Sunday, December 30, 2012


I had a dream last night where I kept either discovering that my hair was down and my head was completely uncovered, or that my hair had somehow escaped my scarf.  On the other hand, when I realized it, there was a scarf that matched my outfit (or so I thought in the dream) sitting on a bush right next to me, just waiting for me to put it on.  The rest of the dream was a funny mix of anxiety and utter randomness (involving a car that drives itself, a trip to a university to look at its dorms where we mostly looked at their bathrooms/changing rooms, and a very flexible cast of characters).

I don't think that I've ever dreamed about my head coverings before.  Has this happened to anyone else?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Collection of Coverings

 And here it is from the front:
 Friday: (As you saw, in preparations for travel):
Sunday:  (What do you think about the rather large twisted crown?  I was worried that it was a bit much.)
 Monday: (Definitely a work-day.)
And then I skipped taking pictures for a few days, and here's Thursday, a day off (main goal: comfort):

Friday, December 21, 2012

Traveling Time

I'm making a new stab at a covering for travel.  One of you lovely people (The fine howgiyoret) suggested braiding my hair and pinning it over my head, so that I would really eliminate the bulky stuff behind the neck issue that gets so uncomfortable on long bus trips.  It definitely took some bobby pins, but here's the result.
I'll let you know how it goes  And anyways- here's a slightly different silhouette  while I'm at it.

Any other good tips for covering your head while traveling?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Shulhan Arukh on Going Bareheaded

Shulhan Arukh 2:4
ולא ילך ד' אמות בגלוי הראש (מפני כבוד השכינה) ויבדק נקביו... 

And one should not go/walk 4 cubits with an uncovered head (because of the honor of the Shechinah [God's presence]), and one should check one's openings [i.e. keep yourself clean].  

This text codifies into what law (or what seems to be law- opinions differ, as we'll see at some point) the story from Kiddushin 31a- both the action (covering the head), the distance (4 amot/cubits), and the reason (respect for God's presence).  It does not reflect the reasoning from Shabbat 156b - there is nothing here about a covered head having any effect on our yetzer hara.  (Well, once could create a connection pretty easily, something about not sinning being how we show appropriate respect to God, but while it works, it's pretty obviously a created connection, just to weave in all the ends.)

I find it fascinating that head-covering is paired with basic hygiene.  It gives the practice this very basic feeling, as if it were something about general basic decency.  It isn't an sense that I've gotten anywhere else, yet, but it sure gives a different sense to things.  It makes me wonder if the honor of the Shechinah might be understood as "don't look like a shlump who can't take care of himself", or "don't be disgusting"- although that might take it a bit too far for me.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When You Hide Something...

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with some of my colleagues, and we were, for some reason, discussing hair.  I was mostly listening- I don't "do" my hair much, at this point (obviously).  Then one of my colleagues mentioned that I had beautiful hair (a surprise- I tend to think of it as very fine, and therefore mostly adept at escaping however I put it up)- and another woman responded: "How did you get to see her hair?".  (The answer?  We'd roomed together at a conference.)

I never thought of my hair as something secret or special, that other people would be interested in seeing.

I knew that my husband found it special that he was the only one who got to see my hair.  I'd seen women (well, college students) have this reaction to other women's hair.

But my hair?  What's the excitement in that?

Apparently, if you hide it, it does become special.  Even if it's your own- someone else will still find it exciting, even intimate.

I kept wanting to say- 'but I'm not hiding it from you!  You could see it any time, there's no problem in that.'  But it felt too odd.  Strangely exclusionary to the one man in our peer group.

I don't know what to make of that moment.  Brief though it was, it really surprised me.  I have now something special, off limits, that I never really thought about that way.  Making sure it was covered? Sure.  Feeling uncomfortable in boundary-stretching situations?  Sure.  Something other people were actively curious about?  Never thought in a million years.

Have any of you had a similar moment?  How did you feel about it?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Week of Coverings: In Which I Like Layers

Friday- The day after Thanksgiving.  Off to Goodwill, and a small variation in style: I've pulled the ends of my scarf through my bun, instead of tucking them in, to show off the fringes at the ends.  (This scarf was a gift from a former classmate and roommate, and I'm thinking gratefully about her, this morning.)

I rather missed taking photos on Sunday.  But, here on Monday is a scarf we bought at Goodwill on Friday (same style as Friday):
 Wednesday: (It went with a red and white blazer that I'd already shed by the time I got to the computer)
Thursday: Here's the full view:
 And here's a close-up, since the colors are pretty similar, and blend into each other at a distance.
And now a bonus: Shabbos (Saturday day)-
 And from the side:  Definitely a more dramatic look...  And a hat for once.
From the front:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Women's Head-covering in the Talmud, part 1

Brachot 24a
Here's the part of the sugya that is most frequently quoted:
אמר רב חסדא שוק באשה ערוה שנאמר (ישעיהו מז) גלי שוק עברי נהרות וכתיב (ישעיהו מז) תגל ערותך וגם תראה חרפתך אמר שמואל קול באשה ערוה שנא' (שיר השירים ב) כי קולך ערב ומראך נאוה אמר רב ששת שער באשה ערוה שנא' (שיר השירים ד) שערך כעדר העזים

Translation:Rav Hisda said: A woman's thigh is erva (nakedness), as it is said: (Isaiah 47:2) "Take the millstones, and grind meal; remove thy veil, strip off the train, uncover the leg, pass through the rivers.", and it is said (in the next verse) "Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen".  Shmuel said: A woman's voice is nakedness, as it is said (Song of Songs 2:14) "for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely".  Rav Sheshet said: A woman's hair is nakedness, as it is said (Song of Songs 4:) "thy hair is as a flock of goats, that trail down from mount Gilead".  

