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.

    1. Charles McNeel

      Taking this out of context. I imagine the practicality lost in the wording. The largest percentage of body heat escapes off the top of the head. Truth in the reason we are told to “bundle up” or “cover your head if you go outside”(in the cold). Sickness and disease were the real enemy. Social advances comfort fashion and tradition ensues, practical reasons are replaced by symbolic sentiment

  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


  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