On Being a Guest

“What would you do?” the post began. It was a question posed in a private Facebook group comprised almost entirely of Orthodox Jewish women. The poster explained that she and her husband were staying with a family for shabbos and were put up in a guest room with a Queen-sized bed. The woman was apparently niddah that weekend and as such would not sleep in the same bed as her husband.

The women that responded to this post all seemed to be of the same mind. “How could they call themselves Orthodox and not offer separate beds to a married couple?” one wondered. Another went so far as to say that she hoped that the original poster wasn’t also eating with that family, as any family that didn’t know the laws of family purity most certainly could not be trusted to keep the fullest standards of kashrut. One brave soul suggested that separate beds is not a widespread custom and in many out-of-town communities, it is rarely practiced. This person was very quickly shot down though, with loads of other women jumping in to say that they live “out of town” yet would never think of sharing a bed while niddah.

In response to “what would you do”, the women offered many suggestions. The most common seemed to be to make the husband sleep on the floor, while many others suggested that they would probably volunteer to be the ones to sleep on the floor. Someone suggested, half in jest, to build a pillow wall between the spouses, but she was quickly informed that this would still be a violation of niddah.

While reading through this thread, I kept thinking about the many times that my husband and I have spent nights at other people’s homes and have been given a room with two twin beds. At home we sleep in one bed all month long, and typically fall asleep cuddling. When we’re forced to sleep in two beds, the quality of our sleep drastically diminishes. I feel like our host is, unintentionally, driving a figurative if not literal wedge down the middle of our marriage.

I found it strange that the essence of “making guests feel comfortable” was to offer two beds–and the consensus being that if you could not offer such accommodations, you should either not have married couples stay over or should make it clear in advance that there will be only one bed.

I, for one, feel much more comfortable in one bed. My parents are God-fearing, fully observant, orthodox Jews and they only have one bed. In their community, I would guest that most people with guest rooms also only have one large bed in the guest room, that’s just “what’s done.”

Furthermore, as a guest, my philosophy has always been to not assume anything as a given and take things as they come. I pretty much don’t expect anything and am usually pleasantly surprised to learn that in fact my hosts did provide whatever they provided. If there’s only one bed, then fine, sleep in the one bed that night.

I suppose there are those who will see my response as closed-minded, that I fail to value the opinions of those who will not sleep in the same bed as their spouse while in niddah. I want to be clear that I hold nothing against such folks. If one or the other spouse wishes to sleep on the floor in such a situation, go ahead, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s actually probably the exact appropriate response for a couple in such a predicament.

My problem is with the lack of hakarat hatov  to the family that graciously opened up their home and offered sleeping accommodations to strangers over shabbat, and the assumption that if a family cannot offer separate beds for a married couple, they are better off not hosting at all.

So, what would I do? I would look my hosts straight in the eye and say “Thank you,” as all hosts deserve.

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Tefilin: The Route to Empowerment?

It seems that the issue of the day is women wearing tefilin. For those of you living under a rock–or, you know, outside the tristate area–SAR school in Riverdale recently made a statement that it would allow women to put on tefilin during school prayer services, if they desired to do so. The Ramaz School quickly followed suit, sending home a letter to parents clarifying that their policy would also be to allow women to put on tefilin.

The blogosphere blew up with articles, both in support of these women and against them. And let me tell you, there was A LOT of opposition. Avital Chizik wrote that we don’t need tefilin because there are other, more serious issues facing the female community. Eliana M. Aaron wrote that a woman taking upon herself the obligation to wear tefilin is actually anti-feminist because it takes women away from their roles as mothers and wives. (I can’t even).

I’d like to respond specifically to Avital Chizik’s article, because I saw it spread like wildfire around facebook, with friends from all walks of life in support of her position.

Well, I’m not.

For full disclosure, I don’t regularly put on tefilin. I did once, when I was teaching at a Coservative hebrew school, and I had to teach my students how to put it on. I found the experience incredibly moving. I was using an old pair of tefilin, someone’s grandfather’s that had been kept in tip-top condition, and as soon as I wrapped myself in the leather straps, I felt like I had this metaphysical connection with generations of Jews who came before me.

