Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pain From Head-Covering: Halakha and Reaction

The OU recently published this piece on halakhic considerations when one has significant pain as a result of head-covering.  I haven't had the time to look at every one of the sources used and how the author, Rabbi Alex Ozar, uses them- but I'm also a parent with limited time, and don't want to wait until I can do so.  So here's my reactions as a person educated on the issue, but not currently responding to the halakhic process of the piece.  (I'd be open to guest authors who are interested in doing so- either to support, critique, or add, if anyone has the time and interest...)

The opening of this piece is thoughtful, spiritually aware, and reflective.
"Though spoken of rarely in public forums and still less in the beis medrash, the amount of physical distress sustained in devotion to the head-covering obligation by a substantial number of people is empirically, emphatically non-negligible."
"That the practice is identity-defining and spiritually foundational for so many – that the stakes are so high – only deepens the need for thoughtful attunement and response."
This strikes me as a serious manner of approaching the topic, respectful of the issue as one that does speak to people's use of it as an identity marker, rather than diminishing the topic because it is 'just clothing' or even 'just a women's issue'.  I have to say, I was charmed by the opening.

The research into realia was done via internet fora, but well, this is 2015.  And it is effective in gathering information.  I wonder which fora he looked at, especially since many of the spaces where I've seen such things mentioned are explicitly women's spaces.  Or maybe he asked a woman to find such comments and ask if they could copy them and share those comments with him...

A general outline of the halakhic argument is as follows:
1. Any situation that causes pain preventing normal functioning can qualify one as a choleh she'ein bo sakanah (one ill with a non-life-threatening illness).
2. Halakha does/can think preventatively, as is done in allowing leniencies to prevent one from becoming ill due to extreme cold (i.e. Ashkenazi poskim allow asking a non-Jew to build up/start a fire for you, even Before you become ill from the cold.)
3.  Sufficiently bad headaches can be bad enough to bring you to this point of difficulty functioning.
4. Once we are handing the category of  choleh she'ein bo sakanah, there are leniencies we can invoke.  There are different leniencies depending on what category of prohibition or obligation that we're talking about.
        4a. We allow leniency in different ways for biblical prohibitions, rabbinic prohibitions, and                 obligations- more leniency as this list goes on.
5. Establish how head-covering stands in terms of categories of halakhic prohibitions and requirements.
        5a.  Halakha around head-covering for married women has to do with location/publicity- the               more public, the stricter the prohibition on showing hair/going bareheaded.
6. There is likely room for leniency in some situations, starting with the least public areas paired with partial covering, and moving "outward" from there, depending on the situation- but exact details aren't discussed, nor is and actual psak given.

The conclusion is, well, inconclusive-
"Those for whom head-covering entails substantial physical distress should, in conversation with their families, communities, and rabbis, think through the degree of pain they sustain and whether it impedes their capacity to live their daily lives. If it does, they may consider whether certain of their regular, regularly problem-causing environments – their home, backyard, car, low-traffic office – qualify as places in which the head-covering obligation may be d-rabanan; the factors involved may include the number of people present, the number of people liable to become present, whether or not it is indoors, and whether it is controlled and familiar. Given that determination, it may then be considered whether the head-covering obligation ought to be relaxed – employing a less constricting method, covering less – or suspended long enough to alleviate or prevent undue pain."
 I wish that this conclusion had come down a little closer to "although I believe that each situation should be discussed with one's own rabbi, in certain situations, x, y, and z can be halakhically valid decisions"- this ending feels a little insipid or perhaps even lacking in courage, to me.  It is closer to that than it sounded upon first reading, but I would still like this conclusion to read like the conclusion of a teshuva (which the body of the piece does read like), rather than shifting gears.

Something feels missing to me, at the end of the day, but I'm not sure what.  It is a reasonable halakhic approach to the problem, but somehow- maybe there's something conceptual missing?  Another halakhic concept?  Some focus on realities?  The sociological realities that people might deal with, when making the decision?  I wish I knew.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Reaction to a Reflection on Head Covering

A charming and thoughtful personal account of one woman's journey with head covering of various sorts.

