HIDE and SEEK: Jewish Women and Hair Covering
Weight: 0.60 kilograms
HIDE and SEEK: Jewish Women and Hair Covering
Rivkah Lambert Adler
Chaya Devora Bleich
Joseph J. Greenberg
Rachel (Karlin) Kuhr
Esther Marianne Posner
Lynne Meredith Schreiber
Susan Rubin Weintrob
Aviva (Stareshefsky) Zacks
Traditional Judaism considers the hair of a married woman erotic. As a result, married Jewish women are generally expected to cover their hair, except in front of her husband, and sometimes in the company of other women. For most of Jewish history this practice was not disputed - mainly because society at large also considered it immodest for women to let their hair down in its city streets.
However, as the general definition of modesty has changed in the last two centuries, Jewish women have followed suit, debating the necessity of covering their hair in a world that remains "uncovered." Today, most observant, married Jewish women cover their hair in some way although a vocal minority declines to do so at all. Hair covering has, therefore, become the bellwether for religiosity, turning practice into politics.
Sources dispute the when, why, and how of hair covering, but nearly all agree on one thing: it is the obligation of married Jewish women to cover their hair in some manner. To be frank, it is not always an easy observance. It can, in fact, change the very nature of a woman's identity when her reflection fails to display what she once considered an identifying trait.
This collection of essays explains the law, considers the customs, and includes the voices of women from around the world who are very much moved by the nature of this challenging observance.
The traditional Jewish community has long been silent on the very personal, yet also public, matter of married women covering their hair with hats, scarves, and even wigs. Hide and Seek is the first book to discuss this topic, and includes legal and sociological perspectives of this observance, citing relevant texts and rabbinic discourse, as well as the history, tradition, and customs of Jewish communities from around the world. The book also includes 24 personal essays from women regarding this sensitive issue.
Lynne Meredith Schreiber is a journalist, college instructor, and author of three other books: Driving Off the Horizon: Poems by Lynne Meredith Cohn, In the Shadow of the Tree: A Therapeutic Writing Guide for Children with Cancer and Residential Architecture: Living Places. She lives in Oak Park, Michigan with her husband and son.
softcover, 224 pages
(hardcover edition ISBN 965-7108-48-9)
Excerpts from Hide and Seek:
"The role of the Jewish woman is far subtler than the role of the Jewish man. I want to feel closer to God in my own way, not by copying the ways of Jewish men. By requiring me to make an unmistakably feminine, explicitly Jewish decision every morning of my life, covering my hair helps me stay connected to my identity as a Jewish woman, yearning for holiness."
Rivkah Lambert Adler, Ph.D., Jewish educator and Rebbetzin
"Covering hair is part of the jewelry of getting married - you get a chattan (groom), you get a ring and you get a shaitel (wig)."
Fagie Rosen, shaitel macher (wig maker)
Praise for Hide and Seek:
"The social ramifications of Jewish law 'how does observance make you a better person' is often asserted, but rarely studied.
Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering is an excellent anthology of essays, written mostly by women, about how the mitzvah of hair covering affected them."
Rabbi Michael Broyde
[Rabbi Michael Broyde is the Rabbi of Young Israel in Atlanta, Georgia, Dayan (Rabbinical Judge) in the Beth Din of America and Professor at Emory University's School of Law. Rabbi Broyde is a halachic authority on matters of family law and commercial law, and a leading contemporary expert on the subject of kisui rosh (hair covering).]
Hide and Seek: Jewish Women And Hair Covering by journalist, author, and educator Lynne Schreiber is a charged collection of essays by learned authors about the traditional Judaic practice of married women covering their hair. The testimony is profoundly in favor of following the long-held ways, for reasons that vary from rejecting the casual popular pressures of an increasingly immodest society, to the importance of holding divine law in high esteem, to the significance of not defining ourselves through our physical appearances.
A unique addition to Judaic Studies reading lists, Hide & Seek is highly recommended for its thought-provoking and fascinating account.
Midwest Book Review
By far, one of the most profound works on covering the hair ever written. Lynne Schreiber has contributed a monumental tome to Jewish thought. Jewish Women and Covering the Hair should become required reading in every adult curriculum.
The Jewish Hour (radio show)
I think that every Jewish woman needs to read Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering. It was outstanding and I am recommending it to everyone. Hair covering is like aliyah. Not everyone does it, but every serious Jew needs to think about it. Lynne Schreiber has done a great service for the English speaking Jewish community.
Rabbi Elly Krimsky
Rabbi of Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah of Potomac, Maryland
Hair Today, Hidden Tomorrow
As a feckless ba'alat tshuva, covering my hair after marriage seemed as much a part of my new religious duty as keeping separate dishes for milk and meat. At the time, though, the exact legal ins-and-outs of the practice remained unclear to me.
I didn't realize, for example, that unlike the make-or-break observance of kashrut and Shabbat, the source for married women covering their heads hangs by a thread: an inference from a single biblical passage in Numbers, describing the treatment of the suspected adulteress "And he [the priest] shall uncover/unbraid [parah] the head of the woman."
Indeed, the whole issue was often surrounded by a tinge of hysteria. Posters (pashqvilim) on certain streets warn Jewish women they're headed for damnation if they don wigs instead of scarves. One convert contributor to Hide & Seek, the new collection of essays by religious women discussing their experiences covering their hair, notes that "the Zohar cautions that a woman harms herself, her husband and her children if a strand of her hair is visible."
And one Talmudic story I often heard in my Lubavitch days, and which is also cited in this volume by a member of Chabad, concerns Kimchit, who claimed that she had the honor of seeing all seven of her sons serve as high priests because "the rafters of my house never saw my braids." (I finally looked up the exchange in Tractate Yoma 47-A, and discovered the sages' common sense response: "Lots of women have done so and it didn't help them.")
Today, I am sorry I didn't have Hide & Seek when I began to hide my hair. Like the author and nearly all the Orthodox contributors, I would still have covered up. But reading it would have cleared up many halachic issues, and spared me many pangs of unease, as Hide & Seek's broad spectrum and room-to-breathe approach takes the hysterical tinge off the subject.
Intriguingly, editor Lynne Schreiber's opening essay notes that in three "serious halachic communities of a century or more ago Lithuania, Morocco and Rumania women did not cover their hair at all." Schreiber promptly busts one "popular revisionist perspective," that Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was upset that his wife did not cover her hair. She was, Schreiber says, from Lithuanian background, and in fact "individuals who spoke personally with Rabbi Soloveitchik about the matter of hair covering attest to his insistence that his wife's practice of not covering her hair was, in fact, halachically sound, although no one will go on the record to quote the Rav's reasons in part because he apparently swore them to secrecy."
Schreiber adds that no former students of the Rav would go on the record for her book, for fear that haredi leaders would annihilate their rabbinic careers. However, that omission is more than compensated for by her footnote listing halachic authorities who ruled in writing "that there is no obligation for a woman to cover her hair in a society where modest women generally do not." These include the 19th-century Iraqi rabbi Ben Ish Hai, the most popular Sephardi posek before Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
There are, of course, good halachic reasons to cover one's hair which are accepted, in different variations, by the majority of rabbis today. But it appears that like all contemporary Orthodox regulations regarding women's dress and much of men's, for that matter head covering has become a fetish, a question of identity and politics.
Modesty in and of itself is not the issue as evidenced, for example, by haredi women's avoidance of overly long skirts: if they don't show some leg, they might, God forbid, be mistaken for religious Zionists. Were women's hair covering just a modesty issue, then single women would have to cover their hair as well.
