Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Women Without Hats: A Response

In "Women Without Hats", Miriam Mandel Levi shares her head-covering journey, which takes her from feminist opposition to head-covering to troubled acceptance to decision not to think too hard to rejection- albeit, rejection that maintains a consistent covering practice...

The piece read as a story of one person's struggle with Torah and with observance, using the question of head and/or hair covering as a lens into the struggle.  The controversial kuntz was that, after 25 years of head-covering (with hats), she changed her practice to a much more liberal version- small scarves, rather than hats that covered most of her hair.  But really, it's the story of a life of religious faith in the modern world- the struggle to combine and coordinate between faith, feminism, family, friends...

To be frank, I think that the author could probably re-view her practice in different lights, and find more peace with either her old practice or her new one, and in the end find more comfort in her practice, and in its feminist acceptability, than she currently seems to.  But I'm not actually sure that that's what she wants.  She writes that she encountered a text that talks about devotional head-covering: "I had a short reprieve when I came across a quotation in the Talmud by Rabbi Huna Ben Joshua, a third-century sage, who said that he never walked four cubits with his head uncovered, “because the Presence is always over my head.” His proclamation is one of the sources for the custom of men wearing kippot. Rabbi Huna’s words resonated with me. Perhaps if I thought of my hats as a reminder of this divine presence, I would better tolerate, even appreciate them. Hair covering would have a meaning and purpose I could embrace wholeheartedly.  Unfortunately, Rabbi Huna’s inspiration was short-lived. Within a matter of weeks, my hats did not remind me of the Presence any more than my socks did."

Somehow, the fact that this inspiration didn't last, as most inspirations of this sort don't, was enough to put her off...  But I doub that anyone who wears kippah regularly is thinking about it inspirationally on a regular basis either, after a while.  It certainly wore off, except for random moments, for me.  But when you're struggling, a normal state of affairs isn't always enough.

Nevertheless, there's something that feels a little bit "white" about the feminism that the author is influenced by, although I don't seem to be able to flesh out why, yet.  Something about the long Jewish history of head-covering, and that simplifying it into a modesty thing feels reductionist to me.  But maybe that's just because I like the practice, and it feels no less feminist than a wedding ring, to me.

It sounds rather more controversial than it probably is, given the wide variety of ways that this mitzvah is practiced, to be honest.  A practice that she describes as "I know the scarves don’t adhere to even the most minimal legal standard of hair covering. They aren’t particularly modest and don’t necessarily identify me as married or religious. "  is in fact the marital head-covering practice of several women I know- although it is also the devotional head-covering practice of some women I know also...  

Yes, it doesn't mark the community that she spends her life in, quite- but it's still likely that an informed viewer will see it and know that that scarf, small as it is in relation to the hats she's used to, is still likely sending signals of "observant" and "married", if in a somewhat different mode of "observant" than she's used to.  I offer, in support, the fact that when I was single and covered in that style, I definitely got some comments of "how is anyone going to know that you're single if you wear that".

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Shiny for Shabbos

My mother gave me this scarf, which is rather large, but amazingly shiny, with pretty remarkable fringe (you can see it a bit in the last picture).   It's definitely not a weekday scarf- but for fancy, it is lovely.  The tie is very simple, and for once, here are pictures of me with a volumizer underneath.  

I did add a pin on one side- I think it's also from my mom.

It matched my necklace perfectly.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lacy With Doodles Hanging Down

None of these photos is really great, but it should give a bit of the sense of the thing.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Colorful for A Rainy Day, With a Flower

 The day I wore this was rainy and overcast, and I'm pretty sure it was a day preceded by a bad night of toddler-sleep.  In other words, I needed what energy I could find, and somehow still had some to invest in my wrap.  So I did something spontaneous that came out a bit differently- I'd never put a flower up so high before.  But I think it worked- what do you think?
 I wore it with a sort of tunic-length sweater that my mom got for me (she finds many of my interesting clothes), and an old-standard of a skirt- khaki, sort of mermaid-shaped.  The sweater is bright (as you can see), but there wasn't a lot of zing happening in the clothes, although the sweater certainly helped the bright colors thing along.
 Without the flower, it looked pretty standard, though....

