If I cover my hair will that draw attention to me?

In the Torah – Bamidbar 5.18 – it talks about the Sotah – a woman suspected of adultery – who is made to uncover her hair. The rabbis extrapolated from this that a woman back in the day kept her hair covered as a general rule. Therefore Jewish married women are commanded to cover their hair. The Shulchan Aruch commands a man not to pray or recite blessings if there is a woman in front of him with a “tefach”(4 inches) of skin uncovered that would usually be covered, this applies to hair as well as it is considered part of the body that is normally not seen. I could cite many more sources that say the same or similar. I will point out though, that at the time of all these discussions, it was the societal norm for women of all faiths to cover their heads, not just the Jewish women.

 

I have heard all the arguments for hair covering, and indeed I covered my hair for the whole 12 years I was married. I had as much fun with it as I could. I wore snoods and berets, bandannas and tichels, and had many different styles and colours of wigs. Yet I hated it at a purely visceral level. I felt as if I stuck out, as if by the mere fact of acting modestly by covering my hair, that I was drawing attention to myself  – exactly the opposite of what modest behaviour is about. (I will be the first to admit that I love attention, but for the right reasons.) This contradiction bothers me still, although my outlook has changed somewhat with the benefit of time’s passage. I now know that I cannot control what other people may think when they look at me. I could walk around in a burka and I am sure there would be someone somewhere who would find that simply irresistible.

 

The sheitels (wigs) that some women wear these days seem to defeat the whole purpose of kisui rosh (head covering). A woman’s hair is representative of her beauty, and therefore a married woman covers it so that her beauty is not shown to other men other than her husband. These custom sheitels that cost thousands of dollars potentially draw more attention than the woman’s own hair would attract. But apparently, the idea is also to remind the wig wearer that she is married, even if it looks like she is wearing her own hair. She knows that she is wearing a wig and will therefore be reminded to act in a modest fashion as befits her status as a married woman. She will want to contemplate her inner beauty when her outer beauty is covered. What about married men, don’t they need reminding sometimes that they are “taken”, especially as most men in the religious world do not wear wedding rings? Don’t they need to look to their inner selves?

 

When I received my Get I did not come home, rip off my wig and state that never again would I cover my hair. It took me a couple of weeks of deep thought and contemplation to come to the decision that I felt it was no longer appropriate for me to wear a head covering.  I covered my hair during my marriage because that was what my spouse had requested, not because it was the right thing to do. I was no longer married, so why did my hair need to be covered? So people should know that I had been married? Oh please, the kids that are constantly underfoot are proof enough of that.   I have always been respectful of my surroundings, and always cover my hair in shul and at religious functions, and at times, I cover my hair so as not to make my kids feel as if they stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, even though I say I do not cover my hair, it is covered a lot of the time – car pool, Shabbat, barmitzvahs, weddings, etc. But there are times – grocery shopping, doctor appointments and the like, where I feel the wind on my scalp and feel free.

 

There are some modern Rabbis who have ruled that a divorced woman is allowed to uncover her hair if she believes it will help her chances for another shidduch, and some that say she can uncover her hair but only after she moves to a different town. Some say not at all, that she may as well walk around naked. I guess it all depends on who you ask IF you ask. I needed to do what was right for me and my emotional state at that point in time. Maybe one could even argue, that uncovering my hair was showing my grief for the end of my marriage. After all there is no shiva when a marriage has died / failed.

 

I have been judged by a few and told that I was ruining my children’s reputation by not covering my hair, and what kind of example am I setting for them etc. I don’t do things for other people to see and applaud. If I am going to do a mitzvah I will do it because I want to, because I desire that spiritual connection with G-d. I don’t give a fig about what everyone else thinks. I think society these days is so concerned with what others will think that we lose sight of the real picture. Religion and spirituality is first and foremost about the relationship between a person and their deity – and that is a private and personal relationship. I wonder if G-d really cares what colour my skirt is, or if I am wearing panty hose. Doesn’t He see through all the outer trappings into the soul within? If I am comfortable in the summer in my barelegged-ness and therefore more able to serve G-d b’Simcha (with joy) – isn’t that more important than sweating like a pig and grumbling about doing a mitzvah in the heat of the day.

 

Is what I wear on my head more important than what is in my heart? I know there are reasons why we do all these things, some due to custom, some to law, but is it really fair to call someone religious based on the way they dress? Is behaviour not more important? Religious to me means someone who does their best every single day to serve Hashem and keep His laws. There are many “frum” people sitting in jails all over this continent. I don’t think of these people as religious, to me religious means honest. It has nothing to do with dress codes. Being religious means adhering to a code of decent upstanding behaviour.

