Why do some Jew's wear little round caps on their heads?

In Hebrew, those little round caps are called "Kippot" (prounounced key-pote) and these days they are worn by Jewish men and sometimes women. Non-Jews may know these small religious hats by their Yiddish name: yarmulke (pronounced yah-mull-kuh).

A kippah (pronounced key-pah, and the singular of kippot) is a flat, hemispherical or platter-shaped cap, often made of cloth and worn for religious reasons. The Talmud (a Jewish sacred text) says, "Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you."

Stated simply, a kippah is worn by Jews to fulfill the customary requirement held by some Orthodox Jewish authorities that the head be covered at all times as a way of honoring G!d.

But other Jews believe that kippot do not need to be worn at all times. According to Moses Maimonides, a great religious authority who lived in the 12th and 13th centuries, Jewish men are required to wear kippot when they are at prayer. A 17th century Jewish scholar felt that this spiritual headwear should be worn at prayer to distinguish Jews from those practicing other religions.

In the US these days there are three major forms of Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. According to one Jewish source, Orthodox men are required to wear a head covering at all times; Conservative men and women should wear kippot during prayer; and Reform men and women are free to choose whether and when to wear them. As noted above, in recent years a significant number of Conservative and Reform Jewish women have donned kippot.

Kippot can be made out of a wide variety of materials and in many designs or styles. Some kippot are crocheted, others are made of suede, velvet, satin or fibers woven with elaborate designs. Some kippot are the small flat disks described above. Others come in a pillbox shape that covers the entire head and may cover part of the forehead.

Often the fabric and the color of kippot can be signs of adherence to specific Jewish religious movements. For example, knitted or crocheted kippot, known as "kippot serugot" (pronounced sehr-rue-got), tend to be worn by Religious Zionists and the Modern Orthodox.

In a particularly modern take on religious apparel, kippot have been observed to be made in the colors of sports teams, especially football franchises. In the United States kippot for children sometimes even bear the likenesses of popular cartoon characters or images from the film, Star Wars. It should be noted that these "pop" visual motifs are not approved of by all Jewish authorities.

Traditionally Jewish members of the armed forces were prohibited from wearing kippot indoors. But, following the bombing that killed hundreds of US Marines in Beirut in the 1980s, a change was made to military regulations. Here's why: after the horrific attack, a Jewish Chaplain, in an extraordinary act of compassion, used his kippot to wipe blood from the faces of wounded Marines. Congress honored this act by urging that military leaders allow Jews to wear kippot whenever appropriate.

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