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Another Triple-Knot Variation

Back in this post, I showed you a style I was playing with, inspired by some one-knotted pictures I've seen through wrapunzel and its associated facebook group.  This variation uses three knots, close together, which creates a sort of setting for a horizontal pin, and maintains a low-key but visible asymmetry.

It is definitely a style to do with a sash/thin rectangular scarf, not with a full scarf- the knots, at least on me, get too big rather quickly with the sort of scarf that would cover my whole head unless it is Very, Very thin.  So far, I've been most successful with stretchy dollar-store scarves as my knotted scarf.  We'll see how less stretchy ones work.  Then, when I can find the time, perhaps a tutorial.
This pictures gives you a closer look.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Devotional Head Covering Source, Shulhan Arukh, Orekh Chayim 91:3-4

Translation partially by Sarah Mulhern.


שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תפלה סימן צא 

יש אומרים שאסור להוציא אזכרה מפיו בראש מגולה, * וי"א שיש למחות שלא ליכנס בבהכ"נ בגלוי הראש. 

סעיף ד
כובעים, (קפיל"ה בלעז) הקלועים מקש, חשיבא כסוי, אבל  הנחת יד על הראש לא חשיבא כסוי; ואם אחר מניח ידו על ראשו של זה, משמע דחשיבא כסוי. 

סעיף ה
ה לא יעמוד באפונדתו (טאסק"ה בלעז) ולא בראש מגולה ולא ברגלים מגולים, אם דרך אנשי המקום שלא יעמדו לפני הגדולים אלא בבתי רגלים. 


91:3 There are those who say that it is forbidden to say the name of G-d with an uncovered head, and there are those who say that there is reason to object [and say] one should not enter a synagogue with an uncovered head.

91:4 Hats (Kipeleh in the vernacular) that are plaited from straw are considered a covering, but putting the hand on the head is not considered covering; and if another person rests his hand on this person's head, it is considered a covering.

91:5 One should not stand with his money bag/purse, and not with an uncovered head, and not with uncovered legs, if the way of people in that place is not to stand before the great without shoes.


Once again, we tangle with the question of whether all of this grammatically masculine halakha is addressed only to men, primarily to men, or is only assumed by later/any readership to only mean men.  I will note (as I have done before, I'm sure) that in many contexts similar to that of the Mechaber, unmarried women covered their heads in some way as a social norm.  This makes it hard to determine whether he was even considering what was required of women, or whether he assumed that the rules were the same, or if he had some other considerations that I have not yet found for women's heads and prayer.

I would never have questioned the validity of a straw hat, which the Shulhan Arukh here feels a need to state qualifies as a hat- I suppose a straw hat is a very flimsy sort of covering compared to a turban.  Interesting to see it here as a further note as to the way that our social perceptions of dress influence how we shape the boundaries of halakha.  Here's codification of something I would have never questioned- and therefore would never have addressed as question in need of answering.

Head-covering here seems to be a matter of showing respect, especially given that 91:5 makes an explicit analogy between the way you dress for prayer and the way you would dress to be in the company of an important person.  This one does reflect an awareness of differences of cultural norms, mostly around how one clothes one's legs, that suggests that the earlier sections about head covering are less socially-defined than permanently set as a symbol of respect or awe.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Double Twist In Strong Colors

Two scarves, one headband.  Order is 1 scarf, then the headband, then the second scarf is twisted with the tails of the first scarf, and each twist is wrapped over the head and the ends tucked through.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Purim Pictures (Admittedly, Neither This Year Nor Actually Purim

 I took these photos while basically playing dress up, a few years ago.  I liked them, but didn't know what to do with them, since they're hardly regular going-out-in-public wear.  But it's Purim.  And I never get my photos off the camera for a while, so Purim photos from this year are unlikely to go up today.  So instead, enjoy my play from another time (tellingly, this is in our previous apartment, and if I had the energy to do this, it is likely from before I was pregnant with our lovely nearly 1.5 year old, so...)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bright And Shiny For A Dark Day

