Kippah: A Blessing On Your Head

February 20th, 2008

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons

It is perhaps the most instantly identifiable mark of a Jew. When and why do we wear a kippah?

It is perhaps the most instantly identifiable mark of a Jew.

In the Western world, it is customary to remove one’s head covering when meeting an important person. In Judaism, putting on a head covering is a sign of respect.

The uniqueness of a Jewish head covering is hinted at in the blessing we say every morning, thanking God for “crowning Israel with splendor” (Talmud - Brachot 60b)

The Talmud says that the purpose of wearing a kippah is to remind us of God, who is the Higher Authority “above us” (Kiddushin 31a). External actions create internal awareness; wearing a symbolic, tangible “something above us” reinforces that idea that God is always watching. The kippah is a means to draw out one’s inner sense of respect for God.

It’s easy to remember God while at the synagogue or around the Shabbat table. But Jewish consciousness is meant to pervade all aspects of our lives — how we treat others, how we conduct business, and how we look at the world.

Appropriately, the Yiddish word for head covering, “yarmulke,” comes from the Aramaic, yira malka, which means “awe of the King.”

In Hebrew, the head covering is called “kippah” — literally “dome.”


To wear a kippah is to proclaim “I am a proud Jew.” There is a fascinating phenomenon whereby non-observant Jews visiting Israel will wear a kippah for the duration of their stay. It may be out of a sense that the entire Land of Israel is holy like a synagogue. Or it may be the removal of any self-consciousness that can often accompany public expression of Jewishness in the diaspora.

Indeed, wearing a kippah is a big statement, and obligates the wearer to live up to a certain standard of behavior. A person has to think twice before cutting in line at the bank, or berating an incompetent waiter. Wearing a kippah makes one a Torah ambassador and reflects on all Jews. The actions of someone wearing a kippah can create a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) or conversely a Chillul Hashem (desecration of His name).

Of course, putting on a kippah does not automatically confer “role model” status. Sometimes we unfortunately hear of a religious person caught in some indiscretion. I recall one time in Los Angeles, noticing that a drunken, disheveled man was walking down the street — wearing a kippah! He wasn’t Jewish, but he’d found an old kippah and thought it helped him fit in with the neighborhood atmosphere. For me, it drove home the idea that it’s not fair to “judge Judaism” based on someone displaying the outer trappings of observance.


From a biblical standpoint, only the Kohanim serving in the Temple were required to cover their heads (see Exodus 28:4). Yet for many centuries, the obligatory custom has been for Jewish men to wear a kippah all the time, as the Code of Jewish Law says, “It is forbidden to walk four cubits without a head covering.”

Does a kippah have to be worn while playing sports? This issue came to the fore recently with the publicity surrounding Tamir Goodman, the basketball sensation who is an observant Jew.

The answer is that it is preferable to wear even a small kippah, pinned to the hair. (Velcro works great!) If it is impossible because of the game conditions or rules, it is okay to play without a kippah.

When bathing or swimming, one does not wear a kippah.

Certainly, a head covering is obligatory while engaged in prayer and Torah study.

What kind of head covering qualifies? Basically anything — including a baseball cap or a scarf tied around one’s head. Of course, in the synagogue, it is more respectful to use a regular kippah.

How large must a kippah be? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein states that the minimum measure is that “which would be called a head covering.” Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef says the kippah should be large enough to be seen from all sides.

The style of kippah worn can reflect an interesting sociological phenomena, often denoting a person’s group affiliation. For example, yeshivah-style Jews wear a black velvet kippah. Modern Orthodox Jews often wear a knitted, colored kippah. Many Chassidic Jews wear a fur hat (shtreimel) on Shabbat and holidays.

Additionally, many also wear a hat when they pray to increase awareness of the Almighty as they stand before Him. (Mishne Brura 183:11)


What about instances where wearing a kippah conflicts with business and career interests?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that in certain cases, there is room to be lenient. For example, a trial lawyer might not be properly serving his client if the jury will be distracted by the kippah. U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman may use a similar line of reasoning.

Of course this can cut both ways. A prominent businssman once told me that for every client “lost” because of his kippah, there were two clients gained, who respected his display of integrity and courage in wearing a kippah.

The story goes that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev once saw a man running. “Where are you running to?” the rabbi asked.

“I have to get to my job,” the man said.

The rabbi retorted: “Perhaps your livelihood is in the other direction — and you’re running away from it!”

For many seeking to express their Jewish identity, “to kippah or not to kippah?” — that is the question. Here are two fascinating first-person accounts of how to deal with this issue:

- “The Kippah Quandary” by Ross Hirschmann

- “The Kippah Debate” by Richard Rabkin

Author Biography:
Rabbi Shraga Simmons spent his childhood trekking through snow in Buffalo, New York. He has worked in the fields of journalism and public relations, and is now the Co-editor of in Jerusalem.