 

I have been asked many times since the big “reveal” if I will cover my hair when/if I remarry. Initially I said no no no, no way no how, not for all the tea in China. I do not want to be shackled again doing something for the wrong reasons. BUT I have more knowledge now, and if I choose to cover my hair, I will be doing it because I feel it is the right thing to do, because it is something that I want to do, and is not being foisted on me by my potential spouse and the society in which I live. I am not afraid to be different. Those who know me know that I do not care what people think of me.

 

I have grown in my spirituality in the last couple of years, I really feel as if I have renewed my connection with Hashem, on my own terms, as a woman, as a mother, as a person. Any decision I make now brings with it the benefit of hindsight, and of understanding my own personal journey. It is for no one but G-d to judge me and my motivations. He sees what is in my heart. It is Him I strive to serve with the best of my abilities. If in the fullness of time I decide to cover my hair, it will be because I believe it to be the right thing for me as a Jewish woman.

 

I am very interested in your views on this topic – please don’t hesitate to share them with me here.

28 responses to “If I cover my hair will that draw attention to me?

  1. Avigayil Chana

    I am a convert and did everything by Chabad — except that I daven 3x without fail, and learn a couple hours per day (as a single mom with a fulltime job and 2 kids), and go to minyan several times per week. I made my own succah and I stay up all night when appropriate. So I am ready and able to exhaust myself for halacha, and all with great simcha.

    However, I decided not to cover my hair if Gd-willing I find a shidduch. (And this decision is making it very difficult to find a shidduch!) The reason is that the sheital makes my stomach shake. I have a strong physical response to what I guess is a fear of being smothered — both physically and emotionally. I don’t think I could ever handle it. It would be worse than jail, because it would be directly constrictive against my body — my head no less. Just writing this is upsetting to me.

    I feel that this is against my Rebbe and against my minhag — which is very difficult for me to take, because I deeply want to please Hashem and my Rebbe and do what is not just right, but best, at all times. Love Gd will all my strength. But I just can’t wear a wig. I just can’t. And it’s not as if I was having fun at every turn, and this was my first non-fun so I rejected it. I used to follow the Rebbe’s advice to Shluchim who did not live near a mikvah, and take a cold shower for three minutes every Shabbos morning, all winter long. Try that!!

    But I do not feel guilty before G-d for this. Simply put, hair is not an erva. If it were an erva, how could men even enter the shul on shabbos, much less a bus or store? The Mishneh Berurah asks if hair covering is required in societies in which hair is not an erva. The answer given is that women cover even there because Jewish women have always covered. To which I cry out, BINGO! Hair is not an erva. Well, DUH. We always knew that. So now it is an entirely different kind of question, with the sheital being such a horrible weight for me.

    Ya know, throughout Jewish history, Jewish women have always done what they chose to do, be it extra strict (like increased days of niddah) or extra lenient (like not davening the text of the siddur on time and 2x daily). And what the women have decided has been respected by the Rabbis. So let’s ditch the wigs, ladies. Put down that sheital and pick up a Torah text. Learning is the #1 mitzvah anyhow, and it makes us better mothers and wives — better Jewesses. Imagine the frumies judging each other on this, instead of the externals?

    Who will the men marry if we don’t cover? Us, of course.

    avigayil chana in MA

  2. i totally hear you. when i was engaged i was young – 20 – and in love and prepared to go to the ends of the earth for my future spouse. all he asked was that i covered my hair. how hard could it possibly be, i thought. until i did it myself, i had no idea what a difficult thing it was to do. as little girls so much of our identity is tied up in how we look, and hair is a big part of that. It is such a deeply personal thing whether we cover or not, and no one should force us. i applaud you for knowing your own mind, and not allowing yourself to be swayed when you know it would make you miserable.

    I wish you much hatzlacha in finding that special someone who will love you for who you are, not what you wear.

  3. I, too am divorced and do not cover my hair. My ex-husband HATED when I used to cover, and for a while I did it full time just because I was moved to do so.

    When I marry again, I”Y”H, the decision to cover (full time or just for shul) and with what (sheitel, tichel, hat) will be a joint one made with the man who loves me. If he decides he would like me to reserve certain body parts for his eyes only, it will be my pleasure to do so. If he is more open and has no problem sharing my external attributes with the world at large, that will be something we can decide on together.

    I think too much emphasis is placed on the “social” aspect of observance and not enough attention is placed on the Halachic ones – When “chumra” supercedes “kavod habriot” it is indeed a shame. My humble opinion – offered “b’tzniut.”

