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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Hijab for Jewish Women?



Someone used this phrase in a comment on a post about the hijab wearing Jewish women in Ramat Bet Shemesh Alef: "modern Hareidi community;" this is an oxymoron.
Just for the record, I rarely agree with a Hareidi interpretation of anything. This mode of dress is just a bad interpretation of a good concept (tzniyut) taken to extremes.


Personally, I cover my hair because I feel it increases my humility by remembering that there is a G-d above me (not because of the reason of less attraction to men).

I chose many years ago to do so; but I have come to believe a woman can be Orthodox without covering her hair all the time; just while in shul, and where it shows respect for the Torah, such as at shiurim, or where it is the preferred mode of dress, such as at yeshiva dinners and the like. But to go to the grocery? Not necessarily.


I think the whole message of tzniyut is lost in those hijab cases: where will they go next? Hiding in the home and not going out? Sitting behind a curtain when there are male guests present? Giving up driving? If men are so weak, and can be aroused by just being in the presence of women, well, they are the ones who should have the restrictions, not women. Let's see, what might be appropriate? Special blinders, perhaps, which they can wear when going out? A new technological device (any weirdo inventors out there?) which they can wear over their eyes to create opacity when they come across a women, say, on the sidewalk or at the grocery store, or in their office?

In my considered opinion, this behavior is the beginning of the downslide into authoritarianism; it will, if taken further, KILL Judaism as a viable choice for intelligent human beings (because we already know that people already "throw the baby away with the bathwater.").

It's like the midrash of the woman who was praised because her house's walls 'never saw a hair on her head.' Huh? You can cheat, lie and steal in business, but if you don't cover your hair, even in your home - you are bad? Hair is evil? Hair is ervah?(Yep. Read the Gemarrah.) I don't buy it. I don't buy it as 'divine' nor as 'divinely inspired.' It is a man-made interpretation conforming or not with the culture of the times.

Today's culture is different. Only just in the last century has it become accepted for women (non-Jewish and Jewish alike) to wear pants, for example. Pants are actually more appropriate and safer for certain activities. Are we to say that women are not allowed to go skiing? Or snowshoeing? Or hiking in rough terrain? Or riding a bike? Or play sports (on women's teams, of course)? How about riding a horse (women used to ride sidesaddle, you remember)?


And there was a time when religious non-Jewish women wore hats or little caps and didn't show their hair much in public. Not so today. Am I saying that we should copy this culture completely? Not at all; what I am saying is, we should be intelligent about it.

We all know that much of Western culture has descended into decadence and hedonism - no question about it. Who says we should copy that? There is a difference between wearing a skimpy, belly-bearing top with tight pants, and wearing a top covering one up and pants which don't tightly hug the body.

The whole reason for wearing shaitels, for example, is so that a woman doesn't have to look like a cow, for gosh sakes; so that she can take some pride in the way she looks - otherwise, they would be outlawed Halachically (as they are in some circles).

The whole concept of tzniyut is to be modest (i.e., moderate! ) What those women are doing, is NOT the definition of 'moderate!'

They cannot see the forest for the trees. . .


Look, let's face it - this is the way we 'do' Judaism: people who come from outside of observant Yahadut, who are either gerim or ba'alei teshuvah, generally (there are exceptions) only know what they are taught to follow (socially and otherwise) by the Rav in the kehilah who 'mekareved' them (pardon my Hebrish).

They haven't learned the vast body of halacha and most importantly, the history of the different Jewish denominations who followed it in different ways; they haven't learned the written and oral law, including the Mishnah and Shulchan Aruch; and they have not seen and don't know that there are many Jewish paths to Hashem, e.g., Lubavitch (or Satmar, or Litvishe, etc.) is not the only way to go.

I have a friend who is a ger. He was 'mekurav' by the Breslovers, and up to now, he followed the ways of the Breslovers; but he is an intelligent man. He decided, after being in several Chassidic communities, that the Hareidi life is not how he wants to live. He is leaning towards the more 'kippah seruga' type of observance. That way, he could hold hands with his wife in public! Personally, I see nothing wrong with that at all. In fact, I think it's beautiful.

