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Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream…

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cue the dream sequence music:

Rabbi Laura Geller was our Scholar-in-Residence. As part of her presentation, she wanted me to put on a full-size tallit rather than the atarah style that I have worn since the day I became a Bat Mitzvah.

As Rabbi Geller became more and more insistent, I grew more and more agitated. I tried to don the tallit, but it was too large for me. No matter how I flipped it or folded it, I was drowning in the fabric.

“I just don’t feel comfortable wearing this,” I repeated again and again. “But you must,” insisted Rabbi Geller, “It’s the only way for you to really be an authentic rabbi.”

“You don’t understand. If it was up to me, I’d cover my hair with a tichel.”

A collective gasp from the crowd. Chaos ensued. And then…

Frume Sarah…the baby’s awake.

My relationship with religious garb is a complicated one. I wear a tallit when I am leading services because it is traditional for the shaliach tzibur to do so. If I am not leading the services, I wear my tallis if I am in a place where it is customary for a woman to do so. A woman is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, but, according to a number of authorities including Rav Moshe Feinstein, z”l, is not forbidden to do so. However, not all liberal synagogues have adopted this custom. And although I love my tallitot (MomGiraffe created both of mine) and have been wearing one for nearly 26 years, I must admit that I am still not altogether comfortable with women wearing them.

As for a head covering, I have gone back and forth on this one. When I was in my first year of rabbinical school, I commissioned a couple of crocheted kippot to match the design that MomGiraffe has needlepointed on my atarah. Though I had never worn a head-covering before, I felt very strongly that a rabbi ought to wear one. I wore it when I prayed and I wore it during learning. But I never really felt comfortable. During the High Holy Days of my second year at HUC, the kippot went missing. Poof! Just like that, they disappeared. I figured it was a sign.

A few years later, I revisited the kippah issue but this time opted for a wire kippah. It felt more feminine. More me. Except…that it wasn’t really me. I still felt as though I was forcing myself to grow comfortable wearing something that was really male garb. And so, with no ceremony, just stopped wearing them a couple of years ago. On those occasions when I have found myself in a Conservative shul, I fish one out of my armoire because I just can’t put a doily on my head.

I find it interesting that I admitted, in the dream sequence, to a desire to wear a tichel. Not a sheitel, but a tichel. I have written before about my feelings about covering my hair with a scarf. To me, wearing a beautiful wig defeats the spirit of the law, though upholding the letter of it. (And I’m not the only one who feels this way.) Yes, a woman’s hair is technically covered by the wig which fulfills the problem of ervah (nakedness). However, today’s wigs look so real that one might not be able to tell that the woman’s head is covered. And that defeats the whole purpose. For most liberal Jews, this is not only not a big deal, but it is completely archaic and has no “relevance” to their lives. But I wonder what might happen if those of us in the liberal community started dressing more modestly? How would it affect our behaviour? Would our young people have a healthier relationship with their bodies? Would it positively influence marital relationships?


8 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 3 December 2009 8:24 am

    I love this post. And I share a lot of your feelings about religious garb. Thanks for blogging on this topic!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 4 December 2009 2:35 pm

      Thanks for commenting! I really do struggle with modesty issues and their place in the liberal community so it’s nice to hear from others who are thinking about the same things!

  2. Thursday, 3 December 2009 2:09 pm

    Now I’ve got Simon and Garfunkle’s song of the same title as your blog stuck in my head. Isn’t the brain amazing?
    And that song has nothing to do with your post so perhaps I should read it again.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 4 December 2009 2:38 pm

      Did you figure it out yet??

  3. Thursday, 3 December 2009 9:35 pm

    i thought of you when i was in new york at the exhibit Reinventing Ritual:

    one of the artists created a fringed apron…a whole commentary on male vs female garb and adapting things and all that. very interesting.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Friday, 4 December 2009 2:38 pm

      Oooo — thanks for the link. Just saw that apron. Interesting…


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