| Second Thoughts |

Of Kippot and Yarmulkes

How kippot and yarmulkes came to be regarded as identification badges is a mystery




Now that the suspense is over and Naftali Bennett is the new prime minister, many questions have arisen about the new government. How will the new head deal with burning issues such as Iran, Hamas, the economy, the budget, the chareidi draft?

But we would be derelict if we ignored the most pressing question of all, which deals with the head of the new head: i.e., how does Bennett keep his microscopic kippah from sliding off the back of his totally bald pate? Bobby pins will not do, since there is nothing to which to attach them. Glue? Paste? Scotch tape? This is a question that no one but Bennett himself can answer — and he is too busy balancing both his budget and his kippah to enlighten us. It is one of those esoterica about which only Eliyahu Hanavi at the End of Days can enlighten us. Teiku, as the Talmud puts it. We will have to be patient, and simply wait.

The origin of the word “yarmulke” itself is unclear. Some trace it back to a Polish and Ukrainian word for head covering. Others claim it is an acronym for the Aramaic yerei Malka, “fear of the King.” No one knows for sure, but in any case, one fact is clear: In Judaism, a head covering is a sign of submission to G-d, and a bare head can be a sign of arrogance — thus turning Western culture, if you will, on its head.

Of yarmulkes there are many types and sizes and varieties: Some encompass the entire head, others are not much larger than postage stamps; some made of velvet, others colorfully crocheted. (See Talmud Yoma 71a for a serious discussion of the size of the head covering worn by the Kohein in the Beis Hamikdash).

How kippot and yarmulkes came to be regarded as identification badges is a mystery, but somehow it has long since developed that the kind of yarmulke you wear reflects your Jewish predilections. Chareidim never wear a knitted yarmulke, nor ever use the word “kippah.” Black is the color of choice, velveteen the material of choice. The reverse is true of more Modern Orthodox Jews. No one knows about the fate of chareidim who would be so bold as to wear a colorful knitted yarmulke: ostracization? Excision from chareidi society? Siberian exile? Ditto, if a Modern Orthodox Jew were to don a black yarmulke, would he lose his friends, or be denied an aliyah in his shul? (There are persistent reports that a chareidi wearing a knitted kippah, and a Modern Orthodox Jew wearing a black velvet yarmulke were last seen walking together in Meah Shearim, but were never heard from again. These reports are unverified.)

Objectively speaking, it is absurd that Jews who believe in the same G-d, perform the same mitzvos, observe the same holy days, wear the same tefillin, recite the same Shema Yisrael, study the same Torah, and are subject to the same Jew-hatred — should be separated and divided by a three-inch piece of cloth — not to mention the color of one’s jacket or the width of the brim or the color of one’s hat.

This might explain why it is taking so long for the Messiah to arrive. He is probably being delayed at the gates of Jerusalem by a knitted-yarmulke gatekeeper who will not permit the Messiah to enter because he is wearing a black kippah and is thus suspect. Or maybe it is the reverse, and the Messiah has a knitted kippah while the gatekeeper favors a black yarmulke. Until the Messiah dons an acceptable head covering, he will be delayed.

Bennett could easily solve his kippah problem in one of two ways. Either a) wear a larger kippah that would stay put without appurtenances of any kind; or b) regularly change kippah styles, colors, and sizes.

Either of these creative maneuvers would avoid a constitutional crisis and once and for all solve the burning national questions now swirling about the non-hirsute head of our new head man. This would be a most appropriate strategy for a man who won his office by a hair’s breadth.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 868)

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