Readers' Response Page

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Baruch Hashem, people have been writing with plenty of questions and comments. Here's an index:

Liorah Schneider asks about my alma mater, She'arim.

A high school girl asks if a religious woman can attend university.

Yonassan Gershon asks about the laws forbidding a woman to sing in front of men.

Tatyana Markova asks about why married Jewish women cover their hair.

Sophia asks about a controversial blessing in the morning prayers.

Elin and Jim Ilfe ask about the meaning of bat mitzvah.

Marion Lipschutz asks why women do not become rabbis.

Dana asks about coping as an observant single mom.

From Yonassan Gershon of Sandstone, MN.

Click on the smiley face for his website:

Do you have any thoughts on "kol ishah" in particular? To be honest, this is a hard one for me to understand. I can see the reasoning in not listening to suggestive songs by women on a rock or country-western station, but I have a hard time with forbidding kol ishah around the Shabbos table, etc. To be honest, at our house both men and women may sing zemirot (although, since my wife Rachel (Caryl) has asthma and does not sing much anymore, and since it's usually just the two of us on Shabbos, it's a moot point here. But if we followed kol ishah strictly, she would never be able to sing zemirot at all, since she cannot travel to where other women are on Shabbat, etc.)

So nu, what are your thoughts on this? How does it play out in the Haredi comunity? Do the women get together and sing? I was told once by a Lubovitcher that some of the women get together at each others' homes on Shabbos morning during Shacharit (before the Torah reading) while their husbands are at shul, and that this is a very nice time for the women because the men usually have the kids at shul, so the women have time to themselves to sing, learn, etc. Is this widespread, or is it just something that this particular woman's community did?


Kresel's answer:

BS"D

The laws of Kol Isha, laws which forbid a woman from singing in public, were always the hardest for me to keep, too, especially when I was single. I've found that marriage has helped me keep the laws of tznius (modesty) because I'm more motivated to reserve myself for my husband. However, I knew single girls in seminary who thought the idea of singing only for their husbands was beautifully romantic. If that motivates someone to keep a mitzvah, more power to her!

I was surprised that you said that following the law of kol isha strictly would prevent your wife from singing with you when the two of you are alone. That is certainly not the case! As long as the couple are permitted to each other according to the laws of Family Relations they can sing together. I see it as one of the pleasures of marriage.

As far as women getting together to sing, women in my community don't do this, though single girls do sometimes. The married women get together to learn Torah, say Tehillim, raise money for community causes, but they don't seem to have much interest in group singing. But when I was in seminary, before I joined this community, women frequently got together for Shalosh Seudos, the third Shabbos meal, and sang zemiros for hours. I recommend this to all women who feel frustrated by not being able to sing at mixed Shabbos tables.

And here's a shtickel Torah that always helped me. I heard it from Rebbetzin Rivi Brussel at She'arim College of Jewish Studies. It refers to that category of laws called "fences," which forbid particular actions because they have the potential to lead people to bigger sins. Technically, the laws of kol isha are stronger than "fences," but this shtickel Torah strengthened my observance of those laws anyway.

Sometimes people resent "fences" because they feel that they are unnecessary. They think they see the danger that lies beyond the fence, and they can simply stop themselves before it is too late. But if there was a beautiful view from atop a mountain, wouldn't it be sensible to put up a fence at the mountain's edge so that people wouldn't get too close and endanger themselves? Indeed, putting up a fence would be the responsible thing to do. This is the attitude we should have about all legal fences, and the laws of modesty, which exist to protect the sacred relationship between man and woman, in particular.

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Tatyana Markova writes:

Dear Kresel,

I am very interested in the head covering issue. One lady has told me that a woman's hair is her essence and she should only show it to her husband. Yet, some wigs are so pretty. Even more pretty than the lady's real hair! So is it better just to wear like a hat or a long scarf? Also, when can a woman remove her head covering? Can it only be taken off after the time of Nidda or can she take it off when she is at home with her husband and children. Are children allowed to see her hair?

I also met a very religious woman from Germany while I was on tour and she shaves her head and wears something called a Tichel. Do you know why she shaves her head? (I was too embarassed to ask.) }:-)

P.S. Can you give me some good books to read about Tzniut. There was one by a lady named Gila but I don't know the rest of her name and who publishes it. If you know, please tell me! Thanks.