I think this was what I wore on a snowy day- admittedly, a while ago.  The scarf is thin wool, which suited the weather nicely.  The pin's sparkles made for some brightness amidst the winter gloom.
 The pictures were taken in my bathroom mirror, as a change of pace/use of the best light in the apartment, when depending on artificial light.  .
And a closer-up of the pin.  The silhouette isn't perfect, but oh well.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Devotional Head Covering Source, Shulhan Arukh, Orekh Chayim 2:6


שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות הנהגת אדם בבקר סימן ב סעיף ו 

אסור לילך  בקומה זקופה,  ולא ילך  ד' אמות בגילוי הראש (מפני כבוד השכינה),  ויבדוק נקביו. הגה: ויכסה כל גופו, ולא ילך יחף . וירגיל עצמו לפנות בוקר וערב, שהוא זריזות  ונקיות (הגהות מיימוני פרק ה' מהלכות דעות. 


Shulhan Arukh, Orech Hayim, Laws About a Person in the Morning

2:6 It is forbidden to walk with an upright posture (haughtily) and one should not walk four amot [cubits] with an uncovered head (because of respect for the Shechinah) and one should examine one's orifices [to make sure they are clean].  Gloss: One should cover one's whole body, and not go barefoot.  And one should accustom oneself to turn aside [to use the bathroom] morning and evening, for this is scrupulous and clean.


This halakha comes in the context of rules about a person getting dressed in the morning.  In this context, covering one's head right away, before walking any significant distance (4 amot, about a man's height) is both part of getting dressed and is described explicitly as done to give respect to the Shechinah- G-d's presence.  Thus, it is a devotional practice, related to our awareness of G-d's presence in the world. However, it is outward, designed to give respect in itself, rather than as a reminder for the person.

It is interesting that head covering is described as religious or devotional in meaning, yet it is set in the context of both modesty and politeness to other people: covering the whole body with clothing, wearing shoes, and keeping one's orifices clean.  It suggests to me that the attempt that I, and others, are always making to distinguish between modesty and respect for G-d and polite self-presentation may be not entirely possible.  They seem to be quite wrapped up in each other.  It's something I'm going to want to think more about.

It is surprising that this is given as straight halakha, while the popular conception of things is that head covering is custom, rather than law.  Here, however, it is treated as law, at least in some sense.  Oddly, encouraging regular toileting habits is treated in the same area, which is an odd addition- except that the following section of Shulhan Arukh is laws pertaining to using the bathroom, which makes this comment rather a nice literary transition.

Also interesting is the lack of gendering here.  My presumption is that this is talking to men, but it never says it explicitly here.  I'll have to talk a look at the earlier part of the section to see if there is any clarification, or if it operates on presumption.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Devotional Head Covering Source, Masechet Sofrim, Chapter 14, Halakha 12

Translation mostly courtesy of Sarah Mulhern, rabbinical student and friend.

(For more on Masechet Sofrim, one of the "smaller tractates", additions to the Talmud-


מסכתות קטנות מסכת סופרים פרק יד

פוחח, הנראין כרעיו, או בגדיו פרומים, או מי שראשו מגולה, פורס על שמע, ויש אומרים בכרעיו נראין, או בגדיו פרומים, פורס על שמע, אבל בראשו מגולה אינו רשאי להוציא הזכרה מפיו; ובין כך ובין כך מתרגם, אבל אינו קורא בתורה, ואינו עובר לפני התיבה, ואינו נושא את כפיו. 


What is pocheach (a condition in which a person is able to say shema but not to read Torah)? One whose thighs are visible, or his garments are unraveling, or his head is bare,may recite shema. And there are those who say that one whose knees are visible or his garments are unraveling may recite the shema, however one whose head is uncovered is not permitted to mention the name of Gd.  And any of these may translate but they may not read Torah, and they may not lead services [literally: descend before the ark], and they may not give the priestly benediction.


We often don't think about modesty for prayer as a gender-neutral or masculine concern, but in this context, where the assumption is that men are the ones who read Torah, lead services, etc, it is clear that we are talking about minimum standards of male modesty.

In this context, there are three "levels" of modesty- the first, where one may perform any public ritual function, such as leading services and reading Torah.  This requires covered thighs and intact clothing.