The context is a discussion of saying Shema while naked/in bed, which then broadens to a discussion of prayer while naked or in the presence of naked people, and from there to this- a question of what qualifies as a naked person that one might not be allowed to pray in their presence.

This context can be offered as a reason why the restrictions that are placed on women's dress and behavior based on this text (covering the hair, not singing in public) should be limited to when someone (male) is saying Shema.  (It's worth noticing that the implied viewpoint character, as it were, is male, and the object of his gaze is female- I don't think there's anything that goes the other way around.  But that's an artifact of our tradition, which I will not reject.  My question is, instead- is there any application of these concerns in the opposite direction?)

The other major Talmudic source regarding women's head covering makes a very different argument, not tied to liturgy.  We'll get to that one soon.  In the meantime, this sugya could send me pretty strongly in either of two directions.  Either hair is really a sexual provocation, and inappropriate to expose at all, analogized to the thigh, or it is something that is generally acceptable, but one should be particularly stringent about avoiding anything at all provocative, analogized to the voice.  The first leads me to be very stringent in covering all hair on the head at all times.  The second allows significant leniency.  It all feels very uncertain.  If this were the only text that I had, I'd be pretty uncertain of how to interpret it.  We'll see how it gets handled later, as we go.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

More Weekday Coverings

Square scarf with the ends brought up and twisted over each other, and a thin headband in front of them.

Monday- (two photos, because this is a new style for me to wear for real, with the twists- I liked them, but should do them with less stiff fabric in the future- they took a while to stop hitting my shoulder oddly)

 Tuesday- (a standard)
 Wednesday- (I'm enjoying the repeating layers look, lately)
 Thursday, Thanksgiving-

Monday, November 19, 2012

More Shabbos Styles

This is three scarves, layered, with the ends hanging down in the back, secured by a hair elastic.  
 And from the back:
This is from Friday night:
 And here's the back:  This is my first attempt to play with "scarf stuffing"- I have a rather bulky scarf underneath the one you see (you can see the very front of it, in the picture above).  I tried putting my bun, and thus the padding, higher up, which is how I often see that look, but I couldn't get it to work quite right, and shabbos was quickly approaching- so back to my usual location it was.  I like the look, although it puts a bunch of weight fairly low down on my head.
Where do you put your bun/ponytail/etc under a scarf?  Low down, mid-range, up high?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Men's Headgear in the Talmud, part 2

Here's another short story about another Talmudic rabbi who had a head-covering practice:

רב הונא בריה דרב יהושע לא מסגי ארבע אמות בגילוי הראש אמר שכינה למעלה מראשי
Kiddushin 31a

Translation: Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua would not walk 4 cubits with an uncovered head.  He said: "The Shechinah [G-d's presence] is above my head."

This aggadah- story- is the second mention of a rabbi covering his head in the Talmud.  Notably, neither instance has any indication that the behavior is anything other than a personal pious practice- there is no comment that such behavior is encouraged.  On the other hand, we learn a great deal from the practices of the sages of our tradition.  However, the fact that there is no indication of requirement or even encouragement for the community to do the same is behind the line of later poskim who hold that wearing a kippah is minhag (custom) rather than law.

This story also introduces one of the primary reasons given for wearing a kippah- that the Shechinah is always above us.  Often it is phrased as a reminder that the Shechinah is always there, watching us.  In other words- a more conscious, intentional version of Rav Natan bar Yitzhak's obstacle to sin.  However, one might also wonder if it is a sort of modesty, not to be "seen uncovered", or even a sort of anxiety about God's omniscience.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Weekday Coverings

Here's a summary of some recent daily coverings:
Tuesday 10/30- at home for the day:
Thursday 11/1- CPE day, post-hurricane (in preparation for a day in a building without power- I ended up wearing a hat over this anyway, but here was the original idea for the day):
Tuesday 11/6- a work covering, if not work clothes any more
Wednesday 11/7- ready for work (and apparently quite patriotic)-
And Thursday 11/8- CPE day again:
Friday 11/9- Playing with a pashmina, with my Friday-off clothes:
Monday 11/12-

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Men's Headgear in the Talmud, part 1

One of the primary texts from which the practice of wearing a kippah.  The context is a discussion about fortune/fate, and whether or not it applies to Jews, or perhaps more accurately, whether it is unavoidable for Jews.  The stories used seem to suggest that fate impacts Jews, but that meritorious behavior (giving charity, etc- and in this case, covering the head) can alter or prevent or at least modify that fate.

ומדר"נ בר יצחק נמי אין מזל לישראל דאימיה דר"נ בר יצחק אמרי לה כלדאי בריך גנבא הוה לא שבקתיה גלויי רישיה אמרה ליה כסי רישיך כי היכי דתיהוו עלך אימתא דשמיא ובעי רחמי לא הוה ידע אמאי קאמרה ליה יומא חד יתיב קא גריס תותי דיקלא נפל גלימא מעילויה רישיה דלי עיניה חזא לדיקלא אלמיה יצריה סליק פסקיה לקיבורא בשיניה
Shabbat 156b

Translation: And from Rabbi Natan bar Yitzhak,we can also learn that there is no fortune for Israel: A Chalden said to the mother of Rabbi Natan bar Yitzhak "Your son will be a thief".  She did not permit him to reveal his head.  She said to him- "Cover your head, so that the fear of heaven will be upon you, and pray for mercy".  He did not know why she said this to him.  One day, he sat and was learning under a palm tree.  His cloak fell off his head.  He lifted his eyes and saw the palm tree.  His [evil] inclination became strong, and he cut off a bunch of dates with his teeth.  

