The Jewish Hair Covering Dilemma

I am Jewish. And I am mad.

Not mad at being Jewish, but mad at the culture that we have created, per say. We should judge others favorably and encourage personal decisions. When I got married a few months ago I covered my hair with scarfs and hats, much to my husbands dismay. I wasn’t the same girl he had married; I looked different. I should look different, Im married! But, don’t I have a ring, my values and actions for that? What I learned is that wearing a hair covering reminds myself and others that we are married. It’s beautiful, but a hard and expensive thing to keep up.

I loved wearing scarfs in the beginning — I looked bohemian. But soon I found myself with headaches and the constant burden of them falling off this way and that. I had to match them to everything. I began not to care.

Most people in my community cover their hair. They wear sheitels (wigs) or hats and scarfs. Some learn to love it. After 7 months of covering my hair every day, I slowly began to wear thick headbands. I had to buy a kippah fall (wig that covers most of your head but you can wear your hair out under it) so I wouldn’t feel out of the ordinary. My hair didn’t turn the golden brown that it used to in the summer. It began thinning. I was unhappy with it. I admire ANYONE who can take on this task of covering their hair…I truly do. I just didn’t feel like myself and I didn’t feel good about myself.

Before I got married I asked my Rabbi what I should do. My mother and sisters cover completely with wigs and hats, and no hair showing. My husband’s family covers with scarfs — or not at all. They are sefardi. My Rabbi said it depends on the community, and you should have something on your head but you don’t have to cover it completely. But if you want to fit in to your community, look around. Do what they do.

A wig can cost upwards of $1000 dollars. A “good” one, anywhere from 2-10k. Part of me wanted a sheitel. Everyone in them looks glamorous and beautiful. But I just didn’t feel it was me. I bought a fall for shabbat so on shabbat I feel some what put together and like myself. It was $500.

NO one told me or explained to me how hard it was going to be to cover my hair. No one. It’s not just the physical act of covering, but the societal pressures that come with it. As I stopped covering my hair during the week, I was faced with my own anxieties of what people would think. I sometimes brought my hat just in case I felt “uncomfortable.” I had to sometimes explain myself that I was still married but just stopped covering my hair.

I feel that this is a beautiful thing for people who want to cover their hair, along with their husbands wanting them too as well. However, why should I feel anger and discomfort in who I had become? Where does it say in the Torah that we MUST cover our hair? And if so, why didn’t my Bubbe cover her hair? Who did cover their hair a few decades ago, or hundreds of years ago? Where did this idea and tradition take flight?

I am mad that I was led astray. No one told me that I COULD find my own way to do things. I looked to my friends who chose their own ways after I got married. I finally found a way I can be comfortable after exploring what other people do, people I look up to as Jewish role models, and my close friends who opened up about their own journey.

But I just wish that it was talked about — how hard it may be, how there are options to do one thing or another. For some reason, our generation has taken on this task as one we must follow. When I entered the workforce and was tired of looking unprofessional, that’s when I hit a breaking point. I stopped covering my hair. I know, I could have gotten a sheitel. But I tried wearing my fall to work, and it got tangled in my head set and I often had to take it off because It was very uncomfortable. And sheitels were so expensive, I couldn’t rationalize spending the money. I didn’t want to feel like I let myself down, because I didn’t cover my hair. My heart wasn’t in it.

It doesn’t change who I am religiously. Although I know others may think that. It allows me to be happy with my Judaism. I still cover my hair in Shul (Temple) and on shabbat. When I light the candles, when shema is being recited by men in shul. Perhaps after I have kids my feelings will change, or next year I’ll find some meaning behind covering it that wins me over. Why does it have to be black or white? You cover — or you don’t? I dont know. I know that to work in certain Jewish organizations I may have to cover it. But I don’t have to feel guilty. The guilt is the worst.

I am not encouraging anyone to do one or the other. I just want others to know that I am with you in this struggle.

***

See my response here: To Cover Or Not To Cover

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Aspiring Success. http://inmyroots.wordpress.com
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23 Responses to The Jewish Hair Covering Dilemma

  1. bev says:

    I hear it Abbie. It is REALLY hard. I read a book, which was just a lot of different women’s thoughts on hair covering called “Hide & Seek, Jewish Women and Hair Covering” by Lynne Schreiber…It was hard to find, and doesn’t give answers so much as shares a forum of many different women’s perspectives on a women’s issue, from all walks of Jewish life. There is some discussion on what kisoi rosh means, which is where we get the halacha of head covering from…and it’s debated. I chose to cover my hair, going on 3 years now… in a community of women who mainly didnt (which had a whole surprising reverse issue to the one you describe— we are always making divisions in each direction, aren’t we?) but found solace in knowing that there were other options that could be in line with halacha in a meaningful way if I felt it got too hard.

