6 years ago tomorrow, I made the decision to begin covering my hair. It was such a momentous decision to me that I noted it on my calendar the same way I noted the day I decided to convert, birthdays, and anniversaries. It is a mitzvah for married Jewish women to cover their hair and it’s one of the earlier mitzvahs I took on. I did take a break from hair covering during my wanderings, but once we came back to the Synagogue, it felt weird not to cover, uncomfortable even though most women do not cover up here.
Part of my reasoning was practical. In the communities we were interacting with, not having my hair covered kind of made it confusing for people to understand whether or not I was single. In my community now, where the majority of married women do not cover, I might have waited longer. Still, I felt drawn to covering my hair in a way I don’t always feel drawn to other mitzvos. Mr. Safek and I weren’t married at that time, but we were living together as a family. Our Rabbi agreed that it was a good idea for me to begin covering my hair as soon as I felt ready to do so.
It sometimes surprises me that so many born Jewish women struggle with the mitzvah of covering their hair, mostly because it was something that once I decided to convert, I looked forward to. To me, besides dressing modestly, Orthodox women had few external signs of their faith. Hair covering was a visible sign to the world around me of a commitment I’d made, both to Judaism and to the man I loved. The idea of keeping my hair just for myself and for him also really spoke to me, especially in a world where so little is kept special.
I covered first with scarves called tichels. I loved that I could mix and match colors and patterns and I felt regal in them, like I was wearing a crown. However, few women in my community covered with tichels and it was strongly encouraged that I get a wig, called a sheitel. I struggled with this for a while and wrote about that in another blog post, but eventually, I wanted to fit in with the other Jewish women I knew, so I bought a sheitel. Now, I cover with a sheitel almost all the time because I like how it allows me to blend in better in the world. Most non-Jews just assume it’s my hair even though most Jewish people can spot it a mile away. It also fits in better at work and it fits the customs of my husband’s family and our community so much better.
I remember when we took a break from our conversion path and wandered and I uncovered my hair. While I think most people would imagine that I’d gleefully tossed off my wig and shook out my mane like a lion, the reality was much more complicated. I was very sad the first day I didn’t cover my hair. I felt like I’d lost something very special, a connection to something that I very much mourned losing. I also felt more vulnerable out in the world, raw and open, which very much fits with kabbalistic ideas about hair being like a receiver for what is around us. For about 2 years, I’d been sheltered and now I was suddenly uncovered and unprotected.
However, just like I’d gotten so used to covering my hair, I also became used to having it uncovered. Sensitivity dulled and I no longer felt so raw and vulnerable…until we came back to Orthodox Judaism.
My first time back in an Orthodox shul, I didn’t have my hair covered. Suddenly, that sensitivity was back. I felt naked, even though there were only a few women there with their hair covered. Not long after, something happened at work that shocked me back into covering my hair. A manager in the company, several levels above me, came to my cube to introduce an intern he was showing around. As we spoke about a committee that he wanted me to volunteer for, he reached out and playfully tugged at my hair in mock disapproval. It was like a jolt ran down my body and I suddenly felt so violated, perhaps moreso than if he’d touched my body. I suddenly realized that I didn’t want just any man to be able to reach out and touch my hair. I longed for that feeling of security and protection that hair covering had given me. Perhaps I needed to have that break from covering to realize just how much it meant to me?
So, I put back on my scarves and then got a new sheitel to cover with. It felt right. It felt safe and secure and I was proud to so identify myself with Orthodox Jewish women.
It felt like being home again.
I am most content with my hair covered. As I’ve grown in the mitzvah, it’s gotten to where there are so many facets to it that justify the complications or discomfort it might cause. I like that when I uncover my hair in private, I do feel that sensitivity, that vulnerability and I feel safe in sharing that with the one closest to me and I like that I feel protected and sheltered when I’m out in the world. I like that I’m marked and set aside as consecrated both to my beloved and to Hashem. I’m proud to join a long tradition of women covering their hair.
I am home.