Ever wonder why Jews cover their head? Is it a cultural phenomenon or a practice that has deep spiritual significance? Watch this video to learn the basics of this well-known Jewish practice. Then read the discussion following:
To paraphrase a part of the video, the spiritual significance that has been ascribed to the Kippah is that it reminds the wearer that G-d is above him. This physical reminder serves to allow him (and notice I did not say her, because this practice is traditionally only for men) to act more in line with Jewish thought and practice. But fascinating that the practice of wearing the Kippah is not a commandment from G-d!
The concepts of identity formation and expression, and of the rhetoric of review, play a key role in understanding the phenomenon of the Kippah. The wearing of the Kippah can be understood more as a cultural and rhetorical phenomenon that has also been ascribed religious significance. Historically speaking Jews started wearing the Kippah to separate themselves from non-Jews. As we learn from the video, non-Jews did not cover their heads, and Jews therefore covered themselves to create a significant separation from the rest of society. The rhetoric of review of the day would allow non Jews to instantaneously identify those with a Jewish identity by seeing a head covering, and Jews would be able to instantaneously identify those with a non-Jewish identity by not seeing the Kippah on their head. This was a long time ago, and the significance of the Kippah has shifted slightly since then.
Today the Kippah still serves its spiritual role: to remind the wearer that he is in the presence of the King of Kings (G-d). But culturally it’s significance has shifted slightly. The Kippah alone might not necessarily identify someone as a Jew. There are individuals of other faiths and cultures who cover their heads as well. Once I was waiting for a bus in Washington D.C. and I was wearing my Kippah. A kid, about eight years old, walked up to me and asked me: “Hey. You a Muslim?” The Kippah only expresses my Jewish identity in certain, but no longer in all cultural contexts.