But I digress. I don’t regularly put on tefilin, mostly because the issue never came up and a little bit because I was afraid of being a trailblazer. But I have nothing but support for the women that do.

Avital says in her article that she finds it hard to put in to words what she has been feeling during this debate, but that she’s going to try. I, too, have been having trouble articulating exactly what my thoughts are, but since she tried, I’ll try.

She starts off with:

The average Orthodox woman today is not preoccupied with fighting for ownership over her father’s and husband’s rituals. To imagine otherwise is at best sensationalist and at worst delusional.

She is right. But that shouldn’t be a reason not to discuss the issue.

Then she says:

Ask the average Orthodox woman what threatens her stake in this community – and she will tell you that it is certainly not tefillin, … Ask her what she is worried about – and you will hear a very different kol isha (woman’s voice), if you only listen. Women here are worried about living in a world where family status is essential, definitive and fragile: where the unmarried, the childless and the divorced occupy a lower caste. Women who are denied divorces continue to waste away for years, waiting for freedom to remarry. Abuse in our community’s schools is taking painfully long to be investigated.

It’s true! Those ARE important, pressing issues in our community. But, listen very closely, THEY ARE NOT THE ONLY ISSUES. Why must we enter an argument over “my subjugation is worse than yours”?  Why can’t I fight for agunot AND ritual inclusion?

And that brings me to my final point. Avital laments how women in her community, a flourishing modern orthodox community, are still afraid to let their voices be heard. They’re afraid to talk too much at the shabbat table, for fear of being considered “male”. They choose to talk about trivialities, not because that interests them, but because if they talk about serious topics people will look at them funny. They go to shul and stand in the back and chat about their kids, because, well, that’s what women do.

She’s right. These are major problems in our community. But then there’s the kicker. She ends off her article with

So – tefillin? Adjusted prayer services? Female rabbis? Lowered mehitzahs? I’m not convinced… Because I don’t care to own the bimah. I simply want to own my mind.

She fails to make a major point of connection here. These rituals, which she dismisses as unimportant and not part of her world, could be exactly what is holding her back from empowerment. It’s natural that when men attend a friday night prayer service that is made up of approximately 50 men and maybe one or two token women (who mind you are hidden on the other side of the mechitza), led by a male rabbi, and then walk home with all the men chatting about the [male] rabbi’s sermon, only to come home to their wives who have spent the last hour setting the table and making sure the chicken soup stays warm, that everybody present at that meal will see a clear yet unspoken gender divide, in which women are good at cooking and cleaning and shopping, and men are good at thinking.

Avital fails to make the connection that the ritual observance in judaism is not simply about the rituals themselves, but about the meaning behind them. I believe the answer can be found in Tanach.

“Why have we fasted, and You did not see; we have afflicted our soul and You do not know?” Behold, on the day of your fast you pursue business, and [from] all your debtors you exact [payment]. ג. לָמָּה צַּמְנוּ וְלֹא רָאִיתָ עִנִּינוּ נַפְשֵׁנוּ וְלֹא תֵדָע הֵן בְּיוֹם צֹמְכֶם תִּמְצְאוּ חֵפֶץ וְכָל עַצְּבֵיכֶם תִּנְגֹּשׂוּ:

Isaiah 58:3

There are rituals, like fasting and putting on tefilin, but the rituals have underlying messages. Fasting is intended to make humans focus not on their day to day activities, but on God. Therefore, when the Jewish people fasted but did not internalize the message–spending their fast days transacting business instead of in prayer–God chastises them.

Similarly, the ritual of tefilin is intended to make torah learning an inherent part of a person. That’s why the boxes contain excerpts from the shema. When Avital complains that she’s not treated as an equal in regards to her mind or her learning, perhaps part of the solution would specifically be to adopt more rituals. To say that you didn’t fast on Yom Kippur, and yet you are upset that you didn’t feel a connection to God would be, in the Orthodox world of rituals, absurd. To say that you don’t want to attend minyan every day yet you feel excluded from the “good ole’ boys club” is also absurd.

I think that one way to effectuate change in female empowerment is to be part of the establishment, to be present, to lean in and to say, “I want to be here, so listen to me”. When you hang out in the background and then cry that your voice isn’t heard, well, then, part of the fault is on you.

