Kippah – Source of Obligation

Where does the Torah say that a Jewish man must wear a kippah?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is no source for it in the Torah, as it is not a Torah obligation. However, the importance of having one’s head covered is mentioned several times in the Talmud.

The most famous passage is Talmud Shabbat 156b. The mother of the future Torah scholar Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak was told by a soothsayer that her son would be a thief. Heeding his warning, she instructed her son to always have his head covered so that he will have the fear of Heaven upon him. She also told him to pray for God’s mercy. The son obeyed, though he never understood why this was so important to his mother.

One day Rav Nachman was sitting under a palm tree studying Torah and the top of his cloak slipped off his head. He was suddenly consumed with such an urge to steal that he immediately climbed the tree and bit off a cluster of dates.

A similar statement is found in Kiddushin 31a – that the scholar Rav Huna would never walk four cubits with his head uncovered since “the Divine Presence (Shechina) is above my head.”

Another early source states that one many not participate in synagogue services with his head uncovered (Massechet Soferim 14:15).

Although such early sources imply that wearing a kippah is a laudable custom and not a strict obligation (other than for Torah study and prayer), a number of more recent authorities argue that today it is much more akin to an obligation. For a further discussion of the rationale behind this see: Taz O.C. 2:8, Mishna Berurah 2:11, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 2, Yechaveh Da’at 4:1, Igrot Moshe O.C. I 1, Tzitz Eliezer 5:6.

As a result, religious Jewish men universally keep their heads covered at almost all times. However, there is room for leniency in cases of great need, such a person would lose his job if he would keep his head covered (Igrot Moshe O.C. IV 2).

We have several good articles on this topic. See these links:

https://www.aish.com/jl/m/pb/48949686.html

https://www.aish.com/ci/be/48901292.html

https://www.aish.com/jw/s/48930972.html

On a separate note, there is a common belief that the Yiddish word for kippah – yarmulke – is a combination of the words yerei malkah = “a fearer of the King” (being a combination of Hebrew and Aramaic), but this is not the belief of etymologists and is most likely a popular myth.

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