BTW...your article on equality was really, really good! So was the Monica Lewinsky article. I like the idea that Orthodox Judaism is pro-feminine yet, Orthodox women are not feminists. Being newly arrived from Kiev, Ukraine I have a lot to learn! I have been dancing with the Moscow Ballet for 3 years and with the Royal Ballet of London and only now...am I learning about Tzniut. I have some tough things to think about now, don't I?

Sincerely,

Tatyana Markova

Kresel's answer:

BS"D

Dear Tatyana,

Wow, a professional ballerina from the Ukraine! You must be VERY good! When I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a ballerina. I took ballet lessons for six years, from ages 7-13. To discourage me from this impossible dream, my mother had me watch a documentary on television about the tough audition process little girls go through to be accepted at the Bolshoi school or some such place. Of course, most of them didn't pass the audition, so the documentary showed them all sobbing uncontrollably afterward. It certainly made an impression. But I'd love to take lessons again, if I could afford the time and expense.

Thank you for your compliments to my articles. It makes me feel terrific! And although I haven't read the book you mentioned, Inside, Outside by Gila Manolson, I have heard her lecture and I've read her earlier book, The Magic Touch , so I can tell you she has many worthwhile things to say. Please look into what she says about hair-covering, also; don't take my answer exclusively.

But, I will answer as best I can. First, let me dispel they myth that the purpose of the hair-covering is to make married women unattractive to men other than their husbands. We are not supposed to attempt to attract other men, but that doesn't mean we have to look ugly. We should be presentable in our appearance, but not ostentatious. Simpler styles of wigs are preferable, but the hair they are made from does not need to be of a poor quality. It is just like with a dress. A woman has to wear a dress that covers her body and doesn't draw excessive attention to it, but the dress can still be pretty. It doesn't have to look like a potato sack.

As to the reasons behind this mitzvah , I've heard two related reasons. One is that the hair-covering on a woman is much like a man's yarmulke ; it symbolizes her loyalty to G-d. An unmarried woman does not have to wear one so that people will know that she is eligible for marriage. (See Awake My Glory by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, p.222.)

The other reason is that when a woman gets married, she must keep an extra level of modesty, symbolizing her new status. Now that she has been sanctified to one man only, she must be especially careful in her behavior toward other men. Fraternizing between the genders can lead to sin, but the sin is even more serious when it involves married people fraternizing outside their marriages. The hair-covering is a constant reminder to the woman of her status, and it helps her behave appropriately. It also shows the men who encounter her that she is off-limits.

Speaking as a married woman, I can tell you that the added restriction comes rather naturally. When you're married to the man you love, you want to keep parts of yourself special and private, just for him.

You also asked about how often a married woman is required to cover her hair. Most married Orthodox women cover their hair at all times, except for washing in the bathroom or in the privacy of their bedrooms. However, some Orthodox women will also uncover their hair if there are no men around or any time they are alone with their husbands.

Regarding the shaving of the hair, this is a stringency practiced mainly by Chassidim. Torah Law does not require it. In fact, if the husband prefers that his wife keep her hair, she is required by law to keep it.

As I understand it, the reason for shaving has to do with the mitzvah of mikvah . You may already know that a married Jewish woman is required to immerse herself in a specially-gathered pool of water called a mikvah after her period. The reason for this is that the period is the shedding of an unfertilized egg, a potential life that will never be. Thus, the woman's body was associated with a small death, and water, which has the power to restore all life, renews her from this state. (For more details on this subject, read The Jewish Facts of Life.

When a woman immerses in the mikvah, every part of her body must be covered by the water. Hair has a tendency to float up, and it is hard to be certain that each strand of hair was covered. Therefore, to be extra-careful, some women shave their hair, leaving no doubt that all parts of their bodies get submerged.

Once again, this practice is not required by Jewish law, but many people think it is wise to be extra-careful. Since the reward for the mitzvah of mikvah is a peaceful marriage and righteous children, it seems worthwhile to be careful with it!

Sincerely,

Kresel Housman


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