I'm delighted to introduce to you this blog's first interviewee, who is also a friend who was something of a mentor to me in my religious practice in college.
Who are you? What do you do with your days?
I'm Tovah. I'm a wife, a mother, and a student. I have been married for 5 and a half years. My baby is almost 8 months old. I am working towards my doctorate in biology, and have been doing that longer than I've been a wife and mother combined.
What brought you to start covering your head?
I have been covering my hair since I got married and covering my head in some way since my Bat Mitzvah. At first, I wore a kippah when I wore my tallit and/or tefillin. In college, I began wearing the kippah any time I was praying and later when I was eating, as well. After college, I went to Israel for the year to study in Yeshivah. I began to feel uncomfortable taking the kippah off at the end of the day, since Judaism did not stop when I stepped out the door, so I decided to start covering my head all the time.
How do you cover your head, and for what reason or reasons?
When I first started covering my head, I wore a kippah, but I got negative attention when I was out and about in Jerusalem, so I decided to wear something less conspicuous. I began wearing hats and scarves, but did so mostly with my hair loose, which was not how I was going to cover when married. When I learned about the origins of hair covering for married women, it seemed to me that loose hair was the real issue, so when I got married, I kept my hair braided or in a bun if it was showing. Since cutting my hair, I leave it loose, but am more strict about keeping it covered. When it was long, I would occasionally take off my hat/scarf briefly to adjust it or if I was hot, so long as my hair was still "bound." With my hair short, my hat/scarf stays on in public, and if I need to adjust, I find some privacy.
I cover my head to remind myself that Hashem is "above" me - similar to the reason for men to wear kippah. I cover my hair because it is clear to me that the Torah expects a married woman to have some sort of covering or binding of her hair. To me it symbolizes the extra modesty required of a married woman and is an indicator of status, much like a wedding ring in American society.
Do you think that covering is required? If so, how much?
I think covering is required, but I think how and how much are subject to much interpretation.
When did you start putting on tefillin? What brought you to do so?
I have been putting on tefillin since my bat mitzvah. I grew up in an egalitarian Conservative shul where many women wore tallit and a few put on tefillin. I was given the choice, and chose to do so because it seemed to me to be better to do more mitzvot. At that time, I went to shul only a few times a week and only put on tefillin when I went to shul. I did not start putting on tefillin every day until the year I spent in Israel.
How do you find the combination of head covering and tefillin? Do they feel complimentary, for you? Oppositional? Unrelated?
When my hair was long and my main way to "cover" it was to keep it braided or in a bun, putting on tefillin was easy. My hair would be up and I wore a kippah. Once I cut my hair and decided that a kippah was not enough covering by itself in public, tefillin in shul got a little more complicated. Now I wear a kippah under a loose-fitting hat. I lift the hat up quickly to put the tefillin under it, keeping it over my hair the whole time. Doing it this way feels a little uncomplimentary, but I'm usually more concerned about my hair being in my eyes or the straps of the tefillin shel rosh getting twisted. At home, I still just wear a kippah with my tefillin since hair covering is a public issue while head covering is for all the time.
How did you come to your current combination? Do any moments stand out that you’d share with us?
When I first cut my hair, I tried wearing tefillin with a scarf draped over my head, but it was hard to keep that on. I also experimented with threading the straps under a headband, but that didn't work at all.
I have had some difficult moments when away from home that I've forgotten to bring an appropriate hat to wear with the tefillin. I had to cover with whatever I had in ways that weren't completely comfortable.
Do you have any tips or tricks to make the combination easier that you could share with us?
If you're going to go with a hat, try a bunch in private to find one that is comfortable over the tefillin.