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peers still covered their hair, for various reasons, but I thought they were foolish and encouraging a practice that is no longer applicable.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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Keratin Treatment and Mikvah

A few weeks ago, I had a keratin treatment put in my normally thick, dry, curly hair. The treatment was wonderful. My hair is still curly, but the curls aren’t as tight, and there is absolutely no frizz. For the first time in my life, I have wash and go hair. I don’t have to use gel or mouse or anything else. I can even leave the house without showering in the morning and still look like a respectable human being.

As anyone whose had this treatment done knows, the treatment comes with a lot of rules. Don’t wash your hair for 24 hours. Don’t use shampoo/conditioner with sodium chloride. Only shampoo your hair every other day. And–if you go swimming, make sure to treat your hair with a leave in conditioner before you go, because the chlorine can strip the keratin from your hair.

Well, the mikvah has chlorine, so that posed a problem. Since the whole idea of mikvah is to not have any barriers between the body and water, leave in conditioner is inherently a problem.

I debated the whole week before I went to the mikvah about what I would do. I finally decided to call a yoetzet halacha. I figured that a woman would know more about keratin treatments and leave in conditioners than a male rabbi would, so she’d be the better person to speak with. I called and left a message, and we played phone tag up until it was time for me to leave for the mikvah. So, I ended up deciding on my own to do something that made me comfortable both halachically and cosmetically:

When I started doing my prep, I wet my hair and then put the leave in conditioner in. I let it sit about 5 or 10 minutes, then I rinsed it out, using only water. Then, I did my regular prep, including washing my hair with shampoo (I used my own sodium chloride free shampoo instead of the stuff provided by the mikvah). Then, when it was time to tovel, I told the mikvah lady that I was only going to dunk once, even though I’ve been doing three. I dunked really quickly, she said kosher, and I got out. I then showered with my shampoo, again.

Overall, I’m happy with the results. The keratin stayed in my hair. I spoke to the yoetzet afterwards, and she confirmed that what I did was acceptable. I stressed about it beforehand, but I think it’s a system that will work in the months to come.

I wanted to share this with you all on the one hand because it’s an interesting look into the particular concerns of mikvah, but also because when I was trying to figure out what to do before I went, I scored the internet and I couldn’t find one place where keratin was discussed in the context of mikvah. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help another woman figure out a viable option for maintaining her keratin treatment while at the mikvah.