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".

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