This Talmudic tale tells us that wearing a covering of some sort gives one the fear of heaven, and even suggests that it has the power to prevent us from sinning, even or perhaps particularly in ways that are natural for us, individually.  In this manner it is a preventative measure, and a step toward being our best selves, rather than our worst ones.  

It also does not, at this point, presume that this is something that most people do, nor that there is any general requirement to do so.  On the other hand, it makes the practice look very attractive- a benefit without any detriment.  It's a way of helping ourselves to be good.  

It also does not say anything about what sort of head-covering is involved- Rabbi Natan bar Yitzhak  used his cloak/outerwear as his head-covering.  So any hat, scarf, turban, etc ought to work.  And as it is a story and not law, there are no suggestions of any sort about how much of the head needs to be covered for this preventative to work.  It doesn't even seem to have anything to do with personal awareness- our protagonist has no idea why he covers his head normally, or that it has fallen off in this instance.  

Therefore, it would seem that if the community at large were to adopt this practice (as of course, has happened, to a great extent), gender might not play a significant role.  There's nothing strongly gendered about this story, as far as I can tell...  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Hat Link

I have played with scarves quite a bit- but hats are still pretty uncertain territory for me.  So I just loved this post, which both explores how hats interact with individual faces (artistically), and gives a few tips for checking out hat-wearing for yourself.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Modern Text: A Very Focused Review

One of the journals I read (it's often my "I can't focus in shul, let's read for 5 minutes during the announcements/brachot after haftarah/etc reading) is Conversations.  In the winter 2012 issue, there's an article by Rabbi Marc Angel called "A Modesty Proposal: Rethinking Tseniut"  (It's available online).  It's a broad approach to his philosophy of tsniut in general, and I'm not going to address his whole article.  But here's what he has to say about women's head covering, and my own thoughts in response:
Here are a few items that udnerscore the gap between the concept of tseniut and the technical halakhic rules that are supposed to foster tseniut:
1. “Women’s hair is considered ervah, nakedness.” Normative halakha applies this statement only to married women. Single women need not cover their hair, since men are used to seeing them with uncovered hair and will not be aroused.
This ascribes one particular reason to the requirement for married women to cover their hair.  Rabbi Angel argues that women's hair (in a moment, he'll limit it to adult women's hair) is arousing, but that we presume that this is not true of single women.  I've seen it argued elsewhere that while women's hair is attractive, single women are permitted to reveal it in order to "catch" a mate...  If you allow a degree of attractiveness in between "completely platonic" and  "generally arousing", the argument begins to break down a little bit.
Is this a valid argument? In olden times when girls were married off at an early age, this assumption may have held true. Seeing girls up to the age of early teens with uncovered hair may have been a normal feature of life, not generating untoward thoughts on the part of men. Yet, today most women do not get married while they are still children. If a woman in her 20s or 30s has her hair uncovered, what difference would it make to men whether she is single or married? Most men would not be able to tell whether such a woman is single or married.
Another interpretation of the reason behind the mitzvah is to help us tell who is married and who is not.  It falls then less into the category of tzniut, admittedly (and makes trouble for the gemara on which Rabbi Angel is relying, but it is not the only gemara that discusses women's head-covering), and more into the category of a status-marker, like wearing a kippah might be (marking one as a Jew, among its other uses), or wearing a wedding ring.
Yet, halakha allows the single woman to go bare-headed, while a married woman must cover her hair. If the purpose of head covering is to foster tseniut and to prevent men from looking at women’s “nakedness,” then there is no substantial reason today to differentiate between married and single women. Either all women of marriageable age should cover their hair, or none of them need cover their hair because men are accustomed to seeing women with uncovered hair. Indeed, Rabbi Yosef Mesas rules that married women need not cover their hair in our days, since the normal practice of women in our society is to go with hair uncovered.  He wrote: “Since in our time all the women of the world have voided the previous practice and have returned to the simple practice of uncovering their hair, and there is nothing in this that constitutes brazenness or lack of modesty…therefore the prohibition of covering one’s hair has been lifted.”
In other words, he argues that social norms of modesty have shifted, and therefore Jews should follow the same norms as the rest of the society in which we live.  And modesty is always about social norms to a certain extent.

But it can also be able establishing our own communal norms- and certain parts of the Jewish community take that perspective very seriously- to the point of declaring immodest things that are considered more than modest enough in the general society (for instance long, relatively loose pants).  (Yet another perspective declares modesty to be external to society and to have fixed, inviolable rules.  That perspective would reject Rabbi Angel's argument as absurd.  That perspective has a hard time dealing with history, though.)

