Hair Covering Revisited: Sheva Brachot

I’ve written on this blog before about my relationship with hair covering. Readers know that I planned not to cover my hair at all after I got married, other than in synagogue. I wrote about how I woke up the day after my wedding feeling like nothing had changed but knowing that everything had changed and wanting a physical indication of such. Since that point, I’ve grappled with decisions about when and where to cover my hair: I covered my hair every time I was out in public during the sheva brachot week. I covered my hair at some, but not all, weddings. I covered my hair at shul, except that one time when I went away for shabbat and forgot to bring a head covering with me. Sometimes I leave the hair covering on after shul, other times I take it off immediately. Most times I leave it on atleast during kiddush.

Mayim Bialik, one of my favorite celebrities to follow, just started a new blog site, GrokNation. I have high hopes for the future of the site. She reposted some of her older articles that previously appeared on Kveller.com. One such article was her piece on covering her hair after her divorce. I remember reading that article shortly after she originally published it, and thinking that it was interesting but not too applicable to my life, as I’m not divorced and (thankfully) don’t have to struggle with that particular question.

Upon re-reading the article, however, something jumped out at me. Mayim wrote about her own relationship with hair covering during the course of her marriage, and mentioned how excited she was to wear all her brand new hats and scarves during the shave brachot week. Like me, Mayim didn’t cover her hair all the time, but there were certain times when she did. Shea Brachot was one such time.

This is important. Before my marriage, I was so adamant that I wasn’t going to cover my hair outside of synagogue at all. I read all sorts of halachic analyses of the practice and determined that it was no longer necessary. I knew many of my peers still covered their hair, for various reasons, but I thought they were foolish and encouraging a practice that is no longer applicable.

But that day after my wedding I was shocked at how “undifferent” I felt. I was still the same me, wearing my same clothes and driving my same car and hanging out with my same partner, whose title had changed from boyfriend to finance to husband but who was essentially the same person. But we WERE different. We were MARRIED. I wanted to walk out of that honeymoon suite and announce to the world: We are no longer two individuals, we are one unit.

In Judaism, we utilize the physical to represent the spiritual all the time. Kiddush is a prayer that sanctifies the specialness of the sabbath with wine and bread. Tfilin are prayer garments, worn for no other purpose than to physically connect with prayer. After my wedding, I needed to physically represent the new me. My new ring wasn’t enough. I wanted something to say, look at me, I’m married. A hair covering would do that.

So I went to the hotel gift shop and bought a scarf and wrapped it around my hair. I wore all sorts of hair coverings during that week, but then sheva brachot ended and life went back to normal. I didn’t need a hair covering anymore, I knew who I was and that was enough. I took it off. I wore my hats and scarves on shabbat at synagogue but not during when I was at school or work.

The important thing is, I don’t feel that I was inconsistent with myself. I needed the transition period of sheva brachot to feel like I was transitioning into marriage, but once I made the transition, I could let things go back to “normal”.

There has been a lot written about hair covering: Applicable today or not? All hair or partial hair? Wig or hat? I think that something that’s been overlooked is the acknowledgement that there’s not just before-marriage and after-marriage, there are a lot more grey areas. Sheva Brachot serves an important transitional function: One’s life does change, dramatically, with marriage. By taking a week to focus solely on being married, Judaism and halacha recognize that a transition period is necessary.

I think that it is important to understand the value in a transition period. I think that sheva brachot is an excellent opportunity to explore one’s relationship with hair covering and to try out different practices before fully deciding on something. And just like in every other religious decision, it does not have to be a final decision. People’s thoughts and views are always evolving, and they will change with time and experience, and sheva brachot is the perfect time to explore those different perspectives.

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Four Five Seconds to Domestic Violence

Sometimes, when you spend eight ten twelve hours a day working on something, you start to see that thing everywhere, even when other people might not.

For me, that thing is domestic violence. As an attorney who works on child abuse and neglect cases, I get more than a few cases a day that involve domestic violence (because hey, if you’re going to beat up your kid, you may also be beating up your partner).

