Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Conservative women's head coverings, part two

See part one here.

What are the head-covering options available for Jewish women, and which of them are Conservative women likely to wear (in my opinion)?
Sheitel (wig): Commonly worn by Orthodox married women. (Forbidden by many Sefardi rabbis, I’ve heard, on the, to my mind, entirely logical grounds that if a married woman is required to cover her *own* hair as a sign of modesty and/or a sartorial signal indicating that she’s married, covering it with *someone else’s* hair, or artificial hair, defeats the purpose. In defense of non-Israeli sheitel-wearers, a sheitel can be practically a necessity in a business or professional setting in the galut/diaspora, since, in this era, when indoor hat-wearing is quite uncommon among non-Jews in business or professional settings, no other women’s head-covering is sufficiently formal. Ages ago, a blogger recounted the tale of the time she tried wearing a scarf to work—and her boss asked her, “What’s that rag on your head?” She never dared wear a scarf to work again.)

Sheitlach are so completely identified with Orthodox woman that I don’t know of any Conservative woman who would wear one (except for health reasons or for “protective coloration” when working for an Orthodox organization.)
Hat: No longer in common use by women in indoor business, professional, or simcha (happy-occasion) settings. The wearing of a hat by a Conservative woman may mark her as religiously somewhat more traditional than many Conservative women. Of course, there’s always the woman who defies the stereotype by wearing both a hat and a tallit (prayer shawl).
Snood: I can’t imagine any Conservative woman being caught dead in such a thing (though some Orthodox women actually manage to make them look presentable by tying them in various ways and/or combining them with handbands and/or scarves) , assuming they even know that such things exist. (I have absolutely no idea how old I was when I saw my first snood, but I was certainly well into adulthood and living in New York City.)

Scarf (a.k.a tiechel): It’s done, but is often considered more typical of a senior and/or someone not born in the U.S. and/or not dressy enough to be worn to synagogue on a Sabbath or a holiday.
Doily, a.k.a. chapel cap: Unfortunately, New Yorkers use the term "doily." I’m not overly fond of that term, since it could just as easily indicate a crocheted furniture protector (placed, for example, under a vase or centerpiece on a table) or a fancily-cut paper liner protecting a plate or serving tray from baked goods. (See here.)
Unlike kippot/yarmulkehs/skullcaps, chapel caps (quoth this raised-in-South-Jersey gal) have the major advantage of being an unequivocally female garment. However, they have one minor disadvantage and one major one. Being made of lace or thicker crochet thread, they often don’t cover much, and are pretty much symbolic. They also have the major disadvantage, in some areas of the U.S. (such as the aforementioned South Jersey) of being unequivocally associated with the church (specifically, the Catholic Church, in my youth), and therefore, in the eyes of some, possibly intended specifically to be worn during non-Jewish worship.
Wire kippah: As with chapel caps, they’re pretty much symbolic, as they don’t really cover much. And they’re arguably more jewelry than clothing. But at least they’re clearly for females and clearly Jewish.

Designed-for-females kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap (examples here, here, and here or other ritual head-covering: I once owned a chapel cap affixed to a wire frame overlaid with braid. It was very nice and clearly a female head-covering, but didn’t sit on my head in the place that I prefer (covering both part of the front and part of the back, like an old-fashioned bowl-shaped, as opposed to modern flat, kippah), and was a bit too see-through, as Jewish ritual head-coverings go, for my taste, so I finally gave it up. I think that what I’m wearing now is actually a rolled-up knitted kufi, which seems to be a hat of Islamic, or at least African, origin, and possibly originally intended for men (see here), but if Orthodox Israeli women can wear them—they were quite commonly worn by Orthodox women when I was in Israel in 2005—so can I!

Standard-issue kippah: The major advantage of the standard-issue kippah is that it is unequivocally a Jewish garment (except when worn by Catholic cardinals and popes. Who came first?) The obvious disadvantage is that the standard kippah has traditionally been worn by men.

