Sunday, January 31, 2016

Photos! A Style I've Been Playing With

I've been playing around with this lately.
2 scarves, at least 1 of them rectangular
1 rectangular-ish/bar-shaped pin

1. Tie 1st scarf to cover
2. Tie 3 knots next to each other in the 2nd scarf.  
3. Place on head so that knots are off-center.  Arrange the res of the scarf as desired (more examples will come).  Tie scarf.
4. Place pin in front of knots.
I like the asymmetry, and the way that the knots create a frame that makes a long pin make sense visually.  It also works as a component of more complex wraps.
I'm thinking- maybe a tutorial.  What do you think?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Head Covering Source, Talmud Bavli, Nedarim 30b

Translation significantly done by Sarah Mulhern, some additions by me.  

משחורי הראש - אסור בקרחין ובעלי שיבות, ומותר בנשים ובקטנים, שאין נקראין שחורי הראש אלא אנשים

גמ'. מ"ט? מדלא קאמר מבעלי שער.

ומותר בנשים ובקטנים, שאין נקראין שחורי הראש אלא אנשים. מ"ט? אנשים זימנין דמיכסו רישייהו וזימנין דמגלו רישייהו, אבל נשים לעולם מיכסו, וקטנים לעולם מיגלו


Mishnah: He who vows not to benefit from black-haired people may not benefit from bald people and gray haired people, but may benefit from women and children, because only men are called black haired.

Gemara: What is the reason for this ruling?  Since it did not say "from those who have hair" [therefore the bald- who might once have had black hair- are still forbidden].
"But may benefit from women and children" because only men are called black-haired.  What is the reason?  Men sometimes cover their heads and sometimes reveal their heads, but women's hair is always covered, and children are always bareheaded.


This short text is a font of information about norms around head-covering in [at least some part of] the Talmudic period.  The Gemara text, which is where things get interesting for us, begins as an inquiry into the reason behind a somewhat surprising ruling in the Mishnah- that if one vows not to gain benefit from black-haired people, one may not get benefit from men who are either black-haired or might once have been so (which makes hair color an identity that one retains even without hair...  fascinating).

The Gemara continues to elucidate that the reason that someone who has made this vow may still derive benefit from women and children is that women's hair is always covered, while children are always bare-headed- but neither gets called "black-haired".  This makes more sense in relation to women than to children, but oh well...  However, the sense in regard to women is that you can't be expected to identify them by hair color, since you will never see their hair or know its color.  Interestingly, it says that All women have covered hair- seemingly even unmarried ones.  (Admittedly, it seems highly unlikely that there were many never-married women at all.)  It is only men who may or may not cover their head- both women and children have social expectations regarding their head/hair.

This is very much a description of a social reality- there are Jewish communities (like our own contemporary community) where some women are bare-headed, and others (such as the Yemenite Jewish community, historically) where children of both genders also had covered heads.  But the assumption that All women cover their hair, while only some men do, is an interesting perspective, in comparison with what we now presume.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Devotional Head Covering Source: Kiddushin 8a

Translation courtesy of Sarah Mulhern, rabbinical student and friend.


 וכגון דקביל כהן עילויה; כי הא דרב כהנא שקיל סודרא מבי פדיון הבן, אמר ליה: לדידי חזי לי חמש סלעים. אמר רב אשי: לא אמרן אלא כגון רב כהנא, דגברא רבה הוא ומבעי ליה סודרא ארישיה, אבל כולי עלמא לא 


[What is the law in] a case where the priest accepts [an object of insufficient value in return for the redemption of a son] as happened in the case of R. Kahana, who accepted a scarf for a son's redemption, and said to him [the father],‘To me it is worth five selas.’? R. Ashi said: "This is only applicable in the case of a person like R. Kahana, who is a great man and needs a scarf /turban
for his head, but not of people in general."


This text refers to head covering only in passing, as part of a social reality.  The focal point of the text is the question of how to handle an oddly done redemption of a firstborn son, which requires the use of a sum of 5 selas- usually this would involve 5 silver coins, contemporarily.  This text raises the question of relative worth- if something is worth more to you (the receiver) than it is normally, could it count?  The answer seems to be "Yes, but no"- in theory, it could, but we don't really want to go there.

However, the example is what makes this text relevant to our question.  The example is used to indicate that the specifics here make the results of this case is not generally transferable- because Rav Kahana is a particularly important person, therefore he needs a turban.  This suggests that turbans at least are a marker of social status, rather than of religiosity or piety.  (I notice that in stories that talk about head covering as piety in the Talmud, the covering is either of non-specific style or is a robe worn over the head, rather than being a turban.)