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Why Do We Wear a Kippah?

February 12th, 2008

By Baruch S. Davidson


Is the kippah a symbolic reminder intended to prevent assimilation, or is the kippah a biblical obligation like the tzitzit?


The tradition to wear a kippah is not derived from any biblical passage. Rather, it is a custom which evolved as a sign of our recognition that there is Someone “above” us who watches our every act.

The Talmud1 relates that a woman was once told by astrologers that her son is destined to be a thief. To prevent this from happening, she insisted that he always have his head covered to remind him of G‑d’s presence and instill within him the fear of Heaven. Once, while sitting under a palm tree, his head covering fell off. He was suddenly overcome by an urge to eat a fruit from the tree which did not belong to him. It was then that he realized the strong effect which the wearing of a kippah had on him.

In Talmudic times, the practice of wearing a head covering was reserved for men of great stature. In later generations, though, it became the accepted custom for all Jewish men to wear a kippah at all times, and especially during prayer. As with all Jewish customs, once they become a universally accepted Jewish practice, they become halachically obligatory.

According to some opinions, since wearing a kippah has become a form of distinction between Jews and non-Jews, failure to wear a head covering falls under the prohibition of “you shall not follow their statutes.”2

Click here browse a large selection, or purchase a kippah.

1. Shabbat 156b.

2. Leviticus 18:3.

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Why do the Jews wear yarmulkes (kippot)?

December 10th, 2007

Yarmulkes (or Kippot) are head-coverings, also known as beanies. One who wears a Yarmulke is in effect saying that reality does not begin with me—there is something above, a Higher Power. Hence its name, “yarmulke,” which is a contraction of “yarei malka,” which means awe of the King. It is a symbol of humility and submission to the Divine.

Technically, you can use anything to cover your head—baseball cap, pillowcase, etc. Even those who don’t wear a yarmulke all the time, will generally wear it when praying or studying Torah.

It is also known as “Kippah”, which means “dome”.


Tu B’Shvat - 15th Day of Shvat

December 10th, 2007

 The 15th day of the month of Shvat marks the beginning of the “new year” for trees.Tu B’Shvat is the new year for the purpose of calculating the age of trees for tithing. The Torah states that fruit from trees which were grown in the land of Israel may not be eaten during the first three years; the fourth year’s fruit is for G-d, and after that, the fruit can be eaten. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of Tu B’Shvat, no matter when in the year it was planted.

It is customary to plant trees and partake of the fruits of the land of Israel to mark the occasion.

This year (5768 / 2007-2008) Tu B’Shvat falls on January 22, 2008.


Purim is a Lot of Fun When You are Prepared

December 9th, 2007

Been there, done that. When you don’t plan for Purim well enough in advance, Purim can feel like a disaster.

Purim is only 1-2 days but it can feel like an entire month due to the amount of preparation and the actual schedule of the holiday.

There is a lot to do in a little bit of time, and if you do not adequately organize yourself, you are going to get caught up in the undertow.

I’m serious! This happened to me for a while every year. I would not notice how soon Purim would come and then it would be here and I would be madly dashing to the store for mishloach manos and forgetting to make my kids costumes and you name it. I felt very overwhelmed.

When I started implementing this strategy, towards the beginning of the Purim month- I accomplished everything I needed to, and extra!

Here’s the strategy for making Purim Perfectly Organized (excerpted from Purim Perfectly Organized)

My sister once gave me a great tip for packing for travel. She said to ”run down” your body to remind yourself of what to pack in your suitcase.

For instance- starting with my head, I pack my sheital, scarves, snoods, hairbrush, and hair accessories. Next are my eyes- contact lenses, a pair of glasses and contact solution. Whatever you need for each body part should come to mind.

I like using this tip for planning how the actual holiday will progress. Instead of using the body I just think about the natural progression of the day. For example, what time is the Purim feast? Where are you going? What are you bringing? Do you need to bring activities for your kids?

My husband and I started this tradition while our kids were very little (they still are) and that is- thinking about the actual day and how it will progress.

The reason we started when the kids were young was actually for no other reason then we had to work out the logisitics of going to shul while one person would be home for naptime or one would hear megillah reading while the other would stay with the kids. You know how it is.

Having a plan for how the actual day will go is good whether or not your kids are young/old or whether or not you actually have kids.

Make a mental rundown of the day from beginning to end.

* The Fast

* Break Fast

* Megillah in the evening

* Megillah in the morning

* Shaloch Manos

* Matanos Le’evyonim

* The Seudah

Think about each category- the fast, do you fast well? Do you need childcare while you rest?

Think about anything you could possibly need or want or for that matter, what your kids might need or want for the day. You might come up with “pack snacks for shul for the kids” and then add this to your planner.

