Monday, July 21, 2008

Advertising one’s Jewishness &/or viewpoint

If it's Monday, it must be time to put in a good word for this week's Haveil Havalim link fest. Thanks to Ben-Yehudah, of Esser Agaroth, for assembling a fine collection of links to interesting posts.



Writing about praying undercover has made me think about other forms of being undercover. The following prayer and footnote help express my questions.

L'olam y'hé adam yiré shamayim b'séter u-va-galui . . . Always a person should be fearful of heaven in private and in public . . . "

I'm quoting the footnote, found in the Birnbaum Siddur (prayer book), to the above prayer:

"During the reign of Yezbejerd II (fifth century) it was made unlawful for the Babylonian Jews to recite the Shema as being a challenge to the Zoroastrian religion. Special government officials were posted in the synagogues to watch the services. The rabbis of the time impressed upon the people the duty of reciting at least the first verse of Shema privately, in their homes, before proceeding to the synagogue for the morning service. L'olam y'hé is an exhortation to the effect that Judaism must be practised in secrecy (b'séter) during religious persecution. The additional word u-va-galui [in public] is not found in early texts." (Bold added.)

1. Is it necessary for one to advertise one's Jewishness?

In all seriousness, why is such a big deal made of wearing a kippah or hat in public? What's wrong with the old German Jewish custom of being a Jew at home and a citizen of your country of residence on the street?


I'd like very much to hear from those who wear, in public, headgear that clearly marks you as Jewish, or, at least, having an unusual clothing style.

For men, this refers to:

  • a kippah/yarmulke/skull cap
  • a hat, especially if your wear it indoors. (On a related note, here's a "black-hat" ["Yeshivish"/right-wing Orthodox, or Chareidi/fervently right-wing Orthodox] mystery: Will someone please explain to me why a guy who's already wearing a kippah puts on a hat over it, or, at least, instead of it, to go davven [pray]?)
For women, this refers to married women (since many in the Orthodox community believe that a married woman must cover at least part, if not all, of her hair in public) who wear:

  • a wig that's obviously a wig
  • at least two wigs or falls (partial wigs) that are so blatantly different that, though the wearer looks reasonably like the neighbors, it's still reasonably clear to anyone who's seen her wearing more than one of her wigs or falls that the hair on top of her head is not the wearer's natural hair. (By way of example, a former supervisor of mine owned two wigs, one of which had noticeably longer hair than the other.)
  • a wig worn with a hat or scarf on top of it (which, to me, is the women's version of the "black-hat" mystery-- isn't one head covering enough?)
  • a hat or tichel/mitpachat/headscarf worn indoors
  • a snood
This isn't a question of tzniut (modesty), it's a question of conspicuousness--Is a woman who follows the letter of the law, but not necessarily the spirit, by wearing an identical wig or fall every day, therefore giving the impression that the wig is her natural hair, really doing anything wrong? That's basically the same question as I'm asking of the men--Is it really such a terrible thing if a man goes bareheaded, except when praying?

2. Is is necessary for one to advertise one's hashkafah (religious perspective)?

Here's a related post, in which I discuss my decision not to wear a tallit katan. I make no bones about wearing tallit and tefillin in non-Orthodox synagogues because I figure that anyone who belongs to a synagogue affiliated with a movement that ordains women as rabbis will simply have to accept the related consequences, as long as my decision is for me only and not something that I try to force upon others. When it comes to dealing with those in the Orthodox community who disapprove, however, frankly, I'd rather not deal with their disapproval at all--As far as I'm concerned, aside from modesty issues, the way I dress when I come before HaShem in prayer is between me and HaShem, and there's no reason why anyone who disapproves of a woman wearing a tallit and/or tefillin even has to know that I do so.

I may be one of a small minority on this particular issue, but the Jewish blogosphere is full of bloggers who, though remaining part of their communities in terms of observance out of respect for the lifestyle and/or love of their families, differ sufficiently in their beliefs that the only way they can speak freely is to blog anonymously. Should I ever become Orthodox, I would certainly join them in keeping my hashkafah (religious point of view) under my hat.


P.S. Sorry about the disappearing post. I had to take down the post that I published just after this one, temporarily, while I try to clean up some formatting problems. Nu, doesn't Blogger let us use vertical lines anymore?

Apparently not--I just put one in the sentence above, and it vanished upon publication. !#$%^&!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Never mind. I'll post that one next week, as is. :( I was going to publish it on Wed., July 23, but I've gotten a request from a commenter for further discussion on the prisoner swap, so I'll publish that post this Wed., instead.

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16 Comments:

Blogger rivkayael said...

I can explain the bandanna/headband over fall. Some people hold that one must cover all their hair. However, snoods and huge tichels look sloppy. So they cover most of their hair with a fall, then use a bandanna to cover the rest. As to "why not use a sheitel", some people also hold that the head covering is meant to look like a head covering. So this achieves the dual purpose of having a visible head covering that does not look sloppy, yet covers all their hair.

