Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Other Side of the Coin

Sometimes, head-covering isn't as easy, or even as possible, as it's been for me.  Here is one woman's story about her love and hate relationship with covering her hair.

She talks about a few different problems.  I'm going to share my read of her issues, and then my own thoughts about them.

1. We pressure people into doing things the same way, regardless of how things work for different people.
I agree.  There are a lot of different ways to practice Judaism, and even a lot of ways to practice and be Orthodox.  The fact that our communities tend to push for uniformity is a social problem, though, not one having to do, specifically, with head covering.  It's also about tznius in general, and where we send our kids to school, and to camp, and how often we go to Israel, and a Ton of other things that really bother me about the Jewish community.

2. It's hard to cover your head, because the things tilt and slide and get uncomfortable.
I haven't found it that hard, but I had the head start of wearing assorted partial-head coverings (kippot, headbands, smaller scarves) for years before I got married.  It's something that I really value.  It also made adjusting to a fuller covering, and keeping one on, a lot easier.  Clips help too, and other folks use velvet headbands and nylon caps, sometimes made from the top of a pair of pantyhose.  There are lots of tricks, but, like many mitzvot that are new to you, this one does take some adjusting to.  So did putting on tefillin, when I started.  So did wearing a tallit.  So did managing to hold a lulav, an etrog and a siddur in only two hands.

3. It's expensive- either you're buying lots of scarves and hats, or (even more expensive) you're buying at least one wig, if not more than one.
Like anything, this depends on your budget, and how you feel comfortable shopping.  My first scarves were ones my mother and grandmother had had for years and never worn much.  I've made my own caps from crochet string and doily patterns (string is about 3.50 for 400 yards, which makes more than one cap, and you can get free patterns online, and adapt a bit).  Other scarves have come from Goodwill and similar sources.  If you're willing to be flexible, you can do this for not too much money.

Unless, of course, you want, or need, to wear a wig.  Then it is absolutely expensive, and difficult to budget, and even more difficult to rationalize, especially if you hold by the rabbis who say that it isn't necessary.  But then, most of the rabbis who say that are Sefardim, and generally only Ashkenazim permit wearing wigs, so you can go one way or the other, but probably not both, unless you're willing to do some picking and choosing.  You might be.  I might be.  (Don't tell my husband, he might get his hopes up about getting to eat kitniyot again...)

4. It changes the way you look to the people who know you already, and to yourself.
Sure it does.  And that's an adjustment.  I recognize that while I was looking forward to getting to cover, not everyone does- nor does every husband/parent/sibling/friend.  There's no getting around it.  But a lot of things change when you go through life transitions.  Maybe it's most important for newlyweds to have a physical marker, while the social adaptation is still catching up.  Maybe it isn't worth it if it causes that much discomfort.  I don't know.

5.  Probably most importantly, headaches.
This is a very good reason not to cover, or to find some less restrictive way of covering.  I think there are ways out there, and ways to adjust.  But if that doesn't work- there are permissive rulings out there, go out and uncover your head if you get migraines.

6. No one in our grandmothers' generation did it- so why should we put so much pressure on ourselves to cover?  If it's really a mitzvah, why didn't our grandmothers think so?
This is a major question of American Jewish sociology.  American society was much less accepting of ethnic and religious difference before the 1960s.  To quote one of my college professors, Sylvia Barack Fishman, "People realized that if Black was beautiful, then maybe Jewish was mildly attractive".  When our grandmothers were getting married, it wasn't acceptable in general society.  Orthodox Jewish men didn't wear kippot outside, for the most part.  Many, many more observant Jews ate cold dairy in non-kosher restaurants without feeling bad about it.  Young Israels had dinner dances with mixed dancing for their members.  Not to mention that Hashkamah minyanim started as the way men could go to shabbos davening and still make it to work on time.

On other words, we have religious freedoms in the social realm that our grandparents never dreamed of.   There was a lot of pressure Not to look un-American, not to look different.  And by the time things changed- well, if you'd already been married for 20 years, and now there was this new freedom- well, that's a long time to have built an image of yourself as a married woman, as an adult, as a mother, even.  It isn't one of those lifecycle transition moments.  I can see why even in communities where every newly married woman starts covering every inch of hair on her head, her grandmother still comes to shul and puts on a doily, or nothing at all.

