When it comes to answering cultural, biblical practices that many are unfamiliar with, it can be quite a headache. For some odd reason, the conversation changes from being able to provide a biblical explanation as to “Why do Jews wear the kippah?” to the petitioner’s desire for Jews to meet the social norms that they reason to be the more appropriate one without realizing that they’re infringing upon Jewish cultural values. I myself have been asked on numerous occasions about my kippah only to wind up in a very defensive disposition about it. Henceforth, it’s important that Bible enthusiasts understand why we wear the kippah.
What says the Bible?
Believe it or not, wearing a kippah is a biblical practice that the Israeli people began to exert thousands of years ago in order to imitate the righteous, holy standard that the Heavenly Father has established for those who served at the Tabernacle, specifically the priesthood: “You must be holy because I, Hashem, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:26); “So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am Hashem your Elohim” (Leviticus 20:7).
Some question as to whether or not the Bible gives us specific detailed instructions about donning on the kippah. Those who are truly observant to biblical precepts reason that the kippah is holy apparel wherewith the righteous vesture themselves with: “These are the garments they are to make: a chestpiece, an ephod, a robe, a patterned tunic, a kippah, and a sash. They are to make these sacred garments for your brother, Aaron, and his sons to wear when they serve me (i.e., Elohim) as priests” (Exodus 28:4). Prohibitions were also given: “6 Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that the Heavenly Father will not become wrathful against all the congregation […]. 7 You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for Hashem’s anointing oil is upon you” (Leviticus 10:6-7).
Thus, the kippah is understood to be a sacred garment made of fine linen (i.e., Leviticus 39:28) that is placed upon the head in recognition of humble service to the Heavenly Father. The kippah is symbolic in the sense that it represents the continuous intercession on behalf of the Israeli people. The kippah is also symbolic in the sense that those who don them believe that the anointed one rules over their lives: “And let the peace that comes from Messiah rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). So, if there was ever a piece of garment that would distinguish a person from the rest of the crowd as a separate, unique and holy people, the kippah is one of the many holy types of attire that we don ourselves with.
Now, some might reason that donning on the kippah was limited to the priesthood’s use in their function as they served at the Tabernacle and later the Temple, but it’s not; in fact, the kippah greatly served a very practical purpose too! In ancient times before knowledge of the modern medical marvels came to be understood as it is today, the kippah served a very practical purpose in the sense that it provided a useful barrier against all unwanted creatures (e.g., lice and gnats) from infesting the hairs of men’s heads. It also captured the moisture that heat produced in such warm climate conditions in order to keep the body cool as our ancestors toiled in the fields, thus preventing them from suffering more severe conditions now known as dehydration, hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and even death. It’s interesting to note that this particular commandment literally prevented people from losing their lives (reference Deuteronomy 4:40, Deuteronomy 32:47, Proverbs 4:13, and Proverbs 19:16). Thus, we perceive many wonderful benefits that the kippah serves, both spiritual benefits as well as its practicality; besides, it gives us a connection with our cultural, biblical roots to our faith in the Creator.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the Israeli people appreciate the kippah so much that the Heavenly Father had to provide us with specific instructions as to when the kippah is expected to be removed from our head on a number of places throughout Torah. Among our people, it’s even understood that whenever a member within our society wears the kippah in an inappropriate manner, the person is simply expressing a sense of mourning (reference Ezekiel 24:17). So instead of discouraging a fellow member within our society from allowing their heads to go bare, we “Place the mitznefet (i.e., the ancient Hebrew term for kippah) on his head, and fasten the sacred medallion to it” to help keep it in place (reference Exodus 29:6), an act that we ourselves perceive as obedience to the Heavenly Father’s instructions since He instructed “put their special head coverings on them” (Exodus 29:9).
Thus, a good response to give is, “I wear the kippah because it’s a commandment that the Heavenly Father has provided the Israeli people with to obey as we imitate the righteous standard of holiness He demands in our lives.”
If they object?
Sometimes, you’ll encounter people who will object to your explanation. It's as if though you're encouraged and enticed into a conversation only to discover minutes later that you're being held hostage in a conversation you didn't anticipate to be holding, they're reasoning in why you're wrong in your obedience to Elohim's standards. They might even stop you as you begin to respond to their question. In the event that your audience objects, here’s a word a response that has worked for me in dealing with the situation:
“I’m sorry. I was under the impression that you were interested in my cultural, biblical values for your own spiritual nourishment or personal enrichment. I see that you cannot appreciate what the Heavenly Father has instructed my people. I’m really sorry that you feel that way about my response, but my actions of wearing the kippah is simply a biblical commandment that I choose to obey (reference Jeremiah 12:16). Unfortunately, there’s nothing that you can say to convince me otherwise because I’m not a member of your religion; thus, I’m not obligated to meet the social expectations that you yourself observe (Deuteronomy 20:18). You and I, we’re from two totally separate cultures and the Bible forbids me to learn your cultural values less I then violate the Heavenly Father’s instructions (Leviticus 18:3, Deuteronomy 18:9).”
Just as much as you didn't anticipate for their mask to fall from their faces, so too they will not anticipate the fact that you do have a biblical response to their inquisitive little minds. In fact, you'll observe their faces light up from the embarrassment that they’ve brought themselves. Others even think that they can school members within our society in these biblical matters when all we really want is to live holy, blameless lives in the most appropriate way that the Heavenly Father instructs us in his Word. So, as you continue to search the Scriptures, remember to both learn the Word and do what it says less you deceive yourselves (James 1:22).
© 2014 by Nehr HaOlam Publications.
Winslow, New Jersey, USA
All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures were taken from the New Living Translation of the Bible.
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