Why Do Religious Male Jews Cover Their Heads?

Religious male Jews cover their heads with platter-shaped cap (yarmulkah), usually made of cloth to distinguish between them and their Creator.

The custom of wearing such “yarmulkah” (also known as “kippah”) is itself not rooted in the Hebrew Bible as is the case with tzitzit – tassels, hanging from the corners of male clothes (Num. 15:38).

The covering of the head in Biblical times was something mandatory only for the high priest. The idea of all males covering their heads was an invention of emerging rabbinical Judaism (around 3rd century CE) that sought to reconstitute Israel under their leadership after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, symbolically projecting priestly duties on every male Jew.

But what does “yarmulkah” mean in Hebrew? The answer is nothing. The word is in Judeo-German language called Yiddish. It is compound word made up of two Aramaic words – Yar (fear) – Malkah (the King).

Disclaimer: Unlike Hebrew, Aramaic has a different grammar system and so all of you Hebrew experts out there keep that in mind before you think I made a mistake confusing “Queen” in Hebrew with “the King” in Aramaic :-).

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  1. Peter Robertson

    I seem to recall that the Encylopedia Judaica states that the wearing of the kippa was the common male fashion style norm in Babylon and that this particular style of cap, spread slowly from there to the Jewish world. It was also embraced by priestly officers of the Roman Catholic Church. It is noteworthy that the wall reliefs at the synagogue in Dura Europos in Syria portrayed Jewish men praying with their heads uncovered, though they are depicted as wearing small, short tzittzit on their togas. Sadly, I think these wall reliefs in the ancient synagogue have recently been damaged or destroyed by the Islamic State.

  2. Japheth Patrick Aboi

    Thank you sir for that eye opener, but sir where and who originated it seen is not in the hebrew bible?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. gaynor coldicutt

    Thank you Dr Eli. I have often wondered why the kippah is worn. From a conservative, christian perspective I am grateful also to receive more information from your article, and the reader comments, regarding how head cover, for both sexes, has been understood/or not, over the centuries.
    My takeaway would be, the purpose for ‘covering’ is to remind one that the Lord Creator is watching always: be cognisant of Him as you go about your daily activity.
    I agree with you, that ‘we should differentiate between matters of evangelism and covenantal fidelity’.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      That is the point.

  4. Lemari pakaian

    Remarkable! Its in fact amazing post, I have got much clear idea on the topic of from this paragraph.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, welcome. Study with us!

  5. Bradford J. Gilmore, MD

    there are among the Anabaptists (Mennonites, Amish,Hutterites) that continue to practice head coverings for women at all times so that they always might be able to pray and to proclaim the good news of Yeshua. Interestingly, the Amish where hats like certain groups of Jews. The Anabaptist thrust is by G-d’s grace in Yeshua to live according to the narrow way of the gospels, in particular. They attempt at best by G-d’s Spirit to live Kingdom of heaven as prescribed by the “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew chapters 5-7. One of the issues is to love one’s enemies as Messiah loves us even though we have been enemies of G-d. How do you view Christian pacifism in present Israel? what does taking up your cross and following Yeshua mean and does this correspond to the “narrow way” in the Kingdom of heaven?

  6. simon

    thanks for this. i like the inclusion of the root words and their respective meanings. as a penticostal Christian I am learning so nuch more about Jesus by following you an Rabbi Tuly Weisz. thank you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Welcome!

  7. Valerie

    Thankyou for your reply.

  8. Billy Boughton

    Very interested can not wait for your next blog Dr.Eli

  9. Valerie

    My friend who is a born again christian has been informed that she should wear a veil in church by her pastor. I have been a christian for over forty years and have never been asked by my pastor to cover my head. My friend is puzzled by this as she has been told by christian friends that this is not relevant today.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The mainstream opinion that this was something connected to the local practices in Corinth ONLY and therefore does not in anyway apply to all Christ-followers. But there are some who think otherwise.

      1. Nathan Garrison

        I think it would be useful to question the ‘mainstream’. Revelation 12:9 TCNT Then the great Dragon, the primeval Serpent, known as the ‘Devil’ and ‘Satan,’ who deceives all the world, was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          That has been done many times. I do not see how it relates to this article, though.

          1. Nathan Garrison

            Dr. Eli, my comment about ‘mainstream’ was in response to Your ‘reply’ to Valerie, May 7, 2015. The term, mainstream gets used a lot. I am happy you do question ‘it’. As for me, I always assume the mainstream is not flowing in the ‘right way’. I understand Revelation 12:9 to be prophetic. An important message for us, today. I believe , 5776, is the Biblical ecclesiastical calendar year, Today.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            I see.

