Headcovering in Judaism

Posted on November 21, 2011

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It’s no secret that Hijabis are often ridiculed for their commitment and seen as ‘strange’ or ‘oppressed’ by the non-muslim community. In my studies of the hijab and browsing around, I started getting interested in Christian and Jewish women who choose to cover their hair and decided to look into it a bit more. I was surprised at the similarities in headcovering between the three religions! This will be a 3-part series with a post for each of the three monotheistic religions, in order.

First up, Judaism!

 Jewish men are required by the Talmud (a record of Rabinic discussions of matters pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history) to “Cover your head in order that the fear of heaven may be upon you.”. This is usually done by wearing a Kippah (Hebrew) / Yarmulke (Yiddish):

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It is suggested that men shouldn’t walk more than 4 cubits (2 meters) without covering their head, and this is in order to install the fear of God, and as a way to honour God. While it is an absolute requirement for Jewish men to cover their head whilst praying, in the Synagogue/Temple, when performing rituals and when eating. It does vary between Orthodox and Reformist Jews, however, whether they wear the kippah all the time. 

 Jewish men are generally required to cover the following:

  • Their head.
  • Their main body (torso)
  • Their arms (long-sleeved t-shirt, shirt)
  • Their legs (long pants/trousers, not shorts).

Once a Jewish woman is married, she’s required to cover her hair by Jewish law. Today most Conservative and Reformist Jewish women don’t cover their hair at all, cover their head using the kippah/yarmulke (like the men) during service, or cover their hair using “traditional” methods during service. Orthodox women are more likely to cover their hair at all times (outside the home) after marriage. The three most common ways is by wearing the Sheitel (wig), Snood (European headgear worn over the hair) or Mitpachat (Hebrew) / Tichel (Yiddish). 

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Snood                                  Tichel                          Sheitel
(Btw, Cover Your Hair has some really interesting hair accessories, and it’s the site that first got me interested in looking into this. Whether you wear hijab, or don’t cover your hair at all, I think you’ll find something interesting.)

Many Jewish women see covering their hair as a visual sign of their commitment to their husband, like wearing the wedding band. It is also seen as a sign of respect towards their husband, and as a nice tradition to uphold. 

Similar to within Islam, there are certain areas of a women’s body that (at least within Orthodox Judaism) is considered mandatory for a women to cover. These areas are referred to as ervah (areas that must be covered). This is just my own thoughts, but I think there’s a clear connection between ervah and awra, which is the areas that Muslims are required to cover. 

A woman must cover:

  • All of her main body (torso), as well as parts of her arms and legs, when in public or in the presence of individuals outside the immediate family.
  • A married woman must cover her hair when in public or in the presence of men outside her immediate family. She must cover her hair whenever blessings are read, even if it is her husband reading them. Hair that can be hard to conceal with a normal head covering, such as the hair at the temples next to the ear, is except (i.e., it is preferred that she covers, but if a few sticks out it’s okay). Some believe that married women ought to cover their hair at all times, even at home and even whilst sleeping.
  • The neck does not have to be covered, however the collarbones must be covered. Likewise the back must be covered and the shoulders. If one wears a necklace and let it hang at the lowest natural point, whatever is beneath that point is considered back and must be covered, whatever is to the left and the right is considered shoulders and must also be covered.
  • The upper arm and elbow must be covered. If it is the custom in her society to cover all of the arm, she must follow suit. It is seen as better for her to cover all of her arm, as a way to show her modesty, but it is not mandatory. The arms do not have to be covered as to conceal their shape though, so it is not necessary to wear, say, a shawl around them.
  • The thighs and knees must be covered at all times. Women are not allowed to wear trousers or pants, but must wear skirts. It is mandatory that the skirts cover the knees at all times, including sitting down, walking up stairs, stretching etc. Unlike the covering of the arms, the skirt is meant to conceal the shape of the legs/thighs. A tight-fitting skirt is therefore not adequate coverage. 
  • The lower legs are still considered as part of the ervah and must be covered in tights or stockings that masks the lower leg and covers it well.

(Modest World)

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