Turbans (much) later become the usual covering for men in most of the Middle East, but I'm not sure when that happens.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Devotional Head Covering, Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 118b

Translation courtesy of Sarah Mulhern, a talented friend and rabbinical student at Hebrew College.


אמר רב נחמן: תיתי לי דקיימית שלש סעודות בשבת. אמר רב יהודה: תיתי לי דקיימית עיון תפלה. אמר רב הונא בריה דרב יהושע: תיתי לי דלא סגינא ארבע אמות בגילוי הראש. אמר רב ששת: תיתי לי דקיימית מצות תפילין. ואמר רב נחמן: תיתי לי דקיימית מצות ציצית 


R. Nahman said: "May [reward] come to me for observing three meals on the Sabbath." R. Yehudah said: "May [reward] come to me for observing focus in prayer. R. Huna son of R. Joshua said: May [reward] come to me for never walking four cubits bareheaded. R. Sheshet said: May [reward] come to me for fulfilling the commandment of tefillin. R. Nahman [also] said: May I be rewarded for fulfilling the commandment of tzitzit.


This passage connects statements from various rabbis that indicate that the fulfillment of certain practices deserves reward.  The collection seems united by the phrase "תיתי לי", especially since there is no pttern or unity in the sages' era- they come from several different generations of Amoraim.

 First, this implies that doing so is unusual and/or difficult.  Second, the combination suggests that all have some shared value.  However, some are clear, d'oraita (from the Torah) mitzvot- tzitzit, tefillin. (One wonders that these were seen as deserving of particular praise- it says Something about how little the Jewish people may have changed over time.) Others are pietistic practices/abilities- maintaining focus in prayer, and not going bare-headed.  Yet focus in prayer is really part of the mitzvah of prayer- the best way to fulfill the mitzvah, possibly the only way.  Whereas head-covering is only piety, not a mitzvah at all...

The obvious connection (to me at least) is that these are difficult and/or unusual practices which the rabbis would like to encourage- yet in this context go no further than saying that they will bring eventual reward.   Not exactly a statement of requirement in regards to head-covering, but the way that the statements have been brought together by their common structure begins to give it a weight that it does not have on its own.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Devotional/Men's Head Covering Source: Pesachim 111b

Thanks for the translation in this post go to Sarah Mulhern, rabbinical student and a friend of mine.  Commentary (and any blame) is, of course, mine.

ההוא בר קשא דמתא דאזיל וקאי גבי זרדתא דהוה סמיך למתא, עלו ביה שיתין שידי ואיסתכן. אתא לההוא מרבנן דלא ידע דזרדתא דשיתין שידי היא, כתב לה קמיע לחדא שידא. שמע דתלו חינגא בגויה, וקא משרו הכי: סודריה דמר כי צורבא מרבנן, בדיקנא ביה במר דלא ידע ברוך אתא 

A certain town-officer went and stood by a bush near a town, whereupon he was set upon by sixty demons and his life was in danger. He then went to a scholar who did not know that the bush was haunted by sixty demons, and so he wrote a one-demon amulet for it. After, he heard how the demons suspended a harp on the tree and [mocked him] singing: ‘The man's turban is like a scholar's, yet we have examined him and found that he does not know "Baruch Atah".’

This source is very much aggadah: story, rather than halakha.  Obviously, the story is full of folk beliefs of the time- demons and amulets.  But it tells us something about what wearing a turban indicated socially in the time.  Namely, it was a marker of status, and seemingly, intellectual status.  It wasn't what every man wore- and wearing one in this case was viewed as pretentiousness for the "scholar" in this piece of aggadah.

Obviously, head covering doesn't have any of the same connotations now- although I've heard similar sorts of reactions to the relative "frumkeit" of how people dress.   
A couple photos from a few weeks ago.  Deeper content in progress.  
The scarf was a gift from a friend- and filled a gap in my "wardrobe", as I had nothing of that sort of vibrant pink.  The criss-cross is a pair of headbands.  The scarf slipped back a little- they show a bit more than I'd originally planned.

Monday, December 14, 2015

I'm Back Again. Hoping to Stay Back, This Time.

It's been a long time quiet here, but once again, I'm making a stab at getting the shutters open and content coming out.  I'll start with a few photos from a while ago, then start adding more serious content.  I have a few things that need to be copied out that were shared with me a while back, and some amazing source sheets to work from, courtesy of a wonderful friend and scholar who did some teaching on the topic of head covering at Pardes recently.

