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The Great Cover-up

Barbara Tuckel, PhD

What moves a woman to begin covering her hair, if she hasn’t done so for the first 5, 10, 20 years of marriage? What makes the transition easier or more difficult? Six women share their experiences taking on the mitzvah of kisui rosh.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The first time I appeared in a sheitel publicly was at a community dinner in March 2004. I remember being grateful that the room was dimly lit as I made my way to my seat — my head felt like it was on fire. “I love your new hairdo,” complimented a friend. I responded with a confused “Thank you” and crouched down into my seat, where I remained for the entire event, praying for the night to end.  Over the next several months, I struggled to become comfortable with my head covering. Overnight, I had morphed from exposing 100 percent of my hair (except at our small Modern Orthodox shul in Fairfield, Connecticut) to hiding every bit of it under a sheitel. As a professional interviewer who researches secular topics from cookies to kids’ books, other forms of hair covering were not open to me in my work sphere. This manner of practicing the mitzvah satisfied the invisible pull that kisui rosh had on me and dovetailed with the demands of my profession. The demands of family, however, were another story. “Are you wearing a wig?” a nonreligious relative shot at me from across the Pesach Seder table just after I took on this mitzvah. Tight silence followed, with my two young daughters staring at me through the thick embarrassment that hung over the table. “Yes,” I answered coolly, and immediately switched topics while giving her a penetrating “Don’t go there again” look. Just to ratchet up my stress a little more, the Indian hair sheitel controversy started in June 2004. My older daughter called me frantically from high school even before I saw the article on the front page of the New York Times. “Ma, you’ve gotta take off your sheitel! It might not be kosher.” I gently but firmly explained that I could not appear before the chief marketing officer of a Fortune 100 company in a head scarf. I then dialed my rabbi, who assured me I could leave my European-hair sheitel on my head. My journey to kisui rosh after 28 years of marriage was not a smooth ride. I fought a gnawing desire to wear a sheitel for two years, rationalizing that I was too old. Anxious about reactions in my working environment and in my community, where few married women wear any hair covering outside of shul, I tried to push the idea into the compartment in my mind marked “Postpone Indefinitely.”

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