So as I was driving into work the other day, I heard Rihanna and Kanye West’s new single, Four Five Seconds. For the unfamiliar, here are the lyrics:

Four Five Seconds (Lyrics from metrolyrics.com)

I think I’ve had enough
I might get a little drunk
I say what’s on my mind
I might do a little time
‘Cause all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

Woke up an optimist
Sun was shinin’, I’m positive
Then I heard you was talkin’ trash
Hold me back, I’m ’bout to spaz

I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

And I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’, “How could I be so selfish?”
But you called ’bout a thousand times
Wondering where I’ve been
Now I know that you’re up tonight
Thinkin’ “How could I be so reckless?”
But I just can’t apologize
I hope you can understand

If I go to jail tonight
Promise you’ll pay my bail
See they want to buy my pride
But that just ain’t up for sale
See all of my kindness
Is taken for weakness

Now I’m FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
Ooh, that’s all I want

FourFiveSeconds from wildin’
And we got three more days ’til Friday
I’m just tryna make it back home by Monday mornin’
I swear I wish somebody would tell me
That’s all I want

Songwriters
Mccartney, Paul / Fenty, Robyn Rihanna / Omari, Kanye West

Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

The radio show hosts couldn’t figure out what it meant. They spent a long time discussing what “Four Five Seconds” means–is it forty five seconds? Four, five? Four “five seconds”?

They did not talk about the heart of the song, which is, to me, obviously about domestic violence. At least, I thought it was obvious. Apparently the internet doesn’t think so. I googled “Four Five Seconds meaning”, and didn’t find anything about domestic violence, other than one article that simply hints at “ins and outs” that Rihanna and Chris Brown have gone through. Wikipedia had this to say about the meaning of the song:

Lyrically, it “express emotions ranging from the flip to the resigned”.[9] Sharan Shetty of Slate stated that the song is about “heartbreak and redemption”,[17] while a Yahoo! Newsreviewer noted that it is about “personal travails and confusion”.[18] Nora Crotty of Elle magazine described the single as an “ode to repenting in the morning for the foolish mistakes you made the night before”.[4] -Wikipedia “FourFiveSeconds”

Baffled that that nothing explicitly mentioned the clear domestic violence message of the song, I tried googling “Four Five Seconds domestic violence”. Nothing. There were some sites about the song and some sites about domestic violence, but really nothing that linked the two. So, dear internet, let me tell you. “FourFive Seconds is a song about domestic violence, told both from the perspective of the abuser and the victim. It attempts to go beyond the surface level discussions that so often surround these debates, and get into the heart and souls of people in such relationships.

All of My Kindness is Taken for Weakness

Rihanna doesn’t waste any time getting into the heart of domestic violence. Survivors might feel like they’ve had enough, but they’re willing to give their abusers one more chance, out of the kindness of their hearts. Over and over again survivors talk about not wanting to give up on their abusers. They love their abusers, and so, even while recognizing that they’re not being treated as they should be they bestow “kindness” on the abuser, giving the abuser a chance to redeem themselves.

From an outsider’s perspective, this “kindness” is so many times called “weakness”. We often hear things like “Why can’t she just leave that guy–he’s always beating her and slapping her, she’s just too weak to leave”. Rihanna herself suffered such victimization. After Chris Brown famously assaulted her in 2009, Rihanna left him. After many rumors that they were back together, she announced in 2013 that they had reunited. Commenters on a Rolling Stone article about the reconciliation had this to say about that decision:

“I love seeing someone like her run back to her abuser-she looks like the idiot she is by her actions.” Hook UK

“Rihanna is a role model for young women. By staying with her abuser, she is encouraging other women to stay in abusive, dangerous relationships. It’s only a matter of time before one of those women ends up battered, maimed, or dead. As far as I’m concerned, Rihanna has or will have blood on her hands. Shame on her.” Robotclam

So many times victims say that they want to give their abusers “one more chance”. It is an important step. While so many people view it as weakness or idiocy, it is not meaningless. It is an important step that a victim takes towards recognizing that there is a problem in the first place.

Four Five Seconds from Wildin’

I absolutely love the chorus of the song. It evokes so much emotion. The pouty, slow breaths of the lines bring up feelings of struggle. The references to Friday and Monday make one remember that personal struggles are not just about these lofty ideals of “what type of person is right for me” and “what do I want out of life”, but rather are often much more finite–“how will I pay the rent this week” or “my child is sick but I can’t take any more time off of work” or “we don’t have any more chicken in the freezer but I don’t get paid until Thursday”.

I remember one night in college, I was all stressed out because I had a big paper due that I wasn’t nearly ready to turn in, along with some other finals and shifts at my part time job. I called a friend, who told me that she was also feeling stressed. We decided to meet up and talk about our issues. I remember feeling almost angry with her when she told me that the problems that were keeping her up at night were “what type of person do I want to be” and “where do I see myself in 10 years?”. Of course those are important questions to answer, but you can’t really deal with them until you turn in that final paper, which is due no matter what type of person you are.

