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.

Friday, August 17, 2012

One Long Week

This has been a very busy week here, chez howtocover.  We came back from that wedding on Sunday by bus, which got us home around 3:30am.  While we went back to sleep after, it made for a tired sort of beginning of the week.  It was followed by: 2 nights this week that included night seder at the yeshiva until 9pm, cleaning out our last things (and some dirt/mess) from our old apartment so that we're finally done moving, and hosting a sheva brachot meal last night for our friends who got married at that wedding that started the week off.  It also involved 2 sets of pre-employment errands: a drug screen and a pre-employment physical.

This means that a. my blog posts have been a little scanty, and that b. today, my head covering is about as simple as it gets.  Here's proof that I don't always do something creative on my head.
There are times where I like the idea that a head covering can be a crown (as proven by how I do my head up for weddings and such events), and then there are times when what I want is "just a covering".  Today, which involved a physical, including a blood draw to check my immunizations (this usually makes me pretty anxious- but the NP who did my physical was amazing, and I even went into it maintaining my calm much better than I have in the past- maybe I'm growing up), was a "just a covering" day- just something easy that made me feel comfortable and like myself.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wedding Wear

Finally, what I wore for the wedding we went to on Sunday.  The "pin a necklace on your head" trick for dressing things up worked beautifully.  (The necklace was a gift from my mother- possibly a tag sale find.)  This time, I bobby-pinned it both behind the ears (at the ends of the necklace) and in front of the ears, which provided really solid security.  The "crown" part of my scarf came off a few times during the dancing- but the necklace stayed in place.  (At the previous wedding this summer, I didn't put in the extra pins, partially because that necklace wasn't ammenable to such pinning, and it came off a few times.)
We're going to another wedding next Thursday night- we'll see what I can come up with for that one.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Good Read

A friend shared this blog post with me, and I think it's too good not to share with you, right now.  Read it- it's interesting and an easy read.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In Lieu of Wedding Photos

I haven't uploaded the photos of my head covering from yesterday's wedding yet (much less tried to find photos and get permission to show you some of the other exciting head coverings from that wedding), so here's today's tichel, and a promise that this one was praised in person, and, I think, worth a short wait.
I find it interesting to interact with other people around my head coverings.  Is a "thank you" all I should say in response to praise, or is it worth mentioning this blog, or adding a comment about how much fun I find it, or something about its significance?  I tend to gush, then to feel awkward about it after the encounter.  As usual, no one answer is the "right" answer- but I look forward to developing a better sense for feeling out good ways of responding in each new situation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

What is a Shterntikhl? Historical Head Coverings, Part 1

We're off to a wedding this afternoon.  In honor of it, I thought I'd share this piece about fancy head coverings from the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.

The fanciest headdress of Polish Jewish women was the shterntikhl and its variation inLithuania known as the binda. Worn only on special occasions, this was an expensive article, decorated with precious stones that emphasized the owner’s status. It was first used during the late eighteenth century and became popular in the nineteenth; some families possessed one (though it was no longer worn) until the interwar period. Yisroel Aksenfeld’s short novel Dos shterntikhl (1862) notes that “on Simḥat Torah, when wealthy women go to kiss the Torah, they wear shterntikhlekh.” The shterntikhl was composed of two bands with precious stones and pearls sewn onto them, encircling the head. Both bands were stiff and sewn above the forehead. The upper part was usually simple and formed a diadem, while the lower part, with a zigzag edge, encircled the face closely and reached beyond the ears. Long earrings accompanied this type of headdress. A more modest version was worn as late as the early twentieth century—a stiff diadem placed over the forehead. This was a band of material lavishly decorated with embroidery and pearls, which used ribbons to tie it in the back. 
From (If you check out the link, there's a great picture of a shterntikhl- it's the first picture in the entry.)

The  article describes a variety of different sorts of head coverings from different eras, and for different occasions.  I look forward to sharing some more snippets from this article, as well as finding some more information to share about the way that some of our ancestors dressed.  This one certainly seems festive, and involves less fuss (but also less creativity) than what I will put together for a head covering, when going to a wedding...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ornamentation or Overkill?

