Different types of kippahs and yarmulkes

What’s the Jewish hat name, and other questions

It might surprise you to know that the most popular search time involving Jews (besides Israel) is: Jewish hat name. Every single month, around 5,000 people are wondering to themselves, “what do Jews wear on their head” and “what’s that hat, that Jewish wear?”

(It might surprise you to know this, too, but hardly anyone on the web is searching for ‘Jews’. Nearly everyone is searching for ‘Jewish’, which kinda explains why traffic from search engines has been so puny, the last four years.)

So, I decided to do a post devoted to answering the question of: “What’s the Jewish hat name”, and other related questions – all phrased the same way people are searching for them on Google, so that hopefully more people will find the answers to their questions about “what do Jews wear on their head?”

Q: What’s the Jewish hat name?

A: The Jewish hat name will vary depending on what country and what community you’re in. In the US, UK and other English speaking countries with a large population of chareidi or Chassidic Jews, the hat will be called a yarmulke, which often sounds as though it’s pronounced ‘yamaka’.

So, when people want to know: how do you spell yamaka? – the answer is, you don’t spell it how it sounds.

But there’s another Jewish hat name that’s very common too, and that’s the kippah. Most of the Hebrew-speaking Jews in Israel will refer to their Jewish hat as a kippah, not a yarmulke.

Q: Kippah vs yamaka – what’s the difference?

A: While in theory, any beanie-type Jewish hat could be called either a kippah or a yamaka, in practice, there are certain types of Jewish hat that are only called by one term, or the other. For example, in Israel, there is a type of crocheted kippah that’s usually very colorful, and which can range in size from teeny-weeny, to ear-covering huge.

The smallest knitted kippah I ever saw was on the head of a teenager who was clearly making a point to his parents, and it was the size of a quarter. This type of knitted kippah is almost never called a yarmulke, as yarmulke is a term commonly used by Jews outside of Israel, and most Jews outside of Israel don’t wear a knitted kippah.

There’s many reasons for this, but a big one is that many Jews don’t feel so comfortable wearing a big, flamboyant, colorful kippah that’s going to instantly mark them out as Jews, in a world where violent anti-semitism is on the rise.

So usually, a Jew who is wearing a kippah in public outside of Israel will wear one that is black, and less immediately obvious. And the types of communities who are ‘religious’ enough to wear a kippah full-time tend to refer to it as a yarmulke.

Q: Why do Jews wear hats?

A: Jewish men cover their heads as sign of respect to God, and as a way of acknowledging God’s omnipresence in the world. Even a not-observant Jew will usually cover their head when they attend services at a synagogue, or for other Jewish life cycle events like a wedding, funeral or Passover Seder.

In Israel, many Jewish men who otherwise don’t wear a kippah or hat will cover their head in some way whenever they are reciting a bracha, or blessing, usually on food or drink. Often, you can see some very creative ways of Jews covering their heads in this way, with napkins, tablecloths, and even their own hands being pressed into service.

A more religiously observant Jew will cover their head 24/7, because they are more aware of God’s presence in the world, and are trying to respect it, and stay connected to it, throughout all their mundane actions throughout the day.

Another less happy reason why a Jew will wear a hat, specifically, as opposed to a kippah or yarmulke, especially outside of Israel, is to try to ‘blend in’ a bit more, while still covering their heads. In recent years, the Chief Rabbi of France put out a message telling French Jews that it was preferable for them to cover their heads with a baseball cap, or some sort of other generic head gear, in public, to avoid being singled out by anti-Semites. That same message is being heard in Jewish communities throughout Europe, including Belgium and Germany.

In the UK, where I’m originally from, most Jews are usually relatively comfortable wearing an obviously Jewish kippah or yarmulke in areas with a high population of visible Jews, like Golders Green, Stamford Hill or Broughton Park. But when they go into areas with fewer Jews where a man in a little Jewish hat will stand out a mile, they will often also tend to plump for a baseball hat instead.

Q: What’s the Hasidic Jew hat called?

A: There are many different answers to this question. If you’re referring to a round, furry disk of hair that can sometimes rise up to a foot tall (!), this is called a shtreimel. This type of hat is typically worn by Hasidim on Jewish holidays, and the Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, as a mark of respect.

Orthodox Jews typically wear their finest clothes on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and as shtreimels are usually very expensive to buy, they are kept for the special occasions.

Then, there’s the black fedora type hat that other observant Jews tend to wear, also throughout the week and also on Shabbat. Depending on which group of religious Jews you belong to, the style of the hat will vary. For example, Chabad Hasidim typically wear a type of black hat called a fedora with a more pinched look at the front, and a down-turned brim.

While people who belong to what’s called the more yeshivish crowd (after a yeshiva, the place where Jewish men learn Torah), will tend to wear a Borsalino style with the brim up.

Again, this changes depending on the community and country you’re looking at. One thing to note is that while you will see a lot of shtreimels even in Israel, you tend to see far fewer black hats, outside of certain enclaves. That could be because Jews in Israel feel much more comfortable wearing their little Jewish hats in public here, so they don’t need a different type of hat to cover up their kippahs or yamakas.

Q: Why do orthodox women wear wigs?

A: There is a commandment, or mitzvah, that once a Jewish women marries, she should cover her hair. There are a few different reasons given for this commandment. (Go HERE for a more in-depth discussion of this subject.)

The first reason is that hair is very attractive to other men, so when a Jewish woman covers her hair and keeps it only for her husband’s eyes, she is sending a very powerful message to other men that she is unavailable.

There are also kabbalistic reasons for covering hair, that have to do with bringing more spiritual bounty and blessings down into the Jewish home. The Jewish tradition is full of stories which clearly depict how the effort a married Jewish woman makes to cover her hair brings her all sorts of blessings in the home, including successful children and increased parnassah¸ or the ability to make a living.

Now, in terms of why do orthodox women wear wigs, specifically, we hit a big disagreement within the orthodox Jewish community itself.

The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, z’tl, was a very big fan of orthodox Jewish women covering their hair with wigs, and that’s why you see so many Chabad ladies wearing wigs, even today.

On the other side of the debate are a number of big rabbis, including many Sephardic Rabbis, who have a very strong tradition that married women should only cover their hair with a hat or scarf, and not with wigs.

The issue is still being hotly debated, and each orthodox community has its own guidelines and mores. In practice, many orthodox women outside of Israel will choose to cover their hair with a wig over a hat or scarf simply to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to themselves.

For example, when I was coming through Manchester airport a little while ago, because I was covering my hair with a hat, as opposed to a wig, I was called over by the security staff, and taken off to a little booth on the side where I was asked to take my hat off, so they could check it.

Man, my hair was a fright show… And that whole experience is not exactly fun, so many orthodox Jewish women in those types of situation will just prefer to wear a wig, and to blend in. Also at work, it’s often just easier to wear a wig, to avoid any awkward situations or potential discrimination.

In Israel, far, far fewer women wear wigs, and most of the married women who choose to cover their hair do so with headscarves, in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Again, I could write a whole book on the topic of “Jewish head covering female”, but I hope this gives you the main idea.

  • If you have any other questions about Jewish hat names, or other aspects of Jewish life, please leave me a comment, and I will do my best to answer your questions. You might also want to check out the Judaism 101 category, for other articles exploring basic Jewish concepts.
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