Not that everyone is sensitive to this. One of the entries in the book comes from a woman who was an aguna, or "chained woman" whose husband refused to divorce her for 10 years, who, after finally buying her divorce from her abusive husband in her early 30s, finds herself navigating the singles scene bewigged. Not surprisingly, she discovers it's hard to catch a religious man's eye when her dress communicates unavailability.
She asks for a dispensation to expose her "still dark, thick gleaming locks," but the rabbis she consults won't give her one. When a jerkish date asks her to uncover for a moment, she is insulted, protesting that a woman's hair is ervah a private part and in the interest of parity asks her dinner companion to describe his own, uh, privates.
Chill out, sister. Reason has already told you that hair is not ervah in the ordinary sense, or you wouldn't have asked for a dispensation in the first place. In the words of one of the halachic essays in this volume, "... since distinctions are made in the Talmud regarding geographic location, modesty as related to hair covering is different than other forms of bodily covering. If different demands are made in the home, marketplace and semi-private courtyard, then there is some fluidity about the modesty of hair that is not present in other discussions of modesty."
In my Lubavitch stage, one story going around was about a divorc e who, when faced with the same dilemma, relented and momentarily exposed her hair to her suitor. They married. Yet this bitter divorc e has decided that covering her head is her own special nisayon (trial or tribulation). However, it doesn't seem very Jewish to "bear a cross" that halachically can be tossed off.
Girl, find another rabbi. Plenty of reputable rabbinical authorities out there give no-longer married women dispensations to take off their head coverings precisely on the grounds that it hurts their chances for remarriage.
A chirpier tone but the same theme is taken up by another contributor, the convert who decided to shave her head once a month: "I wanted to give up my hair in the service of God as penance for certain misdeeds... to cleanse myself from any sins I had committed in my previous life." This also doesn't sound like the language of Judaism.
The majority of the personal stories in this collection, however, are more toned-down, and Schreiber is to be congratulated for providing a glimpse of how an interesting spectrum of Anglos in Israel and in the United States feel about the practice.
Much of the talk surrounds the advantages and disadvantages of hats, scarves and falls, and I was personally enthralled by the "whatever you want, honey" response of so many husbands as described by their spouses.
Many of the women find genuine spiritual and emotional fulfillment in the practice, which they variously describe as a connection to God, a gift to their husband, or a way of identifying publicly as a Jew not to mention a chance to cover up limp hair or get out of the house quicker in the morning.
Others are candid about their difficulties in covering their hair, even when they really want to. In one particularly touching account, a woman widowed 20 years ago, who describes her thick, red hair as her nicest feature yet still covers it, asks who can truly appreciate her beauty when no one can see her hair.
"Those special parts of me that I thought would always be the domain of my husband, my gift to my bashert, have instead been stockpiled away for a later day, if I eventually find the man who will appreciate how difficult yet imperative the Halacha has been for me," she writes. "I remain an oxymoron, a non-married person with a married person's obligations."
Schreiber herself struggles with the decision, lamenting the change to her looks, and questioning her identity. But two years into her marriage, like many of the women in the book, she seems whole with the practice.
An interesting exception is the professional woman who takes off her hat a couple of years into her aliya, when she feels she can no longer be associated with the general perceptions of the religious. In one omission, the book contains no more accounts from the large number of religious women who never decide to cover their hair, but the phenomenon is covered at length by scholar Erica Brown in an intriguing halachic-cum-sociological essay. She returns to the idea that covering one's hair is as much a social statement as a modesty statement, recalling that the first question a real estate agent asked her when scouting out potential neighborhoods in Jerusalem was "How do you cover your hair?"
As she observes, "Hair covering has become a seal or marker regarding a host of religious issues, used as ritual observance generally, trustworthiness of kashrut specifically, beliefs about the integration of the secular and Jewish world or lack of, and even commitment to Zionism."
Or, as in the words of a neighbor of mine, "Every morning I get up and wonder what political statement to make today."
Jerusalem Post International Edition
Observant Jewish women traditionally cover their hair after they marry. For them, hair is erotic and only their husbands may enjoy it. Although wearing a shaitel (wig), tichel (kerchief), snood, scarf, or hat is common practice, it is by no means uniformly accepted. Covering hair was a sign of modesty in society throughout history, but times and definitions of modesty have changed. The Jewish legal texts on the subject are also open to interpretation. Ms. Schreiber has collected twenty-fix essays about kisui rosh from a variety of women (and one man) who explain why they choose to cover, or not cover their hair. All belong to Orthodox communities. Introductory and concluding material explain the halachot of hair and a glossary provides definitions of Hebrew and Yiddish terms.
This book is unique in its examination of a religious practice that affects a woman's identity and self-image by changing her appearance. Observing this commandment is challenging, and these essays explaining why women choose to cover or not to cover their hair demonstrate the diversity of our Jewish communities.
Barbara M. Bibel
Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
Dissecting A Mitzvah
New book investigates the commandment for Jewish wives to cover their hair, and the whys and the ways they do so.
When author Lynne Schreiber, newly observant and engaged to be married, decided to follow the mitzvah to cover her hair after her wedding, she sought in vain for books on the subject.
"Everything I do in my observance is new," says the Oak Park resident.
"The way I approach things is that I want to learn everything I can about it and then decide what's right for me. But I couldn't find a halachic (religious) book with any of the laws or even something academic written by a rabbi."
Voicing her bewilderment to an acquaintance, she was told, "Well, you're a writer. Write a book!"
Schreiber recalls laughing at the challenge, but she ultimately followed the suggestion.
Her book, Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering (Urim Publications; $24.95), includes essays by two dozen women, six of them local: Esther Posner and Susan Tawil of Southfield; Miriam Apt, Khaya Eisenberg and Mirjam Gunz-Schwarcz of Oak Park; and metro Detroit resident Julie Hauser. Former Detroiters Yael Weil of Los Angeles and Rachel (Karlin) Kuhr of Tel Aviv also contribute.
In addition to the stories of women who have embraced the mitzvah of hair covering, the book also includes challenging essays calling into question both halachic interpretations of the mitzvah and the customs that have grown up around it.
The commandment for a married woman to cover her hair arises from one slender verse in Torah.
Numbers 5: 18 (Parshat Naso) reads, "And he [the priest] shall uncover the head of the woman."
The woman in question is a suspected adulteress and the uncovering (some minority interpretations translate the word paruah to mean unbraid or dishevel, not uncover) of her hair is orchestrated to be an embarrassing echo of things she would have done in an adulterous relationship.
From this one verse and ensuing rabbinic interpretations, the laws and customs instructing married women to cover their hair are drawn.
Rabbi Reuven Spolter sees an increase in the number of married women observing this mitzvah in his congregation, Young Israel of Oak Park.
"I am excited about Lynne's book," he says, "because it represents hair covering in such a positive, nuanced manner. It gives people who never cover their hair a lot to think about. It gives a glimpse into some of the challenges and benefits that women find when they perform this mitzvah."
The challenges are great. A woman's hair defines her, beautifies her. And because of its power to attract attention, observant Jews consider a married woman's hair to be erva (sensual), equal in its erotic potential as other private parts.
But how does a woman relate to herself once her hair no longer frames her face? What does it mean to keep her hair hidden from all public view, rarely to let it be mussed by the wind or warmed by the sun?
How does one cover? With a shaitel (wig) or a hat? A scarf? A shaitel topped by a hat lest one's shaitel is mistaken for actual hair? What about a snood?
Some sources say a hat that allows a tefach, a hand's breadth of hair, to show is permissible while others forbid even that.
The most liberal advocates of hair covering merely require a married woman to braid her hair or keep it secured by barrettes. And in the strictest of communities, married women shave their heads and then cover them with scarves.
Schreiber includes in her book a touching essay by a woman who follows this strictest interpretation of the law as well an essay by Erica Brown that calls for serious discussion on why many Orthodox women either do not or have ceased to cover their hair.