What do you think of the flower?  A nice ornament, or overkill/too busy?  I wasn't feeling very decisive.  The skirt I'm wearing is dark red with orange designs.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Hot and Cold

Here's a quick pic (taken at my husband's school, where we're doing a summer program- I'm starting this post before the day starts), of what I did for a hot day that I'm going to be spending in a highly air conditioned yeshiva.  The idea is that the base is a very light-weight (Israeli in origin) tichel, with another one around it as a decoration that can be either removed (as I had to to daven this morning- it and my tfillin clashed pretty impressively), or pulled over my ears, when/if I get cold.  
 Not the most amazing photos, but they work, right?  I had to slouch down to avoid having the photo dominated by the ceiling lights.  On the other hand, you can see a little more of the outfit I'm matching to.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sowing Seeds

One of the women in the summer learning program I'm doing right now was in another such program (at a different institution) with me a number of years ago- the summer after year 1 of rabbinical school.  We hadn't been chevrusas normally, but learned together for a few days, when each of our usual chevrutas had been away.

At the time, I'd been wearing a lot of folded scarves as headbands, as my covering of choice.  I remember (now that she reminded me) talking about it together.

It turns out that she found the idea inspiring, and gave it a try- and has now been wearing a headband most of the time for some significant length of time.

I find the notion pretty exciting and inspiring myself- I love this practice, but never thought that simply talking about and explaining it might actually inspire anyone else to give it a try, much less for it to "stick" for them.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Surprise Mishnah

Unexpectedly, I came across a Mishnah with some relevance to our topic at hand yesterday.  Here it is (Baba Kama, chapter 8, mishnah 6):

התוקע לחברו, נותן לו סלע; רבי יהודה אומר משום רבי יוסי הגלילי, מנה.  סטרו, נותן לו מאתיים זוז.  לאחר ידו, נותן לו ארבע מאות זוז.  צרם באוזנו, תלש בשערו, רקק והגיע בו הרוק, העביר טליתו ממנו, ופרע ראשה של אישה--נותן ארבע מאות זוז.  הכול לפי כבודו.  אמר רבי עקיבה, אפילו עניים שבישראל--רואין אותן כאילו הן בני חורין שירדו מנכסיהן, שהן בני אברהם יצחק ויעקוב.  מעשה באחד שפרע ראשה של אישה, ובאת לפני רבי עקיבה, וחייבו ליתן לה ארבע מאות זוז.  אמר לו, רבי, תן לי זמן, ונתן לו.  שימרה עומדת על פתח חצרה, ושיבר את הפך לפניה, ובו איסר שמן; וגלתה את ראשה, והייתה מטפחת ומנחת על ראשה.  והעמיד לה עדים, ובא לפני רבי עקיבה; אמר לו, רבי, לזו אני נותן ארבע מאות זוז.  אמר לו, לא אמרת כלום:  שהחובל בעצמו--אף על פי שאינו רשאי, פטור; ואחרים שחבלו בו, חייבין.  הקוצץ את נטיעותיו--אף על פי שאינו רשאי, פטור; ואחרים שקצצו את נטיעותיו, חייבין.

It's not the most clear of mishnayot, and it's late at night, so for now, I'll stick to translating the relevant pieces...  The context is laws pertaining to personal injury.  Until this point, we have considered payments/fines for hitting another person in various ways, and considered ways in which aspects of a person's status may or may not affect those payments.  

