Covering My Hair and Changing My Name

When I was in Israel, I remember studying the laws of hair covering with a woman who grew up in the US, moved to Israel as a teenager, and got married in Israel. She and her husband honeymooned to Italy. She told the class of how, when she arrived at the bed and breakfast in Italy, the very religious Catholic host wouldn’t let her and husband share a room, because she didn’t think they were married. They hadn’t yet changed their names, and they didn’t wear wedding rings. In an attempt to convince the host that they were, in fact, married, she pointed to her mitpachat (head scarf). “This is something that only MARRIED Jewish women wear, see.” The lady didn’t buy it. I don’t remember how, but they did eventually convince their host that they were married, and they were able to share a room.

I make a big deal out of the fact that I don’t cover my hair at work or during day to day activities, only when I’m at shul or weddings or otherwise religious activities. For me, that’s my way of letting the world know where I stand Jewishly–I follow halacha, but I’m not an extremist. I think that because I had my struggle with hair covering, other things, such as changing my name after marriage, were less important to me. Still, for most secular people, hair covering or lack thereof really means nothing. It seems, however, that a woman’s last name after marriage is much more symbolic in secular, feminist circles.

I have been reading a lot from feminists in support of women keeping their last names after marriage. From the blogs that I read, it appears that if you’re “a real feminist” and a “strong woman”, you don’t change your name. (See, for example, this article about why Emma Watson thinks Hermione Granger wouldn’t change her name to Hermione Weasley after her marriage to Ron Weasley). Well, as I’ve told you all before, I changed my name after I got married. Sure, there were (and still are) some logistical difficulties, but once I get past those, I really don’t mind that I changed my name. In fact, I WANT to have the same name as my husband and our future children. But then I read things like the Emma Watson article above, and I start to doubt my decision. Am I a bad feminist? Am I supporting a society of Patriarchy? Will people think I’m naïve and–gasp–a republican, once they find out I have a maiden name??

In my heart, I know these things aren’t true. But, in some ways, I feel that perhaps the reason that I cover my hair in the manner that I do is exactly why a lot of feminists keep their maiden name: A way to show the world that I am a non-conformist, and that I don’t want to do things just because I’m told to do things.

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On Women and the Hoshanot Circuits

Sukkot is supposed to be a joyous holiday, but every single year I come back from shul services feeling upset.

I am upset because, in every single orthodox shul that I have ever been in during sukkot, the men all pull out their lulavim and etrogim, and parade around the shul, joyously singing and waving the four species. The women stand and watch. Afterwards, some men come over to the women’s section and give their lulav and etrog to their wives/sisters/mothers/female friends who didn’t feel the need to purchase their own. The women do the mitzvah of shaking lulav, but don’t participate at all in the hoshana circuits.

I am used to feeling like a spectator watching orthodox prayer services. On a theoretical level, it bothers me, but on an emotional level, I’m less concerned with it because I know that that’s how orthodox prayer services (generally) have to be. I’ve been to partnership minyanim and LOVED them, but unfortunately the town that I currently live in doesn’t have such a minyan.

BUT. The reason that I really, really, hate watching the hoshana parade as an outsider is because IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT. There is nothing stopping the women from taking their lulavim and etrogim and marching around the synagogue, albeit in the women’s section, as the men are doing the same on the men’s side.

I understand that a large reason why more shuls don’t do this is because women generally are not required to own their own lulav and etrog. Although a man may not borrow a lulav and etrog, a woman may use her husband’s or father’s lulav. Therefore, most women simply don’t have a lulav and etrog set available to wave during the hoshanot parade, since their male relatives are probably already using the family set. Although some single, adult women do own their own lulavim and etrogim, these women tend to not make up the majority of women in most orthodox synagogues. Families purchase a lulav and etrog set for each of the men, and the women share. To ask all women to purchase their own lulavim and etrogim so that they, too, can participate in the hoshana parade is to ask families to take on an extra expense that many just can’t afford.

I hear that, I really do. But the result is that women end up getting the message that they just don’t matter in shul. Articles have been written addressing why women seem to be a decreasing presence in the synagogue, and I think this is a major reason.

My plea to you: Next year, women, if you are at all able, purchase your own lulav and etrog. Bring it to shul with you. Don’t march around the synagogue if you feel uncomfortable as the only woman doing so, but at least stay in your seat and pull out your lulav and etrog and be an active participant in the hoshanot circuits. Once enough women start doing this, women’s hoshanot circuits won’t be uncommon, and our synagogue services can be more complete.

Hair Covering

I’m considering writing an article–not just a blog post, an article, with sources and footnotes and all-about hair covering. My goal in the article would be to compile ALL the things I read about hair covering before coming to my own decision (that I don’t need to cover my hair, but I will do so in shul out of respect) to help others make an informed decision. 