A Sensitive Subject
Few rabbis returned repeated calls from the Jewish News to discuss the issues surrounding the mitzvah of hair covering.
Likewise, very few women agreed to speak on record, saying they felt the entire topic was too personal to discuss in a public forum. Others said they feared censure from their community or being misunderstood by the public at large.
Even in Schreiber's book, five of the women who wrote used pseudonyms.
Several others did explain their reasons for covering -- or not covering -- their hair in interviews with the Jewish News .
Jill Greenbaum of Southfield, who belongs to Young Israel of Southfield, an Orthodox shul, is among numerous Orthodox women in her congregation who do not cover their hair.
"I live my life a certain way," she told the Jewish News. "I keep Shabbat; I keep kosher - but I do wear pants. As far as covering my head, it's not important enough for me to take it on, and it's not important enough to my husband. But I respect people who do."
Laya Crust, an artist who lives in Toronto, says she "did some very basic looking into it" (whether or not to cover her hair) when she got married.
In Jewish sacred writings, "it seems there are only two places that say anything about a woman's head covering," she says. "In Tanach (the Bible), from the passage in Naso, it is assumed married women covered their hair; therefore we have to cover our hair.
"Historically, women did cover their hair at that time, in that place, but it was nothing to do with rabbinic law or Torah law. It was the way people dressed."
A second passage is in the Talmud, Crust says. It concerns a woman named Kimhit, whose sons all became Kohanim.
"She was asked why she has this honor," Crust relates, "and she replied, 'Even the beams of my roof haven't seen the hair on my head.' But that's not even from Torah -- it's in Talmud."
Crust and her husband, Les Lightstone, have six children and attend an Orthodox shul. The family keeps kosher and is shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant).
However, she says, "I want more proof that this is what God intended for us."
Worth The Sacrifice
For Ilse Roberg of Oak Park, "a shaitel is a sign of dependability. [It] says, 'Here lives somebody you can depend on.' I wear this in observance of God's commandments. It's a big sacrifice to wear a shaitel, no question."
Raised in pre-war Germany, Roberg lived a secular life and even attended a convent school although she received no instruction in Catholicism.
Her plans to attend medical school were set aside when, as part of her med school matriculation, she was required to attend a summer camp for Nazi youth. The experience was so disturbing that she abandoned her dream to become a doctor.
Roberg's stepfather enrolled her in a teacher's college where she studied not only secular subjects but for the first time in her life, Judaism as well.
These studies opened her eyes to the wealth of Jewish tradition, inspiring her to become observant, a decision that caused great static in her relationship with her stepfather.
Unable to escape with him and her mother to Brazil, Ilse and her husband, Alex, continued teaching in Germany until 1940 when they sailed for America.
Arriving upon these shores, Roberg was told, 'Take off that shaitel, you're in America now.' She still bristles at the memory. "I fought hard for this shaitel. Because this is America I should remove my shaitel?"
Esther Posner, whose essay appears in Hide & Seek, began observing the mitzvah very late in her marriage. Posner recalls that when she first married 39 years ago, she and her husband never discussed hair covering although they both came from Orthodox families.
"It was a cataclysmic issue in my life that made me decide to cover my hair after years of not doing so," she says. The cataclysmic issue was cancer.
When her hair began to fall out due to her chemo treatments, Posner bought a wig that closely resembled her own short, curly hair. And when her hair began to grow back in, Posner decided to continue covering her hair.
"At the time I made the decision it was a pact [with God]. I will wear this and You take care of me.
"Today I'm not as aware of it. And if any health problems surface, I won't think, 'Look what I do for You! What's Your end of the bargain?'"
On The Job
"Covering my hair was never a question," says Khaya Eisenberg, a young mother of three who also holds a doctorate in psychology. On the other hand, finding a comfortable way to observe the mitzvah has presented unique challenges.
"I have a very long neck and I do not look good in hats," says Eisenberg, who wrote one of the essays in Hide and Seek.
But when she got married, she found her husband didn't like the idea of a wig. "He felt it was gross to put someone else's hair on your head."
She settled on a snood, which neatly captures all her hair and meets the letter of the law. However, in Eisenberg's community, wearing a snood in public is somewhat akin to wearing one's bathrobe. Thus, on Shabbat and other formal occasions, she wears a shaitel.
"There's this continuum," she explains. "There's totally conforming and then there's being yourself and then there's being weird. I'm not ready to be weird. There's only so far I'm willing to go to be true to myself. Part of who I am also wants to heed the social norms of the community."
Ironically, on the job at University of Detroit-Mercy, where she teaches, Eisenberg's snood is just one of many accepted head coverings worn by the variety of religious women, nuns and Muslims among them.
Lisa Winer, an assistant attorney general for the State of Michigan, says that in her work environment, hats are not professional. Yet she is not comfortable with the idea of a shaitel.
Married for three years, she admits she is still struggling. "I am doing my best to cover my hair without getting overwhelmed," she says.
Winer says she asked rabbis' wives whether head covering is a custom or a law.
"I got no satisfactory answers," she remembers. "Over time I got the sense that it was law. Maybe it's the lawyer in me. I want to see the sources, see how the law is interpreted.
"Covering my hair was important to my husband and I decided I would be willing to try and grow with the mitzvah. Bottom line is I care very much about Jewish law and incorporating it into my life.
...If I had more clarity about what the law is and the different ways to interpret it, I'd be better able to be sincere and also to do the right thing."
A Regular Person
If she could, Bellischa Mendelsohn, who lives in Oak Park with her husband and year-old son, would wear a shaitel all the time.
"I like wearing a shaitel," she says, "but I get headaches." During the week Mendelsohn wears a beret and on Shabbat wears a three-quarter fall -- whose headband covers the front of her hair. "I feel better in a shaitel," she says, "because then I look like a regular person."
According to Schreiber, "looking like a regular person" is an issue for many of the women who are committed to covering their hair and yet are loathe to appear too different, whether in their own community or in the community at large.
While a shaitel can help with the "fit in" factor, one is bound to ask, "Mightn't a shaitel be so beautiful that it attracts attention?"
Some Sephardic communities do not permit shaitels for just this reason. Married women in these communities use scarves instead.
Mendelsohn chuckles at the thought that an observant woman's shaitel could be so alluring.
"Believe me, no matter how beautiful or custom designed, or how convincing the part, you are always going to feel there is something on your head; there is no way you can feel it's not there."
For Mendelsohn, even though covering her hair is hard, she does not consider it a sacrifice. "Covering my hair is a very exciting thing. It elevated our marriage. There is no way I feel less womanly. I feel more womanly.
"My hats and shaitel remind me that I don't need other people's approval of my attractiveness. What's important is what's inside of me, what I have to offer the world.
...Not that we should go around looking bad. On the contrary we represent God's creation. We're not supposed to look un-taken care of or ugly."
One young woman asked, "If my hair is supposed to be beautiful for my husband, yet covering it all the time changes its texture and color, how will I still be beautiful to him?"
Responded Young Israel of Southfield's Rabbi Yechiel Morris, "We have to be sensitive to a woman's feelings when they take on this mitzvah. Maybe we're not doing a good enough job of that. There are a lot of different customs."
Rabbi Morris, who came to the Detroit community in August, is considering teaching a class on the topic of head covering.
"I think it's beautiful that people struggle with this mitzvah," he said. "It shows that they really care."
Debra B. Darvick
Detroit Jewish News
Author Lynne Schreiber: "I own at least 30 hats, three snoods, a selection of scarves and no wigs," writes the author in "Hide & Seek." "Neither [my husband] nor I want me to look frumpy before my time."