Mon Jul 21, 12:07:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Yeah, I understand the fall with the headband or small scrarf in front--neither a snood nor a tichel is terribly dressy or businesslike, so some married women wear a fall, which does not cover the entire top of the head, but, if they follow the opinion that all of a married woman's hair must be covered, they are then forced to wear something to cover the front of the hair.

Oh, wait a minute: ". . . some people also hold that the head covering is meant to look like a head covering." So you're saying that the wearing of a wide headband *right at the natural hairline* is sufficiently unusual that it's obvious even to non-Jews that one is, at least, dressing in a different manner, and, to Jews who understand the "levush" (Orthodox dress code), that one is covering one's hair? I hadn't thought of it quite that way. Thanks for the clarification.

About the full sheitel with the hat on top, though: If it's perfectly obvious that one is already wearing a hair-covering, why must one top one hair-covering with another one?

Mon Jul 21, 01:13:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous open the gates said...

One reason I heard for wearing a hat over a yarmulke (I've heard it attributed to the Chofetz Chaim, although I may be wrong about that):

The idea of men covering their heads is as a reminder that G-d is "above" them at all times, and to reinforce proper behavior in G-d's presence. During prayers, the presence of G-d needs to be doubly reinforced; hence, the double head-covering. When the tallis is worn, men cover their head with the tallis at certain points in the prayer. When the tallis is not worn - either by afternoon or evening prayers, or by unmarried men who don't wear a tallis - the effect is achieved by wearing a hat. How that extended to wearing a hat all the time - I have no idea. In any event, it seems to be a relatively recent custom.

Mon Jul 21, 04:32:00 PM 2008  
Blogger rivkayael said...

The practice of wrapping one's head in a tallit during tefilah (meaning, shemonei esrei) is talmudic in origin. Somewhere in Berachot but can't recall offhand where. Some people translate that to hat and jacket when a tallit is not worn, or jacket during bentsching.

As to why sheitel + hat: some things are simply beyond me...

Mon Jul 21, 04:37:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

In the turn-of-the-19th»20th-century halakhic works, they talk about how it's not enough to cover your head with a yarmulka ("small hat"), for davening one needs to wear a real hat "as if you were going outside dressed in a respectable manner."

therefore, some hold that in a society that doesn't wear hats generally, a hat is not necessary; others read the preceding directive as universal.

there's also a kabbalistic opinion that you need a "double head covering" but i don't know why. i've actually seen non-hhareidi men achieve this by wearing a large bukharian-style yarmulka over their regular yarmulka.

Mon Jul 21, 05:20:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So, Open the Gates and Steg, some say that men, especially when praying, need, you should pardon the expression, double insulation? :)

Steg, your understanding is that a man should come before G-d in whatever is considered respectable dress for appearance in public. So it's a matter of kavod laShem, respect for G-d.

If I may say so, here's one thing that I find interesting--not necessarily in a positive way--about the "levush" (which I "translate" as "Orthodox dress code"): There seems to be a mandate, that, at all times--we're back to "L'olam y'hei adam" again--a man should be conscious of and modest in the presence of G-d, whereas a woman should be conscious of and modest in the presence of men. That's one way in which I interpret the rabbinic decision to excuse--and/or exclude, depending on whom you ask--women from the requirement to wear tallit and tefillin.

As I said here, “What’s a *woman* supposed to do when the Sh’ma says, in no uncertain terms, to bind HaShem’s words on your hand and between your eyes? And when the Sh’ma says that you will see the fringe and remember all HaShem’s mitzot, what’s a *woman* supposed to look at?”

And as I said here, “We [women] have no ritual garments that are identifiably Jewish to the outside world—only among knowledgeable Jews is the wearing of a wig a sign of Jewish identity. And only married women cover their heads, in traditional circles. . . .

If I understand correctly, the operating premise of an Orthodox woman's observance seems to be that her relationship to Hashem is more internal. ("Kol k'vodah bat melech p'nimah, All the glory of the king's daughter is within." [Psalm 45, verse 18]). . . ."”

Her relationship to men, on the other hand is getting more external by the minute, given the growing obsession with tzniut (modesty) among some of the more right-wing Orthodox.

Please pardon my rant, but the complete lack of identifiably-Jewish ritual garments for Jewish women is one of my pet peeves. It's as if the rabbanim (rabbis) simply assume that women aren't human beings with the need to express our spirituality in tangible terms and in public.

As I said here, “According to my anonymous commenter, the beracha/brachah/blessing that men recite, "she-lo asani isha" ["who has not made me a woman"], is a thousand years older than the corresponding brachah for women. Exactly what brachah were women expected to recite in the intervening thousand years?
Or did it take a thousand years for it to occur to any liturgy-writing rabbi that we women might actually wish to use a prayer book?”

