Covering My Hair and Figuring Out What’s Right For ME

This past weekend, I went to visit some old friends from high school. I met up with these two women, both of whom are married and pregnant, for dinner. The discussion turned to schools. Where, one wondered, was the other planning on sending her as of yet unborn child to school? A new school had recently opened up in their community, and they discussed whether or not that school would be appropriate for their children.

“I don’t know”, one said. “On one hand, the philosophy of the school sounds like our own philosophy. But the group of people that started the school are just, well, different, from us”.

“Different how?” I asked.

“Well, you know, they wear those shaitals [wigs] that show a significant part of their hair!” 

“Yeah”, the other said. “They shouldn’t even be called shaitals, they should be called ‘extensions'”.

Ironically, I was sitting there wearing a hat that left a significant portion of my hair uncovered.

Apparently, it wasn’t the amount of hair showing that was a problem for them, rather, it was how they chose to cover their hair.

They basically explained to me that these shaitals went along with a lifestyle where women made sure to dress up every time they leave their houses, even just to go around the corner to the market. They would never walk outside without makeup, and more often than not sport high heels and fitted clothing. They only wear skirts, but their skirts are rather tight and don’t even attempt to reach their knees. Their husbands wear black hats, but mostly just to blend in. And of course, the women always wear these insane shaitals. For my friends, the problem with the shaitals was that they were representative of a lifestyle which valued beauty over brains.

I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being scorned, right in front of my nose. Perhaps it is due to the feeling that many people have, including by not limited to, Orthodox Jewish Women. This feeling is: “I’ve made a decision that’s right for me, so while I may say that I’m liberal and support anybody doing whatever they want, I inwardly feel a little bit like those people that made a decision different from my decision made the wrong decision. Afterall, since this decision is right for me, it should be right for most people.”

My own practice regarding hair covering came after much thought and deliberation.

I only cover my hair in situations in which it is socially expected. Essentially, this comes down to shul and visits to ultra-orthodox communities. I’ve learned the halachot–I know that hair covering is, essentially, dependent on minhag hamakom [the customs of the place]. The rabbis lament how, over the years, Jewish women have forsaken the mitzvah of covering their hair, but now that uncovered hair is a commonplace occurrence, it is no longer halachikcally required. The discussion is more nuanced than that and there are certainly a plethora of rabbis that would disagree with what I’ve just said, but suffice it to say that not only has my reasoning has been developed by studying the sources, it’s also rabbinically sanctioned.

My decision to not cover my hair in most situations started with my decision not to cover my hair at work. I really don’t think that scarves and hats are suitable for a professional environment. Sure, there is a Muslim woman that works in my office who covers her hair and neck with fancy scarves and nobody bats an eyelash. There are a couple of men who wear kippahs. I’m pretty sure that there is a woman who wears a shaital, but I’m not a hundred percent sure it isn’t natural hair. Still, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me. I not a permanent employee there yet, and I certainly don’t want to be viewed as a religious fanatic when the time comes for them to evaluate my employment applications.

I also really hate wearing wigs. Not only are they heavy and uncomfortable, they make your natural hair look worse. The wig makes your hair flat and messy, plus, years of prolonged hair covering mean that your hair doesn’t get much, if any, exposure to the sun, resulting in thin, dull hair for women still in their mid-twenties. Since it’s not halachikally required, and I had all these reasons why I didn’t want to, I chose not to cover my hair at work.

Once I made that decision, the following decision to only cover my hair at shul and places I’m expected to made a lot of sense for me. Why wear a head covering to the grocery store on Sunday if I didn’t wear one to the grocery store on Wednesday afternoon during my lunch break?

Sometimes I end up wearing head coverings in situations that I didn’t expect to. I often cover my hair on shabbat even I don’t go to shul, because that feels more like a shabbat outfit. I wore one at the funeral I attended a few months ago. I wore one at the sheva brachot meal I attended two weeks ago, but not the one I attended a month ago. I debate constantly with myself whether a particular situation is hair covering appropriate. And that is what’s right for me. 

Still, I hope that when I talk to friends that fully cover their hair, or friends that never ever cover their hair, they don’t get the impression that I think they made the wrong decisions. I don’t. I fully support them. I made the decision that was right for me, but that is all. I know my friends mentioned above don’t really think less of me because of how I cover my hair, but sometimes it feels like they do, even when they’re “just” talking about other people. I dislike it, and I hope that I don’t give off the same impressions.

Angry Feminist

A few weeks ago, I became an angry feminist. I despise angry feminists. They just bother me. As do bleeding heart liberals and Tea-Party conservatives.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with their political viewpoints. I think that everyone is entitle to his or her own beliefs, and even entitled to share them with others. What I don’t like is when someone feels that their viewpoint is the ONLY valid viewpoint. I also don’t like when people approach issues from an emotional perspective rather than an intellectual one. (I am currently reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, in which he posits that the emotional decisions we make are actually our bodies making sub-conscious logical decisions. I’ll get back to you on that.)

