Monday, July 20, 2009

My informal survey re kippot-wearing by women

You may recollect that I was quite startled, recently, to find myself in a synagogue attending a lecture in a room full of committed Jews of the non-Orthodox variety, and see that I was the only woman wearing a kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap. Assuming that this might be a generational thing, I queried one of the young women (most of whom were young enough to be my granddaughters), and she replied that most of the women were just not accustomed to covering their heads.
My best guess as to why that might be the case was this:
1. Many Reform synagogues still maintain a policy that head-coverings are optional, so the tradition of covering one's head in synagogue is not necessarily that strong even among the men.
2. Most Orthodox Jews have a strongly-held tradition that never-married women should not cover their heads, despite some rabbinical rulings to the contrary.
3. Only within the Conservative Movement did some rabbis insist that both males and females cover their heads in synagogue.
4. Therefore, one is most likely to find a strongly-held belief that all women should cover their heads among those raised Conservative. You might say that it's a classic case of both sides being against the middle.
I tested my theory the other day by taking an informal survey among the women present this past Shabbat/Sabbath at my current favorite egalitarian Conservative synagogue. And that was pretty much the response that I got. One hard-core kippah wearer among the women who happened to be there was raised in a Conservative shul with a rabbi who insisted on head-coverings for all worshippers over Bar or Bat Mitzvah age. A bare-headed woman said that she was taught that unmarried women don't wear head-coverings, period. (For the record, I was completely unaware of this minhag/custom until I was well into my twenties, and always felt as if I were being disrespectful when praying bareheaded in Orthodox synagogues prior to my marriage.)
I asked a female rabbi who was present, who told me that a head-covering is minhag and is not required anyway, so she wears a kippah only when officiating as a rabbi and only because people expect a rabbi to wear a kippah.
Sigh. No matter whether I hang out with the Orthodox or the non-Orthodox, I'm always on the fringe. I chose my blog name well.

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Blogger Tevel said...

As a Reform Jew who wears tzitzis, I know what you mean. :D

Mon Jul 20, 04:05:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Growing up in a conservative congregation, the sign at the door to the sanctuary requested that married women cover their heads (along with all men). Today, at both of the conserv. congs I regularly daven in, there is no prevailing custom; I would say that each woman decides for herself. You see everything from your self-described lampshade style hat to doilies. Just a handful of women venture into the feminine style of kippah. Among my daughters, neither the camp ramah crowd (high school juniors) nor the schechter crowd (middle schoolers, post bnai-mitzvah) cover their heads, although many wear tallitot.

Mon Jul 20, 08:58:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tevel, odd as this may sound, coming from a tallit-and-tefillin-wearing female, I believe you're the first Reform Jew I've encountered who wears an arba kanfot (to the best of my knowledge and/or recollection).

Steve, my impression is that the custom of all women covering their heads, even those never married, seems to be limited to some, but not all, Conservative-raised women who are roughly 45-75 years old. Among women of other age groups, either Orthodox tradition or "no prevailing custom" seems to prevail.

The wearing by a woman of a kippah, as opposed to a different type of head-covering, is a question of "levush," (pseudo-uniform) in my opinion. As I have said on my blog before, there simply does not exist a head-covering that is both female and identifiably Jewish--there's nothing Jewish about a wig, hat, scarf, or snood. Consequently, some of us non-Orthodox women who wish to wear a head-covering that's identifiably Jewish wear kippot because, frankly, there really isn't another option.

Mon Jul 20, 09:36:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous Too Old to Jewschool Steve said...

Since, as I understand it, headcovering is minhag, why do you feel it necessary to wear something specifically identifying you as jewish, especially in a place where you are already praying in an identifiably jewish way? If its simply a matter of covering your head out of respect, any headcovering will do -- baseball cap, skicap, big black fedora, or a babuskha.

Tue Jul 21, 11:40:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Steve, it's part of the "levush." Just as a tallit and tefillin are identifiably Jewish, a kippah is identifiably Jewish (whereas a doily/chapel cap/chapel lace just isn't). If I'm going to wear the "uniform," I want to wear the whole thing.

I've mentioned this before, but possibly not on my own blog: I find the right-wing Orthodox men's current minhag/custom of wearing black hats instead of kippot highly ironic. Years ago, men wore hats rather than kippot in public because a kippah was considered "too Jewish." Now, in some right-wing Orthodox circles, a kippah is considered not Jewish enough.

Tue Jul 21, 12:15:00 PM 2009  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

This idea of an identifiable Jewish levush requiring a yamulke is far from obvious. A sheitel, a tichel, and so on were worn by our mothers and grandmothers for two hundred years and more. None of our ancestors wore a yamulke, perhaps out of concern for the cross dressing prohibitions in the torah, perhaps as a gesture to the traditional forms of patriarchy in Jewish life. These older styles of female hair covering aquire a certain sanctity simply in virtue of being old. I would think deliberately changing the customs of previous generations needs some justification. But saying the yamulke is the only Jewish levush is not one of them. It might be that it is the only levush that earlier generations would have found inappropriate and odd as in "what is this woman's problem?"

Mon Jul 27, 04:22:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

EvantonJew, the sheitel/wig and teichel/scarf are certainly more hallowed by tradition for women, but they're also, in my personal experience, very closely identified with Orthodox women, since non-Orthodox women almost never wear them. And hats are, likewise, not nearly as universally worn by non-Orthodox women as by Orthodox. That leaves the "wire kippah," which, in my opinion, is more jewelry than head covering, and the chapel cap/doily, which, when I was growing up in South Jersey, was so closely associated with Catholic women that I won't touch the thing. And that's "this woman's problem." I want a head-covering that's Jewish, not Catholic, and one that doesn't give the false impression that I'm Orthodox. Not too many head-coverings fit that description, and, unfortunately, the one that does is considered by many to be beged ish, a man's garment. So what's a Conservative Jewish woman to do?

Tue Jul 28, 11:04:00 AM 2009  

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