Thursday, July 02, 2009

Hair Covering Reflections

A guest post by Hadassah Sabo Milner

When I was first married, years ago, I didn’t want to cover my hair, I just did it because it was asked of me. Almost every time I covered it I felt like I was putting shackles on. I never researched it, never wanted to understand the reasons why. I just went along with the flow – shalom bayit, y’know? I know there are a lot of women out there who feel the same way, and yet they plod along because it is expected of them.

At the time that I uncovered my hair, about 10 days after receiving my Get, I did so after a lot of conscious thought and reflection. It wasn’t a case of “so sad too bad”! Yes, some people around me were shocked and didn’t understand; some people went as far as to assume that it meant I threw away religion in totality. Not so. Those very close to me were not surprised.

The way I looked at it then, was as follows: when a person G-d forbid passes away we rip our clothes, we sit shiva and observe a period of mourning, and we take physical things upon ourselves for the next year to remind us of our loss – no celebrations, no music, men don’t shave etc.

My Get happened mere weeks after we separated. I was in so much deep pain and suffering and at that time, I needed, for myself, to physically show signs of my grief (other than crying all day long wherever I was – that gets old quickly), to work through the grief and the pain and the anguish and all of that. It was never about “not married any more so who needs to cover their hair, I am doing what I want”. I needed to do it to help heal my spirit. I needed to show myself and the world that I was not the same person I was when I was married.

By the time last year’s barmitzvah preparations were in full swing and the barmitzvah boy asked that I wear a sheitel and not a hat to the festivities, I had to do some tremendous soul searching. Of course the fact that he reminded me that I had told him this was HIS day, and was about HIM and no one else – that put more pressure. (I hate when they actually listen to what I say!) He said he would be “ok” if I wore a hat, but would prefer me to wear a sheitel. It’s what all his friends’ mothers do.

Standing there, on the day of the barmitzvah, watching my son lain his parshah, my heart swelling with enormous pride and love and gratitude to G-d, I knew I had come full circle. I knew my mourning was very much over. I let go of the past, of the pain, of the anger and bitterness. That day marked my son’s barmitzvah but also in some ways my rebirth.

Since that day I have been lucky in finding my soul mate, and in February we celebrated our wedding, and the merging of two lively households. I wore a sheitel to my wedding. I cover my hair now when I leave the house. I am a married lady, and it is what’s right for me.

Many religious men take it for granted that their wives will cover their hair, but they have no idea what a difficult mitzvah this is to keep. I struggled for so long with it, and it was only in the absence of keeping this mitzvah that I learned to appreciate the finer points of it. I wish that when I had first got married that there were classes to explain the whys and wherefores of hair covering, to help us come to terms with it. As girls and teenagers, we obsess about our hair, and then all of a sudden we are expected to cover it. It’s a lot to have to deal with.

I now cover my hair on my terms, because it is what I feel is right for where I am in life. No one is forcing me to do it. My husband would never demand it of me. If you want to look down on me because my hair was once uncovered, that’s your choice. If you think my kashrut is suspect because my ponytail sticks out of my baseball cap – that’s your problem. If you want to judge someone based solely on whether the wife wears a sheitel or a snood or a beret, or only covers outside the house or not at all– you are a small minded individual.

Hair covering is a mitzvah that’s extremely visible – maybe a lady doesn’t cover her hair but keeps everything else 100% - how is one to know? Until such a time as a person keeps all mitzvoth perfectly themselves, they have no right to judge any women on how they keep this mitzvah.

I am currently researching all aspects of hair covering for an upcoming publication, and it has been very eye opening. I would be very interested on hearing views from people of all walks of life.

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