Thoughts on Hair Covering

A good friend shared this article with me last night. Since my husband’s computer is in the shop we’ve been sharing screen time on mine, and I’ve been reading and responding to much fewer articles than normally, but I thought this article about hair covering was worth an opinion.

I empathize with this writer’s religious ambivalence and desire to not portray herself one way while really feeling another. Putting all aspects of your life in harmony is very important in developing as a holistic, happy, and healthy human being. I also empathize with her specific struggle because I also find covering my hair a terribly hard thing to do.  It is also hard to get used to. Also I completely agree with Ms. Ross’s observations of the ironies of women who wear sheitels while also donning skin-tight skirts and stilettos. So I see why this writer’s decisions make sense for her.

As an aside, I don’t think the difficulties of hair covering are talked about – and mourned, really – enough in our circles. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it before I got married. Since it was something that everyone did, I didn’t realize how difficult it would be, how long-lasting and drastic of a lifestyle change it really was.

Ultimately, however, I believe in maintaining mesorah, tradition, along with halacha. I don’t know enough about the validity of certain “modern” hair covering tactics (like the half-pony fall, the wide or thin headbands, etc.) to make an educated statement about them, but they don’t seem to me to be part of the mainstream mesorah. I am also more concerned with halachic mesorah than cultural habits that people practiced in earlier decades. “My grandmother never covered her hair” does not sit well with me as an argument.

My reason for sticking to mesorah is actually played out within this article. From Ms. Ross’s own description of her religious progression, you can see that once she let go of maintaining one detail of halacha (covering part of her hair instead of the whole of it), more and more followed soon after (until she allowed herself to eat a salad in a nonkosher restaurant). In my mind, this is what happens once you decide that traditional halacha is not for you, that everything is open to re-interpretation by people (even yourself!) who might not necessarily be trained to make halachic decisions and keep everything in straight perspective.

I’m happy that Ms. Ross was able to find balance within herself. I worry, however, that this is not as positive a phenomenon as she would like to make it out to be. The way she describes her progression seems as if she learned to become comfortable with how she is, where she is, which I believe is the antithesis of growth. Or rather, that she has found a community that counts growth toward holistic balance as the root of one’s spiritual and religious life.

And this I can’t agree with. While I believe it’s important to be comfortable with yourself, I don’t see how that is helpful as a central tenet of Judaism. One only grows when they reach a point of some discomfort inside themselves. The very nature of our relationship with God depends on it.