Thursday, May 31, 2012

Some Reflections on BaMidbar 5:18

I know that I wrote about this verse yesterday, and my internal rotation is telling me that I should be showing you a style post now.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow, I think.  Instead, I'm about to share another thought about what I wrote about yesterday.

We make a lot of deductions from that verse.  1. Since the sotah's hair is uncovered/unbraided, it must not have been visible/loose before.  2. Since her hair was covered in this context, it was always covered.  3.  Since her hair was covered, it was covered for modesty, and uncovering it was immodest.  4. That covering has to do with her marital status, and not with adulthood (not necessarily so unconnected a status, in those days).  5.  When we discuss a covering, we presume that it covers all a woman's hair, and not just her head, which is what is stated in the verse.  And the list could go on.

Now, some of this gets cleared up, or problematized in later sources.  We don't, after all, derive law straight from the Torah.  But still, as far as a verse to hang later practice onto, this is pretty tenuous.  Interesting and fun to play with- but tenuous in terms of proving much of anything as established biblical law...

I rather enjoy this tenuous connection.  It gives deep significance to the practice of head-covering, but doesn't bind very closely, in terms of precision and limits.

On the other hand, it ties head-covering to a whole host of complex issues: body modesty, the Temple and its rituals (the context is the Sotah ritual, the ritual for determining if a woman has committed adultery or not), and relationships and marriage, besides the obvious gender issues.  It gives me space to go in all sorts of directions with this practice, both positive and negative.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Our First Textual Evidence: BaMidbar 5:18

The first text in the canon that we use to understand that married women cover their hair is BaMidbar 5:18.  
וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וּפָרַע אֶת-רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה, וְנָתַן עַל-כַּפֶּיהָ אֵת מִנְחַת הַזִּכָּרוֹן מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הִוא; וּבְיַד 
.הַכֹּהֵן יִהְיוּ, מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרְרִים

And the priest will stand the woman before God, and he will [wait on this one] the head of the woman, and put on her hands the memorial meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest will be the bitter waters that induce the spell.  (Based on NJPS translation)

The key term is  וּפָרַע, which can mean either to uncover or to unbraid.  (The Targumim, the Aramaic translations of the Tanakh, are similarly ambiguous.  Perhaps at some point I will bring those texts as well- right now I'm just remembering the conclusions that I came to in a paper I worked on in college, focused on precisely this passage, and its Aramaic translations.)

Since we describe the woman's head being uncovered/unbraided, Jewish tradition presumes that her hair was covered before this point, logically enough, and deduces that covering is the appropriate manner of dress for women- particularly for married women, since that is who is mentioned in the verse.  

The Torah says nothing else (that I know about) about head-covering for women, and is pretty silent on the topic of men's head-covering.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Personal Introduction: The Story Behind the Blog

I've been interested in head-covering nearly since I first became observant, in college.  I started consistently covering my head to pray, study and make brachot in my Junior year of college, and being a pretty absent-minded person, I started leaving my covering on all day after a few months.  For a number of years, I covered using either a kippah or a folded scarf, tied "headband style".

While doing so, I entertained a significant amount of questioning and teasing.   New friends would tease about my marital status,  when I wore a scarf, no matter how folded.  When I wore a kippah, I sometimes felt like a walking educational experience.  From other passengers on airplanes to the security guard in the lingerie section of the department store, people came up to me, saying "I didn't know women wore those", or "are you going to be a rabbi?".

The thing is, while I did end up as a rabbi, I also have a pretty strong attraction to more traditional approaches to Jewish head-covering.  Since I got married last summer, I have been exploring approaches to covering my head that cover my hair, as well as my head.  I haven'tt decided what I think my minimum covering is, now that I'm married.  I enjoy wearing tichels, and experimenting with styling them.  In fact, I like it better than I ever liked doing my hair.  I have always loved textiles, and this is pretty much my perfect chance to explore and play with them.

My vision for this blog takes a variety of approaches to head-covering, to look at this practice from many different angles (I believe in holistic thinking).  My goals are:
-To look closely at the halakhic texts that discuss head-covering and its various functions.  I want to come up with a vision of how head-covering can function within an egalitarian world-view (as mine is), without abandoning its basis in halakha and tradition.
-To share some of my more successful experiments in head-covering style, through pictures and tutorials.
-To talk about my own experiences, social and spiritual, with head-covering, and to bring together others' stories and experiences.
-To be open to both more and less traditional approaches to head-covering.
-To include a variety of resources for head-covering.