Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chag Urim Sameach, Happy (Anticipatory) Thanksgiving, And More

Dear Readers (I've been re-reading Isaac Asimov, hence the opening),

My computer died a few days ago. I hope to maintain a regular posting schedule anyway in the interim, but please be forgiving.

 In other news, I've been doing some really exciting library research to be able to return to my Historical Head Covering series again soon. There are so very many different styles of Jewish head-covering out there, some of them quite, quite unexpected. I've found the (Turkish/Ottoman) precursor to the modern volumizer, a covering that looks like a little girl's princess hat, only prettier, wigs or pieces of fake hair made from silk thread in North Africa, and styles that were first enforced by law, then had to be legislated away because the people refused to stop wearing them. Also, a lot about men's turbans and the meaning of their colors.

I hope I've gotten you a little excited about what's to come.

But I wonder about the plausibility of wearing things inspired by some of these historical fashions. Is borrowing from the past as inappropriate as borrowing from other contemporary cultures? How appropriate is it to borrow from Jewish cultures that aren't your own ethnic background?

 It reminds me of my teenage angst over whether to identify myself on various forms as white/Caucasian or as Jewish (a write-in, obviously). My reasoning at the time was that I identified more with other Jews, no matter what their ethnicity, than I did with people who shared my skin color. Now obviously, that isn't what statisticians are looking for when they are analyzing standardized test scores.  Similarly, the people who get say over who can be part of their group are the group itself, not the people asking for admission.

 But when the question is- which group affiliation is dominant- religious community (which dictates the practice that is shared) or ethnic community (which dictates the style that someone wants to copy), how do those things interact?

 Does the passage of time change any of these factors? Do I still have ownership and identity connections to a style my great-great-great grandmother last wore, and which I likely have never heard of or seen? What if I've seen it in a museum?

 A lot of questions, no real answers. If you have thoughts, as always, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lazy Shabbos Outfit

I want to let you know that you can now like How To Cover on Facebook, for more chances to share reactions to posts, share your own pictures of your inspired coverings, receive an alert when there's a new post up and more. Please join us over there as well!  And now, on to pictures...  

This is actually a previous shabbos- this week we were away at my husband's internship.  
This was a pretty lazy shabbos, in terms of picking outfits.  Here's what I wore with this covering.  A favorite, very comfortable dress, and a multicolored shirt, along with a necklace that came from my grandmother at some point (I really, really don't know when- when I was quite little, I think), and earrings Mom picked out for me on a family vacation ages ago.

The covering itself is fairly homogenous in colors, although there are two scarves going on there.  I wanted to play with having less contrast.
But to make this special for shabbos, (and to add a little excitement) my friend the purple clip came back out.  Surprise!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bright and Cheery

Once in a while, I have no inspiration for getting dressed- but by the time I get to my head, I find it.  This was one of those days: dark clothes, picked for comfort, and and a bright, exciting head covering.
 I'm pretty pleased with this combination, and grateful that it got my mood back on track...
 This is a rectangular scarf underneath, then a large square (actually a piece of fabric I bought- I haven't gotten around to hemming it, but I happened to think of it yesterday, and took it out anyway), with the ends twisted up with ends of the base scarf.  One was longer than the other, the way things turned up, so I tucked the shorter into the longer, which means I had one twist on one side, and two on the others.  I rather liked the differentiation.
 I added a purple flower from the dollar store (you've probably seen it before here), which gave the whole thing a bit more pop.  I originally put it where I tucked in the second end, but it ended up feeling better farther to the side.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Comment Worth The Sharing: On Passing And Jewish Identity

Liz Shayne offered these thoughts as a comment on a previous post.  I found them really interesting, and from a perspective that was new to me, maybe since I'm living in New York City, where Jews are plentiful and pretty identifiable.  I thought it was really interesting and worth getting more attention.  I invite you to read on, and share your own thoughts and reactions in the comments section.  