That speaks to his soul. It doesn't make him a lesser Jew for it. As a matter of fact, he is a holier person than some FFBs I know. Somehow, in all this ritual rah-rah, someone forgot 'mitzvot bein adam le-havero.' Remember those? Are the Hareidim who abuse women on Egged buses (those which are not marked as separate or Hareidi or 'mehadrin' buses; if you get on a bus so marked, you deserve what you get) better Jews because of their behavior? Does that behavior make them closer to G-d?
I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and say NO. They are just abusive men masquerading as religious men (in my 'old age,' I am even less politically correct than before; sue me!)

As for me, I have kids - several of 'em. One son is religious, the other not (but is traditional). One daughter is not very religious, but does a lot of good for a lot of people: she helps her mother-in-law, who is ill with cancer; she took care of an elderly relative who was very ill (who was a closer kin to me, actually, but I live out of her state, and my daughter lived not too far away), and did her taharah when she passed away: a chesed shel emet.

I have another daughter who is somewhat more religious, but 'modern' - she plays professional sports: soccer, and basketball & soccer at her college (and she does not wear skirts and long-sleeved shirts while playing).

And I have yet another who became a ba'alat teshuva, a 'returnee' - and is a religious soldier in the IDF.


They are all adults now, and each took the path that spoke to his/her soul. Who am I to contradict that?


I have a chassidic friend who was discussing this subject with me some time back; she came to the conclusion that the only difference between a "modern Orthodox" Jewish woman and a very religous one was : tzniyut. And the definition of tzniyut, is a matter of interpretation.

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p.s. I also have a real problem with the expansion of the interpretation of "kol isha*," which was initially proscribed for a man to hear while saying the "shema" or davening. Now, it is interpreted to mean that women are not permitted to sing in public in front of men or together with men. (we need another invention-weirdo inventor, are you out there?)

I attended a modern Orthodox school in Manhattan (co-ed) with a wonderful choir of which I was a member for years. I sang in the A Cappella choir at my university. I've been singing ever since a was a baby (-got a really good memory). I sing at my Shabbat table, and taught my kids all the Shabbat z'mirot (my husband can't sing for his supper. Actually, he usually cooks his supper, and mine too. But he can't carry a tune as far as the kitchen) which they grew up with and which they love. And I ain't gonna stop now.

(*but that's a subject for another post. Yeah, right.)



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24 comments:

Rafi G said...

it is a funny situation, the orthodoxy we lvie in today. The concept of tznius was always a changing idea, as the times and the cultures changed. We put a "Freeze" on it and declare tznius today to be dependant on norms of 100 years ago (for example) instead of saying they still change.

We find the same phenomenon in many other aspects of religious life when reasons for old halachos or stringencies are no longer relevant, yet we say who are we to rescing a previous decree. They were much greater than us...

Anonymous said...

I agree a million percent with you. I always joke that the women should wear such things here, where I live. I live in a haredi community, were colors are not allowed (only black, white, dark brown and dark blue), slits are forbidden, women are only allowed to bike/walk late at night or early in the morning, when men don't see them. Women don't go out much, and men either, actually. They are not allowed to invite other couples on a regular basis, it might bring friendships between the couples. Unmarried women's hair needs to be in a poney tail. Activities are either for men only, or for women only, and public performances (even kosher ones like an Avram Fried concert) are not allowed outside of the community. Men don't give rides to women even inside the community, even if it rains. I came back from grocery shopping and it was raining, I didn't expect anyone to give me a ride so I kept walking, but a car stopped and told me to get in, well, he was not haredi, but he did a big mitsva. Haredi people might cover their hair, but their children throw rocks at dogs and insult the less religious ones. I feel that they are missing the point of the Torah.

Lady-Light said...

Rafi G: Rav Rafi, I am honored by your visit. You make some really salient points in your comment, which I might end up addressing in another post (but I promised other bloggers I'd do the meme I was tagged for, so I will do that, first!).
It is time to convene a Sanhedrin. Too many things are happening, that bode no good for Judaism. Your assessment is spot on: "The concept of tzniyut was always a changing idea." You are so right. Apparently, we put a "freeze" on lots of things, not only tzniyut. Here's an example: The Hareidi mode of dress, long black kapotes or kaftans, fur shtreimels, dark suits; proper dress for a hot, sunny middle eastern country, no? Where did that come from? From eastern Europe, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and from the dress of non-Jews!--Where it is cold in the winter and not so hot in the summer. Apparently we put a "freeze" on that mode of dress as well.
Do you think that Avraham Avinu and his descendants dressed like this in Eretz Cana'an? Although, to my horror, I saw a children's Torah story book some years back where the drawings of the Avot matched-get this-today's Hareidi mode of dress - so as not to put any other ideas in those little impressionable minds(Moshe Rabbenu wore a shtreimel!) Those rotten History Revisionists(the worst k'lalah I can think of)!
Another example is the proscription for Ashkenazim against Kitniyot, which was set for a certain time and place in Europe, for legitimate reasons; those reasons are not extant anymore (and there really is NO category of foods called 'kitniyot.' New foods are added each year, even if they are NOT chametz!): we need to adjust this minhag to the current situation. I believe there is an institution called "Machon Shilo" in Israel which has this issue on it's agenda.