 This was an experiment with asymmetrical styling.  On one side, a braid.  On the other, a knot.
It didn't stay up very well- the materials were too slippery.  I'm not sure if it will be a continued experiment or not.  We'll see.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Finally, a photo (or a few), complete with small (but no longer tiny) photo-bomber, who is rather fascinated by cameras.  
The wrap is one scarf with the ends tied a bit over one ear, then one end left long, with the other twisted and coiled to make a "flower".  I used an alligator clip with a bow on it to secure the coil.  
As you can see, it is very serious business.  No time for smiling.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pain From Head-Covering: Halakha and Reaction

The OU recently published this piece on halakhic considerations when one has significant pain as a result of head-covering.  I haven't had the time to look at every one of the sources used and how the author, Rabbi Alex Ozar, uses them- but I'm also a parent with limited time, and don't want to wait until I can do so.  So here's my reactions as a person educated on the issue, but not currently responding to the halakhic process of the piece.  (I'd be open to guest authors who are interested in doing so- either to support, critique, or add, if anyone has the time and interest...)

The opening of this piece is thoughtful, spiritually aware, and reflective.
"Though spoken of rarely in public forums and still less in the beis medrash, the amount of physical distress sustained in devotion to the head-covering obligation by a substantial number of people is empirically, emphatically non-negligible."
"That the practice is identity-defining and spiritually foundational for so many – that the stakes are so high – only deepens the need for thoughtful attunement and response."
This strikes me as a serious manner of approaching the topic, respectful of the issue as one that does speak to people's use of it as an identity marker, rather than diminishing the topic because it is 'just clothing' or even 'just a women's issue'.  I have to say, I was charmed by the opening.

The research into realia was done via internet fora, but well, this is 2015.  And it is effective in gathering information.  I wonder which fora he looked at, especially since many of the spaces where I've seen such things mentioned are explicitly women's spaces.  Or maybe he asked a woman to find such comments and ask if they could copy them and share those comments with him...

A general outline of the halakhic argument is as follows:
1. Any situation that causes pain preventing normal functioning can qualify one as a choleh she'ein bo sakanah (one ill with a non-life-threatening illness).
2. Halakha does/can think preventatively, as is done in allowing leniencies to prevent one from becoming ill due to extreme cold (i.e. Ashkenazi poskim allow asking a non-Jew to build up/start a fire for you, even Before you become ill from the cold.)
3.  Sufficiently bad headaches can be bad enough to bring you to this point of difficulty functioning.
4. Once we are handing the category of  choleh she'ein bo sakanah, there are leniencies we can invoke.  There are different leniencies depending on what category of prohibition or obligation that we're talking about.
        4a. We allow leniency in different ways for biblical prohibitions, rabbinic prohibitions, and                 obligations- more leniency as this list goes on.
5. Establish how head-covering stands in terms of categories of halakhic prohibitions and requirements.
        5a.  Halakha around head-covering for married women has to do with location/publicity- the               more public, the stricter the prohibition on showing hair/going bareheaded.
6. There is likely room for leniency in some situations, starting with the least public areas paired with partial covering, and moving "outward" from there, depending on the situation- but exact details aren't discussed, nor is and actual psak given.

The conclusion is, well, inconclusive-
"Those for whom head-covering entails substantial physical distress should, in conversation with their families, communities, and rabbis, think through the degree of pain they sustain and whether it impedes their capacity to live their daily lives. If it does, they may consider whether certain of their regular, regularly problem-causing environments – their home, backyard, car, low-traffic office – qualify as places in which the head-covering obligation may be d-rabanan; the factors involved may include the number of people present, the number of people liable to become present, whether or not it is indoors, and whether it is controlled and familiar. Given that determination, it may then be considered whether the head-covering obligation ought to be relaxed – employing a less constricting method, covering less – or suspended long enough to alleviate or prevent undue pain."
 I wish that this conclusion had come down a little closer to "although I believe that each situation should be discussed with one's own rabbi, in certain situations, x, y, and z can be halakhically valid decisions"- this ending feels a little insipid or perhaps even lacking in courage, to me.  It is closer to that than it sounded upon first reading, but I would still like this conclusion to read like the conclusion of a teshuva (which the body of the piece does read like), rather than shifting gears.

Something feels missing to me, at the end of the day, but I'm not sure what.  It is a reasonable halakhic approach to the problem, but somehow- maybe there's something conceptual missing?  Another halakhic concept?  Some focus on realities?  The sociological realities that people might deal with, when making the decision?  I wish I knew.