The entire issue of what we non-Orthodox women should wear on our heads exists precisely because, as I’ve stated a few times before, there’s no ritual garment for females that’s unequivocally Jewishany female can wear a wig, hat, snood, or scarf, and doilies are frequently worn in church. So what’s a Jewish woman who wants to wear a specifically-Jewish, specifically-female garment to do?
The women of my parents’ Conservative synagogue who folded kippot in half and bobby-pinned them to their heads were doing the best they could under limiting circumstances. By wearing kippot instead of chapel caps, they were avoiding wearing what they considered a Christian ritual garment, and by folding the kippot in half, they were at least trying to avoid wearing beged ish (a man’s garment).



Blogger Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I think you are mixing concepts or issues. You talk about "ritual headcovering" for women (I don't even know what that means), but you lump it together with how (identified) Orthodox women cover their heads.

No connection.

A women (such as my lovely wife) who covers her hair regularly, throughout the day, because she has a halachic obligation to do so, is not engaged in a 'ritual'. What she wears on her head varies with her dress or mood (sheitel for important business, hats otherwise), but it must cover her sufficiently to fulfill that obligation.

A woman who does not accept/believe in such an obligation, and chooses to cover her hair when she goes to synagogue because it is some sort of modern religious expression (as distinguished from women I know who do it out of deference and recognition that there are halachic obligations/issues involved); that person is engaged in ritual.

I can't imagine that a woman would wear a sheitel for short-term ritual expression. I do think that is likely what women are doing when they wear a kippah. The kippah can't be to fulfill a halachic obligation unique to a married woman, because it doesn't suffice. The motivation apparently is to do what men do. Why, I don't know.

BTW, I don't know what a 'chapel cap' is; but it sounds like something that one of my neonate or infant patients might catch! :-)

Wed Feb 13, 12:14:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Gila said...

There was sometime bothering me about your article, but I think Mordechai Scher more or less hit it. You are discussing two rather different topics interchangeably: head coverings worn by Orthodox women (or rather, those who always cover their hair) versus head coverings worn by Conservative women in synagogue or those Orthodox women who only cover their hair in synagogue.

Here in Israel where there is a critical mass of dati'im, hats and scarves in the office are quite common among the orthodox cover-their-hair-daily set.

Here (Israel)

Wed Feb 13, 07:28:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could not find an email address anywhere on the site- with that said I was wondering if I could be added to your lengthy blogroll and I could do the same.


Thank you

Wed Feb 13, 11:54:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hesh, click on the "View my complete profile" link at the top of my sidebar--there's an e-mail link on the profile page. My blogroll is already as long as the gantzeh megillah, so let me check out your blog for a bit before I make a decision.

Mordechai and Gila, you're both right--I am comparing apples to oranges here. Thanks for pointing out that inconsistency.

Gila, the fact that it's perfectly acceptable for a woman to cover her hair in Israel in an obvious manner is why I specify that I understand why Orthodox women *in the galut/diaspora,* where it's not so acceptable, wear wigs. Why any Orthodox *Israeli* woman would wear a wig, rather than a hat or scarf, is beyond my comprehension.

"for short-term ritual expression. I do think that is likely what women are doing when they wear a kippah. . . . The motivation apparently is to do what men do. Why, I don't know."

Yes, certainly women are wearing kippot for short-term ritual expression. But I don't think the motivation is simply "to do what men do." As I said, there isn't any garment other than a kippah that's identifiably Jewish, so, if a woman's going to cover her head for short-term ritual expression and wants to do so with an *identifiably Jewish* head-covering, she quite literally doesn't have any other option.

Wed Feb 13, 02:33:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women should wear scarves - they look cool in them. And all Orthodox men should wear Kufis.

I hate wearing a kippa it looks stupid, and always falls off at the worst times. And yes I always wear one. I would much rather wear a cool Sikh turban.

