God preached the same basic message with varying cultural and social adjustments throughout time. Finally, the modern kufis worn by Muslims are analogous to the kippot worn by observant Jews whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. The Jews of the Middle East probably picked up much of their clothing and head gear from the wider society in which they lived. Hence, no different from their Muslim neighbors and compatriots throughout time, the kippah can be seen as much a product of the Middle East and its diverse social fabric of co-existence as is its analog (in terms of head coverings), the kufi.
The doppa, a square or round skullcap originating in the Caucasus and worn by Kazan Tatars, Uzbeks and Uyghurs is another example of a Muslim skullcap. The doppa is derived from a Turkic, more pointed ancestral cap, which can be seen in some of the portraits of Jalaleddin Mingburnu.
Conservative Muslims in Malaysia, especially in the rural areas, are often seen wearing a thin kopiah, which looks almost exactly like the kippah in outward appearance.


Among followers of the Druze faith, the use of headgear is similar, although some Druze also wear either the fez, a fez-turban combination, or the pillbox skullcap.


The black satin head gear called or known as fenta or topi is a pillbox-shaped skullcap, worn by Zarathushtris Zoroastrians. Like the doppah, it is possible that the fenta/topi may have had influence on the use of the kippa. It is considered in the Zarathushtri religion to be of vital importance in the attainment of Urvaan, the Zoroastrian equivalent of Buddhist Nirvana. In earlier times, a very saucer-shaped, red and white striped kipah was the hallmark of the Zarathushtri.


The zucchetto (Italian for "small gourd") of the Roman Catholic Church is based on a very old kippah design. The cap is traditionally worn by clergy members and its color denotes the rank of the wearer: the Pope wears a white cap; the Cardinals, red; Bishops, as well as abbots and prelates, violet; Deacons and Priests, black, although this practice is rare among diocesan and religious order priests.


Buddhist priests in China wear the bao-tzu (more commonly known as the mao-tzu, 帽子 Mandarin màozi), the classic skullcap that is the most like the Jewish tradition. In Japan, the cap is more in the form of a pillbox and is called the boshi (帽子). Though not of ecclesiastical significance, the Buddhist skullcap does denote something about the priest's standing in the community.


Switzerland is home to the Cup-and-Ring (or Kuppa-unt-Hinge) skullcap, a straw cap with embroidered flowers, a small pompom in the center, and velvet strips sewn round it in rings. This cap was traditionally worn by shepherds for luck and by married men (for fertility).
yarmulke in Czech: Kipa
yarmulke in German: Kippa
yarmulke in Spanish: Kipá
yarmulke in French: Kippa
yarmulke in Italian: Kippah
yarmulke in Hebrew: כיפה (יהדות)
yarmulke in Lithuanian: Jarmulka
yarmulke in Malay (macrolanguage): Kippah
yarmulke in Dutch: Keppel (hoofddeksel)
yarmulke in Japanese: キッパー (民族衣装)
yarmulke in Norwegian: Kippa
yarmulke in Polish: Jarmułka
yarmulke in Portuguese: Solidéu
yarmulke in Russian: Ермолка
yarmulke in Simple English: Kippah
yarmulke in Slovak: Kipa
yarmulke in Finnish: Kipa
yarmulke in Swedish: Kippa
yarmulke in Turkish: Kipa
yarmulke in Yiddish: קאפל
yarmulke in Chinese: 卡巴 (頭飾)
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