7. What about intermediate options?
I am totally with her on this one.  I like covering all my hair, but I don't always cover all of it.  (For example, here.)  I'm still not sure what the halakhic requirement is, or rather, which set of requirements I follow.  There are plenty of different ways of looking at head covering, pick the one that works for you.

It ties into that first issue- there's pressure to do it the way that everyone else in your community does, or the way that the people you think are most authentic do, or whatever else is pressing on you.  It's one of those precious challenges, and a way to work on your own autonomy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rambam on Men's Clothing and Headwear

Coming back to men's or ritual headcovering, after a break, here's the Rambam, discussing how one should dress for prayer.  So here we're in Egypt, between 1170 and 1180 in the Mishneh Torah.

Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Tefillah 5:5
תקון המלבישים כיצד? מתקן מלבושיו תחילה ומציין עצמו ומהדר שנאמר "השתחוו לה' בהדרת  קודש".
  ולא יעמוד בתחילה 
באפונדתו ולא בראש מגולה ולא ברגליים מגולות אם דרך אנשי המקום שלא יעמדו בפני הגדולים אלא בבתי הרגלים

Translation:  The standard arrangement [literally: fixture] of one's clothes (when one prays), what is it?
One should arrange his clothes first, and then he should distinguish himself and beautify [literally, glorify], as it says "bow down to God in the glory of holiness".  And in an ideal circumstance, he should not appear with his purse, and not with an uncovered head, and not barefoot, if the way of the people of the place is not to stand before the great without something covering their feet.

Commentary: Head covering for prayer here is connected with other ways that one "dresses up", it's a demonstration of formality and respect for God, in the same way that dressing formally (or, here, wearing shoes) displays respect for people in authority.  This is wearing a hat the way that one wore a hat for all respectable occasions until sometime around the 1960s.  It would be fair to say that it isn't a separate aspect of one's wardrobe that has a purely devotional purpose.  We're talking about being appropriately dressed for a respectable environment.

I find it interesting, however, that the requirement for shoes and/or socks is qualified, and the requirement for a head-covering isn't.  You can go barefoot (or in sandals) for prayer if people walk barefoot/sandal-shod in formal situations.  But head-covering doesn't get that qualification.  That takes something away from my previous paragraph- there is Something about a covered head that implies respect, even if it isn't part of the regular dress code for respectable dressing.  There's something special about it that isn't getting defined here, but there's a hint.  I wonder if any of the nosei keilim on this passage pick up on it...  But that will have to be a post for another day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Another Week Goes By

Sunday: (Scarf and scrunchie)
 Monday: (two scarves- the bottom one is tucked in to make sure my bun doesn't come out, the top one makes a "ponytail", and the tails of both are twisted and wrapped around my bun and the ponytail.
This is a new style- I used this step-by-step tutorial to take my second scarf (a fairly thin rectangle) and make a braid down one side, then I positioned it over my first scarf so that the braid ran down the side of my head.  I left both sets of tails hanging, and the lengths worked out to layer nicely.  I wish the pictures were a little clearer- maybe I'll attempt better photography with this style sometime soon.
Wednesday we had an alarm-clock mishap, so I never got a photo.  So here's Thursday (a day of working at home, relaxing, and a show/presentation in the evening):

And Friday:  This is the same style as Tuesday, only with all my ends tucked in.  It's a slightly different look.  I'm still experimenting, and hoping to put together a how-to video sometime soon.

Also, look forward to some links and reactions coming fairly soon!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Keeping It Simple This (Last) Week

Here's my slightly belated photos from last week.  Enjoy!

Sunday (obviously, a working Sunday): I liked the way the very simplest way of tying my scarf actually suited  the outfit nicely.
And a second photo, just because:
 Tuesday: (In which I wrap very simply, because I wanted attention on my vest, not my head- wearing the vest on its own, rather than with the blazer I wore on Monday was an experiment)
Wednesday: Here I strayed from "keeping it simple" and did a two-layer combination, with only one end of the long underscarf showing, braided up with the ends of the (square, folded to a triangle) over scarf.
Thursday: Inspired by Wednesday, I did another braid- but wrapped it up over my bun.  I hooked my additional 2 small scarves for the braid over my bun, tied once beneath, and braided away, then wrapped the whole thing over the bun, for something that looks simpler than it is.  It's a little hard to see, but hopefully this gives you a taste:
Friday: (a day off): (A small triangular scarf, with the ends tucked in, and a scrunchie around it, although it's hard to see it here, in tribute to Andrea's discussion of using scrunchies in headcoverings.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What Do You Get From Covering?

