Rabbi, I read all about the reasons behind wearing a kipah (skullcap) on your site, and I get that. But what’s with the hats? Why do I see Jews wearing a hat in addition to their kipah when they pray?


Yup, many Jews wear fedoras, or other hats such as fur shtreimels, especially when they pray. If you’re wondering about the nuanced differences in width, material and shape, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I am a rabbi, not a sociologist, and the hat styles are more a reflection of communities’ social norms than anything else. Instead, I’ll discuss the practice of wearing a second headcovering—any headcovering—during prayer.

The notion of donning a special garment before prayer is a very old one. The prophet Amos proclaimed, “Prepare yourself to meet your G‑d, O Israel.”1 The rabbis explain that this means that one should make preparations before praying, including preparing special garments,2 as if one was meeting an important dignitary.3

Additionally, prayer nowadays takes the place of the offerings on the altar in the Holy Temple. Just as the priests who brought the offerings wore special uniforms, so should we pray in special clothing.4

So if any special garment can be worn for prayer, why do we specifically wear hats? In the past, it was the custom that when men went out in public or had a meeting with an important person (or a great rabbi5), they wore a hat. As such, hats were required for prayers as well.

Accordingly, some suggest that people who never wear hats for important meetings do not need to wear one during prayer either (provided that they wear another special garment),6 and those who do occasionally wear hats7 should wear them during prayer.8

Wrapped in Humility

Others, however, teach that the hat is more than just a societal norm. It imparts a sense of humility that there is a G‑d above. Thus, even if you never wear a hat in other settings, you should still do so during prayer.9

Indeed, we find that it was the manner of “Torah scholars and their students” to pray only while they were “wrapped or cloaked” (ittuf), since this imparts a sense of awe of heaven.10 The concept of ittuf refers to wearing a hat or tallit (or jacket) during prayers.11

But if one wears a hat during prayer, is it necessary to wear a kipah as well?

The High Priest’s Double Covering

As explained earlier, prayer nowadays is in the place of the services performed in the Holy Temple. In the Talmud, we find that the high priest actually wore two head coverings—a kipah and a turban—when serving in the Holy Temple.12 Accordingly, it is appropriate to mirror the high priest by wearing a hat over a kipah.13

Mystical Coverings

Our sages tells us that the soul is referred to as nefesh (soul), ruach (spirit), neshamah (breath), chayah (life) and yechidah (singularity).14 The Kabbalists explain that these five names are actually five different levels of the soul. Nefesh is the life-force of the physical self; ruach is the emotional self and “personality”; neshamah is the intellectual self; chayah is the supra-rational self—the seat of will, desire, commitment and faith; and yechidah is the essence of the soul as it is united with its source, the singular essence of G‑d.15

While the lower three levels of the soul function from within the body, the higher two, chayah and yechidah, function from above. The Kabbalists explain that wearing a double head covering reflects these two loftier levels of the soul. By connecting these two transcendent elements of the soul with a physical act,16 we help reveal them in this lowly physical world.17

So although one may not be technically obligated to wear a hat in addition to a kipah, doing so adds to one’s humility during prayer, and serves as a conduit to help reveal the deeper aspect of the soul.