Rivka Slatkin is the founder of Jewish Life Organized and started it when she herself was looking to organize the Jewish Holidays. Rivka did a lot of research on how others organizing the Yomim Tovim and posted her findings on her website for her friends and family. Lots more people found and wanted copies of the Yom Tov Perfectly Organized Collection. “I guess I wasn’t the only one looking to get more organized for the holidays!”, Rivka says. Go to to sign up for Rivka’s free newsletter.

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When to Light the Menorah

December 7th, 2007

By Eliyahu Kitov

The Chanukah lights (Menorah) should be lit when the stars appear. If one did not light then, one may still light through the remainder of the night, provided that the members of the household are still awake. If one was inadvertently unable to light the Chanukah lights until very late – when everyone is already asleep (and it is not possible to awaken two or three of them) and thus one cannot achieve publicizing of the miracle – he should light without making a blessing. Once night has passed, the lights cannot be lit and one cannot make up for having failed to perform the mitzvah. He can only light the next evening as does everyone else.

For the half hour preceding the time when the lights are to be lit, one is forbidden to eat a “fixed” meal or to partake of anything intoxicating. When the prescribed time has arrived, even the study of Torah is prohibited until the Chanukah lights are lit. When the stars appear, the evening prayers are recited and is followed immediately by the lighting of the Chanukah lights. In Jerusalem, many follow the custom of the Vilna Gaon and light the Chanukah lights at sunset, prior to the evening prayers.1

The lights should burn for at least half an hour; thus, when lighting, there should be sufficient oil for them to burn for that amount of time. Those who light at sunset must place sufficient oil for the lights to burn for at least fifty minutes – twenty minutes from sunset until the appearance of the stars and thirty minutes afterwards.

If, at the time when the chanukah lights were lit, there was an insufficient amount of oil for them to burn for the requisite period, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah and one may not add oil after the lights have been lit. Rather, one must extinguish the flame, add oil, and relight the lights without the blessing. The essence of the mitzvah is the act of lighting – thus, there must be sufficient oil at the time of lighting to burn for the required time.

If one poured more than the required amount of oil for the lights, he may extinguish them after they have burned for more than half an hour after the appearance of the stars, if he wishes to use the excess oil for lighting on the following evening. He may also extinguish the lights in order to use the remaining oil for some other purpose, provided that he specifically stipulated that he had intention to do so before he used the oil for the Chanukah lights. For this reason, no use may be made of the oil or wicks that remain after the last night of Chanukah unless one specifically stipulated – before lighting – that he intended to use whatever remained for other purposes. If he made no stipulation, they should be burned.

If the Chanukah lights were accidentally extinguished during the prescribed period, they should be relit without a blessing. If one failed to relight them, he will nevertheless still have fulfilled the mitzvah, for as we have seen, the essence of the mitzvah is the act of lighting.

As long as the Chanukah lights are burning – even if the prescribed period has passed – no benefit may be derived from their light and they may not be moved from place to place. If one wants to use their light for some other purpose after they have burned for the prescribed period, he should first extinguish them and then relight them [only if he made a stipulation – as above].

On Friday afternoon, the lighting of the Chanukah lights precedes the lighting of the Shabbat candles. One should be careful to use sufficient oil to ensure that they remain lit for at least half an hour after the appearance of the stars.

On motza’ei Shabbat (Saturday night), customs differ – among many, the Chanukah lights are lit after Havdalah; others reverse the order. A person should therefore follow the custom of his forefathers. Among Sephardic communities, Chanukah lights are lit in the synagogue before Havdalah and at home, Havdalah precedes the lighting.

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How long do tefillin last?

December 6th, 2007

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

The scrolls inside the Tefillin will decay with age if not used on a regular basis. Therefore, tefillin which have been stored without use for an extended period must be inspected by a competent scribe twice every seven years. Tefillin which are used regularly (good for you!) technically do not have to be checked at all. This is provided that the exterior box has not been damaged, torn or soaked.

Nevertheless, it is proper to check tefillin occasionally, even if they are in constant use. “Better safe than sorry” — can certainly apply to such a special Mitzvah which has such a profound affect on a person’s daily life. Many Chassidim have the custom of checking their tefillin (and Mezuzot) every year during the month of Elul — adding another mitzvah to their arsenal in preparation for the Days of Judgment.

Zion Judaica sells Tefillin Sets

and all other Religous Articles.

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Why do people give money gifts on Chanukah?

December 5th, 2007

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

Do you really need an excuse to give gifts! Well for those of you who are too frugal to give gifts for no good reason whatsoever… here goes:The word “Chanukah” comes from the same word as “chinuch (education).” The Greeks wanted to make us forget the holy Torah, thus when they were defeated it was necessary to start reeducating the (Jewish people, and especially the) children.