Even without going to that extreme, there might be room to decide that we see some value in some intermediate practice- or even for going "whole hog" in order to maintain our identity.  On the other hand, I see a lot of justice in this argument.  It's a pretty fair one- as long as you consider modesty to be a purely social/communal phenomenon.
2. “Women’s hair is considered ervah.” Yet various posekim allow women to cover their own natural hair with a wig. As long as they have fulfilled the technicality of covering their hair, they are not in violation of halakha.
The weighing of the technicalities and the intent of halakha tend to come up at a draw.  I sympathize with Rabbi Angel's argument, myself.   Nevertheless, I can see a concern with fulfilling a technicality when you don't feel strongly about the intent.  If you don't understand the intent of hair-covering, or feel it is inapplicable (as Rabbi Angel himself seems to feel or at least accept as reasonable), then why not fulfill a mitzvah while not marking yourself as outside the norm?
In some circles, it is expected that married women wear wigs; if they do not do so, they are considered to be religiously deficient. Does this make any sense? Women will spend thousands of dollars to buy wigs that often look better than their own hair. They will wear these wigs, which can be quite attractive, and be considered to be within the laws of tseniut. However, if a woman “wears” her own hair, in a modest fashion, such a woman is deemed (by many) to be in violation of halakha. If a woman’s hair is indeed nakedness, how can it possibly be permitted for them to wear wigs—also made of hair? Would anyone suggest that a woman is permitted to wear a skin-colored dress that is printed with the design of her private body parts? Of course not. Such clothing is obviously anti-tseniut. Likewise, if a woman’s hair is nakedness, covering it with a wig is anti-tseniut.
 I'm fond of this argument, because it's so blatant.  However, since I see a fairly significant difference between hair and one's genitalia, breasts, etc, I can see some space for claiming that this argument is too overstated to be reasonable.  After all, as long as one's wig is part of one's external apparel, it acquires a certain status in our minds.  And since there are plenty of women who don't cover their hair at all, all around us, while almost no women walk around with uncovered genitalia, there's a difference in gradation going on- maybe.  After all, I do see observant women who wear vaguely skin-colored shirts under otherwise two-revealing tops, and that seems to be acceptable...  Just because two things carry the same general label doesn't mean that they fit into an exactly identical category.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Blogging My Interests and Anxieties

When I started this blog, I said I'd be writing about all sorts of aspects of Jewish head-covering: personal experiences, source texts, pictures, how-tos, crafts, etc.  And I've done a little bit of that.  But mostly, I've focused on married women's head-covering- in my texts (and there will be more texts coming, for real), in my pictures and in most of my reflections.  It's the reality that I'm living right now- and therefore, it speaks to me most vividly.

But I'm also really invested in talking about kippah-wearing, both for men and women, and the interesting sometimes controversy of wigs, and whatever other options I can come up with.  And I haven't been writing about those things at all- and I really think that they're worth talking about, and talking about in the same forums as my style photos and musings about my own current experiences.

Some of my focus is just that it is easiest to write about what is most current for me.  Some of it is that I don't really know who my audience is- I'm writing for women who cover their hair already- so probably mostly the Orthodox.  I'm also writing for other folks who are interested and egalitarian.  Do I just write what I want to, for myself, and let such readership as I have deal with it?  Or do I play it safe?  I've been playing it safe, a significant chunk of the time.  The thing is- that isn't the point of this blog.  I'm going to make more of an effort to both a. post more often, and b. talk about a broader range of issues relating to the things that we Jews put on our heads.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Work-Wear: A Sampler

My computer keyboard has been broken for the last couple of weeks, so I've only managed to post what I had either pre-written or done on my husband's computer...  So, now it's been fixed, but I'm tired, and heading to a conference for a couple of days next week.  So here's a sampler of pictures I've taken of work-wear over the last few weeks, in no particular order...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Resources: Link with Videos

Courtesy of, I came across this blog with a lot of really useful tutorial videos and ideas for interesting tichel arrangements.  Several of her ideas were new to me, and look pretty easy, too.  I haven't read any of her other content yet, but it seemed quite worthwhile to share with you folks- especially a certain kallah I met recently who is thinking about how she might want to cover...

And speaking of here's a video that shows both a lovely combination of scarves, but also, as the first step, a tip for making a pashmina a wearable tichel that doesn't look so bulky as to be overwhelming (something I've been trying to figure out).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dealing With Awkward Comments

Every once in a while, I get an awkward comment about my scarf.  The latest (of a pretty small number) was  from a patient at work.  She said something like "it's too bad that you wear that- you're such a pretty girl".  I was a little surprised, but found something to say fairly quickly.  My response: "actually,  I find it very meaningful".

I'm not sure that that was the most useful pastoral response- in fact, keeping something focused on her would, I'm sure, have been better.  But socially, I think it was a pretty decent response, simple and to the point.

I've read, frequently, (and experienced some mild spin-off comments) about people who presume that one covers "because your husband makes you".  And for me (and most of the women I've talked to) that is very much not the case.  My husband is supportive of what I do- but would never have asked it of me, and would be equally supportive if I did just what I did before we got married, or anything in between that and this.  (The one thing I think he was once uncomfortable with was seeing me with a regular/men's sized kippah, before we were married, once.  And I don't know that that would bother him at home, any more.  I don't know.  It looks a little odd on me to myself, these days, honestly.  I'm not used to it on myself anymore.)

Do any of you cover (or modify your dress) because your husband/partner really wants it, when you don't or don't particularly care?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Recreating A Recent Shabbos Style

So I should be going to bed, but instead- here's a recreation of a covering I put together for a recent shabbos, and had no time to photograph...