My question is–do you all think this would be helpful? I know there are a zillion similar articles out there, and really, enough is enough already, but I also think that it might be good to have all the primary sources collected and in one place, without being preachy one way or the other (which I know will be hard, since of course I do have an opinion on the subject).

Separately, I’m wondering whether if I do write the article, should I post it here on my anonymous blog? Sometimes, I really hate that I have to be anonymous on the blog, but really, I don’t want potential employers googling my name and then finding all about my sexual practices. (Not to mention my parents, who heretofore don’t know that I ever had premarital sex, and I’d like that to stay that way!) Sigh, maybe I should just let you all know my first name, which is really not all that common, and if you know me, you know, and if not, I won’t show up in search results…

But I digress. Should I publish this article, if at all, anonymously on the blog or using my name, but not attached to the blog? I’d like this blog to have more primary sources, but I also realize that if someone were handed an article ascribed only to “OrthoFeminist” they may not take it as seriously as I’d like.

Well, let me know what you think. Comment or shoot me an email at orthofeminist@gmail.com. 

 

Niddah Diaries: Skipping a period

When I scheduled a trip to my parents for succot, I realized that I’d most likely have to go to the mikvah over chag while on vacation. I don’t like the idea of using this mikvah (I’ve used it once before, a few days before I got married, and it’s pretty gross), and I don’t like the idea of going to the mikvah on chag, either. Therefore, it was a pretty easy decision for me to use my birth control pills to skip my period this month.

For niddah purposes, this means five weeks of being able to have sex, instead of the normal two. It also means that if I don’t want to have sex one night because I’m tired, that’s okay, because we can just have sex the next night. I’m only on the beginning of week 3 (i.e. this is the week that I should be getting my period, but I went straight to the new pack of pills). I’ll let you know how it goes, but so far, the intimacy and romance has not been lacking, even if we chose not to have sex one or two times last week.

Over Rosh Hashana, we were staying at relatives’ house, in the same city that we live in. There was another couple there, too, and the woman apparently was scheduled to use the mikvah the first night of Yom Tov. They weren’t eating with us that night, and instead were intentionally eating with an elderly couple that tends to eat quickly. However, apparently they missed the mikvah appointment and had to go back there the next night. By the end of chag, everyone at our house knew they were going to the mikvah and knew that they had missed their appointment and knew that they went again the next night.

While we were waiting for them to get back from the mikvah the second night, I had a conversation with one of my relatives about the whole thing. She, a woman in her 50s who has been keeping niddah her whole adult life, said that she didn’t understand why this women was so insistent to go now, and why everyone had to know about this woman’s mikvah schedule. She said that when she was younger, no one was supposed to know that you were going to the mikvah, and therefore, people usually waited and went after shabbat/yom tov. My husband spoke up and said, “Yeah, but delaying mikvah is REALLY frowned upon”. I spoke up and said, “She could just manipulate her birth control” (We all happen to know she takes birth control pills because she’s mentioned it before).

To me, and this relative, avoiding mikvah on shabbat/yom tov would be a priority. But for her, it’s not. And those are choices we all make.

Fabric Softener

I was perusing the search terms that led some of y’all to my blog, and while most were common and expected (Niddah, mikvah, jewish marriage, etc) there was one that was just downright funny. Apparently, someone had googled the question:

“why ultra orthodox jews don’t use fabric softner?”

Apparently, they were led to my blog because of a post where I wrote that you’re not supposed to use hair conditioner when preparing to dunk in the mikvah. 

Just to set the record straight, for anyone who might be wondering,

JEWS CAN AND DO USE FABRIC SOFTENER.

Now, this got me wondering, why would anyone even suspect such a thing in the first place. I came to the only (semi) logical conclusion, which was that because some brands of fabric softener have an OU on them, perhaps someone thought that we can’t use fabric softener? OK, I realize that’s not only not semi-logical, it’s downright non-logical, but I’ll let it slide. And, to answer the question, some brands of fabric softener (and aluminum foil and dish soap and plastic bags and laundry detergent and disinfectant spray, you get the point) have an OU or other kosher symbol on them, because, well, kashrut companies like money. I’m serious. I was once present when someone asked a senior official at the OU why the put hechserim on non-edible products even though that might mislead someone into thinking that they MUST buy the soap with the OU on it, and he said, the companies approach US and ask us to do it. They find that their product sells when it has the OU symbol.  Since the soap technically is made out of all kosher ingredients, we oblige.

It’s either that, or someone thinks you might eat your clothes.

Simchat Bat Ceremonies: Feminist Ritual or Jewish Ritual?

I recently attended both the shalom zachor and brit mila of the son of good friends of mine. As all shalom zachors do, this made me think about how there’s no real female equivalent of a shalom zachor, and how this practice seems like a throwback to the days when families favored boys over girls.

