The Beanie: Torah or Tradition?

Rather paradoxical is how some writers twist plain Scripture to say just the opposite of what was intended. This is the case with the 11th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Assembly at Corinth, where female worshipers are told to wear a veil and men are admonished to be bareheaded.

Yet, some use this and other passages to say that a man should wear a covering on his head much like Orthodox and Conservative Jews do in synagogues.

We know that Jews will not allow anyone to come into the synagogue unless wearing a skullcap known as a yarmulkeor kepah (beanie). Today at Israel’s holy places or shrines, including the Wailing Wall, all visiting males must wear coverings on their heads. So pervasive is this practice that attendants will place a small paper cap on any visitor’s uncovered head.

Many Scriptures cited as proof that men should wear a covering on their heads simply do not bear up under even a little scrutiny. We will examine the remarks of at least one author and show the error of his conclusions.

Wait, the Pope wore it first?

It is surprising for some to learn that the Roman Catholics wore the little beanie before the Jews as it derived from Rome. The nickname the Catholics call this little cap is zucchetto but officially pileolus or pilos. In Ancient Rome, a slave was ceremonially freed after a praetor touched the slave with a rod called a vindicta and granted him freedom. The slave’s head was shaved and a pileus was placed upon it. Both the vindicta and the cap were considered symbols of Liberatas, the goddess representing liberty. A fresco in the Church of St Francis at Assisi depicts cardinals wearing them, so we know this tradition existed well before 1290 CE.

In Talmudic times, the practice of wearing a head-covering was only reserved for important men. This symbolism probably derived from Greek philosophers. As with all Jewish customs, once they become a universally accepted Jewish practice, they become halachically necessary.

So whats the history? Rabbenu Yerucham of Provence decreed that  Jews should wear kippahs while in synagogue as halakha in the 14th century. At that time it is believed the cap looked more like a Medieval scholar cap similar to the ones students wear at graduation ceremonies (these caps derive from the hat wearing Greek god Hermes who was believed to “outwit” others gods in mythology.) Greek philosophers wore this hat to symbolize their “education and status.”

Rabbi Joseph Karo, in the 16th century, dictated that Jewish men must have their heads covered at all times, this is based on a passage in the Talmud in which a rabbi said that he did so out of respect to G-d: “Rabbi Huna son of Rabbi Joshua said: May I be rewarded for never walking four cubits bareheaded” (Shabbat 118b). This practice gradually took hold among Jews worldwide most popularly among European (Ashkenazi) Jews. Many Sephardic Jews wear a kippah only when praying and eating. Although many hats were worn to fulfill this man-made decree over the centuries the Jews adopted the same beanie cap the Roman Catholics use.

High Priests and Mourning

Given as an example that King David wore a yarmulke in worship is 2Samuel 15:30: “And David went up by the ascent of Mount Olivet, and wept as he went up, and had his head covered, and he went barefoot; and all the people that was with him covered every man his head, and they went up, weeping as they went up.” This allegedly proves that he always worshiped Yahweh with his head covered.

In the context of the verse, however, we learn that King David is in the midst of an upheaval, with his son Absalom trying to usurp his father’s throne. Note verse 31, “Andkippah3one avid, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ And David said, ‘O Yahweh, I pray You, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.’”

Now notice verse 32, “And it came to pass that when David was come to the top of the mount, where he worshiped Elohim, behold, Hushai the Archite came to meet him with his coat rent, and earth upon his head.” Hushai is expressing severe contrition, tearing his coat and throwing dirt upon his head. This corroborates the statement that David was in severe distress and shame because of Ahithophel’s treachery.

Jeremiah 14:4 gives another example of shame and contrition leading to wearing a covering, “Because of the ground which is cracked, since there is no rain upon the land, the farmers are ashamed, they cover their heads.”

Going barefoot is also a sign of mourning. Because David was grieving and in shame he covered his head and went barefoot—not a normal worship practice.

The high priest wore a mitre, and his assistants were also to wear a headdress while doing Yahweh’s service, Exodus 28:39-41. Verses 39-4 instruct the making of the coat of fine linen, the mitre of fine linen, and the girdle of needlework. Aaron’s sons were also to have coats and girdles and bonnets for glory and beauty.