And here it is from the back (except that the tails go a bit longer):
I occasionally miss having something long to hold onto behind my back (a habit when I was thinking or praying, from before I was married), and this definitely gave me that sense of something on my back...  It was also a fun change because the tichel itself (a triangular shawl, folded over because it's rather large) isn't tied at all, just draped over my head and bobby-pinned on.  The ribbon is tied around it (with my bun above the bow), and that brings the scarf together.  It actually held up just fine that way...

The only problem?  My shadow looked a little bit like the bride of Frankenstein- the bow made a shadow that looked like two bolts sticking out of my neck...  Too bad I couldn't get a picture.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Post Yom Kippur Musing

Now that Yom Kippur is over (and my husband isn't home yet- he was away leading services elsewhere, I was home), I've been thinking about how to dress for Yom Kippur.  There's the "it's a holiday, we should look festive" approach, and there's the "it's Yom Kippur, it's totally Not about how you look, white is useful, wear whatever you have that's white" approach.  I tend toward the latter camp, but this year, felt mildly uncertain about it- maybe I should do something to dress up a bit more...  Especially since I'm pale enough to look a little washed out and well, very much on the ascetic side of things, all in white.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shana Tovah/G'mar Tov: Catching Up

Hey Folks,
I'm still finding my rhythm with my job- especially with the holidays now.  So posting may be rather sporadic until things calm down and I really settle in.  I'm still thinking about all the things that this blog ought to have on it- there will be a return, eventually, to source texts, and to some history and sociology of Jewish headgear in various Jewish communities, along with some photos...

In the meantime, here's a quick news article about women's head-covering, sort of as an interfaith phenomenon.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Follow-Up On Work Anxieties

After the concerns I wrote about before starting work, you might be surprised at the outcome.  Although I’d contemplated trying to make my covering less obtrusive, rather unsurprisingly I went into work in my usual sort of head-coverings, and have had no trouble or discomfort about them.   Neither supervisor seems at all taken aback or discomfited. 

It seems that I pinned my anxieties on an item of dress, when their concerns seem to have rested somewhere else entirely- in some aspect of scheduling or behavior that my dress indicated, rather than in the outfit itself.  I was even aware of that at the time of my interview. 

I don’t know why I fixated on my tichel as the source of their concern- in retrospect, it seems a little bit silly.  I suppose that I grasped onto the physical item that seemed the most Other, in comparison to secular American expectations, and tied all my worries about othering onto it.  A logical connection, but one that might have caused me more anxieties than I might have had otherwise, although there’s no way to know that for certain. 

We’ll see how patients react- I’ve only been really working seriously for a short time (translation: about a day), and so it’s hard to tell, thus far.  But I imagine that, given that chaplains, as religious professionals, are often expected to be marked in their dress in some way, stemming, I imagine, from Christian clergical collars, that a head covering won’t be such a concern.  In many ways, I’m more curious/concerned about how Jewish patients will react, especially the Hasidic population who, it seems, makes up a sizable percentage of the hospital’s Jewish population.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Are You A Rabbi?

“Are you going to be a rabbi?”  For several years after I started wearing a kippah, I got asked this question in all sorts of places.  At the grocery store, on an airplane…  It was my second most common question, directly after “Is that a yarmulke?  I didn’t know that women wore them”.   Anyone who already knew that some women wore kippot seemed to also presume that any woman who actually did so, outside the synagogue, must either be a rabbi or was going to end up being one.  And indeed, while I was quite set against the idea at the time, I seem to have ended up a rabbi anyway. 

While I stopped getting the question, oddly enough, around when I started rabbinical school (perhaps people in New York are more used to women in kippot than folks in Waltham, Mass), it does open a certain, rather depressing, line of thought. 

Maybe the only women who care enough about the particular practice to take it on are the ones who are so invested in religion that they, for the most part, end up as rabbis.  There isn’t much of a place carved out for really invested, educated laity in the liberal Jewish world.  It isn’t something that I like to look at, but it is, right now, something of a fact on the ground.  If you know something about Judaism, and have invested sufficient personal energy in a practice that people tend to associate with men to wear it in the streets- you’re probably going to end up in the rabbinate, because where else do you fit?  

The problem for me is that I don't want the only women who take this seriously to be women who go into the rabbinate.  I hate the notion that the only women who are willing to go out of their way for the sort of Judaism I believe in are those who want to make it their career.  But how do I persuade anyone to do this, when I know what they're going to be asked are "are you a rabbi?"...  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Mitzvah Interactions

It's rather startling how one mitzvah- head-covering, for example- can turn into an indication of how we hold about all sorts of other aspects of Judaism.

I'd been talking to someone I met at work, and reference was made to being transgender.  Afterward, in a fit of random association, I started to wonder about how I might behave with someone who was trans, in relation to my head-covering practice- would I feel comfortable taking off my scarf or not?  In either situation (female-to-male or male-to-female) there would be both an argument that it would be fine, and an argument that it wouldn't.

Taking FTM as our example, the first question would be how you hold about whether it is possible to halakhically change genders, and if so, how.  Clearly, if you think that yes, you can- then you have an answer: keep the scarf on.

If you think no, there might still be more factors to consider.  How do you consider the way a person thinks of their self?  It seems as if a real consideration of tzniut might ask one to go beyond the halakhic considerations of gender.