"The goal of this book is not to tell women how to cover their hair, but to get all of us thinking and talking -- and learning," writes Schreiber.
A Difficult Subject: Journalist finds much to consider when she tackles the seldom discussed issue of hair covering.
It's probably not a cosmic accident that I got a new haircut in the midst of writing this article. "Go shorter," I told my stylist. "Something cuter. Maybe with bangs?"
An hour later I emerged from the hair salon with a cut reminiscent of the one I wore during my junior year in college, which I spent in France and Spain. I felt liberated, cute all over again. I felt younger, lighter.
I spent a few minutes more than usual each morning potchkeying with my hair. As I did, I couldn't help but think about the conversations I was having with Orthodox women of all ages.
Their devotion to Halachah (Jewish law) moved me beyond words. Liberated from mousse and gel, they concentrate more on inner grace. They don't anticipate friends' compliments on their new "dos." Their husbands are the only ones who praise the look of their hair.
But as much as they hold to this mitzvah, I wondered at the stricture of their community. The community that is there for them in times of joy and sadness is also very concerned with, as one woman said, "what goes on in our cholent (Sabbath stew) pots."
So many women were loathe to speak on record because they feared community censure. Some feared being gossiped about because of the way they observed this mitzvah. This fear struck me as odd as this is the very community that stickers their bumpers with calls against indulging in lashon hara (gossip).
But these conversations got me thinking. Do I spend too much attention on my looks? Do I spend as much time looking inward as outward? Do Orthodox women and their daughters not have "hair issues"? Do teens in observant communities not wail that their hair is driving them crazy?
Were I Orthodox, would I say to my daughter the next time she bemoans her wonderfully curly (but often unruly) hair, "Honey, concern yourself with what's in your head not what covers it. Now, go study for your chem test."
She hears from me often enough the maxim "Beauty is as beauty does."
Embarking on what I thought was a fairly straightforward article, I soon realized I could very well open myself up to angry letters scolding me, an outsider, for writing about a mitzvah I do not observe.
So many were frightened I would paint them in a bad light, make them out to be backward. A few of the women who agreed to speak to me did so because they said they had read and respected my past work. They knew they could trust me. I did not want to let anyone down; but neither did I want to sugarcoat the true angst that was shared.
I hope Lynne Schreiber's book and articles like this one are the catalyst for discussion. Observant communities are seeing new interest in the mitzvah. Those who struggle with it merit a forum in which to discuss Halachah and custom and express their thoughts and feelings.
Debra B. Darvick
Detroit Jewish News
In 2001, Lynne Schreiber started a chain reaction among women willing to share their innermost thoughts about the intimate aspect of Jewish life regarding sa`ar isha ervah (the hair of married women is immodest for public viewing). Not surprisingly, she learned that many of these modest women would share their thoughts about the sensitive topic of kisui rosh (covering the head) only with the use of pseudonyms. Nevertheless, the pseudonymous and the non- pseudonymous coaxed other friends to lend their own stories to Schreiber`s growing anthology. Urim Publications made the groundbreaking collection available to the public as of February 2003. There is simply nothing else on modern bookshelves that gives voice to women`s concerns about covering their hair.
Hide & Seek records the experiences of women in Chareidi, Chasidishe, Modern Orthodox, and Yeshivish communities. Some had hair-covering role models in relatives or acquaintances. Others did not. The title is taken from Schreiber`s personal account of her once-wavering hair-covering decision. The book`s value is its portrayal of the processes these women experienced while struggling with the cost, comfort, individual and communal acceptance of covering their hair.
Hide & Seek segments are compelling for the issues they explore. A divorced woman`s response to an almost humiliating dilemma at appearing married when she aches to let the world know she is an eligible single borders on black comedy. A ba`alat teshuva`s cognitive dissonance at realizing she is wearing a wig while eating at a treife restaurant jolts her into definitive decision (she became a rebbetzin of note once she dealt with relevant issues). The account of a beret-and-bangs wearing woman provides insight into the value of a pleasantly stated question versus the opportunity for a scathing remark.
A widow reflects on life through the prism of shaitel strands. Each story is worth mention here because each would appeal to women who share their experiences or would find them intriguing, but space is limited. Through it all, readers can vicariously participate in the emotional upheavals as the writers grapple with the cosmetic and spiritual experience of covering their hair.
"We don`t know what Rav Soloveitchik actually believed about covered hair, and it might not be fair to attribute specific ideas to him," remarked one Hide & Seek reader in my neighborhood. "I don`t know that anyone trying to decide whether or not to cover her hair would use this as part of the decision process, but this is one interesting book" a neighbor remarked as she read my review copy. She realized the exact nature of the anthology, which includes an overview of Halachot pertaining to the covering of women`s hair.
Hide and Seek is an original work and it serves an important purpose. The book gives voice to the swirling thoughts that have lain hidden beneath synthetic, 50-50, and cloth-covered hair for the past two generations. It speaks to the rabbinate as well as to the public about a topic neither easily broached nor easily resolved. Hide & Seek can be a harbinger of conflict resolution when it is followed by intelligent, compassionate discourse between couples.
A Short Interview With Lynne Schreiber
Hide & Seek is a most unusual collection of thoughts from women in various branches of the Orthodox Jewish world. Oak Park, Michigan`s Hide and Seek`s editor Lynne Schreiber shared a few remarks with The Jewish Press, explaining her experience at assembling the anthology:
YG: What did you expect as a result of the book`s impact on readers?
LS: I had no expectations other than to put together a comprehensive, interesting book about what I consider to be a very relevant and under-covered topic. I designed the book to be a tool that could help readers begin their learning process and encourage them to delve out further information in discussions with their rabbis.
YG: Did you anticipate a reaction from the rabbinate?
LS: No. I worked with very well respected rabbis on this book and I did not anticipate that the book would in any way be offensive to any particular segment of the community, with the exception of rabbis who do not promote hair-covering for women. In regard to the latter, I simply expect them to shrug off the book as insignificant and sophomoric.
YG: How have results differed from your expectations? How are they the same?
LS: The book just came out in America and made its debut at a big book release party in Michigan. So, I have not yet heard much feedback at all. However, reviews like the one on eluna.com, where Hide and Seek is featured as the book review of the month, and personal comments from rebbeim who pre-ordered the book have been laudatory, enthusiastic and encouraging.
The Jewish Press
Hide & Seek is a book by and for women who cover their hair. In recent years head covering has become the fashion for Orthodox married women. This is the first book that gives readers a "peek under the shaitel" and lets you in on the personal feelings and conflicts of the women who cover their hair.
Go away all you men. This is women's stuff. You guys can never fully appreciate the sacrifice involved in hiding the hair that you have painstakingly straightened, curled and primped throughout your developing years. Your hair was your crowning glory; your beauty and now you must hide it from the world day in and day out for the rest of your life.
Reading this book is like attending a support group for head coverers. Meet Esther Marianne Posner, survivor of the holocaust and two bouts of cancer. Her observance is her pact with God that while she covers her hair he will do his part to keep her alive and in good health. So profound is this pact that she wishes there was a bracha that she could recite while putting on her wig.
Next is Susan Rubin Weintrob. Her hat reminds her of the promise that she made to live as a good Jew. A Jew who covers her head cannot make a business appointment for Shabbat or slip some non-kosher food.
Miriam Apt began covering her hair with a sheitel after she had been married more than 40 years. He husband, then retired, started learning more and asked her to take on this observance. She did it for her husband, which was reason enough, and for years after he died she continued the practice explaining to her children that she was covering her hair because Daddy asked me to.
Susan Tawil points out that covering ones hair is the litmus test of strict adherence to Torah observance. "In the eyes of the world we might think we look more beautiful with our hair showing but in the eyes of God our careful observance of His mitzvot reveals our true beauty."