  4. I really like your well written post on the topic and I could not agree with you more. It always amazes me that the women walking around in exy barbie doll wigs are considered infinitely more tznius than little old me with my frizzy ponytail. Who are they kidding?? I always wonder if they think they are fooling God; really, do they think God so materialistic and fickle that he cannot see past their wigs and too tight clothing?

    I have to add that I think reaching the point where you do things for yourself and you give up on what others think of you is a freedom in and of itself. It’s hard work, and a pain sometimes to ignore the looks or even perceived looks, but you have to live your life for YOU (and our children since you are a mother,) and no one else.

    While I am sorry that your marriage did not make it, I am happy that you have been able to find freedom and strength. It’s amazing that something that must have been so painful has led to growth for you – many kudos!! You’re a strong woman.

    Now off I go to devour more of your blog. Sleep can wait ;o)

  5. Avigayil Chana – Did you know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife did not cover her hair except with a doily on certain occasions? Covering a woman’s hair has become a much much larger issue in the last 25 years than it ever was back in the day in Europe and/or the shtetle.

    I tried to cover my hair when I got married. My husband left the decision to me, and I figured I would give it a shot – I wanted to start our life off together in the best way possible (or what I was taught was the best way.) I just could not do it, I just felt suffocated both physically and as a person. I tried again when my son was born, trying to give him what I was told would be the best start in life. I gave it up within a month or two and have never looked back – it is just NOT for me, and I think God understands. When I gave it up for good, I did some real research into the halacha and it’s origins, I wanted to know what exactly it was that I was giving up. When I delved into it and found that it is NOT the Torah Misinai that I was taught in yeshiva, I was able to give it up and be completely at peace with my decision.

    Two of my sisters followed an my very frum, Chabad parents, have learned to accept it and even joke about it – years ago, when I had very short hair and was wearing a headband my father said “You know, you can SHOW a tefach of hair, not you have to cover a tefach of hair” and most recently on Purim, when I was wearing a hot pink wig, my father loudly proclaimed “Now we know it’s really Purim and Venahapach Hu! Chanie is wearing a sheitel!!”

    I wish luck to anyone who can do it, it’s a nice thing to do, but I would love it if the orthodox community would stop passing off the hair covering as a Biblical law like Kosher, it just isn’t so.

  6. Avigayil Chana

    Maybe women’s observance went too far in the direction of modesty, to the point where it was at the exclusion of more foundational Torah values. And so now the pendulum is swinging in the other direction a bit, with hopes to finally settle in the middle.

  7. As a very secular Jewish woman the entire concept of covering one’s head has always seemed to be a tug between observance, public perception and personal choice.

    As a very secular Jewish woman there are obviously a great many things that I do not know and as such view these things with a great deal of irreverence (though not intolerance or disrespect).

    As a very secular Jewish woman I cannot imagine that wearing two thousand dollars worth of someone else’s hair will bring me any closer to God than I would be by wearing a two dollar scarf from Wal-Mart.

    As a very secular Jewish woman well…. you get the picture!

    I appreciate the distinction you make between what is in your heart and what is on your head, and further that by asking (rhetorically) if jeans, a T-shirt and a ponytail make me less a child of God than a long skirt, a top “up to there” and a hat?

    I would wish for a resounding “NO, don’t worry my child, we are judged on our knowledge, devotion and respect; and then ultimately – on the dignity with which we carry ourselves, and quiet good deeds we perform”, although I think not.

    So, with that in mind I will simply impart wisdom given to me (inadvertantly I’m sure) by a wise-beyond-her-years Frum friend – and echoed rather beautifully in Judy’s comment to this post:

    Aside from your own personal choice respecting the actual religious requirements for covering your head, doing so keeps a part of you secret and special and for your husband’s eyes only. Hair is sensual and as you point out, is a huge part of what defined us as girls and in many cases as women today.

    Choosing to share that with the world… or not…. should really be a decision that fits you, your situation and your own relationship with God.

  8. Listen to your heart.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    There is nothing more degrading and demeaning to a woman than to make her cover her hair FOR LIFE upon marriage.It is an abhorrent practice.

    Any man who makes such a ridiculous demand on his wife, or wife-to-be, should similarly also be required by his wife to wear: long white stockings, even in the summer; a fur streimel; grow a long beard; wear a black hat and coat constantly, and cover his face when he speaks to his wife.Wigs -“la perruque”- were merely a fashion item in the time of Louis XIV-they are not for the Jewish woman!

  11. Rabbi Menachem Schneeersohn tz”l, gave the directive that a married woman must cover her head with a “sheitel.” This needs to be corrected. Rabbi Schneersohn a”h, was a Tzaddik, – but on this – he was, unfortunately not correct.

