Friday, July 2, 2010

Tichel Uncovered

Tichel Uncovered
A reader asks, "A Lubavitcher wearing a headscarf out of the house?"
By Mimi Hecht

Dear Mrs. Hecht,

Your columns in the Algemeiner Journal English section are a pleasure to read! It's great to see this addition to the paper, with your engaging writing and the fascinating subjects you choose to write about. 

In your column a couple of weeks back, "Wrong Way on the Subway," you mentioned, "With my modest attire and headscarf and my husband's beard and Tzitzis, we are so obviously Jewish."  This made me want to ask you a question which I've wanted to ask many times since I moved to Crown Heights, but I've not had the opportunity to ask it. I hope you will forgive me when you see what the question is. I'm assuming you are a Lubavitcher; the question is moot if you're not. Why did you wear a headscarf on the subway (or anywhere else out of the house), rather than a sheitel? When I was in kallah classes, I was told the custom of Lubavitch women to wear a full sheitel whenever outside the house. But so often I see beautiful younger frum married ladies in Crown Heights who choose to wear a tichel or scarf. Look, the bottom line is that it's none of my business.  Please forgive me for asking what may very well leave you feeling offended, even though it is truly not my intent.  I wish you much success with your writing.  You have so much talent, and I will surely continue to enjoy your column.

 Mrs. YB
Crown Heights

Dear Mrs. YB,

Thank you for writing and choosing me to ask your question which has been on your mind for some time. The issue you are asking me to address requires I make myself quite vulnerable.As a member of the Chabad community, I have encountered many women and read many articles expanding on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s view on wearing headscarves in public. By responding to your query, I might be the first scarf-wearing Lubavitcher (yes, I am a Lubavitcher!) to publicize personal feelings about the issue. Nevertheless, I’m choosing to answer you publicly, for I trust that my thoughts also reflect those of a large and growing contingency within Chabad. I imagine you won’t find this a satisfactory “answer” per se, but perhaps it can shed light on how many young Chabad women today relate to the wig-or-scarf question.

Believe it or not, I actually looked forward to wearing a Sheitel (don't ask me why, since I loved my thick auburn curly hair that no wig can replicate). It only took a few tears during the weak of Sheva Brachos for me to realize that this mitzvah was going to be harder than I thought. A year and a half later, and I still feel uncomfortable and unattractive beneath the overpriced European strands we call a wig. I do wear it, and even recently decided to wear it more often. I feel proud that I cover my hair always, even taking on stringencies in my own way. However, quite simply, Chabad’s emphasis on “sheitels-only” is something I personally find impossible to comply with. To always wear a wig when venturing out of the house?  I’ll probably take on a million other resolutions before I commit to this strictly-Chabad custom that is, for me, somewhat unbearable. Unfortunately, I don't have what it takes to endure the "wig only" burden simply because it's a Lubavitch ideal. There, I said it. No matter how true the Rebbe's endorsement - yes, even with the Rebbe's enlightenment on the beauty and modesty of a sheitel – I can’t seem to forfeit the scarf and don a wig every time I appear in public.
I say this knowing that what makes the Lubavitch community so great in many ways is our living up to the Rebbe’s seemingly impossible standards. My hat goes off (metaphorically, of course) to all Lubavitch women who proudly follow the Rebbe's directives to wear a sheitel in public. Surely, they too may find it cumbersome, but they have the commendable self-sacrifice that the Rebbe elaborated on when he spoke about giving up wearing a scarf. I wonder if, someday, I will have this kind of self-sacrifice.

I am not unlike many other Lubavitchers - and indeed anyone who identifies with a strong community - in that I struggle to maintain an adherence to community customs when just the bare-minimum is, for me, hard enough. Add the fact that we don’t have the Rebbe’s physical voice paving the way; the struggle is intensified. You might look at me and make a quick assumption to the opposite, but the truth is that, not too deep beneath my headscarf, I intensely want to connect and adhere to the Rebbe's wisdom. I may enjoy flaunting my individuality and I certainly struggle with gray areas, but if I have any leader - any beacon of truth guiding my growing existence - it is the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  I often wonder what I would be like if I were privileged to have known the Rebbe, to have heard his voice myself. Perhaps I differ strongly from many other Lubavitchers when I say that, though the Rebbe guides me in many ways, I don’t feel his presence so strongly  in my everyday life. I am speechless when someone criticizes another for not being a “good enough” Lubavitcher. Who are we kidding? In my opinion, when you consider the situation today, Lubavitch women who strictly wear wigs deserve all the praise in the world, whereas women who don’t are so easily understood!

