Covering the head is a religious commandment in faiths such as Islam. Judaism also has the concept of covering the head, but it is not religious compulsion. It is worn during prayer or when visiting a place of worship. The skullcap worn by the Jews is called a Yamaka. It is an important symbol of Jewish identity after the Star of David. It has been worn by Jewish men and young boys traditionally. In modern times ladies wear one too as a reaffirmation and reminder of their faith. One often hears a Yamaka being referred to as a “Kippah”. Kippah is the Hebrew name for this Jewish hat.
Religious Significance of the Yamaka
The Yamaka is a symbol of humility and reverence. Wearing it signifies acknowledgment of a higher authority. It is a reminder that the Almighty keeps a watch on all from above. The custom of covering the head with a skull cap also implies that one is a servant of God.
A passage in the Talmud (Shabbat 156b) instructs its followers to cover their heads. It reads, “Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you.” There are more references in the Jewish religious commentary.
Followers of Judaism usually wear a Yamaka when praying or studying the Torah as a sign of respect for God. However, some devout Jews wear this religious head covering throughout the day as a symbol of true devotion to God. Some Jews, those who don’t actively practice the faith, put on a Yamaka occasionally. The occasional events include weddings, funerals and other religious functions. They wear it so as to identify themselves with this religious sect.
Jewish children start wearing a Yamaka at the age of 3. At this age, they have their first haircut and also start wearing another easily recognizable religious symbol “tzitzit”. The ceremony is called “upsherin”. Upsherin also marks the beginning of formal Torah education.
Covering the head is a widely followed Jewish tradition. However, like already mentioned above it is not a commandment or a religious obligation. One can go without a Yamaka if his immediate surroundings or situation demands it. For example, you might not be allowed to put on a cap at work. The compulsion factor also depends upon the synagogue one attends.
Types and Designs
The KIPPAH is a small hemispherical cap. It measures 5 inches in diameter. The yarmulke is worn at the apex of the head. It is fitted to the head using hair clips or bobby pins. Many have inbuilt combs to help hold the cap in place. Designs for infants are fitted with ribbon-like ties so as to secure the cap under the chin.
Earlier, all Yamakas were black in color and were made of a velvet material with the “Star of David” symbol embroidered on it. However, today religious revolution has allowed for variations in its design, color, and material. Although considered a part of male religious attire, many women have started wearing a Yamaka too. Yamakas for women has lace adornments, beadings, crystals, lace trimmings, and other feminine decorations. They are made in brighter colors. Children’s designs are adorned with baseball emblems and cartoon characters too. Modern caps are crocheted, knitted or made of leather.