  10. Ron Gordon

    Very interesting. I look forward to digging deeper. Thank you very much

  11. Mandla

    Thank you, Dr Eli…! You are such a blessing to the body of Christ! Shalom!

  12. Adalberto Batista da Silva

    Admiro muito a cultura hebraica e a luta do povo Judeu!
    Shalon!

    1. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza

      BS”D

      Shalom Adalberto!
      Bemvenido!

  13. pablo

    Its so good!

  14. sonia suely

    I try hard to keep both, doctor. But thank you for the counsel.

  15. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I think we should differentiate between matters of evangelism and covenantal fidelity.

  16. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Thank you so much for your kindness.

    1. sonia suely

      Never mind, years of training, eventhough its not my speciallity.

  17. sonia suely

    Congratulations Dr. Eli! You are breaking a tough paradigm and releasing many people of such heavy deed. Jesus blesses you and your studies even more!

  18. yetilived

    I have questioned using culture to win unreached people. I see that the tassels in Numbers were to help the Israelites remember the commands.

  19. Zechariah Malual Kuol

    I would like to be in your prayerful team always

  20. Gail Smit

    Thanks Dr Eli. This makes perfect sense.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Gail! I take it you receiving the updates again :-). Eli

  21. Maria

    As Ildiko already mentioned, according to 1 Corinthians 11:3-15, it is a custom for Reformational women to wear a headcovering during the services. So upon leaving our home to go to the church I’m wearing a hat or other headcovering. Upon returning home from the service I put my hat off after entering our door.
    About approximately 50 years ago, women who couldn’t afford to buy a hat, wore a shawl covering their head, and little girls often wear some knitted kind of headcovering.
    Men, if they wear a headcovering, take their headcoverings off before entering the church and keep them off until they step outside the church after the service.
    Furthermore, it isn’t that long ago, when people didn’t leave home without a headcovering, men as well as women.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      These are all matters of culture. Many cultural customs have deep meaning and some people look at them as commandments and signs of piety. Culture changes from one country to another.

  22. Samson Titus

    Every religion has its own beliefs and practices and their own reasons for such practices. But man deeply needs to think on the origination of religions and why so many religions and its denominations.Every person who has his beliefs on any particular religion thinks, his is the best. On this conflict of whose belief is the best the world suffers for peace.It is surely a impossible situation that needs introspection in a broader sense for ” World Peace”. Which is the need of the hour. God bless you!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      In order to have a chance at peace we as a people have to learn how to respect each other and that means seeking to understand each other, why we do what we do and why it is important. If we understand each other a little better maybe we will become more courteous to each others preferences and priorities. Just a thought…

  23. Daphne Brown

    Dear Dr. Eli

    Thanks for this enlightenment. But if this is so (and I do trust your expertise), then why do all the other males (non-priests) feel obligated to wear “kippah” every day?

    Also, how do you explain 1Cor. 11: 5-7?

    Thank you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Have you read the verse about Israel being a Kingdom of Priests? The theological idea is that just as a priests serve the entire Israel as priests, so all of Israel serve as priests to the whole world. Most educated Jews will tell you kippah is not an obligation, but a tradition, a meaningful one to many that allows to reinforce identity, which is easy to lose in a pluralistic world. The calling to be different is rarely heeded by people these days…

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        The Corinthians verse, by the way, has nothing to do with Jews. It was a local Corinthian issue tied to general gender confusion they had in the community.

  24. Jerry Christensen

    What I find interesting is that somehow during the cultural transition from Judaism to Christianity the custom of headcovering changed from men to women.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The custom actually did not change in my opinion but remained entranced in the populations that practice it. In the middle east men cover their head and it is not about Judaism, its the eastern way, the symbolic sign of respect even among non-Jews. Western culture, Greco-Roman variety it is the opposite. It is not Christianity vs Judaism, it is broader, East vs. West.

  25. Elizebeth Baker

    Find these discussions very helpful. Would like to keep seeing them.

  26. ruth hirt

    It is not simply interesting but, over the fact, Christianity stemmed from Judaism, Christians have more reasons to delve into the facts and history of Judaism and all that is related to it. Amen.
    Thank you for these studies you make available to everyone.

  27. Kat

    This has made me think too. In some larger non-denominational churches the “attractiveness” is achieved by eliminating religious “rules”. Why is this seemingly type of Judaism taboo? I don’t like cultural authority, but we must conform to it at work, within government, etc. Why is it right everywhere but church?