In the second level, one may pray privately, but not lead services or be involved in most public ritual.  This category is the explicit topic of this text, and includes such intermediate sorts of body-coverage such as having thighs visible or clothing that is unraveling or presumably has holes.  A second opinion includes even bare knees.

In either of these categories, one may still be a translator for the Torah reading [a practice that most of the Jewish world has abandoned, perhaps with the availability of printed texts, but the Yemenite community still maintains.  The practice is to translate each verse into Aramaic, one at a time, after they are read from the Torah.]  So there are still some public roles that are acceptable while not fully meticulously covered.

In the third, one may not even pray privately, especially according to the second opinion given, that forbids even mentioning G-d with an uncovered head.

This text is relevant to our questions because there is a disagreement as to what category being bare headed falls into.  The first opinion puts it into the second level- pocheach, while the second opinion puts it into the third level, where one may not even pray privately.

This is interesting because this is a description of head covering as part of a concern for public appropriateness or appearing respectable.  And yet the second opinion implies that it is actually about private respect for G-d, and relevant in all situations, even unconnected to how one appears to other people.  The two opinions have different visions of what head covering (for men at least) is about- is it devotional or about public respectability?

Depending on which way we go, we can derive different decisions about the importance of covering now, where it is of less concern for public respectability, and where women as well as men may be interested in covering as a devotional practice.  If it is about public respectability, we may want to be not only lenient but also find that there's less significance to wanting to do so. If it is about the ability to appropriately pray, then we should encourage it for as many Jews as we can, in a wider range of contexts.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Photos! A Style I've Been Playing With

I've been playing around with this lately.
2 scarves, at least 1 of them rectangular
1 rectangular-ish/bar-shaped pin

1. Tie 1st scarf to cover
2. Tie 3 knots next to each other in the 2nd scarf.  
3. Place on head so that knots are off-center.  Arrange the res of the scarf as desired (more examples will come).  Tie scarf.
4. Place pin in front of knots.
I like the asymmetry, and the way that the knots create a frame that makes a long pin make sense visually.  It also works as a component of more complex wraps.
I'm thinking- maybe a tutorial.  What do you think?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Head Covering Source, Talmud Bavli, Nedarim 30b

Translation significantly done by Sarah Mulhern, some additions by me.  

משחורי הראש - אסור בקרחין ובעלי שיבות, ומותר בנשים ובקטנים, שאין נקראין שחורי הראש אלא אנשים

גמ'. מ"ט? מדלא קאמר מבעלי שער.

ומותר בנשים ובקטנים, שאין נקראין שחורי הראש אלא אנשים. מ"ט? אנשים זימנין דמיכסו רישייהו וזימנין דמגלו רישייהו, אבל נשים לעולם מיכסו, וקטנים לעולם מיגלו


Mishnah: He who vows not to benefit from black-haired people may not benefit from bald people and gray haired people, but may benefit from women and children, because only men are called black haired.

Gemara: What is the reason for this ruling?  Since it did not say "from those who have hair" [therefore the bald- who might once have had black hair- are still forbidden].
"But may benefit from women and children" because only men are called black-haired.  What is the reason?  Men sometimes cover their heads and sometimes reveal their heads, but women's hair is always covered, and children are always bareheaded.


This short text is a font of information about norms around head-covering in [at least some part of] the Talmudic period.  The Gemara text, which is where things get interesting for us, begins as an inquiry into the reason behind a somewhat surprising ruling in the Mishnah- that if one vows not to gain benefit from black-haired people, one may not get benefit from men who are either black-haired or might once have been so (which makes hair color an identity that one retains even without hair...  fascinating).

The Gemara continues to elucidate that the reason that someone who has made this vow may still derive benefit from women and children is that women's hair is always covered, while children are always bare-headed- but neither gets called "black-haired".  This makes more sense in relation to women than to children, but oh well...  However, the sense in regard to women is that you can't be expected to identify them by hair color, since you will never see their hair or know its color.  Interestingly, it says that All women have covered hair- seemingly even unmarried ones.  (Admittedly, it seems highly unlikely that there were many never-married women at all.)  It is only men who may or may not cover their head- both women and children have social expectations regarding their head/hair.

