Jews have an ancient practice of covering their heads with a kippah during prayer. In Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head, as opposed to Western culture, where it is a sign of respect to remove one’s hat. Covering the head during prayer, whether with a yarmulke or a hat, is a show of respect for G-d.
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Wearing a yarmulke is a custom rather than a mitzvah per se. Although it is a common practice to cover the head with a kippah at all times, it is not mandated by Torah law. While pious Jews typically wear a yarmulke all day, according to some halachic opinions you may leave your head uncovered at work if your employer requires it and you can take off your kippah for a job interview if you think it is liable to hurt your chances of getting the job.
There is no special significance to the yarmulke as a specific type of head covering, but kippot (plural of kippah) have come to be one of the most recognizable symbols of Jewish identity. Kippot are typically made of velvet, leather, corduroy or knitted or woven materials.
The uniqueness of kippot is alluded to in Birkot Hashachar, in the blessing that thanks God for “crowning Israel with splendor” (Brachot 60b). The purpose of wearing a kippah is to serve as a reminder of G-d, who is the Higher Authority “above us” (Kiddushin 31a).
“External actions create internal awareness,” writes Rabbi Shraga Simmons. Wearing a symbolic object above us reinforces the idea that G-d is always watching.
“It’s easy to remember G-d while at the synagogue or around the Shabbat table,” writes Rabbi Simmons, “but Jewish consciousness is meant to pervade all aspects of our lives.” That’s where the kippah comes in.
The Yiddish word for head covering, yarmulke, is derived from the Aramaic, yira malka, which means “awe of the King.” The Hebrew word, kippah, means literally “dome.”
To wear a kippah is to proclaim: “I am a proud Jew.”