Fri Feb 15, 01:20:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

How scarves look depends a lot on how good one is at tying them in an interesting manner. (Don't look at Ms. Klutz, here.) As for kippot, it's the nature of the game that anything that small will fall off one's head if one so much as breaths too hard--that's why wearers of all but the largest kippot have to clip them on. Kufis undoubtedly stay on much better, so they're a good idea. (Breslov-style kippot seem quite similar to kufis.) Turbans probably stay on pretty well, but first, you have to figure how to literally type one on. :)

Fri Feb 15, 10:49:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Gella said...

I'm a student at an egalitarian yeshiva in Jerusalem. I cover my head pretty much at all times. I am unmarried. Finding appropriate head coverings is a challenge, yes. I cover my head for the same reasons that men cover their heads. Similarly, I wear a tallit katan and put on tefillin every morning for the same reasons that men do. As an egalitarian-minded woman, I believe myself to be obligated in the same ways that men are, so there you go. My concerns with what I can wear on my head are a bit different from those expressed here, as I don't usually have to worry so much about formality in my current station in life/geographic location. Thing is, life becomes much more difficult for a woman in Jerusalem when the thing you have on your head is unambiguously a kippah. My solution has been to wear a vaguely african looking brimless cloth cap that I purchased at a folk music festival, or caps that I crochet myself. No one can say that these are beged ish, and my hair shows so that, while people still often make the mistake, I do not look too married.

Here's a thought I wrote about a while ago that perhaps I should return to.

Sat Feb 16, 12:59:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"Turbans probably stay on pretty well, but first, you have to figure how to literally type one on. :)"

Er, that should be *tie* one on. Sheesh, I killed my own rotten pun.

Gella, avoiding both beged ish/a male garment *&* looking married when you're single is certainly a challenge. Your solution seems to be, well, probably as close to a solution as you can get.

I decided just about a year ago to take on the obligation of davvening/praying three times every day. It ain't easy, lemme tell ya, and I don't always succeed, but I'm working on it. From my perspective as an egalitarian Conservative Jew, I simply couldn't justify continuing *not* to pray three times a day, now that my only child is grown and flown. Sometimes you just have to put your money where your mouth is.

Sat Feb 16, 09:06:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not Jewish but a try to practice the holy scriptures both old and new completely. I wear a kippot for it means. Where I work a pretty or delicate type would not last long so I wear a plain knitted one. It just reminds me about who is watching me. I love it.

Thu Apr 03, 08:32:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant "For it's meaning" Also I am a female.

Thu Apr 03, 08:35:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"It just reminds me about who is watching me." That's a good thought to keep in mind.

Sun Apr 06, 10:10:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a female, I wear a tallit katan and a crochet kippah with beads sewn all around. Yes, a kippah was originally intended for men, but this does not mean that women cannot utilize them for their use. We should not judge each others kavannah in what we wear, whether we are "only wearing it to be like a man." Wearing a kippah with beads takes just as much commitment as do other head coverings. Why would anyone do something daily such as that just to "be like a man?" I plan to make aliyah someday. I am told this kippah with beads will not be accepted at all. Does anyone know of the acceptance of tallit katan and beaded kippah for women in Israel?

Wed Aug 20, 09:41:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A woman who wears tallit or kippah would be looked upon as in rebellion. I too, view this sort of behavior in this light. There is no need for women to wear what men wear. If this is an issue for you, then perhaps you should stay in the country you live in. America for example, is a good country for people with this spirit.

Sat Aug 14, 07:12:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Zahavah said...

Anonymous, America? that is an unfair statement! There are women of all personalities. The women who wear a beaded kippah and are unmarried are showing they are obedient and if they express their individuality in light of respect for their own person and spirituality. This is as unique as the relationship each one of us has with G-d. Be well!

Sun Dec 05, 11:33:00 PM 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should all cover your hair. Muslim women wear hijabs no matter wear they live or work. Do not be ashamed of your religion. As a Jew living in Israel I always wear a headscarf outdoors.

Mon Apr 29, 06:32:00 PM 2013  

Post a Comment

<< Home

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>