Tali is a super chatty middle-aged Sephardic Israeli woman who drove me to the airport on my recent trip to Israel. Her parents are Moroccan, and she recently traveled with them to Morocco for a visit. She told me that the Muslims in Morocco are so wonderful, kind and hospitable – they literally keep their doors open for guests. There is a reverent relationship from the Moroccan monarchy to the Jewish people, such that every Yom Kippur, at Neilah, the king comes himself to the Jewish synagogue to ask the congregants for a blessing. This is a tradition that has been practiced for years, passed down in the monarchy from father to son.
For part two of the hair covering discussion (can you say “controversial”?), I’ve polled women of all kinds on their feelings on hair covering – why they cover, or not; with what and when; and how it makes them feel. I still have not heard from a woman who does not cover her hair as to why she doesn’t, so open invitation for that, but here’s a sampling of the responses I’ve received, including a woman who isn’t Jewish (see Kajsa’s response at the end).
Note: the word “tichel,” not to be confused with “kichel,” is a Yiddish word for kerchief.
what everyone else says about hair covering. This is my two cents:
I prefer to cover with whatever is easiest and
still looks nice. In the summer, this means tichels (because it’s hot and
they are cool), in the winter this means knit hats, like berets. I also
like to wear sheitels because I feel polished and pretty when I wear them.
Sometimes when I’m wearing a sheitel and I see
another woman of faith, like a Muslim, wearing a scarf, I wish that I were
wearing a tichel or something that more visibly identifies me as Jewish.
As much as I love the incognito factor of a sheitel, and how they look, when
faced with a more obvious hair covering, I feel embarrassed that my hair
covering is so subtle. But I love how the sheitel really stays in place,
and how I don’t have to worry so much about it slipping back, and I feel that
all of my hair is really covered.
And sometimes when I’m wearing a tichel I do feel
self-conscious when I’m in an obviously non-Jewish place, though sometimes that
self-consciousness is more like “Yeah! What’s up! I’m
Jewish!” And sometimes it’s more like, “ummm, I hope everyone here is
friendlyish.” It just depends on the vibe of the place.
In general, though, I really like the
mitzvah. There’s something about having such a recognizable sign of being
a religious person (more with the tichels and hats, obviously) that makes me
proud to observe this mitzvah, as well as being a reminder to me that when I’m
in public, I’m an ambassador of G-d and Torah. When I’m driving and
wearing a hat or tichel I will think twice before honking or being aggressive (boy,
has living on the East Coast changed my driving!), because I know my actions
reflect on all Jews, and, in turn, on the Torah. Same thing with shopping
at Target or anywhere, really. Covering my hair is a very real reminder
that I’m representing something bigger than myself.
Also I love never having to do my hair. Haha
When I got married I had wigs (Betty and Veronica, of course) which I wore an
average of 10 times in the 6 months and then said forget it! Growing up, once I
got old enough to think about myself religiously, I didn’t really think about
head covering. Honestly, for a long time I was too busy figuring out if I
wanted to be religious at all. Once I decided I would be, I knew I was
committing to the whole deal. I do like the idea of saving something special
for my husband and the sexual nature of hair does resonate with me,
though, so it all made sense. I decided to do scarves and tichels only for a
few reasons. Comfort being the most important to me. I also didn’t really
recognize myself with a wig on so I wasn’t motivated to get used to it. Also,
and I cannot stress this strongly enough, comfort. Dan and I both went to
yeshivas in Israel that subscribed more to a headscarf for the women instead of
a wig. Wigs were accepted but scarves preferred and I find that I can express my
personality so much more with the variety of scarves and accessories. And
comfort. I find now, living out of Israel, I love wearing a headscarf. And this
is more of a hindsight thing. I didn’t really think about it before hand but
wearing a big scarf makes me different. I stand out. It makes me more aware and
mindful of my Judaism and the immediacy of God in my life. There ain’t no
getting away from being the only turban-clad chic in a room! But I am loving
this tichel revolution now. I used to get lots of confused looks from
wig-wearing women. Now I am seeing more tichels around. It’s nice. We are
Jewish women. We need to rock it out.
I’ve learned since I was a young girl that married women must keep their hair covered.
it was an easy decision for me as I grew up in a community where most people
covered their hair. Also, all the close
women in my life, my mother, grandmothers, aunts and neighbors, all covered
their as well.
&6. I wear a wig, 24/7!! Growing up, I rarely saw my mother without a wig.