My Thoughts on Pre-marital Sex

It seems like today was pre-marital sex day on the internet. The New York Times published this piece by a 35-year-old virgin considering her choice to wait for true love to have sex, over on FrumSatire blogger Heshy Fried wrote this piece about virginity and the orthodox community, and Shmuely Boteach wrote this piece positing that saving sex for marriage makes better sex.

I guess I ought give my two cents.

It’s no secret on this blog that I had sex before marriage. In fact, I had sex with three different partners before my husband: A long term boyfriend, a one-night stand, and a guy that I was dating casually but very much not in love with–I was just bored. Ironically I suppose, my husband and I agreed that we wouldn’t have sex until we were married, and that’s what we did.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to say on this subject, and I’ve got a few thoughts:

Prequel: This is not a halachic discussion.

I know there are those out there who will tell me that I shouldn’t have had sex before marriage because it is a violation of halacha. I know there are also those out there who are of the opinion that pre-marital sex can be done within the auspices of halacha. This is not a discussion on that issue. I fully believe mikvaot should have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding unmarried women, but beyond that, I don’t want to discuss the halacha. I want to discuss the mental thought process of premarital sex.

I will also note that when I was engaging in premarital sex, I felt a tremendous amount of Jewish guilt.  I read up on all of the opinions that said that premarital sex/mikvah usage was totally halachically appropriate, and yet, still, I felt like I was doing something innately wrong by having sex. Perhaps because my world viewed it that way. For this reason, no amount of halachic reasoning would have been able to change the guilt I felt.

1. I think the long term boyfriend and I dated longer than we should have, because of sex. 

This is important. This was the reason I didn’t want to have sex with my husband before we married. I wanted to be sure he was the one, and I remembered being blinded in this previous relationship. The relationship was very much over, we were in different places both literally and figuratively, I wanted to move forward with my life and he didn’t, we disagreed on some pretty important life issues, I felt like I couldn’t talk freely with him–and yet, still, we dated for several more months. The sex was good, and I think we were both just really afraid of sleeping alone.  I didn’t want this to happen again, so when I started dating the man who would eventually become my husband, and things started getting physical, I said “let’s take this slow”. As I started to realize more and more that I was falling in love with him, I told him, “let’s wait for marriage for sex.” This maybe was a mistake, because he was very strict on not letting me break the rules. I tried, oh, I TRIED, but he always found ways to convince me not to go the distance. Still, things worked out for us in the end despite us not actually having sex before our marriage.

2. I think having casual sex was very important for me. 

I learned a lot about myself when I was having casual sex. I learned what I liked sexually, and that’s huge. (Often, I hear people talking about waiting for marriage in a negative light, by positing that one takes a huge risk by not having sex with the one person that they will be having sex with for the rest of their lives. It’s a real concern, and I don’t know how to answer it other than by saying that with my husband and I, we had a pretty good taste of what the other was like in bed before we got married and before we had sex, because we had done “everything but”.* I’ve also never heard of any couples actually breaking up solely because they weren’t a good match sexually-unless you count the people who went from being gay to being straight or vice versa. I think that most of these “issues” can be resolved by honesty, communication, and a willingness to be adventurous.)

Having casual sex also gave me a huge self-esteem boost when I most needed it. I was in a bad place. I felt like no one could ever love me, because, well, I wasn’t in love with anyone at the moment. But then came my opportunities for casual sex. They thought I was pretty. They wanted to have sex with me. I liked that, a lot.

I felt empowered when I was having casual sex. I was in control of what I wanted. I could try out whatever I wished without scaring the guys away, because hey, there’s always a new guy willing to try new stuff with me. This was an amazing feeling that I think more people really need to experience.

