Monday, February 11, 2013

Our First Tefillin and Head-Covering Interview

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.


  1. So grateful for this post! It really nicely summarizes a lot of the way I feel about head covering, and particularly head covering while wearing tefillin. I often think about the fact that men don't really have to think twice about how their clothing or head covering will mesh with their tefillin, and how that is a constant concern for me.

    I never thought to simply keep my hair bound, but it certainly makes sense vis a vis the mekorot! What's your opinion on long hair with bangs (ie- "binding" the hair but having the bangs loose?)

    1. I'm glad that this interview reached you. If you'd be interested in answering the same or similar questions, perhaps with a photo, let me know by email. ( I'm hoping to create some community and publicity for women who both cover and lay tefillin.

      I remember meeting a friend's mother who braids or binds her hair rather than covering, and then learning the mekorot for the first time, and finding the reason, and finding it quite compelling. I don't do it often, but there it is. I think the bangs probably fall into that question of how much loose hair is it ok to show- the usual measure I hear is a tefach, a handsbreadth, or sometimes (I think it's Rabbi Soleveitchik's shita) a half a tefach in order to compensate for the width of the head. How long are your bangs?

    2. Hi! I'm glad you found what I had to say interesting. Many thanks to Maya for putting this together and reminding me to answer.

      I never had bangs when I had long hair, so I didn't think about that. I think it would be too much loose hair for me.

    3. Also, I just read this post that Maya linked to a while back, and it pretty well describes how I came to start wearing tallit and tefillin as well.

  2. There is no opinion that a married woman is allowed to reveal a tefach of her hair, however, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that if a woman does such a thing (even though it is forbidden), it is not considered as if she has revealed her nakedness in regard to the prohibition of reciting the Shema in front of an exposed person (Iggros Moshe, Even HaEzer, Siman 58). This ruling is often misquoted as allowing a married woman to reveal less than a Tefach of her hair, however this is not so, he is merely saying that such an amount does not constitute nakedness in regard to Shema.

    1. Thank you for your citation- I look forward to looking at it, along with the opinions of other poskim, some of whom, I know, hold divergent opinions.

  3. wow, this is so enlightening. I was raised evangelical, so I don't know about any of this. Do you have any posts on what you believe about afterlfe/hell?

    1. Lana- thank you for the compliment. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife are complex and not really the topic of this blog. I'd try to get a basic sense (although I haven't gone to look at their materials, myself). I hope that this blog continues to be educational for you- if there are terms or ideas that are foreign, feel free to ask.

  4. I read your post. It's such an interesting post on bat mitzvah tallit. Israel is right place to buy jewish products. From here you can get all variety of designs, and colors in different sizes at affordable prices.

  5. Pretty shameful "rabbi" that you're laying tefillin and playing man! What part of time bound mitzvah don't you get?! This is chillul HaShem! Shame on you!