    It is extremely unhealthy and unhygienic for a woman to cover her hair constantly.The hair needs oxygen to breathe.A woman’s hair will lose its natural beauty and shine, she may have scalp problems, some of her hair may fall out, she may get headaches, and she may end up cutting it short like a man, when she always wore it long, in order not to have too much discomfort from her hair covering.

    Do you think that HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded this of women? I can assure you that He did not.The commmandments are not meant to cause so much repression and oppression in women.Was Chava created with a wig? Of course not! Did she start wearing a wig? Of course not!

    Please Wake Up.

    Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

    And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

  12. 1. To all the women who are wondering about the sources:

    We have all been created, “Betselem Elokim” – “in the image of Elokim.”
    This means that we have been given something called “intelligence.” The source is the very first Parsha, Bereishit – 1:27. It is time that people use the spark of intelligence and Kedusha with which Hashem has blessed them.

    If your rabbi will tell you to go and jump into the depths of a glacier, presumably you would do that too – and give me a source for it?

    “According to the Zohar”, I should also be covering my hair with a wig when I have a bath. “According to the Zohar and the Gemara” and all the sources that have misinterpreted the Halachah, and MIStranslated the Zohar, I should also have been born with a WIG on my head.

    These sources and translations are incorrect, as they have deviated very far from the true and correct interpretation, of the Halachah.

  13. 2.Remember that the Jewish women are very, very holy. They are much more holy than the men. Look at the exemplary behaviour of the women at Har Sinai.

    The women never sinned at the Eigel, and so are greatly elevated. Many of the men, unfortunately, ran after a calf made out of a lump of gold – after they had just been given the Torah, and seen the greatest of all Revelations. The women refused to give their gold for the avodah zarah of the men.

    The women were greatly elevated after such a wonderful display of Emunah, and they are regarded very highly in Shamayim.

    That is why women are not even required to pray. They can pray at home on their own. Nor do women have to make up a minyan. That is how holy the Jewish women are. Men have to pray 3 times a day to remind them of their Creator.

    The men are telling the women to put the hair of a non-Jewish woman who may have eaten things like snakes and sharks and alligators, and has worshipped in churches, Buddist temples or Hindu temples : on their own Heads. They had better wake up.

    If the men don’t want to wake up to the truth, and the true interpretation of the Halacha, the women will wake them up – whether they like it or not.

    3. Many righteous women influenced their husbands for the good at the Chet Haeigel and at the time of Korach.

    It was these righteous women who succeeded in bringing their husbands back to their senses.

    And because of these great women, the lives of their husbands were saved. Those men therefore turned away from the madness of avodah zarah, and the rebellion of Korach against Hashem’s choice of Aharon, as Cohen HaGadol.

  14. 4. Look at the Jewish women in history, and remember how holy they are.

    (a) Yaakov, who was the greatest of the Avot, came to marry the 2 daughters of Lavan, Rachel and Leah. Lavan was not exactly a tzaddik. Yaakov went to Lavan, of all people, to marry his 2 daughters – not 1 daughter, but his 2 daughters. Nothing could be greater than that.

    (b) Rut, who came from Moav, became the ancestor of David Hamelech.

    (c ) Batya, the daughter of Paroh, was given eternal life because she rescued Moshe from the river. No one could have been more evil than Paroh.

    (d) Devorah, was a Neviah, and also a Judge.

    Women who came from such adverse backgrounds, were able to become builders of Am Yisrael. That is how holy the women are, and how much more elevated they are than the men.

    This was never the case with men. It never happened the other way round.

    Don’t tell me it is holy for me to wear a WIG! Hair over my own hair? This is ridiculous!

    Similarly, don’t tell me it is holy for me to plonk a permanent head covering on my head for the rest of my life. This is equally vile.

    Please Wake Up.

    Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

    And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

    5. Remember: Not a single “dayan” or “rabbi” has the slightest bit of interest in correcting the situation for the women. Therefore, the women will have to correct the situation…………….for ………………themselves.

    Whether you wish to accept the correction – which is true – is up to you. Are you going to live by the truth? Are you going to use the spark of intelligence that Hashem gave to you and all women? Or are you going to follow rabbis and dayanim who tell you to wear a wig in a Heat Wave – and you thank them for it as well?

  15. i think Deborah Shaya needs a hobby….

  16. The Law has been MISinterpreted for far too long!

    Would The Law like to help with the correction?

  17. The sheitels offend me as well. That’s whya lot of MO women cover with tichels and hats and such and refuse to wear sheitels.