We knew something was wrong when she would come out of her room wearing a
snood. She still wears her wig while cooking, working out and any other
activity. I wear a snood more frequently than my mother, for comfort. However,
I find myself cooking and baking in my wig too and I take my shabbos nap on the
couch wearing it!
From the first moment I put my wig on as a married woman, I felt different and
special. As much as I try to have my wig look “natural,” I take pride
in knowing that I am wearing something physical that lets other people know I
am a Jewish wife.
Do you cover your hair?
2. If so, why?
Because the Torah/our Sages told us to.
3. If not, why?
4. Did you always know, growing up, that you would?
Yes, though there was a point during my rebellious teenage years that I
questioned whether I would be orthodox at all. But envisioning myself orthodox
always included covering my hair.
5. What is your preferred method of covering your hair – wig, scarf,
hat, baseball cap, or any old thing will do?
I am most comfortable in a hat/beret, snood or pre-tied tichel, but don’t love
how I look in them. In the summer I like Israeli tichels, but not the fancy
head-wraps. When I want to feel and look good, however, I wear a band fall or
6. What influences your answer to #5?
I am a creature of comfort. My husband likes me to be comfortable and not
all done up all the time, but I know he likes how I look in a sheitel better
and would choose a tichel over a snood any day. He doesn’t like the head-wrap
look at all so I haven’t even attempted it, though it doesn’t look easy or
comfortable anyway. I have become more and more comfortable in a sheitel or
fall over the years, especially with the wig grips as opposed to the clips that
were so uncomfortable. I also like that I don’t have to be adjusting it all
day. And now being at work instead of home with kids, it’s easier to have a
sheitel on anyway.
I do struggle with how natural the sheitels look, and it’s hard to make the
right choices in terms of modesty in sheitels, but it’s really no different
than making the same choices in clothing and it is still serving the purpose of
7. How has covering your hair, or lack thereof, impacted on your identity
as a Jewish woman?
I feel like covering my hair, no matter which form, helps me remember to
act in the proper way, especially as a married woman, it creates instant
boundaries. It makes me feel separate and different, in a good way. Even in a
sheitel…you don’t forget that it’s there!!
my mind, I am always worried that I will be somewhere where I will be required
to remove a hat for security purposes i.e. airport, border crossing etc. Then
whoever would require me to remove it, would realize that I was Jewish which
might result in my safety being compromised etc. (childhood throwback days
growing up in anti-semitic neighborhood in Canada).
Kajsa, a Christian woman, finds covering has helped her see her inner beauty:
my answer on your questions.
I cover for several reasons: first, it’s a spiritual choice – I feel connected to
G-d. Many Christian women would refer to Paul’s letter to Corinth but that is
not one of the main reason I cover. My cover reminds me that I am a beloved
child of G-d.
I think it’s a bit romantic to save something to my husband: my hair is for him
alone (and close family).
Thirdly, I wanted to take back the right to my body, As a woman I am tired of being
objectified by men and society.
I primarily cover with tichels, and sometimes with a knitted hat or a bandana at the
gym (swim cap when swimming).
3) The most important feeling is that I feel good about myself and how I look. I
struggle with extremely low self-esteem and covering has helped me to start
seeing my inner beauty. I now hold my head high, feeling that I am the queen of
my marriage. I feel more connected to G-d and my husband, but also to the
sisterhood of the Wrapunzel community. I now have sisters all over the world
that will encourage me, pray for me and laugh with me whenever I need it.
11 years before I started covering full time (I used to wear a doily when I lit
the candles or went to shul). I had breast cancer and was on my way to Israel
in the TSA line when I decided to cover what I called “full time” (at
work, out of the house, etc.). I didn’t want any of the TSA people poking or
prodding me when I was sick, so I told the TSA people I needed a private room
to take off my hat. After that, it was like a commitment. Then I had cancer
surgery and decided that I needed some spiritual protection and it happened
naturally. When I first got married my husband told me to cover my hair with
dye, so that’s what I did then. 2. I cover with tichels now exclusively. Before
I used biker doo rags and bandanas, berets, etc. When I moved to NYC I figured
I would wear what ever the hell I wanted on my head and embraced the Wrapunzel
way. 3. Covering has a spiritual protection for me. However, something WEIRD
has been happening since I’ve been wrapping…men treat me like I’m BEAUTIFUL!
