why do orthodox jewish women cover their hair
Question I heard an anthropologist talking about shaitels (wigs). He said how ironic it is that observant Jewish women wear wigs. In biblical Judaism, the rule was that married women should cover their hair in order to be modest and unattractive. In more recent times, women wear wigs, which are sometimes more attractive than natural hair. So wearing a wig actually defeats the whole purpose of covering the hair! He was giving this as an example of how cultures forget the reasons behind their ancient traditions, and customs can evolve in a way that contradicts their original intent. Do you have any comments? Answer: That anthropologist has not only mistaken a wig for real hair, but has also confused true modesty for his own version. He equates modesty with unattractiveness, but that is
his definition, not Judaism's. From the Jewish perspective, modesty has nothing to do with being unattractive. Rather, modesty is a means to create privacy. And that is what a wig achieves. The hair-covering was never intended to make a married woman look ugly.
Beauty is a divine gift, and Jewish tradition encourages both men and women to care for their appearance and always look presentable. Jewish tradition also encourages modesty; not in order to detract from our beauty, but rather to channel our beauty and attractiveness so it be saved for where it belongs within marriage. By covering her hair, the married woman makes a statement: "I am not available. You can see me but I am not open to the public. Even my hair, the most obvious and visible part of me, is not for your eyes. " The hair-covering has a profound effect on the wearer. It creates a psychological barrier, a cognitive distance between her and strangers. Her beauty becomes visible but inconspicuous; she is attractive but unavailable. The wig achieves the desired effect exactly, because a wig allows a woman to cover all her hair, while maintaining her attractive appearance. She can be proud of the way she looks without compromising her privacy. And even if her wig looks so real as to be mistaken for natural hair, she knows that no one is looking at the real her.
She has created a private space, and only she decides who to let into that space. Perhaps in other religions modesty and beauty don't mix. This is not the Jewish view. True beauty, inner beauty, needs modesty to protect it and allow it to thrive. In the heat of summer or the frost of winter, you can tell that a woman is a religious Orthodox Jew by the fact that she covers her hair. There are several reasons Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair. Modesty, or tzniut, is the primary reason: when a woman gets married, her hair has a certain sexual potency to it. You'd think that wasn't the case, especially regarding someone with a bad case of the frizzies. But no, it's true, so a woman's hair should be saved specifically for her husband. A Jewish woman can cover her hair with a hat, a snood, a kerchief (known in Yiddish as a tichel and in Hebrew as a????? ) or even a baseball cap. Wearing a wig is a widespread practice in the Western world because of the fact that many fervently Orthodox Jewish women are in the workplace and they need to dress the part.
However, wig hair is either dead or synthetic, so it doesn't impart the sexual energy that a woman's own natural hair does. And it keeps in line with the second reason that an Orthodox Jewish woman covers her hair: in order to remain at least somewhat separate from outside Western culture. When a religious Jewish woman puts something on her head, it symbolizes the fact that she is one of G-d's own. G-d commanded the Jewish people to be holy and separate. Unfortunately, Western culture is all about shaking the booty: who has the best body, who is the sexiest, who has the most money, etc. That kind of attitude goes against everything Judaism is supposed to represent. Jewish women cover their hair to proclaim their loyalty to Jewish religion and to her husband. On one hand, an Orthodox Jewish woman is supposed to take care of herself and to always look as good as she can because she is the daughter of G-d, the King.
That makes her a princess (so yes, there is some truth in the derogatory acronym JAP: Jewish American Princess). But on the other hand, royalty has to be separate from the muck. When an Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair, they are saying to the world that the ideology they choose is one of Judaism and Torah vs. materialism and body-centric thought mode, which is an ideology or even a religion all of its own. And the general rule regarding covering hair is that the more hair that is covered, the better. Many people make fun of the fact that in some Hasidic sects, the women shave their heads. Some people say that that was a practice initiated when the rulers of the host countries would partake in the "right of the first night", that these Jewish women would shave their heads in order to make themselves ugly to these rapists. However, many others say that because of the mystical properties of a Jewish woman's hair, the less hair visible to the outside world equals the more blessing available in the family and home.
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