Kippah as identification; The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority “above us” (Kiddushin 31a)

A kippah (plural: kippot) or yarmulke pronunciation (also called a skullcap) is a thin, slightly-rounded skullcap traditionally worn at all times by observant Jewish men! There are different proposed etymologies for the word yarmulke. According to most mainstream etymologists, it is a Yiddish word (ירמולקא) deriving from the Polish word jarmułka, meaning “cap”, ultimately possibly of Turkish origin. Others propose that it is derived from an Aramaic phrase, yarei malka, meaning “fear of the King [i.e. God],” or from the Hebrew, ya’arei me’Elokai, “those who tremble before the Judge.”

Headcoverings for men

In many places in the Bible, a man was supposed to cover his head. However, in the English mistranslations, Rav Shaul seems to be writing against this practice, at Korintim Alef / 1 Corinthians 11. “11:4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.”

Consider that in Torah, the Levites were to cover their heads as a sign of submission to HASHEM. In fact, Vayikra / Leviticus 21:10-11 even states that the Kohen haGadol (the High Priest) was never to uncover his head, not even for the death of a relative.  And then in the Prophets we read that when Abshalom chased David out of Yerushalayim, David went barefoot, and covered his head.  Also, In Yechezkel / Ezekiel 44:18 we read that the Kohanim (Priesthood) in the Beit HaMikdash in the kingdom of King Messiah will be wearing linen turbans on their heads. But if Maran Rabbeinu Yeshua HaMashiach did not come to do abolish the Torah or the Prophets, then how can Rabbi Shaul write that a man is not supposed to cover his head? It makes no sense.

When we read the mistranslation of this passage in the English, we read: 

[4] Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered brings shame to his head. [5] And every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered brings shame to her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. [6] For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaved (and it is), [then] let her be covered. [7] For indeed a man should not cover his head, since he is the likeness and esteem of The Eternal One, but the woman is the esteem of man.  Korintim alef 11:4-7. (ISR)

However, when we take this passage back to the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic originals, we see something very different than in the mistranslation into English:

[4] Every man praying or prophesying down over (his) head having shames the head of him (speaking of a veil). Every but woman praying or prophesying uncovered with the head, shames the head of herself, one for it is and the same with being shaved. If for not is covered a woman, also let her be shorn. If but shameful for a woman to be shorn or to be shaved, let her be covered. A man for indeed not ought to be covered the head, the image and glory of [The Eternal One] being. Korintim alef 11:4-7 (Green’s Interlinear).

The key to understanding this passage is twofold: 

1. Rabbi Shaul was not writing against the practices and traditions of the forefathers (the Patriarchs), as recorded in the Torah. He would not, and he could not, or else he would be contradicting the very words of King Messiah, who did not come to abolish the Torah (Mattitityahu 5:17-20).  

2. Rabbi Shaul is writing against the tradition of a man veiling his face, as was the custom of the Corinthians of that day, and in particular, the male cult prostitutes. How can we know this? Let us read further in the same chapter (Korintim alef 11): 

[14] Does not nature itself teach you that if a man indeed has long hair, it is disrespect to him? [15] And if a woman has long hair, it is esteem to her, because long hair has been given to her over and against a veil. [16] If, however, anyone seems contentious, we do not have such a habit, nor do the assemblies of The Eternal One. (ISR)  

This English rendering makes absolutely no sense.

Rabbi Shaul had a Nazirite Vow at this time, and he would have had very long hair.  It was no disrespect to him, or he would not have done it.  Also note that a woman’s long hair (in this wrong translation) is given to her over and against a veil. But let us take this to the Greek, and we will see something even more interesting:  [14] Does not herself nature teach you that a man indeed if adorns the hair, a dishonor to him it is [?] [15] A woman should but adorn the hair, a glory to her it is. Because the beautified hair instead of a veil has been given to her. [16] If but any thinks contentious to be, we such a custom do not have, neither the congregations of The Eternal One.

Read this carefully. Shaul is saying that men should not adorn their hair (or veil their faces), which were the practices for the male cult prostitutes of that day. Basically Shaul is saying that men should be men (and cover their heads, as is the practice of the Patriarchs), and women should be women, and dress like women (covering their heads).  Rabbi Shaul is also saying that a woman should adorn her hair, because beautified hair can serve for her, instead of a veil. But, if anyone should prove contentious, the Hebrews do not have such a custom of decorating the hair in place of a head covering.

But what is the Hebrew custom, as preserved by the Jewish people? The Hebrew custom is that the men cover their heads, and the women wear long, comfortable, flowing head coverings. (And as a further note, in the Torah, Ribqah [Rebecca] veiled her face once she had become engaged to be wed to Yitzak.)  So once again we see that Shaul is easily misquoted to suggest that the Torah and the traditions of the Patriarchs have been done away with. But in actual fact, Rabbi Shaul is working very diligently to teach the Torah, and the traditions of the Patriarchs.

*****  A final historical note: The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority “above us” (Kiddushin 31a). Alfred Edersheim in his book “[Yeshua] the Messiah” on pages 426-431 describes the dress of the time period of the Second Temple. He says, “In regard to the covering of the head, it was deemed a mark of disrespect to walk abroad, or to pass a person, with a bared head. Slaves covered their heads in the presence of their masters. The ordinary covering of the head was the Sudar, a kerchief twisted into a turban. A kind of light hat was also in use, either of a light material or of felt. The Sudar was twisted by rabbis in a peculiar manner to distinguish them from others… We read besides of a sort of a cap or hood attached to some kinds of outer or inner garments…of the outward appearance of [Yeshua]..His headgear would probably be the SUDAR wound in a kind of turban or perhaps the Maaphoreth, which seems to have served as a covering for the head, and to have descended over the back of the kneck and shoulders” so, here from historical references we can see that Maran Rabbeinu Yeshua HaMashiach probably wore some sort of head covering.

For today, Kippah as identification

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. Modern Orthodox Jews often wear suede or leather kippot which require 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 addition, in general, the larger the kippa, the more right-wing politically and the more observant the wearer is. And by contrast, the smaller the kippah, the more modern and even liberal the person may be.

During the High Holidays, many wear white kippot.

The tradition to wear a kippah is not derived from any biblical passage. Rather, it is a custom which evolved as a sign of our recognition that there is Someone “above” us who watches our every act. We at Beth HaDerech do follow this tradtion faithfully.

Keep your kippas man!

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