I’ve never had this before EVER in my life–I’ve been told I’m ‘cute’ or ‘the
smart one,’ but I’ve noticed people treat me differently with the tichel on. I
got a cat call from a construction worker yesterday! All of a sudden! I have to
admit, I am also wearing more makeup than I was because I’m not sick anymore
and don’t want to look sick. I want everything to look put together, but I
always have known what someone wears is critical to how people treat you, but
this is just insane! A young religious man (well, in his
the Sprint store! And I’m obviously married! Sorry for going on and on…:)
Ladies and gents of OOTOB, I present to you today a guest post from one Revital Belz, who lives in Israel. She blogs at ajudaica.com and is sharing her viewpoint of the current conflict in Israel. I know social media and the blogosphere have been abuzz with information and emotions, and here she is in her own thoughtful and inspiring words. Revital will be available over the next few days to respond to your thoughts and comments.
Although I left my native United States for Israel almost thirty years ago, I always felt a bit
separate from the “real” sabra Israeli society. The moment I opened my mouth, taxi drivers
would start speaking to me in broken English, proud to have identified me as one of those
crazy Americans who came to make Israel their home. My Brooklyn accent stubbornly
stayed with me, and living in my Orthodox community in Bnei Brak I sometimes felt as if I
was being cocooned, distant as it were from the true Israel.
Last year I moved to the southern port city of Ashdod to live closer to my married kids and
was pleasantly surprised as to the beauty of the city. It is actually the fifth largest city in
Israel, has a gorgeous beach and magnificent parks. The streets are lined with trees and
flowers, and the multicultural population co-exists peacefully.
Fast forward to July 2014.
Boom! Boom! WoooOOOOoooo! OMG ! My grandchildren were on their weekly visit to me
when the wailing siren went off. Calmly, with equanimity, actually holding on to their plates
of pizza and spaghetti, the kids filed into my shelter, as I frantically called their names one by
one, making sure they were all in. I realized that they were giving me funny looks, trying to
figure out what the big deal was. After all, this was a reality of their lives, something which
had been drilled into them since kindergarten and an integral part of life for them. Why
was Baba (me) making such a big deal? You just went into the nearest building, stairwell or
home, waited until the sirens and booms (missiles) stopped (10 minutes) and then went on
with your lives.
Then I realized. I was at the front! This battle was being played out in my home, on my street
and I was a soldier. If I let myself be intimidated by the neighborhood bully then I have given
him victory. Well, let it not be said that a Brooklyn girl enhanced by 30 years of acquired
Israeli toughness was going to let this get to her. I go about my life, commute to work, shop,
invite family, visit family, go to the synagogue, lectures, whatever. My life continues. I am
not going to sit petrified in my shelter room all day. Of course, I always have one ear open to
hear the siren, and as I go down the street I make a mental note which building I will jump
into if necessary. But I will not be bullied.
Accepting that I am at the front has done something for me spiritually too. Sure, I feel
vulnerable and scared and I speak to Hashem more fervently and more often. I know that
it’s OK to be scared. I guess the soldiers are scared too sometimes.
Every soldier has his job. My job as a grandmother soldier living in Ashdod is to go about my
daily life, to do my jobs and to carry on living. Yes, I am trying to be a better person. Faced
with so much evil down there in Gaza, I want to inject into the world a little more goodness,
more love for my fellow man, extra G-dliness in my daily life.
We are all soldiers at the front!
A while back, an online friend of mine, Allison Josephs (aka Jew in the City) posted the following video, entitled “Orthodox Jewish All Stars.” The tagline was: Are all Orthodox Jewish men rabbis? Are Orthodox Jewish women allowed to work? Find out from these Orthodox Jewish All Stars!
My husband was on the West Side of Cleveland (where there are very few Jews) for a bris appointment with new parents. On the way home, he stopped by a pharmacy to pick up a few items. The man standing behind him in line leaned in and said, with a distinctive New York accent:
“Ya can’t even get a decent knish around here!”
Bingo, husband. You’ve been bageled.
Bageling is when a person wants an obviously “Jewish” looking Jew (ie, wearing a yarmulke, buying latke mix at the grocery) to know that he, too, is Jewish. I’ve been bageled numerous times, and I’ve bageled others too (they don’t always appreciate it). I love it when people bagel me because it gives me the opportunity to connect with a fellow Jew, but more, it shows me that this person is proud of his Judaism and wants to connect too.
My brother was in an airport once and a guy came over to him and simply said, “CHOLENT!” I’m not kidding you. That was the bagel. That guy wanted my obviously Jewish brother to know that he, too, was a fellow member of the tribe.