However, what it really highlighted for me was the way that halakhot interact and weave together.  Different halakhot impact each other, so that the way that you hold about one question may well depend on how you hold about something that would seem to be quite separate.  There's something that I really appreciate in that interwoven-ness.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Working Gal

I've just had my first couple of days in my new job/program.  So far, it's just been orientation, but it's starting to give me a feel for how people dress, and how my head covering choices will go over with my colleagues.  So far, no problems at all.

Look for an influx of professional outfits (or well, collars, from all you can usually see) with my "what I wore" shots, and probably a companionable increase in either whimsy or simplicity in my shabbos photos.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And What Will the Children Do?

We went to our nephew's chalake (like an upsherin, only Sephardi- a boy's first haircut at age 3, where he also gets his first kippah), last fall.  It was actually the first one of either sort that I'd been to- so I can't discuss how it was similar or different.  But it was a sweet event, and clearly a pretty potent ritual moment for our nephew- if a little overwhelming for him at times.

I wonder what we'll do for our children, when they (G-d willing) come along.  Clearly, it's impossible to decide so far in advance, but I like speculating.

Will we just cut all our children's hair whenever it seems logical, and put kippot on them (boys, maybe girls?)   gradually?  Will we wait, and then put a kippah on boys?  If so- then what for a daughter?  A kippah?  A headband?  Will it depend on where we are and our community?  Can I ask a daughter to deal with being accused of wearing "boys' clothing", when I know how difficult teasing is for a child- I went through plenty of it myself...?  (Especially given that my husband will be an Orthodox rabbi- it makes for a community that will Notice what we do, and have their own opinions, desired or not.)  Or are hair bows plenty of head covering for a little girl?  How do I account for my values?

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Longer 'Do

It may not be fall yet, but here is me experimenting with a longer, looser covering that provides some neck coverage- should be nice in cooler weather.  It also gives me some flexibility to put my hair up in different ways underneath.
This is 2 scarves- a smaller scarf, folded back over a large one.  But the larger one isn't tucked up in the back.  Instead it is left loose, then the tails are brought out to their full width and crossed over the top, and then tucked in underneath in the back.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Almost every store-bought kippah I've seen (crocheted, obviously) have the same texture- just plain, solid single crochet.  The patterning is all done with color-work, which a machine can do more intricately than I can- probably than any person can.

But I've barely seen any texture in such kippot, except in one "model" or two, with a sort of cross-over stitch (not one I know how to make, yet, actually) that makes up the pattern.

A handmade kippah can be made with all sorts of different stitches and textures- single crochet in the standard variation, single crochet that goes through only the second side of each stitch (leaving a small ridge), double crochet, or a variety of combination stitches- I've tried leaf stitch very successfully.  (Leaf stitch is: two single crochet in one stitch, skip the next, repeat.  Adding stitches seems not to make too big a different in the pattern- I've been adding a third stitch to the 2 stitch spaces, and leaving the skips alone, which comes out well.)
(It's hard to photograph so that textures like this show- hopefully the stripes at least show enough to give you a sense of how the fabric looks.)

I am making an attempt at moss stitch (an aran stitch, according to a book I have) now, although as a first attempt, I don't know that I'll make the whole kippah in that stitch. It could be interesting to do some stripes in this pattern...

I've seen one or two kippot made with different textures, by other people, but not often.

I can never tell whether the texturing that I do is for my own enjoyment, or whether the people who wear my kippot appreciate it.  My husband seems to enjoy it- or says so when I ask.  I do wonder how much it is noticeable.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

More Wedding-Wear

Here's one of those adaptations for a slightly-smaller than I'd like scarf- layering another one underneath, for some added inches.   The ends of that other scarf also gave me some bulk in the bun area of this headcovering. It's a little less out-going than my usual wedding-wear, but this was a wedding where we were closer to the groom's parents than to the folks getting married, and in a community I was quite unfamiliar with- so I decided to go a little less dramatic than usual.  I still like how it came out.
This was a wedding in a community that was significantly to the right of my own, or of the communities where I am usually a  guest.  I considered pulling my scarf further forward than I'd usually wear it- but eventually chose not to.  Regardless, it was pretty clear that I wasn't "from around here"- I think there were only one or two other women wearing tichels at all- most of the local married women wore wigs.  Regardless- I never know how much to adapt my own practice to respect local minhag (custom- perhaps not a strong enough word), and how much to hold fast to my own practice.

Also even such restrained color as this is was more than most of the women were wearing.  When did black and white (mostly black) become a uniform for women too?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More Thoughts On Egalitarianism

After yesterday's post, I think I need to explore and map out some more about how I think about egalitarianism, and the relationship between head-covering, tallit and tefillin, and communal aspects of egalitarian practice.  

I don't have a perfect legal relationship built up.  

Combining everything into one package is where I started- both because of my Reform background that presumed equality and sameness between men and women and because that was my feminist framework at the time.  I presumed that any adult Jew ought to do the same things- wear all the same ritual garments, etc.  I saw no reason not to.

Over time (mostly college), I saw that there were different sorts of considerations- concerns over beged ish (men's clothing- the prohibition against cross-dressing, very basically), and a general feeling that wearing a kippah was too masculine.  For some of my peers, the solution was to find a feminine adaptation- for kippot- anything from a lacy kippah to a scarf or hat.  For others, it was to just decide not to take on the practice.  It rankled me.  

Still, it eventually sunk in.  