    The fact that more people do it now than when your Bubbe was young is complicated. The Jewish community as a whole, for better and some argue in part for worse, has raised many standards. This is due in part because we are now more educated and well established with formal Jewish educations, on a scale that was never the case before, and part of it is because we are richer as a people on a broader scale, at least in the States, than we were in our grandparents generations. Also kiruv is bigger and more successful than ever, which plays into the concept of moderation, and creating a new community of Torah Jews who don’t look to their parents or even grandparents for inspiration. Im sure there are many other factors I am failing to mention… but these are a few… Many consider this a wonderful sign of the coming of the messiah, others feel its creating a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality in Torah Judaism.

    My belief has always been that the most important relationship you have in frumkeit, is your personal relationship with HaShem. If that is not honest, and a personal priority, nothing else matters.

    • inmyroots says:

      This reply was amazing. Thank you Bev — I took every word in. “My belief has always been that the most important relationship you have in frumkeit, is your personal relationship with HaShem. If that is not honest, and a personal priority, nothing else matters.”

      You are a source of inspiration.

  2. Lily says:

    Other than the bit about sheitels, this is me exactly. I got married last March, and it was never a question of whether or not I’d cover my hair, originally. I am a BT, but I really wanted to look the part and fit in. I hadn’t learned any reason why NOT to, so of course I was going to! I never liked the idea of a sheitel, though, so I stuck to hats and scarves. I convinced myself that it would be nice not to fuss with my hair in the morning and throw on a hat instead.

    Oh, how wrong I was… It took longer to get ready in the morning because I had to mess around with my hair for a long time just to get the pre-tied bandana to stay. I had to now match berets to outfits, which of course I didn’t think about when I bought the berets. I hated how I looked in the mirror. I hated how heavy my head felt with stuff on it. I even tried thick headbands, but my hair is very fine and not thick enough to really make it work. I got headaches from them, and from the pre-tieds, and from the tichels, and from the berets. I told myself, it’s fine, because I don’t cover at home so I don’t have to wear it for so long.

    One day, I was wearing my most comfortable pre-tied bandana and set out to walk to the bus stop when I was met with blinding pain. I felt a very strong migraine coming on, so much so that I really had to stop what I was doing. Without thinking, I pulled off the bandana and felt the pain ease up just slightly. It suddenly hit me. I was not okay with this. I could not justify the pain for a “mitzvah” I was never really that into from the start.

    It was a difficult decision. My husband was a big supporter of me doing what was comfortable for me. He thought I should have stopped the second they started giving me migraines. I did exactly as you did — I brought a beret in my purse in case I felt uncomfortable. I finally “ripped off the bandaid” at a friend’s wedding, when my thick headband kept falling off during dancing until I just gave up. I was worried that everyone would make a big deal or ask me why I stopped. I am so fortunate that basically no one asked. My close friends asked my husband, for the most part. Anyone who was crude enough to make a comment, I just told them it was a “medical reason” to shut them up.

    To be honest, this was the start of a really important, great transformation for me. Not only did I become exceedingly more comfortable once I stopped, but I also became happier with who I am in Judaism and who I am in general. Wearing the “tznius uniform” and wearing hair coverings to fit in or please those around me just made me feel self conscious and VERY aware of the eyes peering at me, possibly judging me. I would put on a shirt and wonder if the neckline was high enough, if it’s too fitted, if it matters that you can see the outline of my camisole underneath. I would wonder what people thought about how I don’t cover at home, or I only cover with xyz hair covering, or why I don’t wear a sheitel, and how this reflects on me. I started doing it for me, and not for the community. Thankfully, I live in a community with a very mixed practice when it comes to tznius and hair covering, so I would have “fit in” regardless.

    As a final, side note… AFTER I stopped covering my hair, I learned that my personal rabbi rules that hair covering is not binding on married women in our society! This is exactly why it needs to be talked about. I was under the impression that you don’t ask a rabbi because no rabbis will ever say you can get away with not doing it, but I could have saved myself some heartache on this one.

    Sorry that I basically wrote a novel in a comment, but it is so infrequent that women in similar situations are brave enough to so eloquently share their story. Thank you for your post, and if we have to struggle, it’s always wonderful to know you are not in it alone!

    • inmyroots says:

      Amazing comment. I am so happy I posted this just so I could read your story and response. Thank you :-) You are never alone!