I was at the Children’s Museum in Baltimore on a Friday afternoon and looked at my watch, motioning to my kids that we were going to get ready to leave. The woman sitting next to me said, “It’s almost Shabbos – we better get going too!” It was important to her that I know that she was cognizant and observant of Shabbos.
On the flip side, I was at a bank opening an account, and the the man helping me out was wearing a nametag that read, “Josh Goldstein.” He asked me, among other things, my mother’s maiden name, which is very Jewish-sounding. He seemed like a pretty friendly guy, so I told it to him, smiled and said, “Can’t get a more Jewish name than that!” He seemed a bit uncomfortable with the bagel. Maybe it felt off to him professionally.
Another bank teller in the branch I always frequent has a very Jewish name. Before Rosh Hashanah I was in there and I was thinking, “Should I wish him a Happy New Year?” I spent the whole time in line pondering this question, and when I finally got to the front, mustered up the courage and wished him a Happy New Year. His face lit up and he wished me one right back.
To bagel or not to bagel? Do you like being bageled? Have you ever bageled someone else? Good or bad results?
It seems, often, that others deem us the Chosen People far more readily than we do, ourselves. And not necessarily in a positive way.
This is a crime.
In Jewish liturgy and text, chosenness and love are inextricably intertwined. The Jewish people is called God’s “firstborn.” We are chosen with love. Chosen for what, though? The shame, I believe, comes from a deep misunderstanding of the answer to that question, and I believe the answer people harbor in their hearts comes in various varieties.
1. We’re not chosen. Jews are like everyone else. We shouldn’t be different from everyone else. It’s what makes us hated. The more similar we will be, the more “normal” – the better. Who are we to think we’re better than anyone?
2. We’re chosen, yeah, but we shouldn’t really advertise it. I mean, just between us, Jews are smart, ambitious, driven, bent on education and family values. We’ve won all these Nobel Prizes and we’re barely a blip demographically. These ideas feel like a superiority complex, so better not to discuss it too much, but just read Start-up Nation and Mark Twain and what-have-you. It’s undeniable.
3. Jews are chosen for greater responsibility – to be a light unto the nations (see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s concise and brilliant If You Were God – a book that changed my life). That means we have more obligations in Judaism (613 instead of the 7 that non-Jews have) and a request from God to be a good example wherever we go. This is how I see things.
One time, my husband and I were at the Geauga County Fair. For those of you that don’t live in Ohio, firstly you’ll never ever know if I misspelled Geauga, and secondly let’s just say that we were the only members of an ethnic or religious minority there. There was a wagon that was transporting the visitors from the parking area to the fair, and we were (surprise) toting a stroller. As we attempted to maneuver the stroller onto the wagon, a man jumped off the wagon to help us and after we all settled in, said conspiratorially, to our utter shock, “You guys are the Chosen People. It’s an honor to help you. And Israel? I don’t know why everyone doesn’t understand that it’s your promised land.”
And with that we rolled along on our merry way as I tried to find my tongue.
Whatever you might say about evangelical Christians and Israel, one thing is clear: I’ve been reminded often by non-Jews, sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way, that the Jews are unique and different and will never really blend in.
What startles me is how uncomfortable many Jews are with this concept. Sort of like not wanting to be teacher’s pet. Maybe this is one reason Jews rarely invoke God’s name socially or publicly (as a good friend of mine put it, “we were raised to never say God’s name, except in vain”), whereas non-Jews seem wildly cool with it.
Truthfully, although Jewish literature is replete with references to the Chosen People notion, it’s hardly exclusionary. Judaism both tells us not to push our religion on others and to accept them if they truly want to convert. Judaism also teaches that any good person, Jew or non-Jew, has a share in the Jewish version of the afterlife. In other words, while Jews are chosen by God, anyone can choose to be chosen just like we did. We chose to be chosen nationally (Abraham our forefather discovered God on his own and any of his children who followed his monotheistic path became Jewish) and anyone can choose to be chosen too.
Having done a completely non-scientific study, my research seems to indicate that Jews who have grown up in remote communities, where they were among a very small number of Jews (and they always know exactly what that number was), are convinced that Jews are different and special – indeed a member of the “Chosen People” – and don’t have a problem with the concept, whereas perhaps ironically (since many Jewish parents choose this next option purposefully to aid in their kids’ Jewish “identity”) Jews who grow up in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, go to public school with Jewish kids and attend summer camp with Jews, tend to struggle mightily with it and fight it.
To respond to William Norman Ewer’s famous witticism:
I like this anonymously penned rejoinder:
It’s not so odd
the Jews chose God