Sunday, April 21, 2013

Head Covering as a Spiritual Practice: My Story

When I started wearing a kippah, it was a spiritual practice.  It made me more aware of my tefillah, it made me more aware of God's presence.  First, I wore a covering only when making brachot, studying, or eating.  The extra action made me more aware of each moment, of each blessing, of the presence of God.

Then I started covering all the time, and it brought a little bit of that awareness to getting dressed in the morning.  Whether I was wearing a kippah or a headband or a scarf, I was aware of having something on my head, and that would help me to remember why I did it.  It brought me more awareness of God, for a while.

It also brought me a lot of obnoxious questions and comments.  I've blogged about that in the past.  "You know that's not for keeping the rain off" about a kippah, and "when did you get married?" when I had a beret on outside, etc.  But the spiritual benefits outweighed the social annoyance, and the obligation to do education at any and all times, including while shopping for new bras.

However, over time, my awareness dimmed.  A kippah, or a scarf, or whatever I wore, just became something that I put on in the morning, just like a shirt, or socks.

And then I got married.  And I had a different awareness of what was on my head.  For a little while I was deeply aware of the double meaning of my new way of covering my head.  It was a thrill, because it reminded me that I was married (and of how wonderful my husband is, etc- I'm pretty sure that I was a quite typical newlywed).  It was also a reminder of the spiritual significance of covering my head, which I'd become sort of numb to.

Now, when I'm aware of anything, it's usually a social marker, what sort of Jew I look like.  And that's not nothing.  It is a part of my spiritual identity.  (Spirituality being generally defined as my connection to something greater than myself, to my community, to meaning, and to myself) But it doesn't help me remember God when I'm seeing a beautiful day outside, or when I'm spending time with the family of a dying patient in the hospital, or when I'm studying Talmud with my husband.  And that's an aspect of spirituality that I want to get from my head-covering practice.

So sometimes I think about that- and more often, I don't.  And I don't like that numbness.  That's Not The Point of this practice, or at least, not the only point.  I like that I look frum, I'm not going to lie about it.  But that's not the aspect of this that is foundational for me.

So I'm thinking about how to help myself remember.

Is covering spiritual for you?  In what way?  What keeps it fresh and meaningful?


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  2. Wow. Well put, well said. Thank you for giving this issue voice! I am 100% on the same page as you here. Before I got married, I too donned a kippa for a while, then left that practice behind when I joined a more traditional community. When I started covering my hair after I got married, I was so conscious of it. I wrapped intricate and beautiful scarves around my head and made a point of making it a mindful practice. Now, I wear easy, beret-style hats almost exclusively. (As a full-time teacher and a mom, ease is a necessity and I just don't have the time or patience for the lovely head scarves I used as a new-bride-full-time-student living in Jerusalem.) Now covering is a very quick, not so mindful, automatic step in my morning process of readying myself.

    The way I see it, usually, my head-covering is now a social marker and, yes, usually I like that I look frum. I feel that covering my head is more something I do for my community than for my marriage/husband. It's an easy way for people to see me and say to themselves-- "I can eat at her house. I can stay by her on Shabbos. I can ask her questions about mikvah."

    I have also found that head-covering is becoming more and more about humility and tzniut. Now that I am no longer pregnant/nursing and the crazy hormones are no longer messing with my system in weird ways, well, to be honest, my hair looks really nice again! When I wake up and see how nice my hair looks, it is sometimes really difficult to cover it up. I like looking beautiful and feminine! Sometimes when I visit my parents or my in-laws who all live in not-so-Jewish, certainly-not-frum communities, I admit that I sometimes take a "hair-cation." But while in NY, 98% of the time, I am doing something to cover my hair/head (in public, not at home), whether it is my usual hats, a headband, etc. It helps me to remember that looks aren't everything and to always try to cultivate the much more important and interesting parts of who I am. Sigh... almost 4 years later and it's still so difficult sometimes.

    But I, too, would like to find some way to reclaim the personal, spiritual nature of my head covering. Let me know if you think of something brilliant and insightful!

  3. So glad to have found your blog, as I often think I am the only egalitarian Jew who is interested in headcovers.

    I've worn a kippah, of various styles, for over 20 years. I lead in shul and don't feel right daavening without something on my head.

    It all started when I had a cancer scare (not cancer, b"h) and I though to myself, "well, if I'm going to lose my hair, then I'm finally going to start wearing the many scarves I have."

    Since then, I've started to wear a scarf to shul and instead of a kippah and ... I don't know. It's working. It feels like a crown. It helps me remember that it's Shabbat. I feel connected to tradition.

    Since I am a ba'alat tefilah and always wear a kippah and tallit in shul, my change in headcovering has definitely been noticed. For me, the most accurate explanation I can give is: "I've decided that I am finally old enough to wear a scarf."

    That may sound strange, since of course, young women wear scarves and look beautiful in them. But when I was in my 20s and first becoming more observant, I felt that a scarf made me look silly. I always liked headscarves, but the style seemed too old-fashioned for a 20-something feminist.

    With my 40-year old face, a tichel finally looks "right". Very few women in my community wear scarves to shul (and none wear a headcovering on the street), but the comments I have gotten from both younger and older women have been nothing but positive. "You look regal", "You look like Miriam."

    My headscarves are only for Shabbat for now. Trying to wear them all the time would make me feel tremendously self-conscious and project a level of religious observance that I do not practice.

    I recently read Michael Broyde's (may he come to teshuvah) 80+ page article on headcovering and the line that stood out for me was "it is not the practice of the daughters of Israel to walk around with uncovered heads".

    I personally cannot get behind the underlying ideology of tsniyut as it is understood by most. I think that system quickly devolves into the behavior that we are seeing in Beit Shemesh, with men punishing women and girls for infractions of their personal standards.

    Certainly, a practice that claims to uplift women and preserve their dignity should produce men who respect women and treat them in a dignified way regardless of what those women are wearing.

    So -- I can't personally buy into an understanding of modesty that makes women responsible for men's reactions to women. But ... I am moved by idea of "dat yehudit" -- the laws and customs of the daughters of Israel. We, as Jewish women, have taken on certain practices and customs over time, because we found them meaningful, because we wished to distinguish ourselves, or because we wished to express our devotion to G-d.

    Since the doors to traditional Jewish observance -- study and (Hebrew) prayer -- were closed to us, these practices were our Judaism for centuries.

    Now that the doors to men's practices are open to us (in egalitarian communities), the question is what to do with women's practices. I do not know the answer to that question but abandoning them entirely feels incorrect to me.

  4. thanks for sharing your inspiring story. may I know if what religion you belong? and what is tefillah?
    spirituality articles