But while I may be an awful representation, I do believe that the Rebbe’s wisdom will always be unscathed. He always pointed out the unnerving truth in every matter. About wearing tichels, the Rebbe writes, “a woman is constantly put to the test, whether to cover all her hair, or just part of it.” How did the Rebbe know me so well? How true this is! When I wear my comfortable flower-printed scarves, I tie the knot and push the material back. Indeed, I would look and feel ridiculously old-fashioned were I to use this material to cover my hair in its entirety! Unlike with a wig, when I wear a headscarf I am immediately “put to the test” as to how much I will cover (a trial I probably fail all-too-often). I guess this is just one more thing for me to assess and improve on my journey as a Jewess.   

Thank you for writing. You have not offended me with your personal inquiry. Rather, you have given me a lot to think about, as well as two very important reminders: Firstly, no matter the method I choose to cover my hair, it must be exactly that: covered. Secondly, the importance of learning and going to the source in order to make stronger decisions as a Jewish woman. As with all things - both community customs and the strict law - I will fail then succeed then fail again. But as long as we can learn, grow and engage in these discussions without judgments, I am in for the ride. May we always have the compassion, wisdom and respect to understand each other in our individual choices and struggles.

16 LadyMama voices:

Myway613 said... [Reply to comment]

I read your response to the shaitel issue and was touched how you shared your personal plight with strangers. However there are other ways to look at this dilemna. The first is - yes if your own hair is longer than the 3 tefakim (1/2 hand) rule- than it is very cumbersome. The second is the way our Rebbe looks at it. He is giving us a way to connect to him in order for him to help us connect to the source of all brachot- H-shem. Wear a shaitel get full brachot- don't- then don't. It's pretty simple. There are synthetics for those who can't afford the price tag and even gemachs. But if someone was giving away $$$ with strings attached- people would follow those strings -its the same thing. No its not easy to be a yid- harder to be a chassid- and harder yet to be a Lubovitcher- but who says life has to be easy? (btw- I am a bt who came to Lubavitch AFTER gimmel tammmuz- but I connect with the Rebbe through igrot and the ohel and outside the house (unless I am going to the hospital or returning from it I am a proud shaitel wearer!)

Devoiri said... [Reply to comment]

Very well written! "Honesty is the best policy" :)

amyj said... [Reply to comment]

a great article! as a "non-lubavitcher" whose trying to wear a shaitel more often, i really appreciate your honesty and open opinion. tizku l'mitzvot!

amyj said... [Reply to comment]

as a "non-lubavitcher" whose trying to wear a shaitel more often i really appreciate your honesty and openness. tizku l'mitzvot!

It's all in the question said... [Reply to comment]

There is immense wisdom in the way the querier asked the question, which spawned such an honest and open answer. Thank you both. If only all discussions on this topic were carried out with such kindness, respect and sensitivity!

SoBeOrganized said... [Reply to comment]

Mimi - the question, your answer and subsequent comments were all written in such an honest, respectful manner that I'm sure we all benefited from the discussion. You are a talented and caring person and we ( your readers) pick up on that. It has been said that it's not what an author writes, it what she whispers and you certainly whisper empowerment and respect. xx

Becky said... [Reply to comment]

I think what needs to be realized is that people can get away with wearing a tichel in a highly populated, mostly frum community. Aside from it being more comfortable it's almost a fashion statement to wear a very pretty designed tichel. I live in a sparsely populated town where the frum Jews rarely bump into each other at the grocery store. For me to walk around in a tichel is likened to walking around in a robe. I prefer to wear a sheitel when I go out because then I feel dressed. In a place like crown heights, where wearing a tichel is considered part of the dress, kinda changes the view on a sheital all together. Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to put myself on a pedestal. I do wear a tichel at home and when I go to pick up my kids. But because of my sentiments about not feeling dressed, I prefer to wear it when I want to feel like a civilized person. Not even about chassidishkeit.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

to becky:
people arent wearing tichels as a fashion statement. its for comfort and convenience. people do not want to deal with clips and combs poking all day and the extra heat comparable to wearing a fur hat. to my way 613: its very nice to hear that sheitels bring brochot, but there are many things that do, such as tzedaka. It doesnt make it NOT hard. Stop being so narrow minded and clear cut, bc its not the way it is.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you Mimi! I (feeling sometimes like the ONLY chabad married woman with this issue) struggle with wearing a sheital. It feels so unnatural, some mitvahs feel so 'organicly' right and covering my hair with a $3,000 net with strings and clips just feels like an awkward burden. So I wear mine randomly and the rest of the time submit to the condescending looks of those women so much nobler and more dedicated than I. A tichel is light and free with color and personality! Yes, I want the purest blessings to be channeled into my home, yes the Rebbe had such clarity and vision he HAD to be right about this, yes some more hair shows in the front when it slips a little. But I believe we have to make Judiasm an expression of ourselves and not suffer and be resentful of things that done come as naturally to us. I do work on this, Im more aware of the hair that slips out and wearing my sheital a bit more - so it's encouraging and validating to hear you speak so candidly about your journey with sheital wearing. Thank you!