However, I did exactly both of those things recently. I was driving, and the car in front of me was sporting an anti gay marriage bumper sticker. Full disclosure–even though I think everyone is entitled to their own viewpoints, I think the anti gay marriage viewpoint is pretty faulty. In general, it tends to come from a religious perspective, and religion has no place in the American government.

As I was sitting behind this car, staring at the sticker, I literally felt my blood start to boil. I became increasingly agitated, to the point that I changed lanes solely so that I wouldn’t have to look at the sticker. I was angry at that driver for putting that bumper sticker on his car. I didn’t value his freedom of expression. I wasn’t evaluating his viewpoint from a rational, intellectual perspective…I just drove away so that I wouldn’t get any more emotionally upset than I already was.

I just hope that I am able to contain my anger next time i have a conversation about this with someone. Because frankly, angry feminists are just annoying.

The (Wrong) Bottom Line

The claim is that some people only dream in black and white, and researchers believe that those who do are older people who grew up with black and white television.

From the end of the article:

“The bottom line: A small percentage of people dream in black and white”

Nope. That’s not what I think the bottom line is. The interesting thing here is the REASON they dream in black and white. Not because the neurons in their brain are programmed differently, not because they are color blind, but because of the type of TV they watch.

Studies have shown that Americans are watching more TV now than they ever were before. The latest Nielsen study claims that the average time Americans spend watching television is 142 hours a month, or over 4.7 hours a day. Still, there are 19.3 hours left unaccounted for. Some of that time is spent sleeping (or dreaming!). The suggested amount of sleep for an adult is around 7 hours. Now we’re left with 12.3 hours of awake, non-TV watching time. 12 hours a day of working, running errands, eating meals, playing sports, whatever. But apparently, that’s not what the brain focuses on. This time is unimportant to the brain. All it cares about is what’s going to happen on Grey’s Anatomy, or, which I Love Lucy rerun will come on next.

4.7 hours a day is significant. It’s way too much. I can’t even imagine finding the time to watch 4.7 hours of television every day. Still, it’s not the majority of the day. I wonder what is so different about the way the brain interprets TV that it can alter dream images? Do the little pixels of light really creep into your head and change your wiring that much? And, more importantly, why didn’t the New York Times think this was the real significance of the study?

Am I a grammar prude?

There are 2 songs that really, really bug me when I hear them. 

They particularly get to me because, if not for their very blatant english mistakes, I’d actually like them.  A lot. 
The first is Kid Rock’s All Summer Long. The mistake in this song is not actually the grammar, but the poetry style:
“We were trying different things/we were smoking funny things/making love out by the lake/all summer long.”
It’s a really catchy chorus, but as it gets stuck in my head, I keep saying “You can’t rhyme a word with itself.” And this perpetuates the song getting stuck in my head, because I keep thinking about how wrong it is. 
The other song is “Don’t phunk with my heart” by The Black Eyed Peas.  First of all, funk is not a verb. I don’t care what anybody says about language being controlled by the ones who speak it, they are wrong if they think some celebrity rock band can legitimately change grammar by mimicking an incorrect way of speaking used by uneducated, low class individuals. And don’t even get me started about the spelling. 
These things bug me, alright? Please people, don’t assume your audience are a bunch of ignoramuses, because “if you build it, they will come.”

Diversity in the Office

Here is a recent conversation between a co-worker and I. This particular woman was hired because she speaks Spanish, and many of our customers speak only Spanish. 

Her: Now why would someone have put the file for “Smith-Carrey, Heidi” after “Smith, Veronica”?
Me: Because we file first by last names, then by first names.
Her: But C comes before V, so Carrey comes before Veronica.
Me: Yes, but Carrey is part of her last name. Her last name is “Smith-Carrey”. So you do all the Smiths, and then you start doing all the “Smith-Carrey”.
Her: OK, but see this name starts with a C and this name starts with a V. The C name should be first. This is why I can’t ever find the files that I need. People just don’t know how to file around here.
Me: Yeah, that’s a problem alright.

With Streets Paved in Gold

Every summer since I was about 12 years old, I’ve worked in my father’s check cashing store. For those of you who don’t know how check cashing works, it’s basically banking for transient workers. Many times people receive checks, but do not have bank accounts to deposit the checks into. Other times, the banks hold the checks for somewhere between 7-14 days to verify it before dispensing funds, but the worker can’t wait a couple of weeks to get his money. That’s where check cashers come in. The workers bring their checks to the establishment, we verify that the check is legit-a process that some how takes us several minutes, yet takes banks several weeks-and give them the money, minus a small fee. Then, the check casher deposits the check into their own bank account.

I generally work in the verification department. I’ve learned a lot about check fraud from it, too. When the movie Catch Me if You Can came out, I wasn’t so surprised to see what he pulled off, as I had seen or heard about many of those schemes before. One extremely popular form of check fraud is for someone outside of America to send some sort of email explaining how they have unfortunately come into a difficult situation. They own a business in their home country that deals with international clients, and the clients send them checks that can only be deposited in the United States of America. These “business owners” propose that they will send the check to to this contact person, the contact person will cash the check and then wire the money to the business owner in the foreign country, keeping, of course, a small percentage for their troubles. It seems like a win-win situation to the unsuspecting contact person.

