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Is it a yamaka or a kippah? What is the difference between them?
A kippah (Yiddish for “skullcap”) is a slightly-rounded brimless skullcap worn by many Jews while praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts. The word derives from the Hebrew Kefa , meaning “dome”.
Many people believe that the yamaka and kippah are interchangeable: that they serve identical purposes and can be worn interchangeably. Many of those people are wrong. This brief guide will help you distinguish between two non-synonymous species of headgear so you never again have to embarrass yourself with such ignorant comments as ‘boy, I sure am gonna miss wearing my yamaka over my kippah.’
A yamaka is a type of headgear originating in the Middle East. It is basically an oblong, usually knitted cap with two long ribbons which are tied under the chin. The ‘knitting’ can be done either by hand or machine and received its name because it resembles the Hebrew letter ‘yud’.
The yamaka serves no religious function but has become popular as an accessory, especially among teenage girls who wear them with bric-a-brac pins to keep their hair out of their eyes. The vast majority of people that call every skullcap a “yamaka” are unaware of this fact.
A kippah on the other hand, is a skullcap worn by Jewish men and boys (and sometimes girls and women) during prayer, eating and studying Torah. It is worn to show that one is respectful of God; it symbolizes the fact that God’s presence “dwells” above us (in the kippah’s crown).
The word ‘kippah’ comes from the Hebrew root Kaf-Pey-Alef which literally means “Cover Up”. A kippa literally covers up your head as if you are showing respect to someone or some higher power above you.
Yamakas serve no religious function but have become popular as an accessory among practicing Jews and those who want to blend in more with their culture, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The yamaka dates back to the 6th century CE in Babylon while the kippah originates from 11th-century France. If you wear a yamaka under your kippah, that is like wearing underwear over your pants: it’s just not done.
Just remember one thing: A kippah covers up your hair and rests on your head; a yamakas doesn’t even touch your head, let alone cover up any of its contents.
If you are unsure if someone is Jewish or not, ask them to take off their cap for 60 seconds then come back into the room with it still off after that time. If they are Jewish then chances are they will have put on a kippah and prayed a short prayer. If they are not Jewish then chances are they will have put on a yamaka, made a witty comment about how you asked them to take off their head-wear, and laughed at you for being so silly.
The only way that one can wear both is when sleeping, showering or swimming in the ocean… but even in these circumstances it is considered a form of sacrilege. So remember: A kippah covers your head with respect to God; a yamaka covers your hairs with no religious reason whatsoever. It’s just how we roll here in Israel 🙂
If someone has told you that “yamakas don’t need to be worn over kippahs” or that “you can’t wear a yamaka under your kippah”, then you have been informed incorrectly. Yamakas and kippahs are two different, non-comparable objects of headgear. But if someone has told you that “yamakas do need to be worn over kippahs” or that “you should wear a yamaka under your kippah” then you have not been provided with incorrect information!
Your friend who knows what they’re talking about.
P.S: If you still can’t understand the difference between yamakas and kippahs after reading this article, just pretend like it never happened and go on living your life as if you knew the difference. There’s no need to feel embarrassed about not knowing what a kippah is; there are plenty of people out there who don’t know what it is either (like our Prime Minister)!
P.P.S: If you think this article was in incredibly poor taste and an outright provocation, show it to your rabbi for advice… if he has a sense of humour then perhaps you should too 🙂
At least now you can say with confidence that you know the difference between a yamaka and a kippah!