Why Wearing a Kippah Became a Universal Custom When Studying Torah or Praying
It is known that RaMBaM had access to ancient uncensored Talmudic manuscripts, which may not be available today. If there were such a document that taught it was mandatory to wear a kippah, I am certain that the (RaMBaM) would have explicitly brought forth such a halakha (Jewish law that is incumbent for all of Israel to follow), including and mentioning it, along with the tallith (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries). Howbeit, the halakhic evidence proves that there is no such halakha of wearing a kippah. Instead, it asserts that wearing a head covering (kippah or turban) was certainly an ancient tradition for at least the Hakhamim who wore them.
Over the last few centuries, the wearing of a kippah has become a ‘universal’ custom for Jews everywhere, whenever one is engaging in religious activities, such as studying Torah and/or praying at a Beth Kenesseth (shul-synagogue). Nonetheless, for those who adhere to the custom taught in the Shulhan Arukh (a 16th century CE codification of Jewish Law, according to the customs of Sephardic Jews of Bavli and Persia), they should comply with it’s ‘opinions’ which stated that a kippah is to be worn at all times (even during mundane activities), -see Orah Haiyim 2,6. However, other post Talmudic authorities like the Gaon of Vilna disagreed and do not follow the suggestions of the Shulhan Arukh. -See Biur HaGra, Orah Haiyim 8,1
Another well respected authority, Rabbi Haiyim Yosef Dawid Azulai, aka Hid’a, once taught that wearing a kippah was an act of “Middath Hassiduth,” a form of expressing piety (not obligatory). In fact, many Italian and Moroccan Jews still follow their heritage, which is quite older than the advent of the Shulhan Arukh that also asserts that wearing kippoth is not a mandatory requirement outside of religious and liturgical duties. It is no surprise that they are also consistent with the aforementioned doctrines of the HaZaL and RaMBaM.
Since it is an older practice for Jews everywhere, those who aren’t apart of communities that subscribe to the opinions of the Shulhan Arukh or the Mishna Berurah, should put a kippah on, at least for the sake of engaging in religious and liturgical activities, which includes Torah study. Today there are a few highly respected rabbis who debate whether a kippah should be worn for reciting all berakhoth (blessings) or not, but that is for another discussion.
Originally published October 27, 2013