Another issue is "yom tov sheni shel galuyot." That was also set for a period of time, because of the concern of not celebrating the correct holy day; now, we have a fixed calendar; this 'halacha' creates great problems in galut, where people work in a non-Jewish environment and lose parnasa by taking off the extra day. In my opinion, we don't need the second day anymore.
I am not a rav; but no Rav seems to have the courage to say this outright, and to make a stand.
Perhaps it is all these problems, some causing "sin'at chinam" which was (supposedly) the cause of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, are delaying mashiach?
And you are correct when you say that our reasons for not changing anything is that 'the ancients were greater than we are;' or, 'they had ru'ach hakodesh because they were closer to matan Torah!' That is not a reason; that is an excuse; no one wants to take the first step. No one wants to be a Nachshon ben Aminadav...do YOU have the courage?
Rafi, is this Judaism? Is This why we survived for over 3,000 years, as a highly civilized, educated, intelligent, spiritual people? As 'The People of the Book?' I think not.

(p.s., how the heck do you maintain 6 blogs? I can barely maintain one! Kol tuv.)

Lady-Light said...

Anon: Thank you for your comment. I guess your neighbors never studied Pirkei Avot: Eizehu mechubad, ha-mechabed et kol adam.
You are living in a very narrow-minded area. It may be fine for them, but it is not right for you. The thing is, when you live in a neighborhood where these are their values, you need to comply with them, or simply move. I know it is not easy, but you will find a way (now that you have a car, it should be easier.) Hatzlachah!

Rafi G said...

no need to be so honored... :-)

What you said about streimels is pretty funny. Just 2 nights ago I said to my wife the same thing - (I do not remember how it came up) that they froze the dress code to 150 years ago, but why did they choose that period? why not choose 70 years ago, or 500 years ago... why is dress from 150 years ago more jewish than more recent times..?

Rafi G said...

oh, and BTW, I only manage 2 blogs. the rest have fallen into disuse...

Bar Kochba said...

What a great post! Tzniut empowers women and is a middle road between the great Islamic cover-up and Western practical-nudity, which both oppress women. Jewish burkas miss the point and weaken women.

I also agree with you that some things need to change the problem is, how do we update halakha without going the way of the Reform who have completely lost any semblance of yiddishkeit?

triLcat said...

you can't tag me for a meme you haven't done!

Lady-Light said...

rafi g: Why was the halacha frozen to 150 years ago? Only thing I can think of, is that it was so cold in Eastern Europe, that it sort of froze into our bones, and it will take several more years for us to thaw out(I mean, shtreimels really keep us warm, right?)
bar kochba: I humbly thank you for your praise; it is undeserved (I think I antagonized many people, including friends, by this post.).
"Tzniyut Empowers Women."
What a wonderful way to express it(gosh, I should have thought of that)! You are right, it is a middle ground, the path which the Torah tells us to take.
The answer to your very good question is, that we don't change Halacha-we vocalize to the Jewish Public what we think is wrong with Jewish practice, and write about our grievances, and encourage convening a Sanhedrin of great sages so that Halachic changes can be done according to Halacha.
The Reform Jews changed Torah laws around (such as moving Holy Days for convenience sake)to accommodate their adherents. That is not what I'm talking about; I'm talking about interpretation, and even that should be done by learned Rabbanim, with great care, so as not to tear the fabric of Judaism which is Divine and has kept us alive for centuries. It's possible that I didn't make that clear in my post, I was so upset with this new 'burkha' movement.

Yochanan said...

"Although, to my horror, I saw a children's Torah story book some years back where the drawings of the Avot matched-get this-today's Hareidi mode of dress - so as not to put any other ideas in those little impressionable minds(Moshe Rabbenu wore a shtreimel!) Those rotten History Revisionists(the worst k'lalah I can think of)!"