Some scholars say that the anointing of Aaron’s sons was not necessarily to have them officiate at that time but to prepare them to take over whenever Aaron was unable to continue his office as the high priest. We, however, are not high priests—Yahshua is. Were He a Levite He might wear the mitre in heaven. His priesthood is of the Melchisedek order as we are, not of the Levitical,Hebrews 5:6.

Proponents of head coverings for men maintained that men were not to remove their covering even for the dead. They citeLeviticus 10:6, where Moses commanded Aaron and the priests not to uncover their heads after Yahweh had destroyed Aaron two sons for burning unauthorized fire on the altar. The reason was that these two sons, Nadab and Abihu, were negligent in their duties as priests.

Verse 6 reads: “And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, ‘Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest you die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which Yahweh has kindled.’”

Interestingly, the NIV reads, “Do not let your hair become unkept,” instead of “uncover not your heads.” Here is an extreme event of mourning and disgrace for the Aaronic priesthood. Furthermore, the priestly headgear is not the same as the yarmulke.

Wisdom Like a Crown

Proponents have tried to equate the yarmulke with an ornament of grace in Proverbs 1:9. The pericope must begin at verse 7, “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son hear the instruction of your father and forsake not the law of your mother. For they shall be an ornament of grace unto your head and chains about your neck.”

This has nothing to do with the yarmulke being an ornament of grace. Grace here is unmerited kindness from Yahweh that comes with following the instructions of the father and advice by the mother. An ornament of grace adorns the individual who submits to Yahweh. It is not a command to wear the yarmulke or the headdress, neither is it an admonition to wear chains around the neck.

Proverbs 4:7-9 is quoted to imply that wisdom is compared to a head-dress or yarmulke. “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you: she shall bring you to honor, when you do embrace her. She shall give to your head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to you.”

Again, the meaning and sense of this verse is simply enlightenment, giving us honor like a beautiful crown upon our heads.

Verse 10 goes on to say, “My son listen to me and do as I say and you will have a long, good life.” (Living Bible) This has nothing to do with the kepah or the yarmulke. It simply shows that a crown of life will be given to those who overcome and keep Yahweh’s words.

One writer says, “Isaiah likens Zion to the kepah, as a crown of glory and a royal diadem,” and he cites Isaiah 62:3. The meaning, however, is not that wearing a yarmulke will give us a crown of glory, but rather that He will hold us aloft in His hands for all to see as a splendid crown for the King of Kings. It is the reward that Yahshua gets for His people whom He has helped to overcome and who have become kings and priests in the Kingdom. Wearing a yarmulke has nothing to do with this honor. It is not a badge or uniform. It is poetic language extolling obedience to Yahweh.

Of Women’s Attire

“It is called a garment of praise in Isaiah 61:3,” says one writer. “The Hebrew word here translated garment is maateh and means a head covering as used in Isaiah 3:20 and Ezekiel 44:18.” Actually, the word maateh is Strong’s Concordance No. 4594 and is translated vestment. Brown, Driver, Briggs Gesenius translates maateh as “wrap, mantle.” And in Isaiah 61:3 as a mantle of praise in the figurative sense. It does not mean head covering.

The writer, however, maintains, “It means ‘a head covering’ as used in Isaiah 3:20.” Isaiah 3:20 reads: “The bonnet, the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands and the tablets and the earrings.”

There are two words that the writer may have been referring to. The word bonnet is No. 6287, peer in Hebrew, a fancy headdress. The other is headband, No. 7196 (qishur) or girdle.

Just why the author would bring in Isaiah 3:20 is difficult to comprehend. If we merely get the context, verses 16 and 17, we learn that Yahweh is speaking here about the dress of women. It has nothing to do with men wearing head coverings.

In seeking any verse that mentions head covering, these yarmulke proponents have seized on verses pertaining to women’s attire and compounded their error.

