All our rituals, traditions, and faiths have some historical significance. Simple things, such as the way we pray or the clothes we wear during religious services, have some symbolic connection to our religion and cultural history. Many religions prescribe a specific attire when we face God, which conveys a message of purity, honesty, and sincerity. According to Judaism, the yarmulke is one such symbol of faithfulness to God. It is also known as yamaka or kippha, which is a Hebrew word that means 'dome'.
What is a Yarmulke?
Yarmulke is a Jewish word derived from the Aramaic term, 'yira malka', that means 'awe of the king'. It is a small, hemispherical skullcap, which has great religious significance as noted in the Talmud. The Talmud is a Jewish religious book with an account of Jewish laws, customs, history, ethics, and philosophy. It strongly recommends Jewish men to don a yarmulke during prayers and before entering the synagogue. Some zealous adherents also wear it while eating, studying, during weddings, and while visiting religious places such as the Western Wall.
Orthodox or conservative Jewish men wear this cap all the time, but modern reformists or egalitarian Jewish men and women don it only during prayers. Women were always exempted from wearing it, but for reasons of modesty, many married women cover their hair. With the religious revolution, women wearing kippot has become a sign of religious equality. Small Jewish kids start wearing it when they get their first haircut; this custom is known as upsherin. It also signifies that a kid will commence his formal Torah (religious material) education. Of late, modern Jewish people have started celebrating the upsherin for their daughters as well.
Why is it Necessary to Wear It?
The yarmulke is worn to show respect to God―as an outward and tangible sign of faithfulness to God. Wearing the yarmulke implies that a wearer admits the presence of divine power. It is also a symbolic demarcation between heaven and earth. One who wears the yarmulke is considered humble and God-fearing. It is a symbolic representation of complete surrender to the God.
History suggests that traditional Jews wear only a black velvet yarmulke, which are very common and widely popular. On the other hand, modern Jews wear knitted, crocheted, or leather yarmulke. Like any other accessory, the yarmulke has undergone various changes to suit different personalities. Women prefer yarmulkes with small and delicate designs, including crystals and beading with bright colors. Anybody can experiment with its pattern, fabric, and designs, as long as it is not offensive to sentiments or blasphemous. Generally, they are five inches in diameter, and are very small, compared to the size of the head. Due to this, and unlike other headgear, hair pins or clips are needed to keep it in place.
Various reforms in Judaism, and convergence with world religions, have brought many changes in Jewish culture, and hence in their customs and practices. These caps are still used symbolically, but convey a different message. Some of them express their political or religious ideologies, beliefs and faiths through certain kind of yarmulkes. The history of this headgear does not have an account of it being associated with magical or mystical events, but it has always been the symbol of pure devotion to God. In the modern world, it is often simply used as a symbol for Judaism in general.