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For All The Wrong Reasons…

Sunday, 6 January 2008

I wound the scarf around my head, making certain that no hair was showing. Glancing in the mirror, I saw someone both familiar and unknown. As an egaliterian American Jew, it is not my custom to cover my hair. In fact, had my staunchly Reform grandparents caught glimpse of me, they would have been shocked for this is just the type of Judaism of their youth that they have rejected.

On a trip to Germany some years ago, I found myself in a shul where the custom was for married women to cover their heads as a sign of respect. Not only was I not bothered by this, but I was excited by the prospect. To cover one’s hair was making a public declaration that I belonged to someone else. That I have been set aside for just one person in a sanctified relationship. Isn’t that what marriage is?? (Remember, they don’t call me Frume Sarah for nothing!)

Keeping one’s head covered is a constant reminder. For observant women, it is a reminder of their status and, I imagine, of God. For women struggling with cancer, it is a reminder of both their illness, and I hope, their cure. For me, it was merely a precautionary reminder of the lice. And yet it was something more.

A week ago Shabbat, I led services in my Reform shul with my head covered. For an entire Shabbat, every time I left the house (which was to go back and forth to shul) my hair was covered. Though it set me apart from everyone else in attendance, the experience certainly made me feel just the slightest bit closer to the generations of women who have found meaning in this practice. The scarf helped define the public domain from the private one. Upon unbinding my hair, our home became a much more intimate space.

I know that my community would be uncomfortable with a hair-covering rabbi. But if circumstances would allow…

frume sarah and peach

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunday, 6 January 2008 5:08 pm

    projectile vomiting or not, that baby is yummy.

    i don’t think it would matter if you were a rabbi or not, our community is not ready for a hair-covering woman. and should they be? is that a road we, as liberal women, want to go down? i have “reclaimed” a lot of things, but this feels too, well, Orthodox, to me. but i guess a lot of people feel that way about mikvah, and that is a ritual that i think we should be reclaiming. i guess if you knowingly choose it, it fits in with Reform ideology of “informed choice.” this is a tough one.

  2. Sunday, 6 January 2008 6:36 pm

    this is a great post. i do think about this too… i find it interesting to set yourself apart with headgear. is it one step beyond the kppah…but i have to wonder if what you said about the women finding meaning in it is always true…i always wonder if my frum cousins really see it as meaningful or just another part of their lives. plus the whole sheitel thing adds an additional element…

    sorry if i’m not coherent. those nfty kids kept me up all weekend:-)

  3. Frume Sarah permalink
    Monday, 7 January 2008 4:24 pm

    And it’s funny — I’ve struggled with the kippah-issue since my first day of Rabbinical school. No conclusion as I wear it for periods of time and then I don’t wear it for periods of time. It still feels so “other” to me.

    Why can’t we reclaim this? I love mikvah and do truly believe that it can have a meaningful and authentic place in modernity. And I’m starting to wonder about hair-covering and modesty…

  4. Monday, 7 January 2008 4:56 pm

    i have never, ever been comfortable in a kippah. it just feels really, well, wrong to me. it feels so strikingly male that it makes me uncomfortable – not seeing other women wearing one, that is perfectly normal to me – just me wearing it, which feels weird. also, the reasons for wearing it are different from the reasons women wear tichels or sheitels. tzniut is important, obviously, for so many reasons, but in the same way that wearing a kippah feels very male to me, wearing a tichel feels very Orthodox – and not in a good way – to me.

  5. Tuesday, 8 January 2008 2:25 pm

    I covered my hair for about three months, exploring if this was a practice I wanted to take on. In the end I didn’t, in large part because my husband hated it and I was losing clumps of hair from being covered so much. But I did learn a lot about femininity and vulnerability and with what (or Who) exactly was I connecting as a result. It was a powerful experience and I’m glad I did it.

    I went back to wearing a more feminine kippah, which has been my comfort level since.


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