When giving Chanukah gelt (money), we also try to educate the children about the importance of giving charity with their own money.

Maimonides writes that it is important to use incentives in order to educate a child (until he/she is old enough to independently understand the importance and beauty of the Torah and mitzvos). On Chanukah, the holiday which is dedicated to education, we tell the children: “Here is some Chanukah gelt (money), an incentive for you to study Torah properly.”

When giving Chanukah gelt, we also try to educate the children about the importance of giving charity with their own money.Source:

Some Hanukkah Songs

December 5th, 2007

I Have a Little Dreidel
I have a little dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!


Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel
I made it out of clay
And when it’s dry and ready
Then dreidel I shall play!

It has a lovely body
With legs so short and thin
And when my dreidel’s tired
It drops and then I win!


My draydel’s always playful
It loves to dance and spin
A happy game of dreidel
Come play now, let’s begin!


Sivivon, sov, sov, sov
Sivivon, sov, sov, sov
Chanuka, hu chag tov
Chanuka, hu chag tov
Sivivon, sov, sov, sov!Chag simcha hu la-am
Nes gadol haya sham
Nes gadol haya sham
Chag simcha hu la-am.(Translation)
Dreidel, spin, spin, spin.
Chanuka is a great holiday.
It is a celebration for our nation.
A great miracle happened there.

Maoz Tzur - Transliteration
Maoz tzur yeshua-si
Lecha na-eh li-sha-beyach
Tikone bais ti-fee-lasi
Vi-sham todah ni-za-beyach.
Li-ase ta-chin mat-beyach
Mee-tzar ham-na-beyach
Az eg-more vi-sheer meez-mor
Chanukas ha-meez-beyach
Az eg-more vi-sheer meez-mor
Chanukas ha-meez-beyach.(Translation)
O Rock of my salvation, with delight we praise You.
Restore the Temple where we will bring offerings.
When You will eliminate our enemies,
Then I shall sing at the rededication.

Chanuka, Chanuka
Chanuka, Chanuka
Chag yafeh kol kach
Ohr chaviv, mi-savis
Gil li-yeled rach.
Chanuka, Chanuka
Sivivon, sov, sov
Sov, sov, sov! Sov, sov, sov!
Ma nayim vi-tov.(Tranlation)
Chanuka is a greay holiday.
Surrounded with lovely light.
Fun for little children.
Dreidel, spin, spin, spin.
How wonderful!

Chanuka, oh Chanuka
Chanuka, Oh Chanuka, come light the Menorah
Let’s have a party, we’ll all dance the hora
Gather round the table, we’ll all have a treat
Sivivon to play with, and latkes to eat.And while we are playing
The candles are burning bright
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.

Silver Judaica - Pure Sacred Objects

December 4th, 2007

Beautiful handcrafted vases, wine decanters and candle holders all with an antique finish, and prices can be quite high, wondering why?

This is because antique Judaica is expensive but replicas sell like hot cakes all over the world. Although Judaica is made in gold, silver and bronze, copper with an inlay of precious stones, pure silver has been the most common material for the creation of Judaica. The range of religious products are usually Besamim, wine decanters, candlesticks, Etrong boxes, Hanukahs, honey dishes, jewelry, sculptures, Yad torah pointers, liquor cups, menorahs, Mezuzzot and many other items of both utility and decoration.

With a variety of religious products associated with the Jewish religion, silver can be molded to fulfill the specific requirements as it is one of the most precious metals, and has been widely used for its versatility and eye-catching look. The Judaica art has been long associated with filigree work and special technique of hammering out of designs in order to craft beautiful, intricate designs.

So what is Judaica?

Collective term given to any product, religious article or even piece of literature known to be related to the Jewish religion is known as Judaica. Pieces are always in great demand as the religion has spread its wings globally. The main center is still in Jeruselum but followers reside in all of the world’s countries. The demand is sometimes due to its scared nature, although there are some whom collect it as a hobby.

Usually the artifacts and antiques date back to between the 16th and 19th centuries, most of which are in private collections worldwide. This is highly appreciated and in great demand while such objects have been created with delicate filigree work, and are hammered out silver designs which. It is a highly skilled art-form and requires a great deal of expertise. Some of the craftsmen who create these exquisite pieces of art have been doing so for centuries, passing down the craft from one generation to the next.

Judaica can be purchased over the internet and in stores across the world. Although there are shops that claim to sell genuine silver, you should always choose those who have carved a name for themselves. Alternatively, purchase the products which have been checked by an authority on antiques or silver. Reputed vendors will always have returns policies and will usually give a satisfaction guarantee on the products sold.

Anita Satin Choudhary writes for Rokfor Fine arts collection, Rokfor has been an Asian antique collector for many years, he specializes in mammoth ivory and Japanese netsuke

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For a complete line of silver judaica, visit