"Visibility interesting problem because I've found there's a difference between looking different and being visible as a member of a group. There's a strange space between passing and proclaiming identity where I look different from everyone else, but my surrounding culture lacks the necessary cues to identify me.

This is another sticky place between privilege and presence, because I look "stylish" when I cover my hair with a hat, especially when I'm wearing a beret/wool cloche during the winter. And even my headscarves pass for intriguingly retro or offbeat on the street. There are days when I want a large sign taped to the back of my head saying "This covering has religious significance for me!" and then there are days when I very much don't.

When I first started teaching, I only wore hats because hats, as Rachel says, help one pass. By the end of my first year, I was more comfortable wearing scarves to teach (and I was running an 8am section and taking my orals at that point so the fact that I got to the classroom with a lesson plan and my shirt the right way round was an achievement) and, over the summer, I deliberately wore a large, rectangular scarf on my second day as an odd kind of "this is who I am" statement.

But I never know if the statement I'm making is the same one other people are hearing (this has often been my experience with teaching, especially in the beginning).

So I value being able to pass because I am uncomfortable standing out without standing up. And yet there seems to be a lack of cultural awareness of Jewish hair covering as a recognizable form. This, I imagine, is because the how of covering has always been culturally determined and so Judaism, as such, does not have a distinctive style. We adopt the style of the culture around us and cover accordingly. And the current Western style of public hair covering is to not, which complicates matters and means that the current generation of Ashkenazi women (for the purposes of this conversation and making sweeping claims, lets say women under 40) find themselves in search of a tradition/stye of hair covering they can turn to and (assuming they have a job that does not mind scarf-like coverings) they, somewhat naturally, turn to the Israeli styles and modify them for the kinds of scarves and styles suited to the West…and attempt to avoid cultural appropriation in the process.

Do we fail to stand out because we pass or because we aren’t identifiable in the first place?" 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Simple But Shiny

Here's a very easy way to dress up a very basic scarf.

Basically, take a ribbon and wrap it around your already tied scarf in whichever style you prefer (this is just a basic triangle with the ends tucked under to give a little bulk).  I like to wrap twice- it gives some consistency.  A shiny or patterned ribbon can add significant excitement, without adding any difficulty to tying the scarf or bulk on the head, and they go on quickly.
I think the ribbon does a nice job of making this dollar-store scarf look worthy of a work day, or even a shabbos.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Holy Hair": Interfaith Awarenesses

Over on Morethodoxy, Rachel Kohl Finegold shares her experience of an interfaith panel at Le Mood.  In short, in reaction to Quebec's proposed law against wearing "religious symbols" while working in public life, they held an interfaith panel discussion, in which head and hair covering became a major topic, in discussion with a Sikh gentleman.

Finegold finds a place where she has more privilege than her Sikh co-panelist: she can pass as just someone wearing a hat, whereas his turban is visibly a religious item.  Her observance would be marginally safer than his, if this law passed.  She is less visibly different.

She also finds in herself a new sensitivity. The Sikh feel discomfort about having his turban patted down, based on Sikh belief that the head is a holy part of the body, not to be touched by other people.  Hearing this, Finegold realizes that her own experiences in airport security are offensive to her.  People ask her to take off her hat, which feels to her like being asked to take off her shirt.  She'd never been offended by it before, but now, she was noticing the cultural insensitivity of the request.

She says that the conversation "sensitized me to my own tzniut".  And yes, in a context where covering is the norm, it would be offensive to ask someone to uncover their head or hair.  But in a world where indeed, she might pass, whether she is intending to or not, I have this feeling that there is also room for patience and tolerance- because the TSA folks might just not know.  Educating the uninformed is worthwhile, getting offended at them may be more reaction that is needed.  At least, that's my reaction today.

It seems that visibility cuts both ways.  It's riskier- but you can also use that visibility to advocate for yourself and your community.

