What Do Orthodox Jews Wear on Their Foreheads?

A religious Jew wearing both a tefillin and a tallit.
... David Silverman/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In Orthodox Judaism, there are a number of religious and ritualistic headcoverings that are traditionally worn. Some are worn only during worship, some are worn at all times, and some have various uses depending on the context or worship service. The four most common headcoverings for Orthodox Jews, which would in some way cover their foreheads, are the tefillin, the yarmulke, the hat and the tallit.

1 Tefillin

Tefillin are two small black boxes, each containing specific passages from the Torah, that Orthodox Jewish males over the age of thirteen traditionally wear during prayer services. Only one of the two boxes is placed on the forehead, while the other, which is placed on the arm, is donned first. The wearing of tefillin is considered a mitzvah, or "good deed," and the instructions on wearing them are found in Proverbs 6: 20,21, which states, "Keep my son the Mitzvot of your father and do not abandon the Torah of your mother; Tie them upon you heart always, don them upon your throat." The practice of wearing tefillin is most prominent among Orthodox Jews.

2 Yarmulke

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wearing a yarmulke during Chanukkah celebrations.
... Pool/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Another headcovering that partially covers the forehead is the yarmulke, or skull cap. Jews wear the yarmulke, also known as a kippah, to symbolize the fact that God is always above them. Even among Orthodox Jews, the practice of wearing a yarmulke varies depending on one's affiliation as Ashkenazi or Sephardic. As Rabbi Baruch Davidson explains, the tradition of wearing a yarmulke is not derived from any specific biblical passage, but instead is perhaps derived from the Talmud, which contains a story of a woman whose son was destined to be a thief. By keeping his head covered, he was constantly reminded of the presence of God. One day, when the kippah fell off and he was overcome by an urge to eat fruit that did not belong to him, he was struck by how powerful a reminder of God the headcovering had become.

3 Hats

Hats for the Orthodox community being manufactured at the ISESA factory in Spain.
... Samuel Aranda/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Orthodox Jewish men wear a wide range of hats that also cover the forehead. The type of hat worn can vary depending on the sect of Orthodoxy of which one is a member. But not all the hats worn by Jewish men are specifically designed for that purpose. A recent New York Times article detailed how one Spanish hat factory has remained in operation thanks to a demand for black felt hats by local Satmar Hasidic Jews. According to managing director Miguel Gutiérrez of the Fernandez y Roche company, orders from this unlikely customer base "are saving us."

Married Hasidic Jews may also wear a shtreimel, or fur hat. The tradition, which is not based in Jewish law, may stem from a Hasidic text that recounts an edict issued by a Russian czar that all Jews must wear the tail of an unclean animal. The Hasidim transformed this into a symbol of pride, and the shtreimel became commonplace.

4 Tallit

A yarmulke and a tallit.
... Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

The other possible covering for an Orthodox man's forehead is his tallit, or prayer shawl. As the late Rabbi Louis Jacobs explained, Orthodox men often wear the tallit over their head while reciting the most important prayers. The proscription for wearing tallit is found in The Book of Numbers, Chapter 15, Verses 37-41. Here Jews are instructed to wear a garment with fringes, and to recall the commandments when they looked at the them. Many Tallits contains a embroidered to indicate which part should be placed on the head, as Jewish tradition dictates that once an area of the Tallit is placed on the head, it should never be placed on any other part of the body.

Brett Levine is a writer with more than 17 years of experience writing for a range of national and international publications. His articles have appeared in "Art Papers," "B-Metro," "Alabama" magazine, "Object," "Urbis" and "RealTime." He holds a Master of Arts in arts administration.