Latest update: March 6th, 2012
The year was 2002. It was July and we were in the midst of a heat wave. I arrived in shul in the most modest, yet Shabbos’dik, outfit I owned (at the time): a black A-lined skirt with black floral sequins along the bottom, topped with a matching black sequined sweetheart, sleeveless top.
Of course the Rebbetzin had taught me the laws of Jewish modesty, and at her suggestion I made sure to wear a long sleeved, high neck shirt underneath, one I had specially purchased for this occasion. My skin-toned long sleeved shell was perfect!
Also, since the skirt only covered my knees and was not a long one, I wore my black, flower-patterned panty hose, making my feet look ridiculous in my high-heeled black peep-toe dress shoes. But these were the laws of modesty I was now trying to follow and I assured myself that since I was all covered up it must be okay. (Looking back, I can’t believe I considered this “modest.” But I’ve come a long way since.)
The Rebbetzin had told me that the feelings of “nerdishness” would fade. She sympathized with the difficulty I had in being a big-chested blond (okay, I’ll admit I was addicted to dying my hair, but that’s really irrelevant since I could be a frum modest blond) who grew up on the beachfront and was now trying to return to my roots.
After the davening was over, I made my way through the crowd (there was a Bar Mitzvah that Shabbos) towards the Rebbetzin. This was our first face-to-face meeting and I happily introduced myself. Though she was polite, she did not seem to return my enthusiasm.
I’m a pretty intuitive person and immediately sensed her uneasiness. Maybe it was the way her eyes flickered in surprise when she saw me, or the way she shifted awkwardly when I hugged her… I’m not sure what exactly gave it away, but one thing was certain: she was extremely uncomfortable. After giving me directions to her home, where I was to come for lunch, she hurriedly excused herself, mumbling something about having to set up.
Maybe she just didn’t feel well, I reasoned. As I made my way out of the sanctuary towards the hall, everyone just stared at me. Did I suddenly grow horns? Was my red 24-hour lipstick starting to fade, I wondered? Instead of proceeding to the hall where the Bar Mitzvah Kiddush was taking place, I went to the bathroom to check myself out: No horns, no lipstick on my nose; even my eyeliner and mascara weren’t smudged.
Just then a beautiful, dark-skinned woman in a navy blue suit and floral blue and navy scarf wrapped around her head appeared out of nowhere. She was adorned with a friendly smile. “Shabbat Shalom!” she greeted me. “Shabbat Shalom,” I smiled back. Her warmth lit up the room.
“Are you new here?” she asked. So I told her about my big decision to take the long walk to shul this Shabbos and my plans to eat at the Rebbetzin’s house and stay there till Shabbos was over.
I guess she sensed how big that was for me and expressed her encouragement and delight over my big decision.
I felt compelled to say something nice and complimented her head wrap (yet secretly wondered why on earth she was wearing that in this heat). I then asked her straight out why she was wearing it. (Still not sure what made me do that.) She explained to me that Jewish women are required according to the Torah to cover their hair when they get married.
Needless to say, I was dumbfounded. She apparently took my shock to be a lack of understanding and briefly explained that since the hair is considered the beauty and crown of a woman (oh, how well I was able to relate to that!), once a women was married it was to be designated solely for her husband.
Wow! How much sense that made! Given my background and the countless “couples” I’d seen breaking up because one of them insisted on flirting, often by flipping her gorgeous hair or acting provocatively in the presence of other girls/guys, the sensitivity the Torah had to marriage made perfect sense to me!
After she left, I was left wondering why on earth the Rebbetzin did not cover her hair. She was so knowledgeable, how could she not know this? I put the thought aside for the time being.
Actually I was in for an even bigger surprise when I arrived at the Rebbetzin’s home. She was outside waiting for me. She smiled warmly and in her kindhearted way explained that my top really was not appropriate. Even though I had a shirt on underneath, it gave the impression that I was bare since it was the same color as my skin.
Okay, that made sense and I felt stupid for not having had the sensitivity to realize this on my own. She understood and was kind enough to lend me one of her daughter’s tops that was appropriate. She was very nice about it. (I guess in shul she reacted to the initial shock of seeing me the way I was dressed.)
At the Shabbos table I did not say much and was still trying to figure out why she did not cover her hair. Perhaps the lady in shul was mistaken about it being a law. Maybe it was just something she did on her own.
Finally Shabbos afternoon I asked the Rebbetzin and she said it was indeed the Law. She explained that she was wearing a wig and that her hair was 100% covered.
My respect for the Rebbetzin did a nosedive. A WIG?! If the point was to save the hair, the crowning glory and beauty of a woman, solely for the eyes (and enticement) of her husband, how was it okay to deceive the rest of the world? (Had I not just received a speech about my deceptive skin-toned shell and about how it made me look uncovered though technically I was, I’d maybe have been more receptive to the “wig” concept.)
Rachel, I am now a totally frum, married woman with a few little ones, baruch Hashem, and I still don’t get it. It makes no sense to me! I don’t buy the fact that a woman feels like her hair is covered when she wears a long, beautiful 100% human hair, custom wig. I tried on a few as a joke when I was engaged. I felt sexy as anything. The wig was way nicer than my own hair.
And any woman who says that tichels fall off and wigs cover more either doesn’t know how to wear a tichel properly or is making a poor excuse. Maybe both. I feel that not only is a wig completely untznius’dik, it is very deceitful. Maybe you can explain it to me.
A tichel-wearing LA girl
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About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to email@example.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.
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