Maybe it helped that I realized that the equality I was looking at and dreaming about wasn't complete- I wasn't even aware, then, about inequalities in Torah study, or the way that even I, the great egalitarian dreamer, wasn't so egalitarian about home ritual...  (I light shabbos candles in our home, my husband usually makes kiddush.  He doesn't want to light candles, when I offer- even though for me, it's one of the most potent religious experiences of my week.)  

Either I accepted that we can't make such changes for everyone over night, or I realized that one can want to take on some mitzvot without taking on others- I still don't know what I really think.  It seems to depend on what I'm thinking about.  

When I write without thinking, when I write with my emotions, I still go back to that notion that women ought to take on everything- because equality is the dream.  I realize now that we're not there- change doesn't happen overnight.  I don't wear a tallit katan, because it feels too masculine.  I keep meaning to try again (I did, for a few months, and felt uncomfortable with that), but so far, I haven't done it.  Still, I want to move in that direction- serious observance, egalitarian.  The question is- how patient do I need to be?  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When My Movement Doesn't Match My Values

I just came across an article which argues that Ramah camps (the Conservative Movement's summer camps) are not modeling egalitarian ritual behavior (meaning they require boys to wear kippah, and tallit and tefillin at the appropriate age- but don't even suggest it for girls, much less require it, even though egalitarianism is at least a stated ideal in most Conservative communities), and that this is contributing to a failure in the movement's move toward women's participation and leadership.

These are the sorts of things that get my blood boiling.  In pluralistic settings, I get that one can't require women to do these things (although I was a pretty big advocate for "if you want to daven from the amud/read Torah, you need to wear a tallit/kippah" in college, before giving it up as exclusionary).  I understand that plenty of people hold positions that say that one is ok or even desirable, but the other- usually the ritual gear, is beged ish (men's clothing), or something of the like.

But in a Conservative movement camp?  In a community where we want to accept non-egalitarianism, but where the majority is egalitarian?  Fine- don't make it required.  But make it highly suggested.  Maybe even make it the standard- for which one can get an exception.  (Either way, some children will be taunted and made to be unusual.  How ethical is it for me to change which ones it will be?)

These things are significant Jewish ritual items, and for me at least, once they became a regular part of my life, they help.  It isn't some mystical thing- but when I'm struggling to pray, if I can just get my tallit and tefillin on, the rest starts to flow better.  And, if you think doing more mitzvot is better (a generally positive position)- then why not encourage girls to at least try these mitzvot out while at summer camp?  Why not ask our counselors to be role models?

If my daughters (hypothetical, at least for now) aren't going to get egalitarian role modeling at a Conservative camp, why should I send them there, instead of to an Orthodox camp where they'll at least get role modeling of frumkeit and, quite possibly, more time learning?  (Of course, this is utterly un-researched.)  Seriously- the thing that ties me to the Conservative Movement most strongly is egalitarianism.  If that isn't presented as positive to our youth...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Easy and Pretty

Here's just a quick shot of today's headgear: a cotton scarf and decorative headband.  I enjoyed stuffing the ends of the scarf in underneath, making it look like there's a lot more volume in my hair than actually exists.

Also, an interesting link about identity and women's dress, in particular, women's clothing that is sometimes perceived as oppressive.  I only noticed now, as I am posting this, that it's from Al Jazeera- I'd never have known.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves...

(Actually I never read that book.  Should I?)

Rather like the heat of the middle of summer, travel puts certain extra demands on one's head-covering.  Not only are you spending lots of time in one place, but, if you're anything like me, you want to be able to sleep on the bus/plane/train/car without your scarf/etc coming off.

My other pet peeve about traveling is that I want to be able to lean back (see: wanting to sleep) without my bun or other lumps getting in the way.  This is rarely a concern during my every day life, but during a bus trip, it's essential.  If you have short hair, this probably isn't a worry- but my hair is waist length (and I can't bear to cut it)- so even though it's quite fine in texture, it makes a solid lump at the back of my head.

My solution: I braid my hair tightly (to prevent knots), then tie a triangular scarf.  I fold the braid into a vague bow shape- so that some is on the right, and some on the left, vaguely balanced.  Then I take the bottom corner of my scarf and, keeping the braid inside, tuck that corner under the knot of my scarf.  Basically, I make my own snood.  (If I had a real snood, I'm sure that would work- but somehow, I don't.  I have some berets, but a. they're wool and it is still summertime, and b. they seem a little too short and tight over the ears to do this successfully.)

I generally leave the scarf ends to dangle- I've tried making them into a small crown, but they tend to fall down at some point.  So, in the spirit of simplicity, I just left them down this time.

Here's me, home again:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Historical Head-Covering: Yemenite Wedding Headdresses

We're off to another wedding tonight, so in its honor, here's a post about Yemenite Jewish wedding head coverings.  These are much more exciting than (the future post of) what I wore to a wedding...  Enjoy!

When I started to research Yemenite Jewish head coverings, I fell into the trap of presuming that there was one standard Yemenite Jewish style of dress.  Instead, I found that the images in my mind, particularly of Yemenite bridal headdresses are actually the way that brides in Sana'a were dressed, and that different regions had different customs.  The ethnic diversity of Jewish customs in fact was even more diverse than I had set out to demonstrate.  So take all of this as a general statement, rather than a description of all the details of how Jewish women all over Yemen used to dress for their weddings.

There was even one set of photographs that came up again and again, showing tishbuk lulu, the Sana'a wedding headdress, on a variety of websites- apparently the standard photo of a Jewish Yemenite bride.  These headdresses are frequently also bedecked with flowers and rue leaves.

