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. 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

  2. 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

  3. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza

    BS”D

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

      2. Gilly Robbins

        I have noticed you can buy kippot for women. Are there rules for the wearing of these? And thank you for your time.