Why do men wear a Kippah/Yamulke?

Someone recently asked me the following question.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul says a man should not cover his head when praying or prophesying. In light of that, why is the yarmulke/kippah worn?

1 Corinthians 11:4-5 – “Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head. For it is one and the same as having been shaved.”

First let me encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 11.

One of the challenges that we face trying to interpret a passage like 1st Corinthians 11 is that we are far removed from the actual cultures involved and the specific circumstances Paul is talking about to warrant this discussion at all. Remember his letters are addressing specific issues written to give the various congregations clarification and Instructions (Torah) of how to conduct themselves as the people of God.

Paul is writing to a dominantly gentile population and congregation. These gentiles came out of very pagan practices and worship when they accepted Yeshua as Messiah, and they came in great numbers.  They would go to a local synagogue to hear the Scriptures and learn more at the instruction of the Jewish evangelist who shared the Good News with them.  But the Jewish population was relatively small and was quickly outnumbered, even in the synagogue.

Synagogues require a minyan—a minimum of 10 Jewish men to be constituted and lead the congregation.  But there may not have been enough of a Jewish population to adequately or authoritatively guide the influx of gentiles who wouldn’t yet know how to live by the Torah.  They may not have enough numbers to model, instruct or enforce Torah and community standards.  Paul's goal was to align the believing community with the Torah and biblical standards of conduct.

Therefore, it makes no sense for Paul to make comments that would themselves contradict or violate the Torah.  Unfortunately, most modern attempts at interpreting this passage don’t know or look to the Torah for context or guidance.  

Most of us come from a background that has no type of head covering for men as a part of worship or life, after all we take our hats off when we pray or enter a building or church.  So we read Paul's comments to reinforce what we are already doing.

However, we cannot take these phrases about head coverings and try to interpret them in light of modern practice, thinking and assumptions.  If we do, we are already distorting the issue he was dealing with and increasing the likelihood that we will incorrectly interpret and apply this passage.

If Paul meant that men are not to have any covering over their head, then Paul is going against the Torah which commands the high priest as well as the Levites and others to wear coverings on their head as they serve in the tabernacle and temple. Other religious orders, like the Pharisees did as well, of which Paul included himself long after his faith in Yeshua (Acts 23:6).
Since Paul, a Torah scholar and keeper even as a believer in Yeshua, would never advocate against the Torah, he must be talking about something else.

The primary issue of 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 is gender confusion and the switching of roles. Some pagan beliefs around Corinth and cities like Ephesus said that a woman was created first and a man came forth from her, contradicting Genesis.  Some pagans worshiped female deities where women were elevated as the spiritual leaders and priestesses, contradicting the order set up in the Torah.

To make things more challenging, part of the Greek cultural ritual and practice blended men and women's appearances to where it would often be difficult to distinguish one from the other. The pagan temples did this extensively since sex was a primary activity in their cult. Male & female would wear the same kind of clothes, they would wear the same kind of hairstyles they would wear the same colors. These were efforts to mask features and try to appear as androgynous as possible.

It's no accident that many depictions of Satan show him with both male and female anatomy. In essence, there were elements in pagan culture and faith where men were not celebrated as men and women were not celebrated as women. They tried to make them the same to the point that there was nothing wrong with relations with either. Love is love after all.
There is nothing new under the sun.

It is not unlike the American culture today as clear gender roles are purposely masked and confused. We have many people who are trying to insist on pronouns that do not fit their biological sex and they get offended when people don't use those preferred pronouns.
What we don’t realize is that these are really efforts to impose a religious belief about sex and gender on a biblical culture.  To impose this, these people encourage the use of chest binders for women and girls to look more like men, tucking pants for men and boys to look more like women when they wear bikinis. Dylan Mulvaney and Ru Paul’s drag shows are promoted as the new normal.

The sexual confusion we are seeing today is nothing new.  Paul was fighting in his letter for the synagogues of Corinth to return to a proper Torah order and understanding and practice.
This leads to one of the main reasons why we at Restoration Messianic Fellowship have chosen to restrict the wearing of the tallit to men only. Because our culture is like Corinth and having difficulty distinguishing between men and women. Forces are at work intentionally trying to create confusion and pull congregations away from a Torah framework. I realize that not everybody within Judaism agrees that tallits are only for men. But given the nature of our cultures' confusion, we have chosen to emphasize that the tallit is worn by men during synagogue worship.