 In contrast to these couple of extraordinarily elaborate photos, some more searching revealed others with very different styling.  Instead of a high, pointed headdress, some of the other regions seem to show brides with hood-like headdresses, or with decorations that come down onto the forehead.

Thanks for this set of photos goes to  The same page also has a historical picture of Sana'a's wedding headdress.

I also found the interesting note that new mothers also wore (at least in some part(s) of Yemen) a headdress similar to that of a bride.

This has all been internet research- I hope to have a chance to do more formal research and to share it with you, at some point in the future.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ethnic Dress

I came across this link courtesy of, a fashion and body image blog that I'm fond of.  It talks about the way that women are regarded in professional settings.  It asks whether the way that women are advised to dress in order to get respect actually forces us to play down our own guiding principles- and how to bring ethnic clothing into a professional context.

It seems a little bit off-topic for this blog, but given my recent post about wearing a tichel at work, it seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

What do you think of it?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Taking Pictures- A Picture-less Post

I'm wondering how you deal with photographs.  I mean, by that, photos with your head uncovered.  Photographs from before I was married don't feel like a problem.  It was, in context, nothing that people couldn't see by seeing me in person at that point.  But what about now?  A picture is not real life.  And yet, I'm hesitant.

This last Friday night, we ate at home, and didn't go to shul first.  So I didn't get dressed for the outside world- neither in how I covered my body nor how I covered my head.  I could have thrown a shawl around my shoulders and still taken a photograph for this blog- but I didn't.  It didn't feel appropriate.

On the surface, that's completely logical- I wouldn't show photos of myself that show other parts of my body that I usually cover- no matter how acceptable that is in contemporary American society.  (Notice that I never questioned that I'd have thrown something around my shoulder...)  Why is hair different?

My husband tries to remind me that I don't cover my hair because I think that it's erva- I do it because that's how Jewish women indicate that they're married, and out of yirat shamayim.  Nevertheless, it doesn't feel right to show a picture like that.  Sometimes, I just listen to my instincts.

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Very Little Research Lends Me Perspective

I've been researching head coverings from different Jewish communities around the world.  It's amazing how much context it is lending to the way I'm seeing contemporary Jewish head coverings, right now.

Looking at historical head coverings, they vary regionally.  Now, they vary fairly little by region, and more by "how frum you are".  The communities aren't local, they're almost hierarchical.  Modern Orthodox women wear this, Hareidi women wear that, etc.

The same goes for men.  You may have heard the joke describing how to identify a man's Jewish affiliation by where he wears his kippah (the image slides up the head- Reform at the very back of the head, near the top of the neck; Conservative a little higher, but still slanted toward the back; Modern Orthodox flat on top; Yeshivish tipped forwards toward the forehead).  Similarly, there are identifiers like this chart (you'll need to scroll down a bit) from Wikipedia, where different materials are used to identify "how frum" a man is.  (I joke that I could wear any of them and send the same message- you put a kippah on a woman, and all its other contextual messages go flying out the window...)

In some ways, I am making use of this set of stereotypes.  By covering my head like someone from a "frummer" community than my own, I reach into that sort of authority that stems from a communal respect for "authenticity".  On the other hand, it makes me seem somewhat separate from "my own" community in some ways, and leads to concerns like the ones I've shared about how  I'll be seen in professional contexts.

Something about the modern, global world makes community into a statement of belief and lifestyle, rather than an affiliation with the people who live near you.  My local Jewish community consists of a folks with all sorts of different practices and observances.  There's no way to tell where I'm from based on how I dress.  But you can tell something about what religious perspectives I stand for, just by looking at me.

It's a force for homogenization in how we dress- and a shift in what parts of our identities we express visually.   I wonder what it would be like to wear what American Jewish women wear on their heads, rather than what a certain sort of observant Jewish women wear on their heads.  Would it feel different?  Would I notice?  Would I feel more or less constrainted in my choices and creativity than I do now?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Being Professional, Interfaith, and Accessible

Do you think this could look like a chaplain you'd want to talk to, if you or a relative or friend was in the hospital?  

One of the things I've been thinking about and worrying about lately has been my head covering and my soon-to-be job.  I don't know the ethnic break-down at the hospital where I'll be doing my residency as a chaplain, or how they will respond to a woman in a tichel, or to a female rabbi, or to a female rabbi in a tichel.  It all depends on perspective- what is a strange/exotic ethnic practice to one is immodest and insufficiently covering to another.

When I last did CPE (clinical pastoral education), I was wearing kippot, mostly, especially while at work (I did headbands/scarves on my off-time).  They served as my "look, I'm a religious professional" marker.  It was mostly for myself, since many of my patients didn't really know much about Jews- I was mistaken for a Mennonite a few times.

So this will be an experimental process.  I really don't know whether this will be a factor I need to deal with in being an accessible presence for patients and staff or not.

I do know that my "Orthodox" appearance prompted a concerned question or two from my soon-to-be supervisor, during my interview.  I don't know what that says about the culture of the place where I'll be working and learning.

I am afraid that I will need to adapt my practice in ways that make me uncomfortable, in order to be professional.  I don't think I should need to, but there's that little niggling fear that says "maybe it's too foreign looking for non-Jews to feel comfortable with".  It's just one piece of "new job" anxiety- but I needed to acknowledge it separately, so here we are.