3. Married sex is really, really, good. 

I guess I’m a little biased, because I’ve only been married less than 2 years. I wonder what we’ll say in 20 years. Still, there’s something  really amazing about having sex with someone who knows you inside and out, someone who cares more about your own pleasure than their own, someone who wants nothing more than to make you happy. I suppose these same things would apply in a long term relationship, but in my very limited experience, it was totally not the same. With me, there is so much more concern for the other in my marriage than there ever was in any of my long term relationships. That’s not to say there wasn’t concern before, but the level is just so much MORE in my marriage. To go off tangent for a bit, my co-worker was telling me about her thanksgiving plans: She lives with her long term boyfriend of seven years. Every year, they go to her family’s house and have a huge Thanksgiving dinner with about 35 relatives from all over the country. His mom usually spends thanksgiving with friends at the beach. This year, she decided that she wanted to stay home and have the couple over for dinner. My co-worker was feeling torn about the different options. One person suggested, “It’s just his mom? Why don’t you bring her to your family’s gathering?”. She responded that she didn’t think her boyfriend was ready to take that step yet. We all were a little surprised, I mean, you’ve been together for seven years, you live together, but you don’t want your parents to meet? I think it goes back to the fact that there is an inherently deeper connection within marriage than in any other romantic relationship. But that’s just me. To each her own.

The gist of Shmuley Boteach’s argument is that premarital sex destroys the pleasure of married sex. One hundred percent not true. I left my previous sexual partners for a reason–I didn’t LIKE them. I chose my husband for another reason–I really really DID like him. Further, I want to stress that just because my married sex is way better than any sex I’ve had before, it doesn’t mean that I’d advocate celibacy until marriage. It means that I’d advocate marriage. But, as noted, there were a lot of benefits I achieved by having sex before marriage, and I think those are really important. Going back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

4. Sometimes, I really don’t see the difference between “hooking up” and having sex. 

I should be clear here. When I use the term “hooking up”, I mean partners kissing and touching and being naked with each other and getting the other to achieve orgasm, but no vaginal sex. I know the term is used for a plethora of meanings, and as such, has become a word with no meaning, but it is the best term to describe the aforementioned acts. The New York Times article makes a point that I thought a thousand times when I was in sexless relationships. The author describes a religious muslim friend’s opinion that if you’ve had an orgasm, you’ve had sex. I know I wouldn’t go that far, I mean, my first orgasm occurred was when I was riding a horse, does that mean I had sex with a horse? But still, when you’re in bed with someone and you’re both naked and you’re holding each others’ genitals, I mean really what’s the difference in how the orgasm is achieved actually? Any sorts of concerns about being “blinded” by the physical would still be present. The New York Times author described the difference as being able to feel in control of when things would start and stop, but it sounds to me like she just needs to try BDSM. She also talked about not wanting to be in a place of emotional vulnerability, but let me tell you, you are emotionally vulnerable in ANY relationship where you find yourself falling for the other person. And conversely, the ability to have casual sex and know that it’s only casual sex gives over the same feeling of control that she sought by refusing to have sex.

5. Above all, I think the decision to have pre-marital sex or not should SOLELY be a decision by the individual. 

I think community expectations, one way or the other, are really awful for people exploring their sexuality.  I would never tell someone, you must have sex before marriage. Also, I would never tell someone, you should definitely not have sex before marriage. I feel like these articles all come from one extreme or the other, some being liberal feminists that feel like women in particular are missing out because they’re not having sex, and some from religious leaders who feel they have a divine obligation to stop the immorality that  comes from having sex before marriage. The key here, really, is that sex is a deeply personal decision, and as such, should be decided upon by the person.

——

*I cringe a little when I hear the phrase “everything but” used, because I often feel that people don’t really mean it. You did EVERYTHING but sex? Really? Have you SEEN the internet. I’m SURE there’s a lot you haven’t done. There’s a lot I didn’t do. What I mean by the phrase is that we had come SO CLOSE to having sex, that we were pretty sure what having sex with the other would be like: awesome. And so far, we’ve been pretty right.

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.

On Equality and Maturity

I think that one sign of maturity is the ability to say “You’re right” even when you don’t think the other person really is right. So to the ability to remain silent when you know there is no purpose for your words. I’ve sometimes said things I regret saying, later to reflect and realize that there was really no reason for me to say those things, even if I was absolutely correct in my statements. I’m working on that skill, but it’s hard.

So, I write. And you listen. And you can tell me I’m wrong if you want. But there’s no point in me telling others they’re wrong, because they don’t care.

Today on facebook, a friend posted this article:

“Even though it’s legal, I still can’t marry my girlfriend”

The article is about a lesbian in a long term relationship with another woman. The author lives in California, where the prohibition on same-sex marriages has recently been abolished by the U.S. Supreme Court, and therefore, couples of the same sex are now legally entitled to marry.

