Thursday, November 11, 2010

Women's Hair Covering, Lots to Say

For whatever reasons, one of the most controversal and frequently ignored mitzvot is married women's hair covering/tying.  I blogged my feelings on both this blog and Shiloh Musings as a comment on Just Call Me Chaviva's post.  A popular "halacha" blog also covered the subject recently.  "A friend" sent me a summary to be blogged here.  I'll follow it with a comment of my own.

Hirhurim Hair Wars
The summary is going to be as follows: each part will be given a summary of a few sentences followed by a summary of the comments. Please be aware that the comments section on the Hirhurim blog is often much longer than the original post.
1. Part I opens by mentioning that hair covering has taken on more than just a halachic meaning and introduces a halachic discourse between R. Michael J. Broyde and R. Eli Shulman. Links are given to articles by both rabbis. Several years ago the blogger, R. Gil, thoroughly examined R. Broyde’s opinion and disagreed with it. Currently he doesn’t have the stamina (his word) to examine R. Broyde’s new writings and is leaving the matter to the two scholars.
Comments: Eleven comments discuss sources given, ask questions and mention more sources.
2. Part II is two letters sent in response to R. Broyde’s article, one from Mr. David Keter and the second from Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin. Mr. Keter’s letter centers around a halachic response to a personal question. Many well known rabbis, gedolim, including R. Elazar Shach, are mentioned and quoted. R. Henkin disagrees with R. Broyde, but values his discussions of halachic matters.
Comments: Fifty comments rather heatedly discuss the matter. One of the biggest issues is who is Mr. David Keter and is his letter reliable? Another big issue is the value and reliability of relating stories in general.
No links are given in Part II other than back to Part I and forward to Part III
3. Part III: R. Meir Tzvi Bergman, the son-in-law of R. Elazar Shach, responds to Mr. Keter’s letter. R. Bergman’s letter is in Hebrew only. IMHO a summary is not appropriate as the letter itself isn’t long and touches on many important points. (In other words, I don’t want to screw up a rabbi’s points.)
Comments: Twenty five comments argue the points in R. Bergman’s letter, Mr. Keter’s letter and R. Gil’s choice of posting Mr. Keter’s letter, the validity of which many people have questioned. R. Gil responds several times.
I find all these "rabbinic" arguments rather amusing.  Married women's hair-covering is done by women exclusively, and in the early and mid-twentieth century it was very rarely being done at all in North America.  External manifistations of religiosity, like tziniyut, modesty and married women's hair-covering were rejected.  Outside of immigrant Jewish neighborhoods, few men would wear kippot in public.  The kippah was in the pocket or the men wore "caps."  Most Jews, regardless of religiosity, wanted to look as American as possible. 

When the Lubovitch Rebbe arrived in the states, he was horrified to see how few women covered their hair and decided to convince married women to keep that mitzvah.  His marketing campaign was very clever, nothing like the what's summarized above.  The Rebbe correctly understood that there would only be an improvement if women could be convinced of the fun and attractiveness of the mitzvah.  No doubt that otherwise Torah-observant men of the time had been very ambivalent about that mitzvah or their wives would have kept it meticulously.  So the Rebbe had to find a way for the women to convince their husbands of it.

Wigs were the perfect solution.  All a woman needed was a wig or two, since wigs:
  • like natural hair, could match any outfit
  • didn't make a woman stand out in a crowd
  • could make a woman feel attractive
  • make a woman more attractive to her husband; (don't forget that most men don't want their wives to look peculiar in public)
The mitzvah of married women's hair-covering is not to make her look plain or ugly.  It's absurd to think that G-d wants a situation where a man is to see his wife as unattractive in public.  That's not a Jewish marital relationship.  It's because the halachic (Jewish Law) status of her hair changes with marriage.  A married woman's hair becomes "something special," private, between her and her husband.  

The tied or covered hair is a signal to the rest of the world that she's "taken," married.  Think of the old New York City taxis with the little flag that would indicate if the driver was looking for customers or not.  For many rabbis, the rationale against wigs is because they can't "see the flag."  Wigs look too natural.  But if it's between wearing a wig or not covering hair at all, the wig wins.  We're human, not angels.


Hadassa said...

I don't find the arguments anymore amusing than rabbis giving doctors halachic advice pertaining to their work. Rabbis, unless they are themselves doctors, don't give medical care any more than they wear married women's head-coverings. What is absolutely NOT amusing is when rabbis and others do not work together to find solutions.
I didn't get the impression that the articles and letters on the Hirhurim blog (to which the link was posted on one of Batya's previous blogs) were designed as a "marketing campaign". The purpose was to determine what women had done, are doing, are obligated to do and if the obligation varies according to the standards of the time.
Does your statement about Torah-observant men include rabbis? David Keter claims in his letter that Rabbi Elazar Shach's wife didn't cover her hair. Rav Shach's son-in-law, who saw his mother-in-law in her own house on a regular basis, claims the opposite.

What should we be doing now? Wearing hats and scarfs is totally acceptable virtually everywhere in Israel and outside of Israel the main problem would be wearing a hat/scarf at work. Both Sephardic and Ashkenazic rabbis who normally do not allow wigs allow them for a woman, only at work, who must wear one in order to help support the family. Should rabbis and other scholars, including women, be strongly encouraging and even in some cases insisting that the only halachicly permissible way to cover hair is with a hat or scarf? We're not angels, but we are supposed to constantly be trying to improve ourselves.

Batya said...

I consider the rebbe's decision to promote wigs as a marketing campaign for hair-covering. He prefered the less-halachikly acceptable wig, because it was an easier sell. The situation in most of the Jewish world was horrendous in terms of tzniyut and hair-covering and basic social norms. Orthodox shuls in North America had dinner dances. Women at the OU dinner were sleeveless and backless, because that's what they found in stores.

"Black pride" gave Jews the confidence to dress according to Jewish Law. That could be another post.

Hadassa said...

A post about how head covering became socially acceptable is a good idea. Posts about positive trends are always a morale booster. (I almost forgot the "e" in morale. That would have been an interesting slip.)

Chaviva said...

In all things that Chabad does, marketing is key. The sheitel, keeping Shabbos, etc. I don't see why this marketing campaign for wigs would be any different than anything else. If anything, you've gotta hand it to the Rebbe for his success.

Batya said...

Hadassa, if I could hustle for a paycheck on it, I'd do a well-researched one.

Chaviva, it's interesting that you also see it as "marketing." That was his big success, knowing how to market Judaism. It's funny, that when I was on my way thanks to NCSY, the youth director brought Chabad to the shul and I was totally turned off. If I hadn't already seen and experienced NCSY I never would have embraced Torah Judaism.