The problem is, of course, these checks are complete forgeries. Most check cashers can spot them right away, but apparently, there are still a few that can’t (or don’t). When the check is denied, its up to the one who cashed it to pay back the check, plus a fine, plus serve jail time if the police are called. The one who cashed it, however, doesn’t have the money anymore, as they have already wired it out of the country.

There is an older woman who works in my office, and when discussing this situation, she says, “It’s such a shame that these crooks play to the emotions of caring Americans. All these people want to do is help someone in an unfortunate situation, and they end up getting screwed over.”

For a while, that’s how I thought of the situation as well. That is, until yesterday, when I received such an email. The subject line didn’t read “please help me” or “my friend needs your assistance”. It said “Make $100, just by depositing a check.” For fear of viruses, I didn’t open up the whole email, but my email server shows a preview of the message. It was written in really bright, flashy, colors, with lots of exclamation points, and a decidedly upbeat attitude.

It was then that I realized, these people aren’t playing towards American’s emotions, they’re playing towards American’s greed. They’re not so naïve to think that Americans will really care about some poor suffering businessman in Nigeria, they know that the only thing on the minds of most Americans is how to make an extra buck or two. And by the popularity of their schemes, they seem to be right.

The Evolving Organization of My Bookshelf, and Me

When I first started college, I was determined to keep my room organized. I had a knack for losing things, misplacing important papers, and I inevitably took five minutes to leave because I couldn’t find my keys.

I decided that college would be my chance for a fresh start. I sorted the clothes in my closet by color, length, and style. I assigned specific drawers for my makeup, hair clips, and accessories. I made a vow never to leave my room with the bed unmade. And most importantly, I was going to keep the books on my book shelf in a logical order.

And here is where the problem started. What’s a “logical” order? There could be so many ways to arrange them. I started out putting them in size order. The big, hard cover textbooks were on the end, and the smaller, thinner books towards the middle. But this didn’t work for me. There was no reason in my mind why my (large, hardcover) siddur was next to my accounting book. So I separated the books differently. I split the book shelf into two sides, with my box of markers, pens, and pencils in the middle as the divider. To the left were the seforim I had brought with me from home, and on the right were the books I needed for class.

As time went on, the books eventually lost their places on the shelf. I would take one out and then put it back in a different spot. Two books would switch places, and then four, and then eight, until it was impossible to tell that there was ever any sort of order to the shelf. I decided it was time to reorganize the shelf.

At this point,I’d like to point out that I am majoring in Judaic Studies at the University of Maryland.

When I started college, it was easy to divide the books. Stuff I used for class was on the right, stuff I brought from home was on the left. 

Then, I started taking Judaic Studies courses. It was still easy to divide, because I was using all my “textbooks” for class. But now, I’ve completed several of the courses. I no longer need the books for class, but decided to keep them because they were interesting reads. So now, do these books make the leap over to the left side? Do they become seforim? Do ALL of them become seforim? If I move my JPS English-only Tanakh to the left side, do I also move “Jewish Philosophy in a Secular Age”? “The Bible Unearthed”? And where do Jewish history books fit in? Is it like the famous George Santayana quote, that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it? Then what about the positive aspects of history? I can’t possibly recreate the enlightenment, though I view it as a positive period for the evolution of Judaism.

I think the broader question at play here is how should one treat the academic study of Judaism.

A few days ago, I was sitting in a gemara shiur (not a university class). We had been discussing a difficult mishnah, and in the gemara, Rav Huna and Rav Chisda tried to explain it various ways. Both of the explanations were a stretch, and it didn’t seem like either of them were “pshat”. So the rabbi leading the shiur showed us what Rabbi David Weiss Halavni, a professor of Talmud at Columbia University and Bar Ilan University, had to say about the issue. Rabbi Halavni read the mishnah with a different perspective than R’ Huna or R’Chisda, and came up with a way of reading it that seems to make a lot of sense, even though it contradicted those amoraim.

The Rabbi asked us what we thought about what Rabbi Halavni said. We all had to agree that it made a lot more sense, but a few students had reservations about his methods. “You can’t just disagree with the gemara like that. It’s not how we do things”, they said. So then The Rabbi said “What do you suggest for someone to do, if they’ve been struggling and struggling to find pshat in the Mishnah, and then they final figure out a way to understand it, but can’t find any amora who agrees with them? Should they just ignore this thought?” The student’s response: “Well, if they see a value in sharing their views, they shouldn’t publish it in a book that looks like a sefer.” [Rabbi Halavni’s book is written in Hebrew, leather bound, and is called ‘mekorot u’mesorot’]

I personally thought that what Rabbi Halavni said was great, and if I had a copy of his book, I would have placed it prominently on the left side.

I wonder where I would have placed his book 2 years ago, before I started learning secular Judaic studies?