People are interesting, that’s for sure.
The other night, when I was working as a shomeret at our little mikveh here, a woman who lives outside of our town said that to me. Well, she actually said, “You’re a rebbitzin. Is covering hair really a mitzvah?”
As she was in the mikveh.
I said to her “Let’s finish this mitzvah and then we’ll talk.”
I was also buying time to think of what to say to her. She’s a BT (ba’alat teshuvah, somewhat newly observant, for those of you without the lingo). And, to top it off, of a Chabad persuasion, so that makes so much difference.
Another important detail about this woman is that she has magnificent hair, long gentle curls of a beautiful gentle red. Bottom line; she has the kind of hair that must be what those rabbis were talking about when they talk about hair being erva (a part of a woman’s body which is considered licentious or is normally covered).
Oh, it’s a lousy day, so I’ll throw in a funny story from a long time ago while I think of what I’m going to write about hair covering. We knew of a young woman who was in Israel for the first time and wanted to use her Hebrew name as part of the experience. The problem was that she didn’t have a regular Hebrew name, Sarah Rivkah Rochel Leah, but her parents had named her after a relative named Irving. Thus (under the what were they really thinking? category) they named her Irva. But when you pronounce it with the endearing mivta ivrit, the Israelis asked absolutely astonished, “sh’mech Errrrrva?”
Okay, back to what I said to her. I was hoping, actually, that she would forget she asked, the next person (woman! It is not going to be a man!) would have to come in and I would be busy dealing with all of that. Well, the next person was late, so I did end up speaking with her for a while. I said, “It’s complicated.”
I made a distinction between why women are supposed to cover their hair and the reason that women might not. I did not bring up things that she could read (here’s a great article that covers [–sorry] the history and rabbinic opinions) but I just wanted her to hear that women who didn’t cover their hair should not be condemned, as I know that certain groups tend to do. I also talked to her about my problem with shaitels/wigs and why I think that covering hair with some kind of cloth (hat, scarf, snood) is preferable. I told her that the women who work in the gentile world wear shaitels because they have to in order to fit in enough, and that is the original reason for the heter for allowing shaitels to be worn; they should not be the standard of halachik observance.
In fact, here is a blog entry that really says what I feel about the whole issue. If you have a chance, read the comments, too. They’re fascinating, even if only on a sociological basis. They bring up some very important points about people’s motives for halachik observance and distancing from certain other ones. Here’s an earlier entry that he has about the subject, as well.
Now remember that I said she has gorgeous hair? She admits that her hair is her best feature and that friends of hers who aren’t frum say she’s crazy to cover her hair. And also remember that I said she’s in the Chabad world, so they, of course, follow the Rebbe who said that wearing a shaitel is better than anything else. The typical explanation given for his opinion is that a wig ensures all hair will stay covered, which probably is connected to the kabbalistic reasons for a woman covering her hair. I told her kabbalah is not usually halachah, but if she’s going to live in the Chabad world, she has to follow their minhagim. I also told her that she should feel good that she is covering her hair for her husband since her hair is so beautiful.
It was, of course, interesting, that he didn’t come up in the discussion at all. I’m not going there. I also didn’t talk to her about my gut reaction against wigs being due to my association with chemo. Anyone who has lived with someone who has had hair loss due to chemo has a right to have a gut reaction to replacing hair, rather than covering hair.
Obviously the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s success in the world probably was the biggest reason for the popularization of sheitels. I also didn’t tell her my ideas about the reason that shaitels have become more popular due to financial success of the frum world and the ability to buy things that don’t look like rats (see here). My original thought was to call this entry “Wine, Dolly Parton, and Shaitels”. There probably is a real connection between the growth of the kosher wine industry and the shaitel-making industry. But of course, this is just conjecture and I don’t have any way of checking that out.
It might be fun, though.