Who are the women who author these chapters? Regular gals from the neighborhood just like you, who run car pool and attend PTA meetings. You'll enjoy sitting down with them and "hearing" their take on this practice that has captured a generation of Orthodox women by storm.
Hide & Seek is a book by and for women who cover their hair. In recent years head covering has become the fashion for Orthodox married women. This is the first book that gives readers a "peek under the shaitel" and lets you in on the personal feelings and conflicts of the women who cover their hair.
Don't look to this book for a scholarly discussion on the halachic sources of this practice. The halacha is discussed briefly and there is a short piece on the history of this observance, but the book is largely anecdotal. It consists of a series of short chapters, written by different women (one chapter by a husband), expressing their personal feelings about head covering. There are women who grew up with it, baalot tshuva who took it on with all the other mitzvot and Orthodox women who added this practice to heighten their level of religious observance.
Some of the stories are heart warming, like the story of the woman who wore a wig to cover her balding head while in chemotherapy, and then took on this observance in gratitude for surviving the illness. Another chapter is based on an interview with a charedi woman who never considered another way of life. The chapter "A Day in the Life of a Sheitel Macher" offers a unique insight into a very private profession. Some women admit that covering was a convenient solution to bad hair. Hair was never their best feature and covering it took the issue off the table.
Though all of the women cover their heads, for most of them, this practice has exacted a toll. - The bride is proud to announce her new status to the world by covering her head, but after some time she finds herself at war with her hat. - A woman realizes that marriage has cost her identity. In one day she lost her name and her signature hairstyle. - Another woman bemoans the fact that she will always be denied the invigorating walk on the beach with the wind in her hair. - And here's one you may not have considered; a woman writes that not wanting to be caught uncovered, when a guest in someone's house, she puts on a hat to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. - A professional woman writes that in her hat she was stereotyped and it interfered with her professional status. - A widow writes that she must continue to cover her head, even though it undermines her efforts to attract another husband. - Then there is the woman who finally turns to her rebbitizin in desperation, and is advised to stop, cover only on Shabbat and add days one at a time. It is months before she can finally say that she is comfortable covering her head.
This book is not about whether to cover or not to cover. Covering is understood. Although there are sacrifices, like all mitzvot the benefits far outweigh the costs. For some women head covering is her admission ticket into a community. For some women hair becomes an intimate item to be shared only with her husband.
The great conflict in this book is whether to cover with a scarf, a hat, a wig or all of these. Many criticize the wig solution, which covers your own hair with someone else's attractively coifed locks. This tough position is defended in a captivating chapter on the Lubavitch approach to head covering. The Lubavitcher Rebbe held that not a single strand of a married woman's own hair should be seen. An elegant wig serves two purposes: it covers the whole head, thus fulfilling the mitzvah, while it enhances the woman's appearance. Since it is an aesthetic improvement women gladly accepted the practice.
Does this attitude patronize women? Does the rabbi believe that women prioritize their appearance above their observance of halacha? These are some of the things that you will consider in this thought-provoking book.
Hide & Seek should be required reading for every observant bride and any woman considering taking on this practice. Women who cover their heads will empathize with these articles and find sisterly compassion in these pages. This is a fast and easy read and a book that you will not be able to put down, whether you cover or not.
The book that I have chosen to focus on from within Orthodoxy is 'Hide And Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering', published in Israel but in English, a symposium on the subject by twenty four learned and observant Orthodox Jewish women (and one man).
The book is impressive on several levels. First, for any of us who still hold the outdated stereotype that observant Jewish women have little secular education, the brief bios of the authors at the end of the book is positively humbling. One is an attorney in Washington, D.C. one is a college instructor who has three other published books, one on children with cancer, one on the architecture of residential homes, and one of poetry. One is a psychologist, one is a tax attorney, one works as a documentation manager for a high tech company, and one is a certified financial planner with a specialty in the financial needs of single women. So much for stereotypes.
Second, it is good to see both how learned and how open minded some of these women are. They make clear that there is more than one permitted position on the question of whether married women must keep their hair covered or not. They cite authorities and communities that did not observe this stricture, and they make clear that this rule is based on a very weak source in the Bible. (I am tempted to use the Talmudic expression and call this 'a mountain hanging by a hair', but I will resist the pun). I can think of few traditional practices that are as counter-cultural as this one is in our time, and so these women who choose to observe it are making a statement about their commitment to the tradition that is loud and clear. In the Middle Ages, when our neighbors in the Islamic communities also observed this stricture, it was self evident that this is what a pious woman does. But in our time, when there is almost no crumb of modesty left in the culture around us, it becomes an enormous act of self sacrifice and self definition for women, especially for those who work in the outside world. As Erica Brown observes in her essay in this book, in Israel, you can pretty much guess what a woman's position is on Zionism, on the need to integrate the secular and the Jewish worlds, and on many other issues by the kind of head covering that she wears.
Agree with the book or not, it is an impressive demonstration of the amount of intensive learning within the Orthodox community, especially amongst women. And it is an impressive demonstration of the amount of religious commitment as well. Who would have dreamed a generation or two ago that there would be a community of women like these-literate in English, sophisticated in Torah study, and committed to observance? When you see a woman who wears a hat at all times, you know one thing for sure: that this is a woman to whom Judaism matters; that this is a woman who is serious about her faith.
The head covering for women has become the feminine equivalent of the 'black hat' for men in the Orthodox world,--the litmus test of strict observance. Perhaps the reason is because it is so difficult to observe. For a woman to keep her hair covered day in and day out for the rest of her life is a sacrifice, especially in the western world where so much of a woman's definition is bound up with her appearance. Evidently, if she is willing to give up such an important part of her self image for the sake of her faith, it is assumed that she is just as exacting with all the other observances as well.
So where is Orthodoxy these days, as reflected in this book? It has moved a long way to the right since the Orthodoxy of the mid fifties that was so concerned with melding tradition and American culture. In those days, Orthodox boys who went to a ballgame or a movie or on a date tried to find some headgear, like a baseball cap or a hat to wear, so that they could be observant and yet not stand out. No one would have imagined then that married women would wear head coverings in such numbers as they do today.
So this is clearly a movement on the rise, a movement that may not have more members than it did a generation ago, but whose members are much more committed than they were a generation ago. We have our intellectual and spiritual differences with Orthodoxy. We wish that they could overcome the paralysis in decision making that they seem to be suffering from. We wish that they were as passionate about the plight of the Agunah as they seem to be about head coverings. We wish they were as open and as respectful of other views within Judaism as they should be. But, with all these reservations, we must acknowledge that this is a vibrant and a vital movement, whose people are deeply committed. We in the other movements in Jewish life have to be impressed, and even a little bit envious of that.
Rabbi Jack Riemer
Twenty-five writers, including one husband, have expressed thoughts, feelings and rationale on the controversial subject of Jewish women covering their hair after marriage. It is controversial because not all Orthodox women who might have covered in the past, are doing so now. The wife of renowned authority, Rav J. B. Soleveichik did not cover her hair, setting a far-reaching precedent.
Once, decent women would never be seen in public without head coverings. Until recently, it was a sign of a womans standing. Even late into the twentieth century, Australian private girls colleges mandated that students wore hats outside campus. The Torah tells of the woman taken in adultery who was brought to the high priest where her hair was either uncovered or dishevelled by him. It was a mark of shame to be publicly seen that way.