Some yarmulke advocates attempt to gain support from Ezekiel 44: 18, which reads, “They shall have linen bonnets upon their heads and they shall have linen breeches upon their loins. They shall not gird themselves with anything that causes sweat.”

Verse 15 shows that this refers to priests, the sons of Zadok. As we have noted before, the priests of the Levitical order were to wear something on their heads when they officiated in worship. One wonders, however, how one can confuse the dress of women inIsaiah 3:20 with the priests in Ezekiel 44: 18, while building a case for the man’s yarmulke.

Appeals have also been made to Isaiah 61:10, which reads, “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh, my soul shall be joyful in my Elohim; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments and the bride adorns herself with jewels.”

Nothing to Rejoice In

One author says, “Ezekiel was commanded by Yahweh to wear the tire (Hebrew peer) upon his head and to command the children of Israel to do the same. Ezekiel 24: 17 and 23.” It is important that we note verse 16 of Ezekiel 24, which speaks about the death of Ezekiel’s wife. Verse 16 reads,

“Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” And verse 17 continues, “Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead, bind the tire of your head upon you and put your shoes upon your feet, and cover not your lips, and eat not the bread of men.”

It is quite obvious here that the man is not to mourn and not take off his “tire” (Hebrew peer, meaning a turban or fancy headdress). Ezekiel is to wear the headdress and not go barefoot as did King David when he was mourning. He was to put shoes upon his feet and he was not to cover his lips nor eat the bread of men. Again this has to do with mourning and has nothing to do with worship.

Notice verse 23, which reads, “And your tires (fancy headdress, turban) shall be upon your heads and your shoes upon your feet: and you shall not mourn nor weep but you shall pine away for your iniquities and mourn one toward another.” Yahweh is telling Israel that He will take away their strength and joy of their glory. The desire of their eyes and the things that they revel in will be removed because judgment is coming. It has nothing to do with wearing a kepah to worship Yahweh.

They Went Wearing Street Hats

The writer notes, “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and commanded all to bow down and worship it. But there were three Jews in his kingdom who would not worship the image, they worshiped only Yahweh. So the king had them thrown down into a fiery furnace. They went to this fire trusting in Yahweh with their caps on their heads, Daniel 3: 1, 21. And I believe they were praying all the way. “

Interestingly, the word “hat” referred to in Daniel 3:21 is from the Hebrew karbela (No. 3737 in Strong’s). It appears only in this verse and is translated hat. It involves casual clothing thrown on like a mantle; the akkadian cognate is cap. It has nothing to do with worship either in the synagogue or in the temple. It is an article of street clothing, a mantle type of cap or turban, according to theTheological Wordbook of the Old Testament.

Covering in the New Testament

One writer asks, “We are told by Paul to pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5: 17. Let us suppose that a man is working in the oilfields where he has to wear a hardhat on his head and work about 10 hours a day. Would it be a sin to pray while working? The way most people explain 1Corinthians 11, it would be. Let us understand and get back to the old paths, which are the good ways.”

The writer answers his own question. If we understand the verse to mean that a man is literally to pray without ceasing, he would not be working out in the oil fields while praying. Correctly understood, Paul tells us we should be in an attitude of prayerful reverence and close communion with Yahweh at all times. It does not mean that men should forever be on their knees praying with a yarmulkeon their heads.

Next this writer notes, “In 1Corinthians 11, Paul explains the headdress of men and women in praying or prophesying, As this article concerns men, we will not go into the women part of it. ‘But I would have you know, that the head of every man is the Messiah; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of the Messiah is Yahweh,’ 1Corinthians 11:3. We have three heads mentioned here: the head of man (Messiah), the head of woman (man), the head of Messiah (Yahweh).

Let us take up the next verse now. ‘Every man praying or prophesying, having his head (Messiah) covered dishonors his head (Messiah).’ We pray in the Name of our Head, which is the Messiah. If for any reason we do not do this, we are covering our head (Messiah) and dishonoring Him.”

Notice how the author makes his own judgments. He says, “Whenever we do not pray in the Name of the Messiah we are covering Him.” The Scripture nowhere says that whenever we do not pray in the Name of Yahshua we are “covering Him,” It simply is not a scriptural idea. It is a man-made notion for a man-made doctrine.

