On Uncovering My Hair

On Uncovering My Hair

It feels very good to finally be writing this. Three years ago I uncovered my hair. It was a difficult decision, but in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been.

I want you to know that this was not a decision that was made lightly or without asking the right questions of the right people.

I loved covering my hair. I blogged about hair covering here on my blog and on other sites. I blogged about uncovering after my divorce, how it felt like I needed to show my grief at the demise of my first marriage, and that removing my hair covering at that time felt like a symbol of grief for me. I wrote about covering again when my eldest became bar-mitzvah. I have had fun with it – wigs and scarves and berets. It spoke to the creative side of me. I remarried, and continued to cover.

But I suffered from terrible migraines. And putting something on my head just seemed to exacerbate the problem – to the point that I could barely function because migraines were taking over my life. And this in turn made me resentful about keeping this mitzvah.

So we decided, together, as a couple, to approach leading rabbis to which we were referred, to discuss the situation and maybe seek a heter, or something that would make my life (and my pain) easier. Daas Torah was very important to us. Unfortunately, we were not taken seriously, and I was asked questions like “does it hurt to put a Kleenex on your head?” (If not a constant yes, then no heter to uncover, I think) – and yes, some days even just having hair on my head hurt. So, yes,  a kleenex would hurt. Some days, not. After doing the rounds of a few rabbis and getting nowhere, being dismissed and  misunderstood, I decided, with the 100%  full support of my husband, to uncover.

I felt naked that first day, that first week. It was weird, and my hair was horrible. I felt embarrassed leaving the house with nothing on my head. I felt eyes on me everywhere.

After a month my migraines had started to become less frequent. My quality of life had started to improve. I knew I had made the right decision. But with this decision came consequences.

At the time two of my children were in right-wing yeshiva schools, who expected (or demanded) the mothers of their students to cover their hair. No ifs ands or buts. So I was fearful that they would find some reason to throw my kids out of school, because I no longer fit the profile of the kind of parent they wanted in their school. Bumping into the kids’ rebbeim outside of school made me cringe because I worried they would judge me. Some people even made assumptions that the KoD and I were getting divorced – that one really hurt, especially as at the time someone made it their business to spread this rumour around.

I had women come up to me in the grocery store, at the library, various different venues, and say “wow, you uncovered? Good for you, I am so jealous.” And I wasn’t comfortable telling them that it wasn’t out of ideology or anti-patriarchal reasons that I uncovered – because most of these women were not my close friends, and I didn’t feel they had a right to my private information.  And well, there were a few who were worried about my kids reduced chances now for a good shidduch. (Anyone that would not want my kid marrying theirs because my hair is not covered isn’t right for them anyway, so I am not worried). That word “jealous” though, it showed me how many women feel they have no say in the matter, who feel as if they have to cover no matter what.

It’s been three years now, and my migraines are infrequent. I am used to not covering, and on the odd occasion when I do cover (shul, or a simcha) it’s not usually a migraine-triggering event. I miss covering – but I do enjoy the feeling of wind in my hair.

Additional Struggles

What I find interesting, is that when I covered I was very careful to dress modestly too. I think wearing a wig or a scarf made me very much more aware of how I looked to others, and as a religious head-covering woman I had a standard that I had to show the rest of the world. Now that I don’t cover, I struggle with modest dress. It’s almost as if no one expects it of me, so why bother? I think that’s very much a product of our black and white religious world over here in Monsey. Either you are one way or you’re not.

But do I think that God cares if my hair (or my elbows, or my knees, or my collarbones) is covered? I think God would want a person to be happy in their observance, rather than keeping mitzvot angrily or begrudgingly. I don’t think God is so petty that He’s going to strike me down or punish me because my hair isn’t covered. I think God wants us to serve Him with joy, and how can we be joyful if we’re in pain? I am a much better person, a much better mother, wife, Jewess, without migraines.

 

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14 Comments

  1. shoshanna jaskoll says:

    I love you.

  2. Chicago Leah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. Even as someone outside of your community, the first few (many?) times I saw your photo on Facebook with your hair uncovered I was confused. First I thought you’d found the most natural wig on the planet, then I thought “not my business, she looks fab!”

    But I do always appreciate the insight.

    • HaDassah says:

      It was hard not to talk about it publicly, but for the sake of the kids and their schools I didn’t want to draw attention to it.

  3. Shaindy says:

    “…think God would want a person to be happy in their observance, rather than keeping mitzvot angrily or begrudgingly. I don’t think God is so petty that He’s going to strike me down or punish me because my hair isn’t covered. I think God wants us to serve Him with joy, and how can we be joyful if we’re in pain?”

    This post so speaks to me. I’m currently struggling with covering my hair and questioning whether or not it’s worth it to me. My issue is that I’m a convert and that carries its own issues, and if I were to stop covering those would be exacerbated. It’s such a fraught issue. I’m glad you were able to do what was right for you, and I am so very glad you had the support of your husband.

  4. Nora says:

    I love this and I love you. I’m so glad your pain is so much less now without covering. The black and white of much of the religious world is difficult for me. I’m so glad you and KoD were able to find a way tat works for your family.

  5. Eric says:

    “(If not a constant yes, then no heter to uncover, I think) ”

    If you can’t even remember accurately the words they said to you, how can we trust your subjective feelings about being “dismissed”?

    • peeg says:

      Why do you feel the need to have proof to be able to “trust” her? It is between her, her husband and G-d. Your need to be her judge and jury is the exact problem here.

    • Mary says:

      What else are feeling if not subjective? You can trust that HaDassah is expressing a feeling she had because she’s trustworthy. Is that not enough?

    • Talia says:

      Can you accurately remember all the exact words from conversations three years ago? Yeah I thought not. You can trust my objective observation on this – your comment is a dick move. If you aren’t interested in subjective feelings I recommend you stop reading blogs and get off the internets.

  6. rachelli says:

    each couple has to do what is right for them, their marriage, their relationship with g-d. we must never judge. that’s all part of loving our fellow jew. there are quite a few pple in my immediate family that do not cover their hair and we all love them to pieces!! my daughter in law does not cover/ and wears pants etc. and we are so proud how my son/daughter in law are finding their path/way. and growing together. (they were married a few months ago).

  7. chana says:

    Thank you for sharing, Hadassah
    I was also confused when i first noticed like Chicago Leah said and also like her i said it’s not my business.
    I think you’re amazing and incredibly brave. As a fellow haircoverer I understand your reluctance to lay aside the beauty of this mitzvah. and yet I applaud you for minding your health first. Keep being a great example to us all!

  8. Talia says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Beautifully written and inspiring. Now I feel inspired to go write about the way I observe… as I often feel the side eyes…

  9. Debbie says:

    Hadassah – thank you for sharing this. While I do not normally cover my hair, I do when I substitute teach in Cheder. Even a scarf or beret over my ear will bring on a migraine and pain behind the ear. Sometimes any kind of glasses (sun, reading) will do the same. I can only wear a ski type hat for a short time when it is cold out. I stick to hoods. What I’m saying is that I understand what you were experiencing and laud you for your decision to hold your health as most important.

  10. Jackie D says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this. I am not in your position but can only imagine how it felt. I just got back from Israel, where I spent time with Orthodox women who do not cover their hair most of the time. One, the wife of a prominent rabbi who only covers about half the time, told me that it’s not a big deal in their community – where many Orthodox women will, for example, cover their hair but wear pants. So it makes me even sicker that people have mistreated you over this when it is a non-issue in many Israeli frum communities.

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