A couple of highlights, for me:
I was the little girl in the large, floppy hat.
It was called my “davening hat,” and I wore it dutifully every morning during prayer services as a child. Even though I was raised in an Orthodox home, my parents sent me to a Conservative day school starting in kindergarten, and I did quite a few things differently at school than I did at home.
All students, girls included, were required to wear kippotduring our school prayer services. This upset me on several levels. First, I did not want to wear what I recognized so distinctively to be boys’ clothing; gender difference was a particularly sensitive issue when I was at an age when cooties were still relevant. But more than that, I did not like the idea of some obscure (and apparently fickle) religious authority instructing me what I should or should not wear on my head. A healthy spirit of defiance beginning to stir, I went to see the principal, my 5-year-old self sitting across from him at his handsome oak desk, my feet not nearly touching the floor.
Together we came up with an ingenious solution: I could wear a hat instead. But even though we had shaken hands on the idea, my small palm getting lost somewhere in the conciliatory gesture, my flower-emblazoned pink sun hat made me feel silly in the reverent pews of the school sanctuary. The deceptively cheery flower perched front and center did not match the gloomy pout persevering underneath. I felt uncomfortable. The hat made me look different and strange—a blaring sign that a disgruntled kindergartener was flouting communal norms.
This is both a familiar experience for me (without it even involving a separate piece of clothing) and something I both fear and expect for my daughter.  How do I bridge the gap between our family's practice and a world that has smaller and more separate "boxes"?  I grew up often feeling different, and it was hard- but it also made me who I am, in ways that I now think were worth it.  It's an on-going question.  But I appreciated this story.

Ans skipping to the author's adulthood, newly married:
But when I one day chose to wrap a colorful Israeli scarf around my head, similar to the ones my mother always wore, my head covering signaled to the world that I was different. While my teenage-self had blanched at the idea, my adult self wore the look proudly. My scarf was an external sign of oneness with my community.

No head covering is arbitrary—every detail, to the carefully trained eye, is significant.
For me, however, covering my head has evolved from an attempt to appease my community into an effort to belong to my community.

 In other words, a head covering is a symbol of identity- and only feels right if it aligns you, in your own vision, with your perceptions of yourself and who you see as your community.

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Link, As An Easy Return

I came across this short illustrated guide to Hasidic women's head-coverings, and thought t would be a good way to get back to posting here...

Here it is: Shpitzels, frisettes, sheitls, and more

I'm interested in the differences between the various sorts of small amounts of false hair that are delineated here- especially how restrained false hair is labeled so differently from loose false hair.  I'd love photos as well as the illustrations, but they do make the differentiation very clear.  I partiularly love the note at the end, about wigs: "The last is considerate very liberal headgear in Williamsburg, and women are often asked not to enter a synagogue uncovered."

In the meantime, I've added a new blog project that has been getting a bunch of my attention during the little one's naps- Nursing At Shul, where I'm putting out information that people share with me about breastfeeding in the synagogues they go to.

I've been camera-less for a while, but it has recently been restored to me, so hopefully we'll be back in business" with both photos and textual content.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Halakha of the Toupee, Part 2

R. Moshe Feinstein (March 3, 1895 – March 23, 1986) comments on the halakhic permissibility of toupees, and on their interactions with tefillin.

מי שקרח ראשו אם מוטר להניח שערות זרות ודינם בענין חציצה בתפילין

אני לא שמעתי ששייך דבר כזה שלמי שקרחו שערותיו יהיה שייך שיצמחו שם שערות זרות שיניחו על הראש, ואם איכא דבר כזה היה זה דבר מותר לעשות, ולענין חציצה לתפילין קודם שנצמחו אין זה חציצה כיון שאי אפשר לחסירם וכל מי שאין לו שערות לא יסירם, ואם  ליכא דבר כזה אבל הוא רק דביקת השערות זרות להגוף ע”י דבק נמי כיון שכן ישאר לעולם ורוצה בזה לא יחצוץ לתפילין, ואם הוא פאה נכרית שיכול להסיר בכל עת שרוצה אף שהוא לנאותו שהוא בוש מלגלות ראשו בבהכ”נ יניח את של ראש בלא ברכה וכשיבא לביתו יגלה ראשו ויניח תפילין בברכה

Someone who is bald: Whether it is Permitted to Wear False Hair, and the Law in the Matter of חציצה and Tefillin.
I have not heard that a thing like this is possible for someone who has lost their hair- that foreign hair that they place on their head will then grow there, but if there is such a thing, it is permissible to do.  As for the matter of separation (חציצה) for tefillin before they [the hairs] are grown, this is not a separation since it is impossible to remove them, and anyone who does not have hair does not remove them.  And if there is no such thing, but rather he just attaches the foreign hair by means of glue, similarly, since they remain forever, and he wants them- they are not a separation (חציצה) for tefillin.  And if it is a wig that he can remove at any time that he wants, even if it is for aesthetic purposes, and he is embarrassed to reveal his head in the synagogue, he may put on the head-tefillin without a blessing, and when he gets home, he reveals his head and puts on the tefillin with a bracha.  
The first thing that I noticed, in this teshuvah, is that one may delay putting on tefillin in the proper way in order to pray with a minyan without embarrassment (בושה). I would then suggest that this is even more so the case when the issue one is dealing with is tzniut/communal standards rather than individual embarrassment without many religious implications. [A little research into textual views of baldness reveals Mishnah Bechorot 7:2, which disqualifies a totally bald kohen (without even a fringe around the edge of the head) from service in the Temple and Bava Kama 60b, where there is the story of a man with two wives- one plucks out his dark hair and the other plucks out his white hair, leaving him bald. However, these don't give a strong implication of shame or inappropriateness about the baldness itself, although the first does cast it as a מום, an imperfection of the body.]