  28. Ildiko

    So, in the Lord’s perspective is correct or not for a men to cover his head?

  29. Ildiko

    There is something what I can’t understand… In New Testament, in I Corinthians Ap. Paul say :” 3. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head.”

  30. Kat

    Cathy, thank you. I had no religious authority growing up so I understand “doing good” perhaps a little differently. I see submitting to authority as positive (Romans 13). This now changes my question to: Did the rabbinical leadership of the 3rd century contradict the Ten Commandments?

  31. Cathy Arvin

    Kat – Psalm 2 is a good passage to use for who the king is. Ultimately G-d is our King. As to fear, for those who fear G-d, there is nothing else on this earth we need fear. Shalom

  32. Cathy Arvin

    YAR – ירא to fear, revere, to stand in awe of, to fear, reverence, honour, respect
    Deu 10:20 “You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.
    Psa 33:18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
    Psa 33:19 To deliver their soul

  33. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza

    BS”D

    It’s possible a hebraization such as Musis/Moshéh, Bab-ilu/Bavel? 😉

  34. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza

    BS”D

    I read a time, that the origin of the Kipah, was an idea of the Shmu’el haqatan’s mother when he was a child 🙂
    concerning to the Yarmulqah, such as it is writen today, has no connection with aramaic roots, because Malká’ מלכא is different from Mulqah מולקה. I had the idea that Yarmulqah, is after the Turkish word Yarmugloq or yagmurluq.

  35. Kat

    I am trying to understand the word Yar (fear) – Malkah (the King). Is fear a positive or negative word? Who is the King a reference too?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

      1. Luis R. Santos

        I did some extensive word study and came to the conclusion, contrary to many others, the word fear means fear.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          🙂 yes.

      2. jane z. mazzola

        Amen. One of the reasons this website resonates so much w/me. I can return, learn, & be inspired by “Ultimate Reality”. Thanks & blessings always,
        Jane M.

  36. Isaac Mzinyane

    I am a Messianic believer, I love the Elohim of Israel; I love the Jewish people and wish to learn more about the Hebrew way of life and the Will of the Almighty Yahuwah and the Set -Apart language, Hebrew.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Isaac, welcome to our forum. May you find it a blessing to you and your friends. Dr. Eli

      1. James T. Mace

        Amen!

  37. Ann Johnstone

    Haha – I love the disclaimer! Sadly, a necessary distinction in today’s sad world. By the way, Dr. Eli, I always look forward to receiving and reading your commentaries and insights. There are so many pearls of wisdom to be found within the Hebrew scriptures… and digging deep is worth the effort.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks so much, Ann. Glad you like the disclaimer 🙂

  38. Cathy Arvin

    My husband does not go out without tzit tzit, but does not always where his kippah. However, He enjoys wearing the kippah though it is not required, it reminds him that G-d is over him and to keep all things in that perspective. The tzit tzit are a good conversation starter when people ask why he has them. Because G-d requires it, Num 15, Shalom

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think wearing tzit tzit as a conversational started is not what we call its intended use :-). Would you say?

      1. Cathy Arvin

        No it is not its intended use. But I think people tend to notice others rather then themselves. It reminds him people are watching and then his prayer is that he is being a light. He is more careful in what he does and what he says. His reminder that he is representing the KING and his behavior should reflect that.

        1. jane z. mazzola

          A year later. Such a wonderful thought & perspective of your husband’s. One for us all to keep in mind: “He is more careful in what he does & what he says. His reminder that he is representing the KING & his behavior should reflect that.”
          Thank you for that reminder.

  39. Robert Wallace

    Our Israeli guide, When asked why hats were worn in the first place, said “because they are not in mourning”. From Lev 10:6 and 21:1, 10, 11. Uncovering the head was a sign of mourning. The high priest, and other priests were told not to do this, as it inferred contact with a dead body and made them unclean.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      While the verse speak about mourning they don’t in original hebrew wording speak about uncovered head, but rather something of unkept hair which actually fits perfectly with the rest of the description (you should check more literal translations such NASB for example). I believe they will show this difference. I trust it helps.

  40. Luis R. Santos

    Kudos Doc! I had heard other explanations before. This is the only one that makes sense!

    Also, I wonder if the idea of the priest hood of Israel to the nations predated the destruction of the temple.
    1Pet 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him ….

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think so 🙂

      1. Pastor's Blogs

        Dr. Eli, your explanation is well received.