When every womans head was covered, there was no issue. Today there is. What is the problem with hair being seen? Why are married women differentiated from unmarried women? Why do some wear scarves or snoods, some wear hats, some wear wigs (called shaitls) and some wear both wigs and hats? Why are some wigs really only half wigs? Why do some women have a small amount of hair showing and some have none? The permutations are amazing, each with its own rationale, group of followers and rabbinic decisors giving opinions, which seem rather to be questions of social mores than of modesty.
Differences in style come from individual communities. Shaitls today are quite magnificent and frequently infinitely more attractive than the wearers own hair. They are also often made of human hair. Can that be acceptable? One writer says that the last Lubavitch Rebbe said indeed, they are quite acceptable and that women should look very attractive to their husbands. Other contributors point out that some rabbis will not even consider of wigs and allow only scarves.
Some of the writers are witty. A bride writes of being colour identified for her first wig: Ah, I felt I had been admitted to a new society, and this was my identifying number. I was a Jew, a woman, a lawyer and a kallah, (bride) and now I was a four-six.Some of the stories are sad. One woman was widowed in her thirties with seven children. Even so, she is halachically obliged to cover her head for the rest of her life, so that no potential husband can see her lovely red tresses, and eligible strangers assume she is unavailable. A divorcee has the same problem. Judaism can be unyielding. There are stories here from wig makers, from cancer sufferers, from women who have stopped covering their heads and from women who have moved to the most stringent coverings.
The chumras (stringencies) of some Hungarian chassidim are perplexing for the uninitiated. The day after her wedding, the mother or mother-in-law of the bride completely shaves all the hair off her head. Thereafter, every month before going to the mikveh, the woman shaves her head. Why? What the writers say is that shaving means no hair can ever show and that it is easierat the mikveh for all their body to be immersed. This seems arrant nonsense, as the dimensions of the mikveh are more than adequate for submerging short hair and even quite long hair. It is also hard to imagine husbands taking joy in making love to bald women.
This book is controversial, challenging and thought-provoking. Only ten percent of Jews are Orthodox: a fraction of those are head coverers. The sources are given for both covering and not covering. The jury seems to come down on the covering side, certainly in synagogue, but in Judaism, that is not necessarily significant to most adherants.
Australian Jewish News
OFRAH'S Book Club MARCH 2003 SELECTION
Includes contributions by Rivkah Lambert Adler, Miriam Apt, Ruth Ben-Ammi, Chaya Devora Bleich, Erica Brown, Khaya Eisenberg, Tehilla Goldman, Joseph J. Greenberg, Mirjam Gunz-Schwarcz, Viva Hammer, Julie Hauser, Devorah Israeli, Rachel (Karlin) Kuhr, Batya Medad, Esther Marianne Posner, Barbara Roberts, Fagie Rosen, Lynne Meredith Schreiber, Leah Shein, Rivkah Slonim, Shaine Spolter, Susan Tawil, Yael Weil, Susan Rubin Weintrob, and Aviva (Stareshefsky) Zacks.
Some are haredi, others are BT's and FFB's. Some took on the practice to increase their feelings of religious observance, others never gave it a second thought. Traditional Judaism considers the hair of a married woman erotic. As a result, married Jewish women are generally EXPECTED by their communities to cover their hair, except in front of their husbands, and sometimes in the company of other women. For most of Jewish history this practice was NOT DISPUTED - mainly because society at large also considered it immodest for women to let their hair down in its city streets. However, as the general definition of modesty has changed in the last two centuries, Jewish women have followed suit, debating the necessity of covering their hair in a world that remains "uncovered."
Today, many observant, married Jewish women cover their hair in some way (sometimes spending thousand of dollars on wigs that are more erotic than their natural hair) although a vocal minority declines to do so at all. Hair covering has, therefore, become the bellwether for religiosity, turning practice into politics. Sources dispute the when, why, and how of hair covering, but nearly all agree on one thing: among the traditional Jews, it is the obligation of married Jewish women to cover their hair in some manner. This collection of essays explains the law (briefly), considers the customs, and includes the voices of women from around the world who are very much moved by the nature of this challenging observance.
Essentially it is an "anecdotal" collection, and not a scholarly cultural anthropology on the practice. Among the personal reflections are the stories of the bride who realizes that covering her hair with a hat is a royal pain; another woman loses her identity by losing her signature hairstyle. In other stories, one woman can no longer jog on the beach with the wind in her uncovered hair; another puts on her hat in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, lest a male guest see her in the hall with uncovered hair. The traditional Jewish community has long been silent on the very personal, yet also public, matter of married women covering their hair with hats, scarves, and even wigs. Hide and Seek is the first book to discuss this topic.
Women's Head Coverings
One of the major differences in ritual observance between liberal and Orthodox Jewish women is that liberal women don't cover their hair after marriage. However, even within the Orthodox community, there is much debate not only about how a woman should cover her hair, but even if it is still necessary for her to do so. The goal of "Hide and Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering," edited by Lynne Schreiber (Urim Publications), "is not to tell women how to cover their hair, but to get all of us thinking and talking - and learning." Schreiber hopes that women who read these essays will want to learn more about the commandment so they can decide what they will do in their own lives.
Although the book does contain essays that discuss the source of the commandment and its legal implications, the majority of the essays are written from a personal point of view. Women tell why they wear wigs or handkerchiefs or snoods. They discuss their decisions to be the first in their family in generations to cover their hair, or how they differ from other family members by using a different method of head covering. There is also an interesting article about a Jewish wig maker that shows just how personal a decision to buy a particular wig is.
The book does contain some repetition, especially in the number of articles about wigs, so it's best not to read it in one sitting. For those unfamiliar with this commandment, the essays tell the religious and spiritual reasons behind women's decisions to cover their hair. These women are serious about their religious practice and see their head covering as a public way to declare that they are Jewish. Those who already cover their heads will find it interesting to read about other women's choices of head coverings and the rationale behind those choices. There were also several articles that spoke about the social pressures some women feel to wear one kind of head covering or another, and how others may define their level of religious observances and their political leanings according to their type of head covering. Also included is an article by Rivkah Slonim of Binghamton's Chabad House, who writes about how Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson influenced a large number of women to cover their heads with wigs.
Reading Schreiber's book is anexcellent way both to learn more about this commandment and to start a discussion between those who do and those who don't cover their heads.
Rabbi Rachel Esserman
The Reporter of Binghamtan, NY
Much of this book reads like the imagined minutes of a Wig-wearers Anonymous meeting, a collection of intimate testimonies, insights, conflicts and confessions which will be revealing especially to those from outside communities where they are customarily worn. Those who already cover hair will no doubt be impressed that the author, Lynne Schreiber, herself a hats-on member of this otherwise silent sisterhood, has succeeded in persuading a selection of women, from Chasidic to convert, ba'alat teshuvah to feminist, to share their fashion preferences and religious beliefs, as well as the everday problems and blessings of being in disguise.
Many have taken pseudonyms to protect their identity, but all talk in candid detail. They range from a Charedi lady who began shaving her head after marriage as a matter of course, to the former cancer-sufferer who movingly explained that she has continued wearing a wig after her treatment in order to "show my gratititude to God for bringing me to this day."
The book at times is also deeply sad. The experiences of an abused divorcee, who maintains covering her hair and faces the indignity of trying to appear single while looking like she is still married, were particularly difficult reading. So, too, was the story of the widow who said: "I have the obligations of a married woman but none of its privileges...."
But each of the testimonies contained some fascinating and touching snippets of lives under cover. It was reassuring to find that, for almost all the women, hair-covering is also a challenging mitzvah for them to keep. I found empathy with one contributor who admitted: "Every time I looked at it [her wig] I cried... It looks good, but it's not like my natural mane. To me, it'll always be a wig. Covering my hair is not a mitzvah I enjoy. I really do it just for God."