"If he punched his nose, pulled his hair, spit and the spit hit him, pulled his garment off of him, or bared a woman's head in the marketplace- he must give 400 zuz.  Everything is according to a person's honor.  Rabbi Akiva said: even the poorest person in Israel, we should see him as if he were a free person who had lost his possessions.  A story about someone who bared a woman's head in the marketplace, and came before Rabbi Akiva, and he [Rabbi Akiva] obligated him to give her the 400 zuz.  He said to him, "Rabbi, give me time", and he agreed.  He found her standing at the entry to her courtyard, and broke a container before her, and there was an isar [a small amount] of oil in it.  She revealed her head, and soaked up the oil, and put it on her head.  He establishes witnesses, and came before Rabbi Akiva, and said to him, "Rabbi- for this one should I give 400 zuz?"  He said, "You haven't said anything, because one who injures themself, even though it is not permitted, it is not punished, but others who injure them, are liable."  

This mishnah gives us a good sociological picture of how head-covering was viewed in mishnaic era society.  Removing a head covering is like removing a piece of clothing- offensive if someone else does it, and for yourself- prohibited but still sometimes done.  It presents the practice as completely normative, and even as something legally protected.  It does not, on the other hand, have any input on who this woman is or her status, the degree of covering we're talking about, or any of our other on-going questions.  

It also presents head-covering in a different halakhic framework (nezikin- damages/civil law) from what we have seen so far.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Busy Day "Do"

Here are some quick shots of today's head covering.  Besides being a quick and easy option, with a little bit of excitement, it was also what I wore as a Conservative rabbi at the "Modern Orthodox Siyum HaShas" (not that I've done daf yomi).  
 I was thinking, this morning- maybe we should do a photo series, of women with various head coverings with tallit/tfillin?  I know this blog isn't only supposed to be about that, but since I've written about it once, it seems like a valuable thing to show the world.  Any opinions?  Volunteers?
Also, I wonder- I also intended to use this blog to show kippot that I've made, and the like, and yet I don't seem to do so.  Perhaps I should start putting them here as well as on ravelry.  I don't know.  It might be a nice change from just pictures of me in scarves all the time.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Jews and Hats, In the News

For once, something about Jewish men and their hats.  In this case, mostly Satmar men, and their hats- made in Spain.
Worth a read

Quick Head-Shot

Just a quick variation, from last week.  This is a small scarf, folded back over a larger one, with the ends of the larger scarf brought up, crown-style just over the end of the fold-over.
Today I'm wearing something startlingly similar, but I haven't photographed it yet.  Still, this whole "folding over the front" thing is definitely my latest kick for two-tone coverings, especially since it has gotten really hot again, and this approach provides some extra color without a lot of extra coverage to prevent good air-flow.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Interfaith Head-Covering: Links

We don't practice Judaism in a vacuum.  I thought it would be interesting to share some theology and personal experiences from folks of other religions about their own religions' use of head-covering.  I am indebted to the lovely folks at the ravelry forum "Veiled Knitters" for helping me find many of these links.  This is far from an exhaustive listing- just some things that I've found, and found interesting, in the last weeks.

A Feminist Reaction to Hijab

As a woman who has worn an religious marker on my head, I can really identify with some of the thinking in this post, about the intensification of judgement when you're identifiable.

One of the things that I find interesting about Christian head covering is how often it seems to be directly linked to formal worship, rather than general modesty.  This is one Catholic explanation of the use of the chapel veil.

Here's one woman's look at what the Christian Bible has to say to her about head covering.

And here's another Protestant approach.

And, in the framework of daily covering: two pieces about the combined choice of head-covering and plain dress.

Here's a blog (this is one post, but a lot of the blog is about head-covering) from an Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective.  I don't know how typical it is- the Eastern Orthodox women I've known in person have not covered their head outside of prayer.

This other Orthodox Christian perspective suggests that wearing a headcovering is a way of making yourself into an icon.  I'm going to need to read it again before I really start to feel what this idea is about.

And now for something I hadn't known about before, Pagan head-covering: (If you're uncomfortable reading about such things, here's where you should skip, although the final blog does not actively discuss Avodah Zarah.)

And yet another, with a variety of approaches to the practice, and links to other blog posts about it.

The Pagan blogs that I've looked at have had a strong focus on personal choice and individual calling to cover.  However, that doesn't exempt them from the discomforts that head-covering can bring- including discrimination.  Here is a response to that issue.  I think it is fascinating to see how a community that revolves around a voluntary practice can call for things that a community that sees the same practice is mandatory might not do...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Ba'kh, Part 2

This is a reflection on this text.