So a woman who does not want to reveal enough of her hair to put on tefillin with all the relevant pieces of the tefillin touching her hair/head directly could put them on over her covering, as long as she put them on without it either before or afterward, in private. Even when one is comfortable showing that much hair (not actually all that much hair if one is wearing a scarf, once you've practiced a little bit- but plausibly a little more than a tefach according to R. Soleveitchik (the two-finger measure, rather than the four-finger measure... I should really find out where he writes that and share it here, at some point.)), getting the tefillin around one's covering can be complicated, depending on style. The chance to just not worry about it and put on tefillin without the whole arrangement (in my case, with a kippah or cap instead of a scarf) gives an additional option for managing one's day, and for praying in public on a weekday.

It also presents an interesting and surprising interaction between one's feelings and one's halakhic obligations. Now I don't Like davening in the morning without my tefillin, but have definitely put them on before davening, then taken them off and gone to shul, when there's a reason for me to go to a shul/minyan where it would be uncomfortable for me and for the people around me for me to wear them. This is a pretty similar circumstance, and R. Moshe seems quite comfortable with the situation. It's a model of handling conflicting needs- everything gets fulfilled, just with some delay.  It is significant because it treats emotional needs as halakhically significant, in justifying non-ideal mitzvah fulfillment.

It's more remarkable because it's letting someone look like they're fulfilling a mitzvah when they are not, and plausibly runs into an issue of marit ayin. That issue would be more significant for someone wearing a scarf, since a toupee might not be known to be a toupee, while a scarf is obviously not a part of the person. That does detract from my comfort in apply R. Moshe's teshuvah for wearing a tichel with tefillin. It would work better for someone wearing a wig, (who would likely need it more- I don't know how one would manage a wig and tefillin at the same time in a kosher manner).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Link And Thoughts About Partial Covering

Finally, a tutorial I can share that involves partial covering.  I should make some of these, but haven't had a chance, and don't know when I will- so it's very exciting to be able to share someone who is thinking about partial covering and sharing some methods.  Also, she uses a ribbon, which is a favorite decorative strategy of mine (as you've seen in the past).

I generally cover all my hair.  But a lot of my friends and peers cover partially- it's an approach that I'm still looking for more sources about (I have some, but they're long, so I haven't gotten to translating and reacting for the blog yet).  There aren't many tutorials online for how to do so though.  Most of the folks I see wear hats, or the "standard" Israeli/Pirate-style (I look like a pirate in it, although it flatters many other folks quite well)- meaning a triangle with the ends tied over the back corner and all left to hang, with hair showing below it.

However, most of the more elaborate styles are actually pretty adaptable for leaving hair showing.  It's just a matter of leaving the back open, and pulling the hair through (basically, tying the scarf underneath the hair, then not closing off the back)- especially easy with rectangular scarves, where it barely makes a difference.  As long as you aren't aiming for something that needs/is aided by a volumizer (something I still haven't acquired), it's all nearly the same.  But there's no one there to show you how to do it, nearly- except this one video, which is much more elaborate than many styles require.  Nevertheless, it is something, and worth the sharing.

I believe in options being available, and a plurality of style options make any practice more appealing, since with more options, one is more likely to find one (or more) that suits your own taste and appearance.  I do wonder what it is about wrapping elaborately that seems to appeal mostly to those invested in very complete coverage.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Reaction to "My Wig Was Beautiful and Expensive, and Everybody Loved It—Except Me"

This woman writes about her journey and struggle with hair covering.  She begins with the sheitel that she didn't really want to wear in the first place, and presents it as The Symbol of Orthodox commitment.  It was something she didn't want, but came to love- then came to hate.  It was difficult, and she presents it as tremendously important to other people- her mother and her husband, not to her.

She ties covering almost exclusively to tzniut, modesty.   Then she objects on the logical reaction that there are women all around who have hair showing- so how sexually attractive can it possibly be?  After all, people are used to seeing women's hair in our society.  It's a familiar issue, and one taken up by several teshuvot, especially that of R. Mesas (which is not yet on this site, as it is long- someday).  She translates ervah as "Sexually erotic", which seems to be a bit of an oversell to me, although plausibly accurate- lots of things are ervah that are not so very erotic in our society- for example, thighs.   Yet no one presumes that it should be okay to show one's thighs, because other women in our society do so quite often  (albeit less than hair).  A nuanced reading of what ervah means might have changed her experience.