Other congregations may choose differently, but I have noticed even in most of those circumstances, they do not want women wearing the same kind of tallit as men. They want them to be obviously feminine in nature, something that a man would not want to wear at all. They do this to maintain gender distinction and minimize potential confusion.

So when Paul is telling men not to cover their head, he is primarily talking about things like hair styles or clothing or anything else that hides the fact that they are a man. That is dishonoring to their head who is Messiah Yeshua and a rejection of Torah. Likewise a woman is not to cover their head with a hairstyle or clothing or anything else that hides the fact that they are a woman. That is dishonoring to either their father or their husband and ultimately Messiah Yeshua.

The idea of hiding and concealing is really what is happening in the Greek.  Please click on the links to see the words on Blue Letter Bible.
Notice this word here, typically translated as "covered". Notice it's called a preposition.

First, I would caution anyone making a hard line doctrine over a preposition.

Second, Paul is writing to establish a Torah commandment, one of which is about men not wearing women's clothing and women not wearing men's.

Deuteronomy 22:5 TLV [5] “A man’s apparel is not to be on a woman, nor is a man to wear woman’s clothing—for whoever does these things is detestable to Adonai your God.”

 It is important to pay attention to the various ways this word Kata can be translated. The first option listed is talking about things hanging down from the man's head. Hair can do that, so can various types of coverings like a tallit.  A kippah or yarmulke does not hang down off of his head, so already there is some difference.  But this word Kata is related or found within the next word used with women’s covering in 11:5

The only time this word is used in the New Testament is in this chapter and it is always connected to women.

 This is "uncovered".
"A" means no or without as in agnostic (without knowledge) or atheist (no god). Notice it is translated as uncovered or unveiled.

Notice also the first word Kata is within this word and helps in translating the preposition in this context.

It is a compound word, the second part of which is...

To hide, veil, hinder the knowledge of.
I believe this gets to the heart of what is going on in the whole chapter.  The covering in Corinth worn by men was concealing the fact that they were men.  Or perhaps it was a symbol of submission to the female led order imposed by the pagan system in place.  The lack of covering on women was an effort to look more like men—or to make a statement that the female was closer to the divine, that they were made first.  Thus a rejection of the order established in the Torah.

The actions of both men and women were causing confusion and pushing against the biblical worldview and practice.  Because what the women were doing was concealing or hiding their identity in some way.

That can be confirmed by how this word is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanakh, the Old Testament completed around 200 years before Yeshua was born.  It is only used once in the context of someone who has leprosy.

 The person with leprosy should do nothing in his or her appearance to hide the fact that they have leprosy.  He cannot pretend, wear conveniently placed items to cover his lesions and sores.  Many times these sores appear on the scalp.  So his hair and scalp must be uncovered and hanging loose.  Instead the person must cover their mouth proclaim or announce that he has leprosy.   There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind.

That is how the Jewish people understood the use of that word, and I believe Paul used it on purpose.  Men should not dress to look like a woman or conceal that they are a man.  Women should not dress to look like a man or conceal that they are a woman.

This is different from an issue that existed in my mother’s day, should women wear pants or only dresses?  There are no contexts in which dresses could pass as men’s clothing.  However, a woman can still look like a woman in pants typically because the cut of those clothes fits the shape of a woman.  They can still be made in such a way that highlights their femininity.  They can be made to look in such a way that no real man would want to wear them.

In terms of head coverings, only until recently in church life, whether Catholic or protestant, women typically wore some kind of veil or head covering, a hat or bonnet. It helped distinguish men from women.  

The misunderstanding or misapplication of this passage is why men have traditionally taken their hats off when entering a building like a church, or when they pray.  Not that doing so is necessarily wrong or violates the Scripture, rather we misunderstand the issue Paul is trying to fix.

Thus, a kippah or yarmulke is not what 1 Corinthians 11:4 is referring to.  A kippah does not hide, conceal or confuse a man's identity.  A Kippah is considered a man's clothing within Judaism and a sign of submission before God, much like the priests and Levites would wear.  It reinforces that God is our head and in authority over us.

However, a Kippah or Yamulke are not required for salvation or fellowship.  Each man must choose for themselves whether they will wear one or not.  Things such as these must be driven by conviction rather than forced by others.

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