This is very much a description of a social reality- there are Jewish communities (like our own contemporary community) where some women are bare-headed, and others (such as the Yemenite Jewish community, historically) where children of both genders also had covered heads.  But the assumption that All women cover their hair, while only some men do, is an interesting perspective, in comparison with what we now presume.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Devotional Head Covering Source: Kiddushin 8a

Translation courtesy of Sarah Mulhern, rabbinical student and friend.


 וכגון דקביל כהן עילויה; כי הא דרב כהנא שקיל סודרא מבי פדיון הבן, אמר ליה: לדידי חזי לי חמש סלעים. אמר רב אשי: לא אמרן אלא כגון רב כהנא, דגברא רבה הוא ומבעי ליה סודרא ארישיה, אבל כולי עלמא לא 


[What is the law in] a case where the priest accepts [an object of insufficient value in return for the redemption of a son] as happened in the case of R. Kahana, who accepted a scarf for a son's redemption, and said to him [the father],‘To me it is worth five selas.’? R. Ashi said: "This is only applicable in the case of a person like R. Kahana, who is a great man and needs a scarf /turban
for his head, but not of people in general."


This text refers to head covering only in passing, as part of a social reality.  The focal point of the text is the question of how to handle an oddly done redemption of a firstborn son, which requires the use of a sum of 5 selas- usually this would involve 5 silver coins, contemporarily.  This text raises the question of relative worth- if something is worth more to you (the receiver) than it is normally, could it count?  The answer seems to be "Yes, but no"- in theory, it could, but we don't really want to go there.

However, the example is what makes this text relevant to our question.  The example is used to indicate that the specifics here make the results of this case is not generally transferable- because Rav Kahana is a particularly important person, therefore he needs a turban.  This suggests that turbans at least are a marker of social status, rather than of religiosity or piety.  (I notice that in stories that talk about head covering as piety in the Talmud, the covering is either of non-specific style or is a robe worn over the head, rather than being a turban.)

Turbans (much) later become the usual covering for men in most of the Middle East, but I'm not sure when that happens.  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Devotional Head Covering, Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 118b

Translation courtesy of Sarah Mulhern, a talented friend and rabbinical student at Hebrew College.


אמר רב נחמן: תיתי לי דקיימית שלש סעודות בשבת. אמר רב יהודה: תיתי לי דקיימית עיון תפלה. אמר רב הונא בריה דרב יהושע: תיתי לי דלא סגינא ארבע אמות בגילוי הראש. אמר רב ששת: תיתי לי דקיימית מצות תפילין. ואמר רב נחמן: תיתי לי דקיימית מצות ציצית 


R. Nahman said: "May [reward] come to me for observing three meals on the Sabbath." R. Yehudah said: "May [reward] come to me for observing focus in prayer. R. Huna son of R. Joshua said: May [reward] come to me for never walking four cubits bareheaded. R. Sheshet said: May [reward] come to me for fulfilling the commandment of tefillin. R. Nahman [also] said: May I be rewarded for fulfilling the commandment of tzitzit.


This passage connects statements from various rabbis that indicate that the fulfillment of certain practices deserves reward.  The collection seems united by the phrase "תיתי לי", especially since there is no pttern or unity in the sages' era- they come from several different generations of Amoraim.

 First, this implies that doing so is unusual and/or difficult.  Second, the combination suggests that all have some shared value.  However, some are clear, d'oraita (from the Torah) mitzvot- tzitzit, tefillin. (One wonders that these were seen as deserving of particular praise- it says Something about how little the Jewish people may have changed over time.) Others are pietistic practices/abilities- maintaining focus in prayer, and not going bare-headed.  Yet focus in prayer is really part of the mitzvah of prayer- the best way to fulfill the mitzvah, possibly the only way.  Whereas head-covering is only piety, not a mitzvah at all...

The obvious connection (to me at least) is that these are difficult and/or unusual practices which the rabbis would like to encourage- yet in this context go no further than saying that they will bring eventual reward.   Not exactly a statement of requirement in regards to head-covering, but the way that the statements have been brought together by their common structure begins to give it a weight that it does not have on its own.