  18. The next things the bloody
    “rabbis” will come up with is to tell the woman to wear a CARPET on her head. Not a sheitel AND a hat, but a Carpet. Or you could go for 5 shaitels on your heads and a rug.

    And do you know what the Jewish woman will say to her husband?
    “Yes, husband! I am now wearing a carpet on my head!”

    You women must either be extremely thick, or petrified.

    • and you, sir, have no respect…..please do not come here and be insulting. If you have a different point of view you can present it in a respectful manner, you don’t have to be demeaning and rude.

    • Lady Lock and Load

      William Dwek, you are unfortunately ignorant about Orthodox Judiasm and Orthodox women. Do you really think we just blindly do whatever our husbands “command” us to do? Is this your idea of a joke?

      • Do you really think we just blindly do whatever our husbands “command” us to do?

        No, certainly not in our recent generations. However, the rules, and the interpretation of the rules was done solely by men throughout the generations. And I have no doubt whatsoever that had women been involved in some of that rule making and rule interpretation, that the end result would be somewhat different.

    • To put this as politely as possible. SHUT UP! Stupidity is spewing from sewer you call a mouth.

  19. William – don’t confuse people who choose to follow halacha with people who have been brain-washed. I don’t know any woman who covers her hair because “a rabbi told her to”.
    Either you’ve had some terrible experiences, or you were raised in a place that bad-mouthed religious poeple without really knowing any. I’m sorry for you in either case, and hope that your outlook on life cheers up a bit.

  20. Debrah Shaya,

    I have seen your exact post in exact words under other people’s names on other sites, particularly a site run by a woman reform rabbi who’s name i will not mention. Which means your words are not original. And the reform movement does not accept the torah as law, it is like a guiding principle that one can choose to accept or not.

    Secondly I feel sorry for you. You obviously think you know more than all the leading rabbis of the past many generations, which you dont. Part of judaism is humility, and knowing and respecting scholars who are greater than you and recognizing and accepting their knowledge.

    Thirdly, whether a woman is permitted to wear a sheitel is debated among rabbis for reason such as that others may not recognize it is not real hair. HOWEVER, ALLLL MAJOR TORAH OBSERVANT RABBIS AGREE that a married womans hair must be covered (snood, tichel, or otherwise) at all times when she is outside of her house.

    Lastly, for those who want to claim that a woman can show a tefach of hair, that is bidieved, not lehatchila. And it does not mean show all your hair.

    Yes, every woman has her own level of observance, her own emotions, and thoughts that guide her actions, and some women just cannot bring themselves to do it. There are people all over the world who have different struggles with different laws, and who can’t live up to every one. No one is judging you if you say I’m sorry I’m not able to do this now. But they should admit halacha is that a married woman must cover her hair outside the home.

    oh, and you forgot to mention that by the sota, when they uncovered her hair it was an embarrassment, and a disgrace to her. It wouldnt be so if she only covered it to go there, and then knew it would be removed when she got there. Women covered their hair at all times, not just to go to the beis hamikdash.

  21. I just wanted to say that I have struggled with the covering/not covering issue for day to day wear. Obviously, I cover when in shul, lighting candles. But my husband is totally nonplussed over whether I cover or not – he just asked that if I did it not be a sheitl, as he feels they give off a hypocritical message. But, I got into Chabad ways, was encouraged to purchase a sheitl and because I felt it was an exciting experiment, wore one for a couple of months. He hated it but ironically I felt I stuck out less in public in a modest sheitl than wearing a scarf or hat.

    We live in London where only Muslim women cover their hair with scarves. Recently I decided to try covering in public again and went out with a black scarf tied in a Jerusalem knot. I did get some looks from people on the train (there’s strong anti-Muslim feeling in the UK these days) and at a social gathering that evening ( a non- Jewish event) someone whom I had not seen for a long time asked me seriously when had I converted to Islam. People are just not used to seeing a non-Muslim woman covering in a scarf, even one as innocuous as the one I have.

    This has made me feel quite uncomfortable again. Coming home on the train late last night from this engagement and being the only woman on public transport, I started to feel quite vulnerable because the scarf made me look like someone I was not – I am dark skinned and scarfed-up I guess I do look Asian/Arab to some people. But definitely not a married Jewess.

    I didn’t want to get beaten up by some drunken anti-Muslim.

    What to do? I just take each day as it comes and decide if covering is appropriate for that day’s events or if it will cause more controversy or even violence. And pray Hashem understands my intentions are good.

  22. Just occurred to me: maybe the sotah was supposed to have her hair covered because she was in the Temple.

    As opposed to because she was married.

    This interpretation is consistent with more of Torah, and more of jewish practice through the ages, than saying that she covered her hair at all times.

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