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Sunday, January 20, 2008

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.


Blogger Emah S said...

Interesting post.....I remember in my teacher course, where the majority of the women were religious, that we had a similar conversation one day. One gal was explaining to me that she could easily tell the level of observance of each of the women in the class, where as to me, they were "dati" and I didn't think beyond that.

So how does it feel to have "Let your hair down", even though it is just a curl? Since it's been 10 years, I'm sure it's a bit of an odd feeling to be exposing, no?

Hope all is well on the house front. hugs, me

Monday, January 21, 2008 at 6:58:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Esther said...

Funny,I prefer not to cover my hair for all sorts of good or bad reasons, but i'm a little surprised with the lady reflecting on your obervance. She could have checked the certificate herself instead of relying on somebody else's appearance to decide if she wanted to go inside or not.

Monday, January 21, 2008 at 2:26:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

emah s--a year ago I wouldn't have known what your friend was talking about. Now, it makes sense. It feels wierd, actually--its just a sliver of hair but I feel like I suspect most women would feel walking around with their blouse unbuttoned too much, or a guy would feel with his fly down...

esther--I was a bit taken aback, also, but she was being more nice-and-informative rather than in my face about it. I suspect I got asked to save her a walk--she was on the sidewalk and the teuda was inside on the wall, and there was an intervening courtyard, so,well, she just asked.

Monday, January 21, 2008 at 2:34:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, this woman was way out of line. There are many people who are very religious who eat at "Rabbinate" establishments. Two, the laws about covering your hair are very broad, contrary to popular belief. There are respectable options for all of the variations you spoke of. Three, at least in my case - I get dressed in the morning and put on either a scarf or a beret - and that's it - I don't think about it again. I let about two inches of hair show - but there have been plenty of times that I have come home to find that a lot more shows - because my scarf has slipped back. In short, you cannot really make final judgements about a woman's level of observance just at a glance at her head - and this woman made you feel badly for no reason! Cover your hair the way you want to, and eat where you want to - the two are not related.


Monday, January 21, 2008 at 5:23:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Michelle Maddocks said...

Wow - thanks for posting this. It was like a friend's introduction to Jewish dress code, so it was interesting and informative. I'm always interested in understanding these things. Thank you for being public with this discussion!

Monday, January 21, 2008 at 10:29:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

lisam--well, careful, I'm no expert at this. See West Bank Mama's comments also.

WBM--you are a breath of fresh air--thanks! This really bothered me for months. I'm now comfortable (finally) in tichel/scarf with bangs, so I'm hanging with this...but for a while I questioned my sanity, and wondered if I was the only woman in Jerusalem who didn't know any of this?!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 11:40:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Tempo said...

The whole time that I was reading this post, I was thinking "Cover your hair how you want, and eat how you want!" The two are certainly not related, any more than the level of observance of any other mitzvot are related. Don't let one woman's view change your own long held ones!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 8:49:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Commenter Abbi said...

I agree with the last comment and I'd like to make a suggestion that you take a thorough course in the development of the halacha of HEAD covering (right, ever think about why it's call kissui ROSH and not kissui SE'AHR?)

The custom/halacha is largely based on modesty customs in place at various points in history and there are many different reasons for covering the head, modesty only one of them (Personally, I went with head covering as a symbol of marriage, which is why I have some hair showing out of my beret/scarf and I don't cover my head in my home, usually, if I remember to take off my hat.)

Now, if you went with the Rambam, your three year old daughter would have to start covering her hair. As long as you're in J-m, it's worth poking around at Matan to see if there are any classes or at least any teachers who can offer you a source sheet.

The chabad reasoning is extremely simplistic.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 11:14:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Debra said...

I've been reading your blog for about 4 months-I found i through a link, I think. We moved here 6 months ago and we are not "religious" at all -- just jewish with a kosher home. I found the head covering here perplexing, as well as the "modesty" standards which continue to baffle me. I always enjoy your perspective and thank you for your posts. On this last post, I was reminded how when I first moved to Jerusalem I felt so very badly wearing shorts at the playground while with my kids in unbearably hot weather. I was the only one, of course, and the only mom not fully covered. Someone commented about my lack of covering to me, and it sent me into a tailspin. I spent most of the summer always worried about my dress appropriateness. I don't let it bother me now, but Jerusalem has a way of really pressuring people, doesn't it? I am respectful when I go to a place that is generally dati, such as the old city, or nachalot, etc. Glad your found your place of comfort.

Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 9:07:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

tempo--thanks for the moral support! I'm comfortable with bangs and a scarf at this point; I was uncomfortable with my own ignorance of both local custom, and the various head covering options here in Jerusalem.

abbi-ditto--and if I can find time this year, I've been planning on taking a course at Nishmat or Matan since my early childhood education has left me a bit, uh, unprepared for my adult minhagim (grin) to say the least.

debra--first of all, welcome home! And I'm sorry someone was chutzpadik enough to say anything to you....it happens, though--my stepdaughter, who is NOT religious, lives in Nachlaot and walks or buses to Har Tsovim---and she tells me she gets the most unbelievable comments, even when she is in long sleeves and long skirt (bc of weather, not minhag) -- comments to the effect "It's a shame a daughter of Israel would lower herself to dress like this," as a quiet aside, not announced in public (ok, she was wearing cargo pants that day), to comments about the length of the skirt or the sleeves. Another woman, who IS religious, was recently verbally attacked by chareidi children in RBS--despite her skirt, her head covering, her long sleeves, they called her a 'whore' because some hair showed, the skirt was mid-calf (with stockings) and the neckline wasn't up to her collarbone. I think this is the downside of "we're all one big family" -- yes, folks rush to help your child, offer you kleenex or water or coughdrops, carry your babystroller up flights of stairs without being asked, tell you your toddler needs a jacket because it's cold----and everyone feels free to comment just as openly on how you dress: what you cover or choose not to cover, length of skirt or pants instead of skirt, etc. You'd think, with Winograd imminent, the arms build-up in Gaza, the rhetoric from Hezbollah, the rapidly rising cost of living, the abysmal educational system, and Iran's imminent acquisition of The Bomb, we'd all find something better to comment on instead of getting into snits over the neighbors' dress codes....

Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 6:34:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Commenter Abbi said...

I had to laugh about your comment! (sorry, not at you, c'vsh). I lived in J-m for 6 years and we just moved to Ranaana last summer. It was such a shock to me to go to the park with my kids and be the only one covering my head! I was so used to the "bubble" in J-m, I had no idea what it was like to live elsewhere until I came here.

Now I'm used to it, but it really threw me for a tailspin when I first moved. No one said anything to me, of course, but i still very very weird about it, just from what I was used to in J-m. And I learned that the "dressing religiously" thing is really a phenomenon of J-m and other religious communities.

If you want a break from that, come to the merkaz every once and a while- no religious pressure here.

Also, don't feel bad, I had plenty of friends who didn't dress "religiously" who lived in J-m. Just stay strong.

aliyah06: I took such a halacha course in college and it helped me immensely when I got married and was thinking about the whole headcovering thing. Community acceptance does play a part also. Good luck finding time and a course you like!

Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 10:19:00 AM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah- I can personally attest that Abbi sure did have "plenty of friends who didn't dress religiously" ;-) And in my case, I'm far less visibly religious than my family would prefer to be these days, exactly due to the sort of nonsense put upon you by the idiot woman you describe, who probably never learned the halachot of Kisui Rosh in her life and dared to make you feel bad. (And further, implied that Rabbanut isn't Kosher. Jewish unity rocks, doesn't it?!)

Stand your ground, take some courses if it makes you feel better equipped, but above all, don't let these judgmental people drive you out of our lovely city...

Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 2:04:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Gila said...

Wow--all I could think when I read your post was "how rude"!

In respect to the clothing, I live in Tel Aviv but visit J'lem here and there. During the winter, when I make sure to cover up well in any event, I have no problem. In the summer, on the other hand, it is always something of a culture shock. I get into town, wearing something perfectly acceptable/tame in Tel Aviv and within minutes or my arrival feel like the whore of babylon. No one really says anything to me...just feels wierd.

Good post!


Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 7:55:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Tafka!! Where have you been!? I miss your posts!! Yeah, Jewish unity in the microcosm of Israel is Something Else....don't worry, it's mind-broadening; I'm beginning to understand that for the 250,000 Jews or so in Jerusalem, there are 300,000 opinions, and so I need to please H"S, myself and my husband--the folks who like me won't care what I wear and will eat with me anyway, and the rest can do as they please as long as they let me be myself. I'm NEVER leaving Jerusalem! I love it here!

Abbi--your comment may be evidence that the cholonim in Ra'anana have better manners than the chareidim in Jerusalem....so who loves their fellow Jews more, huh?

Gila--you feel exactly like my stepdaughter does...and I think she's getting past the culture shock and now doesn't have much tolerance for other people's comments on her clothing, or their hard looks---she figures its THEIR problem, not hers.

Monday, January 28, 2008 at 3:42:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post and the discussion that followed. I took a class with Haviva Ner-David at the Conservative Yeshiva on this topic and learned the whole progression of the halachot. So interesting. I learned so much - I could ask her to send me the source sheet and then send it to you if you like.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008 at 9:27:00 AM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)

Friday, August 15, 2008 at 2:54:00 PM GMT+3  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You write very well.

Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:50:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Deborah Shaya said...

In ancient times, a woman would only cover her hair upon entering the Beit HaMikdash. Similarly for the Sotah-otherwise she would not be required to cover her hair ordinarily, day to day.

It is very important for people to know and realise that when a married woman covers her hair with 'Real Hair' the woman is covering herself with 100% Tumah. This is totally against the Torah.

Nothing could be more nonsensical than for a Jewish woman to cover her hair with someone else's hair -who was not Jewish as well! She can never fully be sure that this 'hair' has not come from meitim-despite any guarantee by the seller.This 'real hair' is doubly and in some circumstances, triply Tumah.

1.It will contain the leftover dead hair cells from another person - however much it has been treated, the tumah is still there.

2.This other person (likely to be a non-Jew who most likely was involved in some kind of Avodah Zarah) may have eaten bacon, ham, lobster etc, all of which are totally forbidden as unclean and non-kosher foods in Halacha.

3.If the woman happens to be the wife of a COHEN, then she is bringing her husband into close contact and proximity with meitim and Tumah Every day, and throughout their married life. This is clearly strictly against the Torah.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 4:08:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Deborah Shaya said...

There is No codified Halacha that a married woman must cover her hair totally and constantly whenever she steps out of her house.

The Halachah has been MISinterpreted. When the Halachah refers to "Covering hair," it does not mean "Cover your hair with hair!" and "constantly for life." The Halachah is that:

A married woman is required to cover her hair when:
(1) she lights the candles to welcome in Shabbat and Yom Tov – lechavod Shabbat ve Yom Tov, and

(2) when she goes to the Synagogue, because that is the place of Kedusha.

The Halacha does not require anything more from married women. This is the true interpretation of the Halacha.

The misinterpretation of the Torah is completely Assur, and a twisting of the Torah.The Torah must remain straight.

Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 4:08:00 PM GMT+2  

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