Let us continue, “In Paul’s day there were people who would try to hide the fact that they were believers in Yahshua if they were around Jews who did not believe in Him. Thus, they covered the fact that they believed in Him, and this dishonored Him, their Head. This is not talking about the head on your shoulders but the head Messiah and we are not to cover that head when we pray. We are to pray in His Name showing all that He is our head,”

Obviously the man is trying to build a case by inserting his own thoughts and projecting certain concepts into his private interpretation, making Yahweh’s Word of no effect. He attempts to make us believe that any time we pray to Yahweh and do not petition in the Name of His Son Yahshua the Messiah we are covering our head, meaning the Messiah. He gives no Scripture to support this assertion that we “cover the Messiah” by not praying in His Name.

He goes on, “Now let us look at the next verse. ‘But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (man) for that is even all one as if she were shaven,’ 1Corinthians 11:5. So, Paul is saying that a man should have a covering on his physical head, the head on his shoulders [as well as] when the woman prays or prophesies or he is causing her to dishonor him (her head).”

Covered By Proxy?

Can you just hear the twisting of Scripture? He says that if the woman is praying, then the MAN must have a covering on his head or she is dishonoring the husband! This is not the meaning of the verse at all, but is a gross perversion of Scripture. If the woman prays with nothing on her head, how does the man’s head covering prevent her from dishonoring him?

“If a man does not have a physical headcovering, it is the same as if his wife had her head shaved.” Obviously then a man would not have to have on any headcovering if his wife were not in attendance either at the synagogue or at the meeting worshiping Yahweh. So long as the man is alone he would not need a covering of any kind, according to this writer’s reasoning. If the wife is praying (according to this perverted interpretation) and the HUSBAND does not cover his head, then it is as if SHE had shaved her head!

Paul says differently. He says that if the woman does not cover her own head (the head on her shoulders) it is as if she were shaven, which the NIV correctly says is a sign of a disgraceful act. The man’s head covering has nothing to do with the woman’s head being shaved. It is her own head that is to be covered.

He continues, “And only women caught in adultery had their heads shaved. This has always been a custom among the Jews even today, for women caught in adultery, to shave their heads. Paul also shows this in verse 6 that the woman is to cover her physical head also. Man and woman both are to have a headdress on when they worship Yahweh. This shows that neither one is without each other in Yahweh, 1Corinthians 11: 11-12.”

The above conclusion of the writer totally misses the basic thrust of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Paul is clearly teaching that if the woman does not have a covering on her head she is less than pious. The context of 1Corinthians 11: 11-12 simply means that the man is not without the woman because all men are born from women. But woman was formed from man’s rib. Yet, both man and woman are from Yahweh Who is the Creator of all life.

Man’s Own Rules and Traditions

From his book, What Is a Jew, Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer states in the section, “Do All Jews Wear Hats When They Pray?”: “There is a tendency by all faiths to exalt customs into firmly established religious principle.”

Leaders in Judaism themselves admit there is nothing in the Bible that teaches men to wear anything on their heads or even wear a prayer shawl.

“We know from archeological remains that in ancient days, the people of Israel were often bareheaded. In the British Museum , I saw a bas-relief of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, portraying Jews who wore no headgear. The modern Orthodox practice, therefore, of keeping the head covered at all times does not go back to ancient Palestine . However, in the East the privileged classes wore some head ornament as a sign of their status and in time this custom spread to all groups.” (What Is a Jew?)Rabbi Mossis N. Kertzer, p. 93)

Professor Jacob Z. Lauterbach has pointed out, “The custom of praying bareheaded or with covered head is not at all a question of law. It is merely a matter of social propriety and decorum.” This is true as far as the Old Testament is concerned. The Apostle Paul makes it plain that in the New Testament men are to have nothing on their heads in worship, and women are to have their heads covered.

by Donald R. Mansager
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3 years ago

[…] For m ore info on the Kippah and it’s origins please check out our article: The Beanie: Torah or Tradition?  […]