While a relationship can give people joy and love and safety, there are also practical benefits. There’s housing, there’s shared finances, there’s co-parenting. I know someone who has been separated from his wife for years, but still hasn’t signed the final divorce papers because he and his daughter are benefitting from being under his wife’s insurance. This arrangement works for him, but if his wife was abusive, it may not be practical. There’s a lot of extortion that happens: Sleep with me and be my partner, or you can’t stay in my house anymore. If you leave, you’ll have no where to go. Your job (if you even have one) won’t be enough to pay for an apartment and living expenses all on your own. Stay with me, where it’s safe.

If I Go To Jail Tonight, Promise You’ll Pay My Bail

If my husband needed to be bailed out of jail, I would march over there and bring every single penny in my account to help him out. Because I love him and he’s good to me and he deserves my help. Even if he did something foolish and stupid–he might have to deal with the consequences later, but I’d help him out in the moment because, love.

For so many victims, the sentiment is the same despite years of being treated badly. There is still love. There is still affection. There is still a very real feeling that the abuser deserves to be loved, despite whatever may have happened in the past, because, love.

This can’t be dismissed very easily.

There are no easy answers. We can educate boys and girls how to behave in relationships and what is healthy and what is unhealthy, but at the end of the day, every individual has to make the choice that is right for him or her. There are so many nuances involved in the decision that an outsider can’t see. All that an outsider can do is offer assistance and support, and most importantly, to be there, no matter what.

“He put me in the hospital when I was pregnant with her. The next day he started crying, begging for forgiveness. He said: ‘I’m so sorry, I was drunk, I need you so much.’ So I took him back. The next time it happened, he managed to convince me that it was my fault. He said that he wouldn’t have gotten so angry if I had paid more attention to him. So I started thinking that I could be better. Then it happened again. Honestly, I stayed with him so much longer than I should have because I was afraid of becoming the stereotype of a single black mother.” HumansOfNewYork.com

Emotions and Observance

A friend once told me that keeping niddah was much harder than keeping any of the other mitzvot, because emotions come in to play much more so than other halachot, like shabbat or kashrut.

At the time, I agreed with her. I mean, niddah walks its way into your bedroom, pokes its head into your sexual life, and stays there, like a mole, interrupting time that should be private.

However. As I gave more thought to the idea, I started to think that perhaps other halachot are like that as well. I mean, the very idea of halacha is that it’s a life-system, it should dictate each and every decision that one makes.

I felt the emotional pull of halacha shortly after I got married. I was used to waiting 3 hours between meat and milk, my husband waits 5. I agreed that since traditionally the woman takes on the man’s customs after marriage, I would change my custom and start waiting 5. It made sense to me, at the time. I was thinking of our future children, and how it might be confusing to them if mommy waits 3 hours and they have to wait 5, or if daddy waits 5 but they wait three.

I believe now that this idea is naive. I actually WANT my children to appreciate the fluidity of halacha and the distinction between law and custom.

I also believe that the concept of wife taking on husband’s customs is patriarchal and sexist. This is actually the ONLY situation in which I just blindly accepted his customs. When I pray, I pray the way I always have. At Chanukah, I light my own menorah, and plan to have our children light theirs as well, even though in his household, only his father lit a menorah. When we make kiddush on shabbat, he says the blessing over the wine and I say the blessing over the bread (this was actually his suggestion, and I love it), even thought neither of us grew up in a family that did that. We generally believe in adopting customs that make sense to us, not simply customs that have been handed down from father to son, forsaking the daughters and mothers.

So, yes. The 5 hours thing bugs me. Every single time when I choose to wait instead of having dairy, when it has been somewhere between 3 and 5 hours. Over shabbat, I wanted an iced coffee with milk 4 hours after having meat at lunch. I was in turmoil-I really want this drink, and I’m really bitter about this whole 5 hour thing. After debating with myself for approximately half an hour, I decided to “screw it to the man” and assert my position that this whole paternal custom thing is ridiculous and damn it, I was going to have milk in my coffee.

I opened the fridge, and realized that we had a bottle of soy milk sitting there, about to spoil in the next couple of days if not used immediately. Oh, fine. I resigned myself to having pareve iced coffee for the sake of not wasting ingredients, but I still was going to inform my husband that I reject his 5 hour custom and I’m going back to 3.

(For the record, my husband was extremely supportive of my decision and laughed when I told him that I struggled with it for half an hour).

This was not about the milk. It was not about the coffee. It was about feeling belittled by halacha simply because of my gender.  I will say that I certainly have my issues with niddah, but the concept of emotions becoming intertwined with halachic observance is no less at play in kashrut or shabbat (Have you ever had to walk out of court early because the sabbath was coming? Not fun.) than it is with niddah. By its very nature, halacha is designed to function within a persons emotional sphere. Sometimes I appreciate it, but other times I don’t, and for me, thats when I really have to examine my emotions and figure out what the true issue really it.