She writes that she still can’t marry her girlfriend, because he girlfriend lives in Alaska. Her girlfriend lives in Alaska because she can’t get a job in California. She can’t get a job in California because she is a convicted felon. According to the author, the girlfriend committed the felony a long time ago, served her time, and is now a “changed woman”. Still, employers are unwilling to give her the chance, and therefore, she felt compelled to accept the only job offer that came her way, a position in Alaska.

The article then goes on to talk about the inadequacies and hardships convicted felons face, and also, in the same breath, that White Men arguing for Equality just don’t get it, they don’t face the same hardships that Black Women face, and therefore, the White Men who are celebrating the fail of PROP 8 and DOMA should really not be celebrating, because we still haven’t yet achieved equality.

I take issue with bringing up the two issues in the same article. Same-sex marriage rights really have nothing to do with rights, or lack thereof, of convicted felons. I acknowledge that the author is right about the [unfair] hardships convicted felons face. Still, don’t blame the White Gay Men for that. They lobbied for equality in marriage, but they haven’t lobbied for equality for felons because that’s not their job! I don’t deny that maybe some changes should be made in the way rehabilitated convicted felons are treated in this country, but don’t rain on the parade of the gays. Like one commenter on the article succinctly said, “It’s like saying to someone saving the whales: ‘Well, that’s all well and good, but you’re a bastard for ignoring the seals!’ “.

I could have written this as a response to my friend’s post (or a shorter version of this. Maybe just copied that line above.) But I chose not to, because this friend is not very receptive to ideas that she doesn’t agree with. She doesn’t just debate, she gets personally offended. I didn’t want to start an argument with her, and I didn’t want to offend her. So, I remained silent. But the thoughts were still inside, and I had to get them out, so I spilled them here. Hope you enjoyed!

And, if you disagree, I welcome dialoge.

Mansplaining

This might make me a bad feminist, and probably get me excluded from any gender studies programs that I might theoretically want to enter, but I really hate the word “mansplaining”. Urbandictionary defines the word as “inaccurate explanations delivered with rock solid confidence of rightness and that slimy certainty that of course he is right, because he is the man in this conversation”.

I’ve heard the term used twice, once at a lecture/roundtable discussion on gender issues in domestic violence law, and the other in an online forum discussing tzniut. In both contexts, the conversation went something like this: A topic on gender was being discussed. A man offered a possible explanation for something seemingly “anti-women”. A woman angrily disagreed with the man, and told him he was wrong by saying “Thanks for mansplaining that to me, but you’re wrong”.

To me, the problem with the word is that it makes assumptions about the accuracy of a person’s argument, just based on his gender. It’s the same exact problem that feminists have been fighting for years, only the roles are now reversed. If a woman offers a possible reason as to why male domestic violence victims are offered fewer victim services than women, she’s adding to the discussion, but if a man offers the same explanation, he’s “mansplaining”, and therefore wrong and obnoxious.

Isn’t this the same type of behavior feminists have been trying to fight, when the behavior is at the expense of women? Sheryl Sandberg laments how male CEOs are viewed as keen businessmen, but the same CEO with the same traits but female is viewed as “mean, hostile, and agressive”. If a man plays hardball in a negotiation, or demands perfection from his employees, he’s doing business as usual, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Feminists say this attitude is part of the reason for the glass ceiling, and is holding women back from achieving as much as they can. Still, we downplay men when they try to address the problems that we tell them are problems, simply because they are men. 

Newsflash women, it’s okay for men to be feminists. It’s also okay for men to want to help solve “women’s problems”. Look, the fact of the matter is, if men want to help work towards solutions for gender inequality, we should welcome them with open arms, not shoot down their totally legitimate voices by accusing them of “mansplaining”. What we’re saying when we use that term is, “I don’t really care what you just said, because you’re a man and I don’t trust men’s motives”. That’s not just unfair, it’s the epitome of a double standard.

To me, “mansplaining” is just as offensive a term as “that’s so gay/retarded” or “Don’t Jew with me”. It’s simple, really: If women don’t want to be judged based on their gender, we shouldn’t do the same to men.

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.