The Ba"kh (ב"ח), standing for the Bayit Hadash (בית חדש), was written by Rabbi Joel Sirkes, who lived in Poland, from 1561-1640.  This work is a commentary on the Arba'ah Turim.  His other work includes commentary on the Talmud, two works of responsa, and a commentary on the book of Ruth.

One of the things that I noticed playing a very strong role in his comments, as well as in the comments of the Mordechai, whom he quotes, is the force of communal practice.  The thing that establishes what is permissible to wear is what is the norm.  The norm in his community, like that of the Mordechai, is that "בתולה הרגילה בגילוי שער ", a "virgin... is accustomed to revealing her hair", and therefore "לא חיישינן, דליכא הרהור", "we are not concerned, because there is no [concern over] improper fantasy".  

When taken in a modern light, I'd end up taking this approach to mean that since women don't generally cover their heads in our (American) society, they don't need to- even married women.  I've seen modern writers and rabbis take this approach.  It has a certain loyalty to one meaning of modesty, from the perspective of not standing out, not drawing attention. At the same time, I don't know which communal norms I should be judging by, in the modern world.  The local general community?  The local Jewish community?  The Jewish community/movement with which I prefer to affiliate?  Depending on the answer, I'd come out with very different practices.  That sort of difference didn't exist in Rabbi Sirkes' time.

On the other hand, he also handles a variety of texts from the Talmud that deal with issues of women's modesty, and hair-covering in particular.  These establish a textual requirement, beyond the impact of social norms.  

One thing that I like about this text is that it explains a clear tension on the issue of unmarried women's headcovering, and addresses it from both textual and social angles.  It shows how complicated the issue can be.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Girls and Kippot In The News

I know, I'm interupting my flow of Ba'kh, but I promise we'll get back to him.  In the meantime, I want to share these things.

I just came across this op-ed piece, from e-jewish philanthrophy, by Rabbi Elyssa Joy Auster, criticizing the Conservative Movement for not engaging with girls and young women at summer camp about wearing kippot.  The girls, when asked why they don't wear kippot, said "“It’s a boy thing,” or “The tradition is for boys to wear them,”".  

I also came across this response, from a young woman whom I met at one of those summer camps, Eliana Light, who has managed to integrate her egalitarianism into her practice in a thoughtful and committed way.  She writes that "a woman comes to more [traditionally male-dominated] ritual in one of two ways; she either gradually becomes more learned and aware and, either because of politics or person feelings or both, wants to take them on, or she’s just done them forever and never thought about it."  She also points out the importance of having role models.  

My own experience highlights the importance of all these factors- I grew up in a community where more women than men wore tallitot, and while more men than women wore kippot, women often did wear kippot.  Then I became more observant, and began an in depth exploration of the issues, I discovered much of what I am gradually sharing with you on this blog- that head covering in some fashion has long been part of Jewish women's observance, and that there is a pretty good set of textual reasons for doing so even before I married.  My role models included several women a few years older than me at my college minyan, as well as a rabbi or two.  (Also, a woman who turned out to be a friend's mother, later on, who I saw across a room with a tichel and a tallis, one shabbat.)  

But what really drew me in about Eliana's blog post was her attitude- that her egalitarian practice was both ideological and matter-of-fact.  She had done appropriate learning about her ritual choices, even to the point of choosing against wearing tallit katan because she had been doing it "for the wrong reasons" (a decision I feel quite ambivalent about, but that's off the topic- my interest in it here just shows that she has put significant consideration into her actions).  At the same time, they are also "just what one does" as an adult Jew- not something that has to be constantly justified or worked-over again and again.  It is a balance that I think is the real goal- to approach each mitzvah with serious consideration, but not to be trapped in that contemplation all the time, to the detriment of actual practice.  I seriously recommend her piece for that reason, if for no other.