Although she does acknowledge that covering is also a visibly sign that she's married, she insists that her wedding ring does that just as well.  My sense is that a covered head (although less so with a wig, I admit) is more visible than a ring, to those who know.  To those who don't know, it doesn't communicate at all (otherwise, we might dispense with the wearing of wedding rings).   I must admit, my scarf was not enough to prevent a gentleman I met at work a couple of years ago from asking me out (a staff member from a different department)- I had to point out my rings in order to communicate that his offer was flattering but mistaken.

As her story progresses, she switches from the uncomfortable-although-sexy wig to "bandanas", but feels frumpy, and misses her own hair, which had been a source of pleasure in her own appearance, before she married.  And yet, once she starts to later show some of her own hair, that doesn't feel like enough- she ends up going bare-headed- yet she pays only glancing attention to this part of the story, giving me the impression that once the "hair barrier" has been breached, that's the end of the story.  (I still have something of a hard time adjusting to that notion, since I spent years with a small head covering before I got married, as longer term readers here know.  My ideal still involves the chumra of some sort of covering/kippah for Jews old enough to understand or begin to.)  She pairs the move from wig to scarf to headbands to nothing with a move from skirts to "leggings and jeans".  I'm not so sure that one has much to do with the other, outside of cultural commonalities.  But okay.

I'm rather amazed at the way that one mitzvah comes to represent one's entire stand on Judaism, to both the self and the outside world.  For me, covering entirely is most likely a chumra, at least given some of the teshuvot that I've seen.  At the very least, it is perhaps the best way of fulfilling a mitzvah, with other ways also acceptable.  And yet it communicates so much- often more than we might want it to.  Visual cues are so powerful, especially when we have little else to go on.  It's both a useful short cut and sometimes a blinder, preventing us from seeing the inner complexity, unless we consciously look for it.  I wonder if a little more nuance would have given this author her chance to experiment without throwing the whole practice overboard- or at least feeling less pressure to do so or not do so for the sake of what it communicated to other people.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Some Thanksgiving for Headbands

Here are some photos from Thanksgiving.  I went with a very simple covering: one scarf and one headband (the white is just a cloth headband).  Headbands have been a nice way for me to give some excitement to my coverings as I try to get dressed pretty quickly with the baby.  This scarf is black on the sides and striped down the middle, which also jazzes things up a bit.
 Hopefully these photos will be a good return to the Style Crone's Hat Attack, after many months' absence, even if they're not taken today- that probably wouldn't get done in time...
 I don't usually include other people n these photos- but here is both the front view of my tichel and a photo I adore- 4 generations of eldest daughters- even if the youngest is just a bit blurry.
I found a Mishnah that is really interesting to consider in light of what I've learned about Middle Eastern and North African Jewish head coverings.  I've learned it before, years ago, but having done that bit of research, it means much more to me now, and makes more sense- when I first saw it, it seemed quite hard to understand. I'm not sure when I'll be able to write that up, but I'm hoping to do so, as I think it will be really worthwhile.  

Also in the coming attractions: an interview (done rather a while ago), more on toupees and tefillin (and the impact that source might have on wearing scarves and tefillin), and eventually more historical head coverings.  Maybe there's interest in very fast coverings that still look exciting?  I can't be the only one short of time and still hoping for some aspect that I can make look snazzy...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

New Baby, and a Link

Our daughter was born nearly a month ago, so we're just settling in to our new family configuration.  I'll be back here as I can, but in the meantime, here's a link that's relevant to our subject, and I'll add my own comments when I'm not typing with one hand,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Neither Fish Nor Fowl?

I came across this quote in the midst of a piece about mikvah, and it resonated with me in a very uncomfortable way.

"At one salon, a woman asked if my husband was home and when I responded no, she sighed in relief and pulled off her sheitl, wig. Women around the living room followed suit, pulling off sheitlstichels, scarves, and hats, a collective shedding of our inhibitions. This was a safe space to open up and be in solidarity as women."

It highlights the ways in which I am both part of the Orthodox community and in which I am specifically not.  I too would not remove my scarf if the host's husband were home- but without knowing in advance and packing a kippah or cap of some sort, I'm not going to take part in that collective intimacy of relaxing from the public face of hair covering- because I don't have a way of covering my head without my tichel on.  The issue is only accentuated since I presume some of this was a discussion of Torah, about which I feel even more strongly about doing with a covered head.

I don't think I've ever actually been in one of these situations.  But the thought of spoiling some sort of connection, or being excluded from it, because I am fulfilling two different Jewish values with my covering, is painful.  Yes, it's a pair of choices that I made- but out of a sincere attempt to follow halakha diligently.  Changing my mind would be a rejection of that.  But it can be something of a lonely place.