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.