This post about wearing hijab is really very thoughtful, while still being an easy read.  I think a lot of it holds true for Jewish (married-woman style) head covering too.  Here's my favorite line: "Although nobody on the outside could see my hair, my appearance underneath can still hold as much significance as I want to give it."  My image of myself is both ways that I see myself in the mirror- hair covered (in all its different silhouettes) and uncovered and loose and down past my waist.  It's as important to me as it ever was- even if none of you ever see it again.  

The other thought I wanted to draw out is "I choose who sees what’s under there and that gives me a sense of power and reassurance I wouldn’t trade for anything".  Clearly, it doesn't speak so much to wearing a kippah, but it's an interesting set of ideas to think about.  Much of what's said could go for any modesty practice, but there's something about choosing to cover a part of the body that isn't in the secular vocabulary that is particularly vocal- especially, for me, in speaking to myself.  It's a message that I hear most from my head covering, far more than the rest of my modesty-fueled clothing choices.  

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not Quite Related- But Too Cool To Pass Up Sharing

This piece on the hair style and headdress of the Roman Vestal Virgins is not exactly related to Jewish head covering, but just too cool and interesting to pass up sharing with you.  There's a video showing a recreation of how the vestal virgins probably braided their hair, and the coverings that went over that hair-do.

There are a couple aspects of the style that look quite lovely- particularly the wrapping of hair around a structural element (here, basically a soft rope), in front of the covering.  It would be a way of styling what hair one might show at the front of your head that wouldn't show too much hair for (my) comfort.  However, this seems like an area where there might be real concern about copying the practices of idolaters.

Here's the research: We started hunting: Masekhet Shabbat סז on darchei ha'emori brought us to the Rambam Hilkhot Avodah Zarah 11:1, which prohibited wearing haircuts that were particular to practitioners of avodah zara.  From there, to an aggada in the gemara in Sotah and Bava Kama (:פב).

We then checked out the Tur, and finally the Shulhan Arukh, where the Rema tells us that copying gentile haircuts is permissible when it serves a useful function, such as identifying one as a doctor.  However, anything associated with pritzut (licentiousness) is forbidden.  So far, none of this Quite touches our issue, which is hairdressing rather than haircuts, but nevertheless, so far we have neither a particular use to permit, nor any licentiousness to forbid.  The issue of temporal dislocation (i.e. there haven't been any vestal virgins in hundreds if not thousands of years) hasn't been addressed yet either.

I haven't finished the research yet, but I'll throw the question open for social debate.   From hair cut to hair style, at what point does emulating an idolatrous style start to wig you out (you should pardon the pun)?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

This Week's "Wardrobe"

Sunday (a day off, meeting up with my family for lunch):
Monday- I forgot to photograph
Tuesday (without my blazer still):
Thursday (a day off, with errands):

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Hat Link

Here's a list of hints for wearing hats confidently, ranging from what hats tend to suit what face shapes to where to find hats, and how to combine hats with appropriate hat styles.  I like the attitude the author has in her writing, and the ideas are helpful too.

Let me know what you think of it.

Friday, January 4, 2013

This Week's Collection

Sunday (a working Sunday, this week)  The colors are fairly pastel (as pastel as I ever get, pretty much), so they're hard to tell apart here, but this is two scarves, one green and brown, the other mostly pink and white):
Monday (Work in the afternoon and evening- I'll be coming home as people are having their New Years parties):
Tuesday (Very tired, after a being at work for the evening, and our neighbors playing very loud music for much of the night, so this is a very simple scarf and a scrunchie):
Wednesday our alarm didn't go off- so no picture (and a pretty basic covering too, as I got myself out the door in about  minutes- a lot of things got done on the train, like figuring out what I was doing with the tails of my scarf...)
And Friday, a day off (nothing special, but you can probably start to tell :how much I like this scarf)