In that case, I suggest making a Torah book with the Avot in jeans and baseball caps walking around with ipods.

Lady-Light said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lady-Light said...

Yochanan: Of course; what would be the difference? What I meant (maybe it wasn't obvious from my statement), was that the Avot should have been depicted in the dress of their day and of their region; not in the mode of dress the Hareidim wanted to reinforce.

It is almost as if they are afraid and insecure, that anything different than what they want to teach is a threat.

Rafi G said...

I like that! the weather was so cold it froze into the bones! haha!!

Baqi said...

It's amazing to see there are still non-muslim people in this world who wear Hijab.

Ehav Ever said...

I think one of the problems is that some circles in the Orthodox world have a very narrow of Judaism. As an example you would think that if someone wanted to be Hereidi they would dress the way Jews in the Middle East dressed thousands of years ago. You would think that you would see men wearing a Matzar (kind of a like a turban), and the dress like clothing that many men (Jewish and non-Jewish) in the Middle East have worn for years.

Also, when I pray at for example, Yemenite and Sephardic Beitei Keneset you see a difference between how religious people and the Ashkenazi Hereidim are. This is where I think there is a problem of people considering one minhag as if it is the Yahaduth as compared to varioius minhagim being a part of Yahaduth. When I was a Baalei Teshuvah there were those who tried to convince me that I should be Chabad instead of praying Yemenite. In their view Chasidut trumps everything.

I think if more Jews were educated about the minhagim of each edut, this would create a more progressive environment.

Yehudhi said...

True, judaism doesn't have to be frozen 150 years ago.

Listen to the shiurim at machonsholo.org to find out how to get out of the Frozen Judaism syndrome.

Also his article called "Challenging inertia" is very informative as to why we got frozen and how to thaw out.

Yehudhi said...

Sorry. machonshilo.org

ora said...

"It's like the midrash of the woman who was praised because her house's walls 'never saw a hair on her head.' Huh? You can cheat, lie and steal in business, but if you don't cover your hair, even in your home - you are bad?"

Who said you can lie, cheat, and steal? Certainly not the Gemara or the Midrash. There's no need to make this an issue of tzniut vs. other good middot; it's entirely possible to have both.

"Today's culture is different. Only just in the last century has it become accepted for women (non-Jewish and Jewish alike) to wear pants, for example."

It's also become accepted for women to wear tank tops and bikinis.

"There is a difference between wearing a skimpy, belly-bearing top with tight pants, and wearing a top covering one up and pants which don't tightly hug the body."

And there is a difference between wearing pants and a loose t-shirt and wearing a skirt and a shirt with elbow-length sleeves.

I actually wear loose pants, and I think it's a perfectly legitimate option. I just don't like the arguments "it's acceptable in modern society" or "it's not as bad as wearing (really immodest outfit X)." Loose pants should be permitted because halacha permits them, not because of what trends non-Jewish society is currently following.

Lady-Light said...

