Three Ladies, Three Lattes: A hair-raising dilemma

I don’t want to cover my head anymore, but my husband doesn’t agree.

A hair-covering store in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A hair-covering store in Jerusalem.
Dear Ladies, I’m a 35-year-old ba’alat teshuva (someone who has returned to religious observance), married with two kids. We live in Jerusalem and my husband and I are very active in our local Anglo synagogue. I love many things about our way of life and don’t regret becoming religious (before marriage), but feel as if I jumped into this hair-covering business without thinking it through. I love being married, but no longer feel attractive – not in a wig, not in a scarf and not in a hat. I now truly resent covering my hair in public, but feel trapped because I do like other facets of our communal life. My husband, though sympathetic, views the issue as Halacha and says I should find a way to make it work. How do I reconcile all this?
The Mad Hatter
Tzippi Sha-ked: I’m sorry you’re unhappy with your appearance at the moment. I’m not even going to discuss brand-name wigs that make Bar Refaeli’s mane seem dull. Your letter is about feeling at home in your body; this religious directive echoed by hubby is “hair-raising” for you. I can’t offer anything to make you feel better, other than there are halachot that don’t sit well with some.
Jewish law is not designed to suit personal preferences; neighborhoods and communities have set religious standards. You’re either in or out. Yet there are some communities that don’t define religiosity on the basis of hair-covering; being religious means many things. Platitudes like “This is Halacha,” “It’s for the good of the children” or “Shalom bayit (keeping the peace of the home)” don’t help.
I suggest you first explore Judaism’s view of hair-covering for yourself, and discern whether it’s required by God. Secondly, figure out your obligations to your husband. You went into the marriage as a head-coverer, so will your marriage be on the line if you don’t? Are children involved? Will this impact on them? Although this is your choice, your comfort level, there are others to consider.
Try viewing this as a joint decision with your husband. If he balks, consider marriage counseling. Your household is ultimately as happy as its least happy member. As much as this may appear to your husband to be a halachic issue, feeling unattractive in your own skin impacts on the mood of the entire household, and on your feelings toward him.
Pam Peled: An expert on Halacha I am not, unlike Dr. Leila Bronner (; she claims the Bible never commanded women to cover their hair and that the Talmud later mandated this religious obligation.
Prof. Alice Shalvi, founding director of the Women’s Network and herself halachically observant, explains the custom is to avoid looking pru’a (disheveled) so that men won’t, God forbid, look at a woman and think she actually sleeps… in a bed! Shalvi, who doesn’t cover up, claims her hair is “never disheveled.” She believes the head covering for women often equals the kippa for men. It’s not Halacha for men to wear kippot except when praying, studying Torah and making a blessing, yet it’s become a symbolic form of identification. Hatting-up indicates where married women are on the religious scale.
Whether hair covering is a custom (minhag) or a law (Halacha) depends on who you ask. Many sources agree women’s hair is unbearably seductive; distracting men even from prayers. Oh dear! Just not that. Yet, if workaday hair brings men to unholy thoughts, how can silky wigs – more sexy by far than one’s own, which gets greasy and split – be kosher? Some rabbis ban wigs, some embrace them (figuratively, one hopes)… it’s quite dizzying.
For me, hair covering is up there with the niqab and whalebone corsets and the ban on trousers, in the same tradition as binding baby girls’ feet. It’s to hobble women and denude them of power. All power to you for just saying no.
Danit Shemesh: Hair-covering is a difficult mitzva. A woman’s essence is beauty and presentation; a healthy self-image is a feminine prerogative, with emphasis on the “self.” However, Judaism dictates that true beauty is within. Hair-covering is an intimate act that speaks volumes about focusing internally. Through it we define ourselves by our core femininity – instead of externally, through our bodies and hair.
Ironically, the idea of “being yourself” is truer when a woman covers her hair. When she veils the external image, she reveals her true nature (the Hebrew for face, panim, is similar to the word pnim, or “internal”).
Allow me to share two contradictory, yet equally true, reasons to cover. One is by choice, the other because of the mitzva. We choose what image to co-opt: The external is competitive and emphasizes image, illusion, airbrushing, self-denial; or we connect to the concept of a unique and singular self hiding inside each of us, which reveals herself when, and only when, invited. This polar choice is always with us; we cannot dance in both worlds simultaneously. To embrace the principle of modesty is to make a statement of women power, of what is intrinsic.
Paradoxically, there is a certain grace in leaning into those wise men who invest most of their waking hours in understanding the written or oral word. We believe doctors, car mechanics, and other professionals who learn a trade and instruct us “how to”; so too should we follow our rabbis. Enjoy your married status and wear the symbol of it proudly.
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Three Ladies, Three Lattes looks at percolating issues in Israel’s complicated social and religious fabric. Secular Pam, modern Orthodox Tzippi and haredi Danit answer your questions.