And we're supposed to accept this exclusion from a visible public spiritual life as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Mon Jul 21, 07:14:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ahem, where was I before I so rudely interrupted myself?

Oh yes, the hat-over-sheitel business: Any takers?

Mon Jul 21, 09:17:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The only explanation I've heard that makes sense--in context--is that a wig is the only hair-covering that covers every last strand of hair. (Personally, I think one of those pre-tied pull-on turbans will do the same.) In my opinion, putting a hat on over the sort of wig that a Chareidi woman would wear is overkill because the style of wigs worn by Chareidi women tend to be reasonably obviously wigs. The idea that a Chareidi-style wig needs to be covered lest anyone think it's one's natural hair is, from this non-Chareidi woman's perspective, a case of "Chareidi syndrome," if you'll pardon the phrase, in that hardly anyone other than a Chareidi Jew would mistake a Chareidi-style wig for a woman's natural hair. I think it's a symptom of the social isolation that the Chareidi community imposes upon itself that anyone in that community would think that these wigs aren't obviously wigs. Her hair is covered--give it a rest, already!

Personally, I think one can reasonably ask whether it's such a terribly sin if half an inch of a woman's hair is visible. What's so immodest about a few strands of hair? (Of course, I don't think hair is immodest in the first place, but I'm trying to follow Chareidi logic, here.)

I guess we're back to RivkaYael's statement that "some people also hold that the head covering is meant to look like a head covering," and some will always hold the opinion that fake hair, however obvious, doesn't look like a head covering. Sigh. So use a turban and be done with it.

Tue Jul 22, 08:13:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

open the gates said...

"The idea of men covering their heads is as a reminder that G-d is "above" them at all times, and to reinforce proper behavior in G-d's presence."

Maybe I didn't pay enough attention to this response. Are you saying that men wear head-coverings *at all times* to remind themselves that G-d is above them *at all times*? It's not enough just to wear one when praying or studying divrei kodesh (sacred texts), which is my family's minhag (custom)? (For the record, I think this approach is more typical of Conservative Jews, of which I'm one.)

Steg, you said, "In the turn-of-the-19th»20th-century halakhic works, they talk about how it's not enough to cover your head with a yarmulka ("small hat"), for davening one needs to wear a real hat "as if you were going outside dressed in a respectable manner."

I find it interesting that, according to that perspective, men are expected to dress for davvening *indoors* as if they were *outdoors.* It's odd, in the sense that, in "respectable" society (even to this day, in court), a man is expected to *remove* his hat indoors, and *not* doing so is considered disrespectful. Davka, we Jews just *have* to be different. :)

Tue Jul 22, 02:02:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

well it makes sense, culturally — in the Middle East, uncovering your head is a sign of *dis*respect (i think it has something to do with sunstroke). Hence the expression בגילוי ראש "with uncovered head" when you're doing something brazenly.

Thu Jul 24, 04:42:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Posmena Sales said...

Hope you don't mind, here is a link for Very Modest Swimsuits. Not many people know about these because they are very special Full Cover Swimsuits to protect the ladies' modesty, including a built-in hood to cover the hair and head. We are trying to get the word out about these. They can be bought online from:
- modestswimsuits.co.uk



Thank you for your help.

Thu Jul 24, 07:03:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Good try, Posmena, but I think this is the wrong demographic.

So, in other words, Steg, we're back to the old dressing-as-our-ancestors-did routine. Don't these minhagim/custons ever get updated? Oh, wait--I'm pretty sure that Borsalino hats for men are a twentieth-century invention. Never mind. :)

Covering one's head to help prevent sunstroke makes more sense than any other explanation that I've heard.

Fri Jul 25, 08:05:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

there's a difference between cultural form, and the manner in which it's expressed. we could say that there's an eternal jewish cultural conception that covering your head is a sign of respect — but how you go about doing it is dependent on "local" (both temporal and locational) culture.

Fri Jul 25, 03:09:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That sounds reasonable.

Sat Jul 26, 11:52:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Batya said...

Men's and women's head/hair covering are for such different reasons.
In Israel, it's easier. I always get a kick out of important men with shloshim, sfira and 3 weeks beards, some who don't even wear kippot in public. In Israeli it's acceptable.
In a way life's easier for me since a wear "the dati uniform," skirts, sleeves and all sorts of hats. I don't have to explain myself.

Mon Jul 28, 02:11:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Men's and women's head/hair covering are for such different reasons." Batya, I've never been entirely comfortable with those differences. Apparently it wasn't in this post that I mentioned it, but it does bother me that men dress to show modest in the presence of *G-d*, while women dress to show modesty in the presence of *men.*

I agree, though, that it's a lot easier in Israel, where one one's manner of dress is understood without explanation. Of course, iconoclasts like me would be just as much out of luck there as here: A woman in tallit and tefillin just doesn't match too many people's expectations.

Mon Jul 28, 06:04:00 PM 2008  

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