Certainly, it is startling to see in print religious women challenging and dissecting Jewish laws and practices: and refreshing to read that in the main, while they have questioned, they have found their own personal answers for adopting their own particular mode of hair-covering.
Although the halachot and sources are included, the book's focus is predominantly anecdotal. But it manages nevertheless to deal with the various conflicting factors, aesthetic, religious and comfort, with only the occasional rose tint.
LOCKS OF LOVE: A new book called Hide and Seek covers the, um, hairy topic of Jewish women and their head coverings.
Summary in a sentence: In 25 essays by differing authors, this book explains the law, considers the customs, and includes the voices of people from around the world with various backgrounds.
Opening lines: In a time so pervaded by television and movies, we have only to watch a thirty-second advertisement to understand the power of hair, says Chana Kahn, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Teaneck, N.J., and New York, N.Y. A woman in a commercial for a hair product throws back gleaming, glistening locks and poses seductively for the camera. From this, the message is clear that "hair is something that enhances one's sexuality and attractiveness," Kahn explains. "It's meant to be seductive."
The Jewsweek verdict: An intriguing read for anyone interested in the topic, it proves to ask more questions than answer them.
Snood or chapeau, sheitel or beret, Jewish women's hair coverings -- and what they mean -- are teased out in a new collection.
If there's anything that the rabbis of the Talmud, Homer, Lady Godiva and the producers of shampoo commercials have in common, it's an understanding of the power and beauty of hair.
In Judaism it can be a complex subject. The hair of married women is thought to be alluring and, accordingly, many traditional women feel required to cover their hair. But there are many ways of doing so and a multitude of reasons, as explored in a new collection of essays, "Hide & Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering" edited by Lynne Meredith Schreiber (Urim).
The essays are remarkably candid and engaging, whether the author is a newly observant woman with berets in rainbow colors or a Satmar chasid who shaves her head and wears a wig or scarf. Reading the book is akin to eavesdropping on interesting conversations that, according to the editor, rarely take place in real time.
With the hundreds of books that arrive for review consideration, it's refreshing to encounter a work that charts new territory. The fact that this is published by an Israeli-based publisher, rather than an American publisher affiliated with a particular stream of Orthodoxy, may help this book reach a wide-based audience in the Orthodox community and beyond.
In an interview with The Jewish Week, Schreiber explains that she began thinking about the subject before her own wedding eight years ago, when she faced the decision as to whether she'd cover her hair. She didn't grow up religious, and when she approached the two rebbetzins she was studying with about the question, neither had a book on the subject, as they did for all of her other questions.
Schreiber began covering her hair after her marriage, and found that covering her signature thick curly mane with a hat wasn't that easy. But, with some kind advice from her rebbetzin, she grew into it. And she began working on the book, compiling source material and seeking out contributions from other women who had opinions and experience to share, across the spectrum of practice (and non-practice). Since so many books about women's mitzvot are written by men, she particularly wanted this to be a book of women's voices.
Schreiber admits that although she initially struggled with her own practice, she's no longer ambivalent. "Since I began to write a book about this custom, I've looked at the Hebrew sources and I can see it written, plain and clear. That's what it is to be a religious Jew -- you follow the ancient words, with (or sometimes without) personal understanding just because you believe in God and His laws. I remind myself regularly that I chose this lifestyle; I can walk away at any time and yet I choose not to because the benefits outweigh most struggles."
The range of essays reflects the editor's point of view: Most are written by women who cover their hair, although they write from different perspectives, with many acknowledging that it's not an easy thing. Two of the 25 essays consider why women who are halachically observant might choose not to cover their hair. Schreiber reports that, after getting the word out on the Internet that she was looking for writers, she was "flooded with essays by people who don't cover. A lot of people have a real beef with this."
Schreiber explains that the common thread running through all the pieces is "a passion for the subject, no matter what side they're on." Five of the contributors write anonymously. "People get shy about talking about these things in the Orthodox world," she explains, adding that many, including rabbis she spoke with, didn't want to be on the record.
The strength of this book is its many voices. Some women wear flowing scarves; some wear snoods, described as a sack with an elastic band that holds the hair; some wear hats that cover all of their hair while other let bangs and/or some loose hair stick out; some wear sheitels, or wigs, whether synthetic or human hair, or wigs with hats or scarves on top; some shave their heads and wear wigs or scarves; some cover their hair in public but not at home. Some give a spiritual spin to the practice; some enjoy describing their own hair underneath the coverings.
Among the contributors are a Holocaust survivor from Holland "who lived the Anne Frank story with a happy ending" and also survived cancer; she began wearing a wig after undergoing chemo treatments and then decided to keep the wig on once her own hair grew back "to show my gratitude to Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu for bringing me to this day." Also included is a woman who converted to Judaism who says that she knew that she wanted to marry a chasid, and that it didn't matter which rebbe he followed, "I planned to go along with whatever he did, trusting his judgment."
A widow who continues to cover her hair describes herself as "an oxymoron, a non-married person with a married person's obligation" and a woman who moved to Israel found that wearing her "smart little chapeau" had more political symbolism than she realized. A woman comfortable in snoods wonders if they are socially appropriate for public events and notes that it's "important to distinguish between God's commandments and society's dictates."
One writer reports that covering her hair is the most "difficult mitzvah" she does and would much prefer letting her hair go free in the wind. Another suggests that wearing a winter hat would ruin her sheitel, but more seriously, describes how she remains resolute in covering her hair, out of commitment to her decision, to God and to her husband.
For one essayist, covering one's hair "has become the female 'black hat' equivalent in the Orthodox world, the litmus test of strict adherence to Torah observance." In her world, wigs are pro forma for public occasions. She feels "sure that our matriarchs would never go for the idea of custom shaitelach, and I find it unfortunate that this has become the epitome of frumkeit."
There's also an essay about a woman buying her first sheitel, a chapter on the Lubavitch rebbe's philosophy and support of women wearing wigs, a piece, more academic in tone than the others, supporting the choices of orthodox women who do not cover their hair and a piece about a wigmaker who works out of the basement of her home - where plastic foam heads hold an array of wig styles.
In addition to her own personal essay, Schreiber contributes a chapter on the halachot of hair. She explains that covering one's hair derives from a reference in the Torah. "Discussing the predicament of the sotah, or suspected adulteress, the Torah implies in one small reference that women's heads are typically covered and it would be a humiliation to have them uncovered in public." Through interviews with rabbis and quotes from sources, she carefully grounds the related issues in their textual foundations.
The editor, a 32-year-old Detroit-based freelance journalist, college instructor and author who has about 100 hats, lives in a community that she says is comparable to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, in terms of its mixture of levels of Orthodox observance. She sees an increase in observance of hair covering among women in her generation -- many whose own mothers and mothers-in-law didn't cover are now doing so.
Schreiber hopes that more women will come to choose to cover their hair out of knowledge and understanding.
Ultimately, Schreiber said, covering her head makes her feel closer to God.
The Jewish Week
This collection of essays about Jewish women and head-covering ranges from Halakhic essays to personal reflections from women who find genuine spiritual and emotional rewards in covering their hair and from those who explain their difficulties in doing so. There is discussion of the different ways of covering hair, and contributions by women who are divorced and widowed. A piece by Erica Brown on Orthodox women who choose not to cover their hair, explores the relationships of head covering to issues not only of Halakha and modesty, but of politics and social identity.
JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) Journal
The book is a wonderful exploration of a relatively unknown topic. I believe that it is an important contribution, especially to those who are not simply ready to go with the flow, and want answers to why we do what we do.
Rabbi Yossi Hodakov
Shma Yisrael--The Jewish Hour radio program, New Haven, CT
This anthology gives voice to married Orthodox women who cover their hair. The 25 entries range from personal reflections on the meaning of the act to practical and aesthetic considerations about the covering itself.