I'd never considered covering my head as inconspicuous, but I suppose that with a hat, on the street, it is.  It's always a little squiggly feeling, noticing a privilege you have, if you want it, when you usually feel visibly identified and identifiable.  I wonder if that's what Ms Finegold was feeling.

Do you feel like you can hide your religious identity when it's convenient?  How does that feel for you?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Hat (Made By Me)

I've had a burst of crochet energy for things made of yarn and not just kippot (I should start showing some of the kippot I've made though- I think I was planning to, at one point).  So I just finished a new winter beret for myself.  My old one is stretched out a bit (from getting it on over my frequently bulky scarf arrangements, also from being 5ish years old and made when I had less crochet experience), and while I hope to give it some new life by adding some elastic at some point, in the meantime, it was a good excuse to make myself something new and different.  So without further ado, here it is.

It's made with two strands of yarn- one wool, the other this novelty stuff that I bought years ago, realized I had no idea what to do with it, and have been eyeing with desire and mystification ever since.  It's perhaps slightly larger than necessary, but it's really pleasant to wear, so far.  This is it with a bulkier scarf underneath.

The "pattern" as such is very easy.  You start by crocheting a kippah/pancake of massive proportions.  It should be just a little larger than you want the widest part of the hat to be.

Do one row without increases, then start decreasing (pull up a loop in your next stitch. then don't finish that stitch- pull up a loop through the next stitch, and finish the single crochet pulling through all the loops) with about the same frequency as you were adding before- maybe a little more frequently.  Continue decreasing along your spiral until the opening is about the size of your head (I try it on every once in a while as it gets close).

Once it has, do several more rows at just that width.  I did two rows with a nice alternation of front and back post half-double crochet around the bottom, so it feels snug and a little stretchy around my face.

And for kicks- here's how I used to wear berets.  I still like it, it just doesn't work so well for me right now.  But the hat is large enough to do this even with my hair underneath, which most berets can't manage...
I know it's a bit odd, wearing a hat over a scarf.  Some folks seem to find the scarf enough, even in winter.  I don't, especially since my scarves don't usually cover my ears.  What do you do to keep your head warm in winter, without being too hat indoors?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Women's Head Covering In the Talmud, Part 3

Coming back to the Talmud, here's another piece, this one an aggada, that discusses women's head covering.  It's an interesting one.

אמרו עליו על רבי ישמעאל בן קמחית פעם אחת סיפר דברים עם ערבי אחד בשוק ונתזה צינורא מפיו על בגדיו ונכנס ישבב אחיו ושמש תחתיו וראתה אמן שני כהנים גדולים ביום אחד ושוב אמרו עליו על רבי ישמעאל בן קמחית פעם אחת יצא וסיפר עם אדון אחד בשוק ונתזה צינורא מפיו על בגדיו ונכנס יוסף <עם> אחיו ושמש תחתיו וראתה אמן שני כהנים גדולים ביום אחד ת"ר שבעה בנים היו לה לקמחית וכולן שמשו בכהונה גדולה אמרו לה חכמים מה עשית שזכית לכך אמרה להם מימי לא ראו קורות ביתי קלעי שערי אמרו לה הרבה עשו כן ולא הועילו
It was told of R. Ishmael b. Kimchit that one day he spoke to an Arab in the marketplace, and spit from his mouth flew on his garments, and therefore his brother Jeshebab entered and served in his stead. Thus their mother saw two high priests on one day. Furthermore, it is said of R. Ishmael b. Kimchit that he went out and talked with a certain lord in the street, and spit from his mouth squirted on his garments, and therefore Joseph his brother entered and served in his stead so that their mother saw two high priests on one day. 

Our Rabbis taught: Kimchit had 7 sons, and all of them served in the high priesthood.  The Sages said unto her: What did you do to merit (or deserve) this? She said: All the days of my life, the beams of my house have not seen the plaits of my hair. They said to her: There were many who did likewise and yet did not succeed. 

