The Jerusalem Hair Dress Code
I have to admit I haven't totally figured it out. My comments are confined solely to Jewish females, as I am still clueless about the guys, and haven't quite figured out Moslem female dress code except in the broadest generalizations.
Where I hailed from, women either (1) didn't cover their hair at all (the majority of Jewish women in my county) or (2) wore a hat or baseball cap or (3) wore a tichel or scarf which completely covered the hair.
The latter two categories were "religious" although I knew women who were religious but also declined to cover their hair.
The latter two categories also contained women who, on more formal ocassions, wore sheitals (wigs).
Then I came to Jerusalem.
The first thing I noticed was that many more women here cover their hair, to some degree or other. I saw a lot of sheitals on women who were clearly not chareidi; I saw some full-coverage tichels on women who were clearly chareidi. I saw a lot of women, chareidi and non-chareidi, wearing full-coverage scarves--the long scarves that wrap around the head several times and knot elegantly in the back, allowing the fringe to fall down one's back...if you have the knack for this, which I don't.
But I also saw a variation of this -- the full-coverage scarf and gorgeous knot, but about an inch of hair showing all the way around. Then I noticed it: a LOT of women are covering their hair, but not completely. We're not talking Modern Orthodox hats and clothing, either--these are women dressed in skirts down to the ankles, sleeves down to the wrists, but hair hanging out. Some confine it to just the margin of the scarf; some cover only the top of the head, including the hairline, but have a foot of hair hanging down their backs. Some have tichels, but wear them pulled back on their heads so some modicum of hair is visible above the forehead.
I asked a masorti female friend, "What's with this?" She didn't really know. "It's a way of saying, 'I'm married and I'm religious,'" she told me.
Having been trained in the full tichel/scarf/sheital school of Chabad, I was puzzled. The purpose of a woman covering her hair is primarily the same as that of men -- one covers one's head in order to utter any prayer. That's why men wear kippot (yarmulkes). As one can utter a prayer for almost any ocassion and certainly every time one eats, one wears the head covering at all times during the day, male or female.
The Modern Orthodox women tend towards hats and berets back in the Old County. Here, I see some hats but also scarves. Full hair coverage was never a "must" in the MO community as far as I knew, but they, too, had sheitals for formal ocassions.
I was still wearing the full-coverage tichel when I was stopped one night coming out of a restaurant by another woman similarly dressed. "This is Mehadrin?" she asked, pointing to the restaurant. "No, it's Rabbinute," I told her pleasantly, happy that I was familiar with the teudah of the restaurant.
She looked nonplussed, but explained as nicely as possible that my dress was misleading to others like her, who ate strictly Mehadrin. My hair was completely covered, in a tichel, which indicated to her a stricter observance of kashrut than what would be expected (by her) in a Rabbinute restaurant.
"Your husband wouldn't wear a kippah in a non-kosher restaurant in the U.S., would he?" she asked pointedly. I got the point: a Jewish man would remove his kippah, I was taught, rather than mislead other Jews into thinking the restaurant was kosher when it wasn't.
"It's the same principle," this woman explained. Apparently having full-hair coverage betokens a level of observance that is inconsistent with anything less than Mehadrin, and my clothing misled her into believing that she could eat at this restaurant without compromising her own level of observance.
Suddenly, I understood why so many women in Jerusalem cover their heads but not entirely. They are religious, keep kosher, are tznius but they don't adhere to Badatz or Mehadrin only. Those are the women I see meeting for coffee in Cafe Hillel (Rabinute) or Aroma (ditto). These are women who eat at the many kosher restaurants that are not Mehadrin but are Rabinute certified.
The other reason women cover their hair, I was told, was for the sake of modesty. Having not let a stray bang slide into daylight in the last 10 years, I was a bit taken aback by this conversation which left me two choices: either stick to Mehadrin and Badatz, or show my hair.
No way The Husband was going to confine himself to Mehadrin and above! Our first dating spat was about how I-never-again-wanted-to-find-sliced-ham-in-my-refrigerator!
"But what if I want a ham-and-cheese sandwich?" he protested. "Go order one at the deli!" I snapped.
We've come a long way since then.
But having lived in the kosher-challenged environs of the San Francisco Bay Area, The Husband delights in being able to actually Go Out To Eat! Now coming to him and saying, 'Sorry, honey, we can only eat at these two restaurants in our neighborhood,' was going to cause some serious challenges to shalom bayit.
Then again, I never bought the 'modesty' argument myself. I'm aware of the history of Jewish women and headcoverings; I know that in Lithuania, for example, many women, including those in the families of rabbis, never covered their hair. I know that originally Jewish women had head coverings similar to those of their Moslem and Christian contemporaries--which slowly evolved over the centuries. (Have you ever closely examined hijab? It's a tichel with a scarf over it. I also suspect that Shabbos robes are an echo of the abaya, or vice versa.)
One scholar proposed, and it was widely accepted in the Ashkenazi world, that unmarried girls need not cover their heads because all fathers see their young daughters at home with their hair uncovered---and therefore there is nothing immodest or seductive about a young unmarried girls hair. From that time forward, young unmarried girls didn't cover their hair, and the tradition was confined to married women.
This minhag was penned at a time when Ashkenazi girls married at 13 and 14 years of age. I doubt very much that the scholar who proposed this had in mind uncovered hair on nubile 20-year-olds, which is the case today.
However, if the grounds for discontinuing hair coverings on unmarried young girls under the age of 13 was male family members' familiarity with such uncovered hair, then it would follow that since most of the modern world, and the majority of the adult women in Israel, go about with undraped hair, the same logic pertains: there isn't anything seductive or immodest about uncovered hair precisely because it is so commonplace. Hence, the defining reason for my covering my hair is the need to show reverence in prayer.
I've compromised. We're still eating Rabinute; the Husband isn't gastronically challenged; peace prevails in the home; and a little curl peaks out from under the scarf where it meets my forehead.