Schrieber begins with a short history of hair covering and concludes with a brief discussion of the halachot of the practice. The chapters in between provide glimpses into heretofore private, guarded territory. Some of the contributors have never questioned the act while others came to it later in their married life. Some choose sheitels (wigs), others wear hats; some allow hair to peek through, others keep there heads shaved beneath scarves. For some, it is an obligation joyfully and unquestionably undertaken. For others, hair covering after marriage is a challenging, uncomfortable task.
We follow a day in the life of a shaitel macher ("Usually, hair comes from wherever in the world there is a crisis"), we meet a cancer patient whose "wig became her shaitel" when her chemotherapy ended, as a kind of pact with God ("If I'm so good and I cover my hair, will you do your part and keep me alive and in good health?"). We learn about the pros and cons of human versus synthetic hair, handmade versus machine made. For some there's the longing to feel the wind blow through their natural locks.
For many observant women, to cover or not to cover is neither a simple nor a single decision; it is a choice that can evolve. These essays provide a rare look at some of the implications and permutations of the process.
Jewish Book World
Structured around the narratives of twenty-two women, each identified by name or pseudonym, Hide & Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering is a book about marriage and commandments that oversee the life of Jewish Orthodox women and at the same time offers an ethnographic account of Jewish women, of their relation with God, religion and the community (at large and as a "family"). Many religious women have internalized the value of hair covering because it is based on an underlying Jewish principle --"modesty". And it is around these two related terms - "hair" and "modesty" - that the present collection of essays is shaped.
Of utmost importance, in my opinion, is the "complete" (but not "circular") structure of the book. Thus, it starts with a detail - the image of a young woman's hair as Lynne Schreiber saw one day on an airplane, followed by the development of the main lines of inquiry regarding hair coverage in Jewish culture (What is Hair?). In the last article (Halachot of Hair) Lynne Schreiber offers a full and well-documented review of the religious views on this issue, stressing the fact that early classical rabbinic literature (Talmud and Midrash) presents an entirely different approach to the phenomenon of hair covering than the Bible. In the same essay, the author stresses the fact that rabbinic literature of the Middle Ages further reinforced the issue of women's hair covering as an integral part of Jewish religious observance, and points out that only in the modern era was the practice seriously challenged, as it fades from general societal convention.
The core-theme of the book is the explanation and understanding of the socio-religious and symbolic value that hair covering has for many Jewish women. The guiding principle behind day-to-day behavior of married women in traditional Jewish family was and remains that of "modesty," which initiated the mitzvah connected to her physical appearance: this "external appearance" should be viewed as desirable only by her husband (and not by anyone else). The principle of "modesty" has a greater influence on Jewish women behavior; the most visible aspect of this value being a conservative dress code and hair coverage. Of all 613 commandments which govern behavior from morning to night and birth until death, the authors published in this book value for the most part the practice of hair coverage, and the wearing of a wig or hat. It had become a good deed or mitzvah, like getting education or helping others. Although nearly all Orthodox Jews adhere strictly to the laws of rabbinic Judaism, the practice of hair coverage differs between Ashkenazi Jews (those of eastern European origin) and Sephardic Jews (those of Mediterranean descent). The twenty two essays published in the book document these distinctions extensively, stressing in addition the extent to which religious observance is highly variable among Jews of different degrees of orthodoxy.
From a first reading of the book, it is understood that for a traditional Jewish woman, the family is the central social unit, around which her entire existence is formed. For the female authors of the essays, the family represents the principal way of transmitting tradition from generation to generation, wherein Jewish culture takes a form of mobility. Alongside the breakdown of the family unit in secular society, it is noticeable that the book's essays are set to prove that the Orthodox Jewish community has managed to protect the stability and sanctity of the family. For the Jewish married woman, the observance of the mitzvah of hair coverage represents more than a simple duty; it is a way of living and a way to increase "goodness" in the universe. At the same time, within the traditional Jewish family the husband and wife roles are well defined respectively. The book conveys, as such, a very distinct image of the traditional Jewish family: in this case the families understand the idea that rituals have symbolic communicative functions and can express concepts about relationships and derivative structures-this being the case of hair coverage.
But the stress put on the gender-role a Jewish woman has within the family (and the hair coverage that marks it) is only one level at which the book can be read. At another one, a deeper one in my view, a greater relevance is attributed to Jewish woman's personal experience in telling the "general story" of hair coverage. This type of interpretation is favoured by the diversity of "gazes" or perspectives published in the book -- the essays uncover an unfamiliar aspect in the daily life of the Jewish woman that is most likely unknown to non-Jewish people. The narratives dealing with the issue of hair coverage vary from the story of the preparation before the wedding (Devorah Israeli-Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow) to that of personal feelings concerning divorce (Barbara Roberts-In Decency), from the depiction of self-fulfilment through embracing this practice as a clear-cut symbol of adherence to the Jewish religion (Aviva Zacks-I'm Covering my Hair) to that of renouncing the use of hats without a total abandonment of the custom (Ruth Ben-Ammi-Proud in the Golan Heights). This wealth of perspectives captures the attention and leads to a deeper understanding of the custom of hair coverage. One can read about the difference between various types of wigs (artificial or natural wigs, East-European and American wigs) and, associated to that, one could better understand the relations between husband and wife, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law within a new family (Viva Hammer-My First Shaitel). Here the wig is more than a simple "cult-object," and becomes a symbol for a new identity -- that of a married woman.
At the same time, a "gender-sensitive" approach encompasses the gathering of narratives. I refer here to the (religious) male perspectives that, either in the article on the interpreted rabbi's texts (Rivkah Slonim-Blessing from above and Blessing from bellow: The Lubavitcher Rebbe on "Kisui Rosh") or in the personal story of a husband (Joseph I. Greenberg - Thinking outside the Hatbox: Reflections of a Husband). The "male gaze" further strengthens a woman's decision to conform to the mitzvah of hair coverage. Likewise, the book does not feature only articles that advocate the issue at question, but also contains essays with solid arguments against this custom (Erica Brown - "A Crown of Thorns:" Orthodox Women who Chose Not to Cover their Hair).
The narrative genre favoured in the volume (the presentation of stories in a personalized, "auto-biographically" form) allows the reader to avoid reifying these women, whose individual narration emerges as a complex process. The custom of hair coverage and wearing wigs or scarves is related both to life cycle events (such as, marriage, and the birth of a child) and mundane events (such as, the choice between various types of hats). Significantly, various types of hair coverage are explored through episodes of daily family life (such as, the set of personal decisions involved in wearing snoods in Kaya Eisenberg-Halachah, Society, and the Snood), while this Jewish practice becomes of great importance for a widow (Shaine Splotlter - A Widows's Peek).
The book contains not only narrations (despite the fact that they constitute the majority) but also a poem devoted to hair coverage (Julie Hauser-Out of Sight!). The ethnographical perspective portrays a rich view of Jewish social life. For example, the wig -- as a simple material object -- has both a spiritual value (pertaining to religious customs), and a definite physical existence (dealing with health issues). The essays devoted to the personal experience of Esther Marianne Posner (When my Wig Became my Shaitel), or the depiction of Fagie Rosen's vocation as a Shaitel Macher (Lynne Schreiber-Behind the Fa'ade: A Day in the Life of a Shaitel Macher) contain examples of the above.
Hide & Seek: Jewish Women and Hair Covering covers a particular domain that belongs not just to the study of women in Judaism, but also to the fields of anthropology, religion and cultural studies. In my opinion, Schreiber's book could be relevant and useful for readers who are interested in questions of gender and narratives, gender and religion, and gender and communitarian involvement.
Women in Judaism