Um, is that your hair?

Note: I originally wrote this article a few years back, but the question has come up again recently, so I’m sharing it here.  🙂

Soooooooo….it has come to my attention again recently that I have apparently been much better at hiding one of the basic laws of Orthodox Judaism than I realized.  (And FYI, this was one of several customs that I thought were totally and completely weird when I first started learning of them!!)  Now that I’ve had a chance to dig deeper into the hidden, spiritual meaning behind them, I’ve grown to love and respect them.  In fact, I’ve turned my entire life upside down to honor them.  But yes, it’s been a process.  A journey.  Maybe more like a transformation.  Or a lobotomy.  Some of the changes evolved from the outside in, and some of them took root from the inside out.

But what is this one particular change to which I’m referring?  The Torah commandment for married women to cover their hair.  Hats, scarves, or wigs are all acceptable forms of hair covering, so long as all of the hair is completely covered.  Different groups of Jews follow different customs.  And do I cover mine?  Yup.  It’s something I’ve done since the day I got married, but nothing I felt the need or desire to shout from the rooftops. 

As you may have guessed, I use a wig to cover my hair.  To give a quick explanation regarding the simple reason WHY we do this, I’ve taken a brief but poignant excerpt from an online article by Aron Moss.  Here’s how he describes it:

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 also 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.

To take it a step further, our Sages teach us that when a Jewish woman gets married, which is the most sacred act possible between humans on this planet, her hair becomes so holy and private that to walk around with her hair uncovered would be like running around town naked!  (Yes, this was a totally intense concept for me to absorb, and many modern-day women still struggle with it.) 

So now you’ve got the official answer.  But let me be reeeeeally honest for a quick moment.  The explanation above sounds very noble and full of valor, but when I first got married, I was way too full of insecurity and ego to boldly embrace a wig.  So, I tried my best to find one that looked like my old hair style at the time. No one asked me or forced me to cover my hair. It was my choice. But the change & fear of what other people would say still freaked me out!

Here’s a pic of me & Moty when we first met (and clearly neither of us were Torah-observant Jews):

And here’s a pic of us on the first night I wore my wig…the day after our wedding:

Thankfully, along the way, I’ve gotten more comfortable with my new “accessory”, and I’ve added a few more styles along the way, including a pony wig, wigs with bangs, and a shorter wig.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll get wild and decide to become a blonde or a red head.  In case you’re curious if I sleep in a wig, I actually wear scarves at home, because they’re more comfortable and practical.  But they move and slide around too much for me to feel comfortable wearing them in public. 

Someone once asked me what is the weirdest part of adopting the whole “wig thing”?  Without a doubt, it’s meeting old friends and family who aren’t aware of my new lifestyle choices and watching them stare at me, trying to decide what’s changed about me and not quite being able to put their finger on it.  I often don’t know if I should laugh out loud or just ignore it and let them sweat.  But for sure, it’s led to a few awkward moments.

With new acquaintances, I have no problem.  Whenever I receive compliments on my hair, I just smile and say, ‘thank you’.  I feel no need to go into the explanation every time.  A few times people have even asked, “Is that your hair?”  (Yup, I paid for it!)

Do I still find it weird?  Nah, I’ve totally gotten used to it by now.  Do I think it’s worth it?  Our Sages teach us that the financial blessings of a family and the purity of their children come to a household all through the degree to which the woman honors and fulfills this commandment.  So, every day as I leave the house, I actually can stand a bit taller and prouder, feeling like I’m doing my part to protect my family.  Do I actually believe this stuff from our Sages?  Well, considering the Jews are the only nation that has survived since the beginning of time…yes, I’ve staked my life on its truth.  Some people feel that it’s an outdated custom, no longer necessary in our modern era. However, the Torah says that God’s covenant with His people is eternal and never changing, so who am I to decide which parts of the Bible are no longer relevant? I have zero judgement on how anyone else chooses to live their life, and I’m happy to live mine in bold pursuit of my truth, even though it makes for an unpopular and inconvenient journey at times!

(I should also add that I have many Jewish friends who choose not to observe this law, just as I have many Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist friends who do not all practice or observe their faiths in the same way. My point in sharing this post is to explain why I do what I do, not to make judgements on doctrine or theology. I am a B-I-G believer that this world needs ALL of us in order to achieve harmony, and we can still love, respect, and learn from each other, even if we don’t share all of the same beliefs.)

So, now you know my secret.  Well, it wasn’t actually ever a secret, considering I announced it in writing in our wedding program.  But now the rest of our non-Jewish friends who didn’t read our wedding program are all caught up. 

Oh, and PS: there’s one other bonus to the whole wig thing: I haven’t had to worry about a bad hair day in years.  😉

XO, Chaya

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