First, I have to apologize to you, my readers, for being AWOL from my blog for such a long period of time. That’s what happens when my kids come to visit from Israel: they are IT, and I can’t focus/take the time for anything else, blog included.
I plan to post about the visit soon (they are still here; leaving tomorrow night).
Yochanan: Just a little addendum to your last comment: as I said before, I wasn’t intending to change the dress of the Avot to modern dress, just the opposite: depict them in the dress of their day and region, more accurately; I don’t know about iPods, but I bet Moshe Rabbenu really could have used a cell phone (“G-d, can you hear me now?”).
Rafi G: Maybe it’s time to thaw out our halacha, eh—see what Yehudhi wrote below…more about that in a minute…
Baqi: Thank you for visiting; it is not actually a Jewish custom to wear a hijab. It is an Islamic dress, which some Jews are-in my opinion erroneously-copying.
Ehav Ever: There is actually much to what you say. As I mentioned in my post, everyone believes what he or she learned or grew up with as THE correct Judaism; the traditions of Yehudei Bavel (Jews of Babylon after the exile) seeped in and ‘took over’ the mainstream of Judaic practice a thousand years ago (I may be off by a couple of years or so); if we all learned about the different edot of Judaism and their origins and minhagim, we might not be so smug about “our” way being the “only” way.
Yehudhi: Yes, I’m somewhat familiar with the Machon Shilo site, having checked it out some time back with my questions about the Ashkenazik prohibition of using kitniyot on Pesach. I am very interested in this site; it seems scholarly and serious—not frivolous—and may be a very important step in the direction of evolving Judaism to it’s true expression.
Ora: I apologize for my vehemence; what I was referring to was all those Jews who are ostensibly ‘frum, in their dress, say, or in supporting community institutions, but people look the other way when they conduct business in a not-so-kosher way or do other indiscretions. There is a tendancy for people to accept someone by his/her outward appearance. There actually was a case where a ‘Jewish’ family, seemingly frum, was accepted into our community, and somehow it was discovered that they were imposters: not Jewish at all, let alone ‘frum.’ They pretended to be Sabbath-observant and kosher, etc. It was a tremendous shock and great disappointment to the kehilah.
So Ora, I am not saying we can “lie, cheat and steal” – chas ve’shalom! It is just that people with good Jewish middot are often judged by their mode of dress, and vice versa.
Yes, you are right: it has been accepted for women to wear tank tops & bikinis, etc. in the Western secular society in which we live. I am NOT advocating that. I do agree that “loose pants should be permitted because halacha permits them, not because of what trends non-Jewish society is currently following.” – 100%!!
That is why we need to have great learned scholars in a Jewish think-tank discuss, review and if necessary, adjust the halacha to fit the day and age we live in, without changing the essence of the law.
There is really something to the Machon Shilo site. They are attempting to return to the halachot of Eretz Yisrael, before the Babylonian exile.
Check it out: www.machonshilo.org, and thank you again, Yehudhi!

Anonymous said...

I am SO happy I found your blog. I have my problems with the religious demands coming from the Rabbis whose Synagogues I go to. One of the many reasons for my [polemic, if you will] counter-arguments to every word my Rabbi says is because I started reading when I was two years old and spoke five languages by the time I was fourteen. I just feel like, at the moment at least, the Halachaic interpretations of womanhood through men is compressing my versatile self into the nutshell of "the woman" I have to be. I don't say it often but - I am not dumb. But now I am supposed to give up my studies for motherhood, at age 22, when I just got into medical school. I am just so glad to read your blog. Just to know that there are women out there who still have the strength to speak up for themselves. I don't want to fight anymore, nut I still would like to say to you: thank you, just for writing these excellent thoughts of yours down.

Vania Melamed said...

B"H
Why are you committing Lashon harah and maarit ayin? I'm Tehman and Balkan Lithuanian; my husband is Iraqi and Spaniard, and it is not uncommon except for here in the selfishly altruistic U.S. for any religious woman to wear a shayla. Tell me how the shaitel is tzniut? Simply because our sages make the distinction that a woman's head-covering is between her and HASHEM does not reverse the fact that 99.9% of les religious Jews and gentiles do not know Jewish women must cover or are covering their hair when married! This gives the impression of being bare, and that it's okay because any minhagim or halakhah regarding tzniut are somehow archaic or a personal choice. The bottom line is that it's only a few weeks post Yom Kipur and already you are judging the personal tzniut and yiddishkeit of your sisters! I feel 100 times more modest in hijab and more elegant and feminine that in any of those frumpy, hideous snoods; plus, as a runner, swimmer, and water polo player, I can tell you it's way more pragmatic to be active in a good al-Amira hijab, and it makes most any outfit look dressy in a flash. All hair is covered, which is the quintessential call for Jewish tzniut, and the hijab or shayla or mitpakhat when wrapped also enhances tzniut in public when breast-feeding. I don't expect you to know about that since you are a man. None of you talk crap about things you are not willing to try; hijab was first and foremost worn by Jews, and only in your ignorance and fear of Muslims have you chosen to distance yourself with goyishe kopf practices like shaitels and snoods. Nu, mah khadash???? There are thousands of hijabi women loving the modesty and elegance and femininity of a drapey scarf, they are completely covered yet so much sexier than any other women, and they range frombeeing Catholic, to Jewish, to Baha'i, to Muslimah, to even Protestant.
Forget what the Rabbeim say because all they do now is spew conjecture on halakhah. It's a minhag, but it IS TZNIUT. No one is forcing you to wear it as a halkhaic edict, so stop kvetching. You don't like what I say? At least my gal pals and I have the courage to be ourselves and be modest without worrying what petty dogmatic people like you think. Want to retort? Bring it. Gmar Khatimah Tovah.

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