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?

1 comment:

  1. It's more what's in your head than what's on your head, I would think, that distinguishes you from so many others. Your creativity belongs to you, alone, and no matter how you cover your head, you should be able to wear that item and forget it once you are outside, and, hopefully, not be constrained in any choices.