Rocking My Crown: My Journey to Embracing My Observance of Hair Covering

Photo of Bari Mitzmann by Tzvi Friedman

The morning after my wedding, I woke up in the hotel suite in Jerusalem and was getting ready to go down for the gourmet honeymoon breakfast with my husband of a few hours. But before heading out the door, I paused, as if realizing I had forgotten something. I ran back to my suitcase to choose a scarf from my bag, one that matched perfectly with my outfit. I looked into the mirror, and without any skill or experience (read: I had no clue what I was doing!), I tied up and covered my long brown hair for the first time in my life. And when I walked out of the hotel room door that morning, it was the very first time the world would not see my hair.

Since that day 18 years ago, only my husband and children have seen me with my hair uncovered. Looking back now, I smile at my innocence. I was barely 20 years old. So idealistic. So pure. I was so excited for this new look and the status that came along with it. The status of being an Orthodox Jewish married woman. I couldn’t wait for all the accessorizing, and to use my creativity and artistic flare to do this mitzvah. So many choices, so many colors… ‘This is going to be great fun!’ I thought. I was living in Israel at the time, and this was the norm in my circles. You get married—you cover your hair. So, when in Rome…and I just jumped in.

Fast forward 18 years. I am still covering my hair every single day. The excitement has waxed and waned over the years; I’ve gone through so many stages and phases in my connection to this observance. I won’t lie and say it has always been a breeze. There have been tears. I’ve had to search and find meaning for myself within this observance after the initial excitement wore off. I’ve had to make this something that I am proud to keep doing. Every. Single. Day. Even when I don’t feel like it, or when it feels too hot to put something on my head. I choose to keep doing this, not out of rote but out of choice. Every day is a choice. And I still choose to uphold this tradition just like my great grandmothers did in Europe until they were taken to the gas chambers in Auschwitz. Just like my husband’s grandmothers and great grandmothers did in North Africa. And just like I imagine the Jewish matriarchs did in Israel thousands of years ago. I choose to carry on the tradition. I chose to cover my hair.

Years back, I found myself struggling with what the most ideal way for me to cover my hair was. Wigs seemed almost too nice to be considered ‘modest’ head gear, and many Sephardic rabbis frowned against them. I wanted to do what was right, and so I choose to stop wearing wigs altogether. Goodbye wigs! It was nice, but so long…I took my $1,000 beautiful wig and stuffed it deep into the bottom drawer in my bedroom dresser, and only wore hats and scarves from then on. No hair for me. Looking back, I must have thought I was the most righteous and holy woman in the world. It was a sacrifice for me to do what I did, and I did it happily. Or so I thought…

This went on for months. I tried this and that. I had to put more time and effort into making myself feel pretty…dressing up for fancy occasions and weddings was hard! Low and behold, one day I found myself lying on my bed, in a sea of scarves, my arms were so tired from tying this way and that way that they hurt. It was Erev Shavuot, and it was time to light the candles. My husband was looking for me, calling my name, wondering where I was. He found me in tears, in this heap of material, lying face down on my bed. Alarmed, he asked me what had happened. Through my sobs, I croaked out that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t feel like myself. I missed my hair on my shoulders, and I didn’t feel beautiful anymore.

My husband, a smart man, remembered that I had put my wig in the bottom drawer of the dresser. It was dusty and frumpy from months of sitting in there. He found it, shook it out and begged me to please put it on and come out to light the Yom Tov candles. “Eve, you look beautiful!” he lied. I blew my nose loudly and wiped my swollen eyes. The guests were waiting, and it was awkwardly late. So I pulled myself together, put on my old wig, wiped my tears and lit the holiday candles.

This experience was a gift. It was a pivotal point in my personal journey as a Jewish woman. It taught me a tremendous amount about myself (I guess I wasn’t quite ready for that level of sacrifice), and it taught me such important lessons about my relationship with Judaism and with G-d.

Mitzvot and Jewish observances are meant to make your heart sing. This goes for any mitzvah. They are meant to be used as ways for connecting us with our Creator. A mitzvah is precious, similar to a diamond. Just like a diamond does not feel heavy or burdensome, a mitzvah shouldn’t feel heavy or burdensome either. It should feel uplifting. If it is not, that should be a red light for you that something needs readjusting. You may need to reevaluate. You may need to change how you are doing the mitzvah. Relearn the meaning behind the particular mitzvah, find some fresh inspiration, get advice from a mentor, figure out how to make it work for you in a way that makes you happy. G-d wants us to serve Him with Happiness. G-d wants our hearts to sing.

So why do Jewish women cover their hair?

If you would ask this question to 5 different women, you might get 5 different answers. One woman might answer that she is keeping her hair exclusively for her husband. One woman might answer she does it because her mother did it. One woman might say that for her it is connected to the laws of modesty…There is no right or wrong answer. For some, it is logical, and for others, it’s emotional. There is so much information on this topic, but I would like to share with you some of the ideas that resonated with me.

There is a beautiful story in the Oral Torah that tells us how G-d braided Eve’s hair before her wedding to Adam. It teaches us about the power of hair. The power of possibilities. The power of flexibility. The gift G-d gave to her, and to all womanhood that came after her. Hair is a big part of our beauty as women. Hair may seem so insignificant, definitely not a vital part of our bodies. But interestingly enough, it grows opposite the most important part of oneself—the brain. Even our body hair grows opposite places of power—under our arms, which are the vehicles of action in the world, and on our reproductive parts, which are the place of utmost creation and creativity.

Hair is powerful.

But there is more.

The Torah tells us of the story of the Isha Sotah, the married woman whose husband suspects her of being unfaithful. This woman had to uncover her hair in front of the priest as a disgrace to herself. The Oral Torah tells us that a married woman’s hair is like nakedness. The famous commentator, Rashi, induced from here that the uncovering of this married woman’s hair indicated that married women covered their hair.

In our society, a ring on a finger indicates marriage. Every society has different norms.

Historically, women wore hair coverings. Jews and non-Jews. Gloves and bonnets were a symbol of society. Status. Respect. Dignity. The queen of England always wears a hat or crown on her head when in public till this day.

There are deep Kabbalistic teachings that talk about the powerful aura that emanates from the head of a person. The Gemara in Nidah tells us how an angel teaches the entire Torah to a baby in utero. This light in the womb shines from above the head, and it stays lit for the entire life of the person. When a woman gets married, her aura changes. This special aura now becomes more open and vulnerable to negative external forces. Covering her head acts as a protection to herself. A marriage and a sexual relationship have so much potential. There is so much voltage, so to speak. Where there is more spiritual voltage, you need more spiritual protection.

Some may not even realize that I always have my head covered. To some, I might look very natural sporting a wig or a headband fall. People may not know it, but I always know that I am covering my hair. As comfortable as wigs can be these days, you do feel like you are still covering your head. And that is important. I walk around in this world with a constant awareness of who I am as a Jewish married woman—off limits to other intimate relationships. A certain barrier separates me from other men. I personally feel a particular containment and centering when my head is covered.

As I get dressed each morning, with my unique style and flare, I take a moment to pause in front of the mirror. I look myself over and I ask myself: am I representing my true self? Do I look dignified? Do I represent the daughter of the King? With this final touch before I start my day as a busy working mom, I cover my hair. Now, I am ready. I do feel like a princess, being crowned with royalty. Ready to represent myself to the world. Ready to make a sanctification of G-d’s name as best as I can. This is my choice. This is my tradition. I am honored to uphold this. And I am going to continue to rock my crown.