Comments: The second "section" of this piece is the more relevant- this woman had 7 sons, and somehow All of them got to be the Kohen Gadol (high priest).  That sounds like a tremendous honor.  And it seems to be on the basis of her actions that this comes to be, both in the rabbis' eyes and in her own.  They ask what she did to merit this- and she has an answer ready.  Everyone seems to see this as a result of her actions.  It's great women's empowerment- a great reward for personal piety.  Except that the context complicates matters.

The beginning section of this passage is part of that complication.  How did her 7 sons all come to serve as High Priest?  At least two of them got in because their brothers behaved in ways that caused them to become disqualified to serve as High Priest for Yom Kippur.  At a time when they were supposed to be studying, meditating, and maintaining their scrupulous ritual purity, they were talking to various people out in the shuk, the marketplace.  In other words, they were disqualified, and called on their brothers to fill in, because they were doing what they shouldn't have been doing, in a place they shouldn't have been.  Not, to my mind, such a great honor for their mother, then.

The second complication is that the rabbis assert that Kimchit's great merit is not so unusual (which tells us interesting things about at least what the rabbis thought women did in their head and hair covering practices).
What does this have to say about the potency of the merit of covering your hair, then?  If nothing else, it sends a pretty ambivalent message.  It suggests that women saw great spiritual merit and power in the practice, and in taking it to an extreme- and that the rabbis weren't so sure about that.  Was this a way of taking away from the power of women's spiritual practices or making light of them?  Or was it a way of voicing the different attitudes both felt in the tradition?  Perhaps it's a call for moderation- after all, I haven't yet seen a halakhic source that asks one to cover one's hair at home/in the presence of only one's family.

I come out of it feeling ambivalent.  What about you?

Stay tuned for the parallel Yerushalmi (Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud) text, and a comparison.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Adapting Hijab Styles And More

One of the things that I do (I think I may have mentioned it once before) when I'm feeling  in a rut with my covering styles, is to look online at tutorials and how-to videos.  And while there are more Jewish or similarly styled videos out there now then when I first looked around, there is a much wider variety of videos available for styling hijab.

Of course, many of the ideas don't work at all for someone not looking to cover their neck (and I don't wear styles that do for reasons of 'truth in advertising' and communal acceptability/sense of who I am).

But some of them do.  And others have ideas that are adaptable to the styles that I wear, with a little experimentation.

Here are a couple of general principles that I've developed, in figuring out what works for adaptation:
1. Anything that covers just the head, with instructions to "pin to a turtleneck" is obviously basically just a tichel style.  Just don't pin to a turtleneck, and you've got something immediately wearable.
Here's an example:

2. A lot of things that involve creating folds look nice, and I keep thinking they should be adaptable, but I haven't had much luck yet- most of them keep the folds with pins, and I'm not ready for pins.  (Are you?  How is it?  Do you get poked often?)

3. Wraps focus on moving around the face fabric comes around in front of you, covering the neck and perhaps chest as well) instead of around the back of the head are going to be inspiration, not directly convertible.

4. Hijab tutorials are great places to look for interesting color combinations, ways of tying scarves decoratively on the side (I've seen some great side knots on friends lately, actually.  Anyone want to fill me in?), or for ways to incorporate accessories.  They were the first places I saw good ideas for using headbands and pins.

And More:
I've joined Pinterest.  You can find me (and some of my favorite coverings I've worn, along with some items that I'm hoping will inspire me, and a small but growing collection of useful how-to and tutorial videos) at 

I know there's a way to connect it to this blog, I just haven't figured it out yet.  Advice is welcome.

And just for kicks- what I wore one day recently:
I've been really enjoying layering ribbons on my wraps.  This patterned one especially adds to the sense of complexity without adding lots of bulk or bits that can cause the rest of the wrap to slip out of place more easily.  I'd guess it's a good technique for relative beginners who are looking to add interest without adding difficulty, since it's just wrapped and tied to itself on top of the rest.