Becky said... [Reply to comment]
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said... [Reply to comment]

Anonymous, I apologize to you for you to have misread and not understand my response.

1. I meant that it is easier to wear a tichel and feel comfortable wearing it when you are surrounded by other women who do the same. In saying that it is a fashion statement, I meant that women like to purchase cute ones that other women like and in turn will purchase. So it becomes fashion. I in no way said it is wrong and I in no way think it's wrong to wear a tichel.

I apologize if you took my comment as an offense.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Mimi. Very touching.

Sadly, you are wrong.

You are perfectly magnifying the issue with the "modernization" of the Post Gimmel Tamuz generation.

This whole "I'm trying my best" attitude, has got to stop.

We've heard it all too often:

Men touching their beards "well, I'm trying my best".

Young ladies dressed completely inappropriately "Well, I'm trying my best"


It is with these claims that the people stealthily integrate, into the more strictly observant Lubavitch community.

I'm not one to judge who belongs and who doesn't belong in the Rebbe's community, and obviously the Rebbe was accepting of everyone.

Nevertheless, enough with the excuses. As far as the un-written handbook of leading a lubavitcher lifestyle is concerned, shaving is wrong. Immodesty is wrong. Not covering your hair properly is wrong.

In closing, let's all stop pretending like we are "trying our best", and actually DO our best.

I believe in doing so we are all unequivocally being what a real lubavitcher ought to be.

If we don't, well... we are just plain wrong.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

The first year I was married, I was pregnant and commuting to NYC from Crown Heights every day, in the summer (my third trimester!).

I thought that I was either going to die of discomfort (C"V") from my lovely long sheitel, which I was probably going to ruin from all of the sweating and pinning up I was doing to it.

Then I met Paula Young. There are styles that are oh, so hip, along with the usual "traditional" looks. And for the price of about one or two wash and sets, I get a new one!

The short styles were such a mechaya, and were very lightweight. I even still had my own long hair (wrapped around my head with a few clips) under the short sheitel; I didn't want to cut my hair until about a year after our baby was born.

I was also pleasantly surprised that my husband found my choices cute on me; I didn't have to wear long locks to look my young, hip, easygoing self!

I still wear my long human hair sheitels in more comfortable and cold weather, and for Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, and simchas, of course. And by now, I've gotten more used to wearing human hair sheitlach in the summer too, for the most part.

I even found that, in the summer, I was dreading taking off my lightweight short sheitel, because I found even a cotton tichel to be much hotter.

One of the best things about "Paula," is that you can order several sheitels, and try them on in the privacy of your home, and then return all the ones you don't want, so all you lose is the mailing charges, which are not huge.

She sure helped me be better about keeping the mitzvah of covering every hair with a sheitel.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Sheitels do not have to be long, hot and uncomfortable. If the sheitel is the right fit it can be pretty comfortable-at least comfortable enough to wear when you go outside. and who said that your sheitel has to be as long as your hair was? the length adds so much weight which makes it hard to wear. there are other options-pony sheitels or a cute shorter cut. its not either my long beautiful sheitel or scarf-there is an in between

devorah said... [Reply to comment]

the most uncomfortable thing about wearing my sheitel was the comb. it would always slip backward and pull out hairs, and after a few months i was going bald in the front. my solution that has worked perfectly was- i moved the comb an inch back on the sheitel, and made a small braid in my own hair about an inch past my hairline. i hook the comb into the braid where it stays in place- not moving around and pulling out hairs. i have all my hair now and no bald spots; and i find my shaitel (which is long) to be quite comfortable.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I really dislike wearing a shaitel.. Or coat or boots or anything tight fitting.. I'm a total hippie deeply so... However.......... I'll tell you a little story... My darling sister had a hard time having kids, took a few years till the first came along, and then she was waiting and waiting as the years slipped by to have another one.... one day out of frustration as she sat looking at the Rebbes picture she said " okay Rebbe, you want shatters, I want a kid.. Well make a deal, ok? " needless to say she had a child :) and she lives somewhere where the weather can rise over a 100 easily!, and she lives far from any other rum Jew... But she did it.... when this child was 18 mnths old he was looking thru a photo album and saw a picture of his mom before she was married... Tears came softly down his cheeks and he cried " momma shaitel" ( I know, hard to believe but very true!! Amongst other interesting stories of this Childs attachment to his mommy covering her hair....
personally try very hard with this yucca thing on my head... The only time I don't wear it is to the gym, in the gym, and back.... In another lifetime perhaps? :) So ladies I totally empathize with you.. I just told you this story so we could all be more inspired to do better... As the Rebbe said " halb a shaitel, halb brocho" just imagine what would be if we wore it always!! More easy parnasa.. More health...Less arguments with the teens! Etc etc etc wow wee!! I'm gonna wear it all day Tom!! ( out the house that is;) )
All the best <3