The Wearing of a Kippah by Men and Women

(OH 91:3-5)

Are men obligated to wear a kippah all the time or only while praying? Are women permitted to wear a kippah?

There is no Talmudic basis for forbidding a man to walk around bareheaded. In the period of the Mishnah and the Talmud, wearing a head covering was only a custom of piety observed by some of the Sages in Babylon, particularly after marriage. After the Talmudic period, authorities differed greatly in their decisions about wearing a head covering and were influenced by the customs of their country and by the conditions of their time. In our day, wearing a kippah is primarily a symbol of Jewish identity. As such, it is undoubtedly good and advisable for a man or a boy to wear a kippah even when he is not praying. On the other hand, it is clear that whoever does not adopt this custom does not commit any transgression.

There is also no Talmudic requirement for men to cover their heads when praying or reciting God’s name. The obligation to cover the head during prayer began in Babylon in the Geonic period and was restricted to the leader in prayer, to the reader of the Torah and to the Cohanim blessing the community. It seems that this custom was particular to Babylon, while in Israel men were still praying bareheaded. Later on, many authorities did not consider this a halakhic obligation. On the other hand, there is no doubt that covering one’s head, and in particular at prayer time, became deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Jewish people as an expression of piety and respect. This is why, even if one cannot say that the head covering for men in the synagogue at prayer time is a halakhic obligation, it should be required.

Following the ruling of Rabbi Issac Klein, men should cover their heads in the synagogue: when praying, when reading or studying Torah, when participating in a religious ceremony, and while eating (or at least during the blessings over food). It is also preferable not to be satisfied with any kind of head covering, but to wear a kippah.

The tradition of women covering the head for reasons of modesty is beyond the scope of this responsum. We want to address the new custom in some communities to oblige women to wear a kippah in the synagogue, or at least when they are called up to the Torah or when they lead the prayer service. There is no doubt that a woman is permitted to wear a kippah if she so wishes, but, as of today, the kippah is a symbol for men. Therefore, it should not be required of women. Furthermore, many women, and especially bat mitzvah girls, hesitate to adopt this custom, which they view as a distinctly masculine symbol. Therefore, for women and girls the kippah is a permissible option but not a requirement.

Rabbi David Frankel
In favor: Rabbi David Golinkin
Rabbi David Lazar
Rabbi Simchah Roth
Rabbi Yisrael Warman
Opposed: Rabbi Gilah Dror
Rabbi Michael Graetz

A Reaction to the Responsum on the Wearing of a Kippah by Men and Women

(OH 91:3-5)

I agree with Rabbi Frankel’s responsum, aside from the last section regarding women and girls. Inasmuch as wearing a kippah is a symbol of Fear of Heaven, of modesty, and of respect for tradition, which became a binding custom in times of sanctity, we have to require the wearing of the kippah not only of men and boys but also of women and girls. By so doing, we give women and girls the same opportunity to enrich their religious experience and to give the sacred moments in their lives the additional dimension that wearing a kippah adds.

Rabbi Gilah Dror
In favor: Rabbi Michael Graetz
Opposed: Rabbi David Frankel
Rabbi David Golinkin
Rabbi David Lazar
Rabbi Simchah Roth
Rabbi Yisrael Warman