Just now, I was wandering down Jaffa Road and became completely transfixed by some scarves. (It’s happened before.) This particular scarf store had a wealth of hair covering options for observant married Jewish ladies, among them the hat, the snood, and the headband.
I’ve always been fascinated by the hair covering concept, mainly the part about whether you choose to cover, how much, with what and why. In Israel, it is a whole other animal. Here, you can be a married woman with uncovered hair, in pants with completely covered hair, in a tank top with semi covered hair, or swathed within an inch of your life in a long skirt, long sleeves, and a covered wig.
I’ve left the house with my hair covered twice since I’ve been here-once because my hair was dirty and I had yet again traded showering for sleep, and another time because I have a lot of hair and it seemed like too much to deal with. In both instances, I felt strange, in disguise as a married woman. At the risk of beating a dead, dead horse, I don’t aspire to be anyone’s wife, and I don’t want to be seen as such.
If you are a married Jewish woman, and you cover your hair, it’s a signal to certain Jews-a potentially problematic one given the misogynistic motivations of the laws of hair covering, but a signal nevertheless, of belonging. The same is true with skirts, which was the main impetus for my Pants Embargo of 2003-2005. I wanted to be identifiable, similar to the way a Jewish man is identifiable as religious by wearing a yarmulke. The thing is, skirts and hair covering are about men asserting control over women’s bodies, in a way that wearing a yarmulke is about a demonstration of piety.
It’s tricky to represent myself authentically, especially when my relationship Judaism as a religious practice is so radically different from what it once was. Ultimately, it’s rather lonely, since I’m not willing to forgo the Jewish or the feminist parts of myself, and every day, I worry that my political values are outrunning my ability to be observant in any kind of traditional way. I maintain, though, that it should be tricky, even if that also means it’s terrifying.
Oh, and I bought a scarf. I have no idea how to tie it.