    • Estee Brick says:

      I wanted to let you know about our product, The Hair Grip so that you can tell your friends and family who may be struggling with keeping their wigs and scarves (even silk) on and are extremely uncomfortable with the combs, clips, and pins. It’s a comfort band that grips to hair (and skin which is great for patients undergoing chemotherapy). You can visit our website http://www.TheHairGrip.com for more information, photos, and videos. By no means so I intend for this post to be a free ad. That is not my intention. I was looking all over your blog for a private message box where I can send you this info but could not find out.

      Abbie-your blog is great and I believe that many many young women share that struggle, including me (which is why I am passionate about our product because it makes following the mitzvah of covering your hair so much easier). I agree with everything you wrote and I really hope the pressure and judgement goes away soon. I also love the rest of your blog :)
      ~Estee
      TheHairGrip@gmail.com

    • Lauren says:

      I’m so relieved I found these postings for many reasons. I have really begun to struggle with so many aspects about yiddishkeit—and hair coverings was at the forefront. I always thought it was a luxurious mitzvah— especially for those who don’t have sweat glands, have disposable income and aren’t prone to migraines. And yet, I was so aggravated by the culture it created of keeping up with glorious hair and even more glorious price tags.
      It’s been over five years of being uncomfortable—either with my fall, headbands, hats or bandanas. And then just today my friend introduced me to the kippah fall whih allows a lot of your natural hair to be out and blend in. How come I didn’t know about his before? I nearly cried in excitement for something that appeared so much more manageable and head friendly. Hopefully i can enjoy the mitzvah now instead of resenting it, both spiritually and physically.

      • inmyroots says:

        Beautiful. Thank you for reading and sharing! Yes I love my kippah fall and wear it on Shabbat. It’s so hard and it’s a struggle I found so many people face but had not talked about! All the best and keep it up. Again thank you for your comment and for reading :)

    • Chan says:

      Who is the the rabbi that said its ok? I don’t cover my hair and would love to speak to him….

  3. Rachel says:

    Proud of you for finding your own way – and more than happy to join this discussion with u…

  4. Evie Shmievie says:

    So proud of you Abbie. I have struggled through it too. Feeling I was letting everyone down. But what I didn’t feel was me letting myself down, which is most important. As long as you stick to what you know is honest and true, there is no way you can let anyone around you down. I know you never have with me and that’s what I love so much about you. Keep blogging. I like where this is going. Xoxo

  5. Pingback: To Cover or Not to Cover: In Response | In My Roots

  6. I had no idea that this tradition was so uncomfortable, expensive or distressing.
    I am glad you reached the point of saying ENOUGH.
    You and your opinions have tremendous intrinsic value.

  7. SJY says:

    read it abbie!

  8. Glad that I found your blog! I really hear a lot of what you are saying, and echo your sentiments about there being a lack of education and preparation for women that cover their hair. This needs to change. I also feel your grip at the crazy cost of sheitels. I personally get all my head scarves at thrift shops, usually for $1 or less, and most of the others were gifts, so I don’t have this issue.

    I would suggest checking out this forum – imamother.com – I only discovered it because someone linked a post to my blog, and there seem to be a lot of women on there that share hair covering ideas and difficulties.

    It is nice to see someone being so honest and brave and not simply going along with what everyone else is doing. The above commenters are right – your relationship is with Hashem, yourself, and the others around you is what is truly important, and you need to be true to yourself about how you cover.

    My story is almost the opposite of yours. I was feeling a little doubtful about covering my hair before getting married, but then was surprised to find out how much I truly loved it. I moved to Chicago aka sheitel-land and was told that I had to wear a sheitel, but I don’t, and don’t plan on it because I love wrapping with scarves so much. I even have a blog about it (wrapunzel.wordpress.com)

    Anyway, thank you for writing this. As someone that loves covering her hair so much, it is so important for me to hear a perspective like yours, and it really helps me understand and empathize with others. Thank you!

  9. Andrew Ocean says:

    Tzniut modest
    Character is in your soul
    You love your husband

  10. Pingback: Honesty: The Jewish Hair Covering Dilemma III | In My Roots

  11. Chaya Lander says:

    Does wearing tichels really make your hair thin out? I am not married or even Jewish (I’m a Bat Noach) but I am wanting to have some covering. I know some Modern Orthodox friends of mine wear hats that don’t cover all their hair or they wear bandannas or something like that.

    • inmyroots says:

      It did for me but everyone’s different- you will have to try whats good for you! What’s a Bat Noach? I now do not cover my hair at all unless I am synoguoge. A very good choice for me.

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