Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cover your head...

There is a simple act that most of the Jews do when they enter a synagogue, they wear a kippah, or a yarmulke.

Were does the word yarmulke come from?
What is a yarmulke?
What is the minimal size of a yarmulke?
Why don’t we say a blessing when we cover our heads?
These are questions that a non-Jewish visitor may ask when he or she,  enters a synagogue, for the first time.  And these are questions that we should be able to answer.

Yarmulke is a Jewish word derived from the Aramaic term, ‘yareh malka’, that means “awe of the king.”  The word “kippah” is usually translated to mean “a cover” but Aramaic like many other languages can change meaning when it is translated. For example in Spanish “kippah” is translated as “solideo” which means that only G-d is above us.
The Talmud (Kidushin 31A) states that that Rabbi Hunah the son of Rabbi Yehoshua never walked 4 cubits (approximately 7 feet) with his head uncovered. The reason he gave is that “The divine presence is always resting over my head.” In reverence of the Divine presence and to acknowledge G-D’s presence we wear a yarmulke and the yarmulke is a constant reminder of G-D’s presence.

There is also a reference in Tractate Shabbat (156B): “cover your head in order that fear of heaven be upon you”. Yet another reference to Kippot in Tractate Berachot states that the blessing that we say in the morning prayers “he who crowns Israel with splendor” refers to the Yarmulke. 

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:6) states as a ruling that one may not walk 4 cubits without a head covering.
The reason we don’t say a blessing when we put on a yarmulke it is that it is not a commandment to wear a yarmulke, it’s just a common custom. Yet even though this is a custom many Jews accept it as a rule and wear a yarmula at all times.

The minimum size of the kippah is approximately 2.5 inches because according to Jewish law the kippah should be seen from every side of the head.

Rabbi Isaac Klein states in his book Guide to Jewish Religious Practice that a Conservative Jew should cover his head when in the synagogue, at prayer or sacred study, when engaging in a ritual act, and when eating.

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