During Shavuot, when I entered the women’s section of my schul for shacharit, returning for the first time in nearly six months after having my locomotion compromised by both injury and illness, I smiled and then I cried. In the rows, which surrounded me, shone a sea of heads covered by all manners of “hair” or fabric. Some of those gals wore snoods, others sheitelim, others ticklim, and still others hats. Among those ladies’ ranks were, as well, wigs bedecked with hats and hats hung over abbreviated snoods.
As I surveyed those friends and neighbors, two thoughts wove in my head; I was realizing, in flesh and blood, the beauty of Psalm 116, that portion of Tehillim about b’tochen as trust as gleaned from overcoming adversity with Hashem’s help; and that there are many ways, as exemplified by the members of the Bayit Knesset, in which I am privileged to pray, to look both beautiful and modest. My first realization is a personal gratitude and as such its explication will not occur in this blog. My second realization, though, is timely to our people and as such will be developed here.
It’s a pity that we, as a collective, at times, either act like lemmings devoid of a critical thinking apparatus or take it upon ourselves to criticize our sisters because their embodiment of our shared heritage of modesty differs from our own. Regardless of whether a woman dons a helmet-like wig, a gypsy-like scarf, or a questionably knit beret, she’s still acting humble (Truth be told, most wigs add loveliness to ladies as do most scarves, most snoods, most hats, and most combinations thereof).
There are ample outlets for modest head coverings because there are an abundant number of ways in which Jewish women obey the Torah law of tzniut. Tzniut has not and ought not be equated with unattractiveness. Likewise, tzniut ought not to be equated with social strata. A hat is no more suitable of a vessel for an obedient head than is a scarf or sheitel.
Unfortunately, there is dissention among us as to how we ought to keep our private aspects away from the public. We sometimes forget that no matter the manner in which we keep our actual hair hidden, the act of hiding our hair makes us observant Jewish women. No matter how we married women cover our keppies (diminutive, plural for “kop”), be our toppers woven by man, created by The Boss, or some combination thereof, our covering up is concomitant to our being modesty (Excellent books on the topic include: HIDE and SEEK: Jewish Women and Hair Covering, by Lynne Schreiber and Understanding Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community, by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin).
It ought not to matter what other women’s perceptions of our coverings are as long as we hold to the law. In low moments, there will be individuals among us who speak unjustly, in particular, or act loutishly toward us, in general. Whereas such individuals might deem it necessary to change their head coverings according to the hashkafa of a given event or another and then to deride other women who do not also act in accordance with their surroundings, most of us either are secure enough in ourselves to stick with the sort of coverings that work for us or to go with the style of tzniut recommended by our rabbis and teachers.
Mitzvot ought not to be political statements. Far better is it for us to focus on deepening each other’s interest in Yiddishkeit than it is for us to dissuade each other from any facet of observance. Let’s stop feeding the yetza hara.
If we stop investing our finite human resources in useless head games (sorry-pun intended), we’ll have energy left to better our thinking, to guard our speaking, and to involve ourselves in additional deeds of loving kindness. Alternatively, if we insist on continuing to barrage each other with unnecessary strictures, ultimately, we could, has v’shalom, become guilty of using Hashem’s name in vain.
The various flavors of observant Judaism exist to provide an orchestra’s worth of service to Hashem, not to minimalize the virtue of select elements or sections among the totality of His creation. Shame on us for appointing ourselves judges over our equals. Next time you see someone covering their hair in a manner that is foreign and, maybe, even repugnant to you, say a few words of gratitude that her modesty makes it easier for you to maintain your own.