When I was growing up, in a small, out-of-town community with one orthodox shul, one conservative shul, and one reform shul, the process was pretty standard across the board: No one had a shalom zachor. If you had a baby boy, you had a brit, and if you had a baby girl, you had a baby naming ceremony. The ceremonies were fairly similar, both involved the whole community sharing bagels and lox, both involved the parents (or just the father, if the mother was too weak from just having passed a human being out of her body) talking publicly about their child and his/her name and where it comes from and who the baby is named after and their hopes and dreams for their child. There were only two differences: 1. The brit involved a snip-snip and 2. The brit was held 8 days after the baby was born (unless there were medical concerns) and the baby naming was held whenever was convenient for the parents, usually the first or second sunday after the baby was born.

It was pretty fair, if you asked me. I never thought of judaism favoring baby boys over baby girls because we celebrated both babies publicly, and even I, as a kid, understood that the ceremonies couldn’t be 100% equal because, well, girls and boys are not biologically 100% equal.

It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I heard people talk about simchat bat ceremonies. I assumed that those were just the hebrew version of a baby naming ceremony. Then I started to read about how people have designed special prayers, songs, and passages for simchat bats. What finally made me realize that these ceremonies were viewed a little differently here than where I came from, however, was a comment made by a caterer friend of mine. He does events all over the tri-state area, and was once talking about a simchat bat he was planning. Someone asked him where the event was going to be. He replied, “Riverdale, duh. If it’s a simchat bat, it’s either Riverdale or the Upper West Side.” So, apparently, the only people that celebrate a daughter are feminists. Hm.

This conversation led to more discussions about baby girls and baby boys. Apparently, “most people” up here name their baby girls in shul the first time that the husband goes to shul after the baby is born. There’s usually no coffee and bagels, and no guests are invited. The only parties are for boys.

This is wrong. It is weird that my small town is more “progressive” than the big city, but apparently, that’s how it is. But the thing is, we didn’t think of ourselves as progressive at all. Most of the people would shun the title feminist. I once got ridiculed for studying gemara in shul on simchat torah while all the other women were contentedly watching the men dance around the torah. This is NOT a progressive community. We simply like babies, male or female, and we celebrate whenever ANY new member joins our tribe.

This is the final step for feminism. Feminism has taken great strides lately, has implemented wonderful additions and rituals and services that make judaism welcoming for all genders, and thats great. But the final step is to get these things normalized, to not be seen as a “feminist” practice, but instead, to be seen as simply a Jewish practice.

Splitting the Chores

My mother is an amazing woman. She works a full time job and takes care of her house and cooks fabulous shabbat meals and still maintains her sanity.

Yesterday, I was speaking to her on the phone, when my husband came home from work. He looked around and noticed that I was in the middle of doing laundry. He asked me, “Should I switch the laundry now?”. I asked my mom to hold on a moment while I explained to him that yes, the laundry was ready to be switched, except for one load which was already in the dryer and that he should just bring that one upstairs so we can fold it.

When I got back to my mom, she said “Your husband does laundry with you? WOW.”

My father is one of the “manly men” from the previous generation that works all day, comes home and sits on the couch and relaxes after work, eats the dinner my mother prepared for him, and then goes upstairs to watch a game while he gets ready for bed. Meanwhile, when my mom gets off of work, she does the grocery shopping, cooks dinner, cleans the house, and makes all the social arrangements.

My parents like to say that when they got married, they made an arrangement: My mother would be in charge of all the minor, day to day decisions, and my father would be in charge of the major decisions. But, they realized, throughout the course of their marriage, there has never been one major decision!

You see, they came to the realization that all of life is simply a series of small decisions. A couple doesn’t just decide to buy a house, they decide to go to a few open houses, decide to talk with a real estate agent, decide to make some offers, and finally, decide to transfer a whole lotta money to a bank that’s going to own them for a very long time.

And while, this “big decision/small decision” method may work for my parents, it’s not the marriage that I want. Sometimes to a fault, I want every decision to be made mutually between myself and my husband. This is just as true for decisions like “should I take this job?” as it is for “what’s for dinner?”. He knows that one of the most frustrating things he can say is, “Honey, I don’t care, you do what you want.”

In general, I think it’s healthy that we do things together. I like that he chips in with laundry. I like that I can bounce all sorts of ideas off of him. Still, sometimes, if it’s my turn to make dinner, I should just choose something and be okay with it. And, well, that’s hard for me. I know that even if I think chicken is a good choice for dinner, he may not be very hungry and might only want soup. Or, he might have had pasta for lunch and not want it again for dinner, but I won’t know until he tells me.

In some ways, I’m happy that we have a 50/50 marriage. But sometimes, I think that the problem is that we don’t do things 50/50, we do things 100/100. There’s absolutely no reason why we both have to go to the grocery store together (other than, of course, we like each other and want to spend as much time together as possible) or both decide together what to have for dinner. Instead, we need to get better at splitting the chores evenly, instead of us both doing everything, so that we can have more time to spend with each other doing the things we really want to be doing.