If a woman is not obligated in the mitzvah of sukkah & lulav, what spiritual avodah does she perform?
1) She sits in the sukkah & receives reward for that.
2) She is happy during the chag, and [her mitzvah] is the same as a man in this.
3) She eats & drinks & fulfills mitzvot.
4) She prepares the needs of the home & is therefore a full participant in all the mitzvot.
In Mishkan Shilo, a weekly Shabbat magazine distributed throughout Eretz Yisrael, the following Q&A appeared with the Sefardi talmid chacham, Rav Bentzion Mutzafi, regarding a woman's role & spiritual avodah [service] during the chag [holiday] of Sukkot:
The importance of some kind of a cheshbon hanefesh (self-accounting) cannot be underestimated.
A cheshbon hanefesh is an essential component of doing teshuvah.
Furthermore, there is sur me'ra (turn from evil) aspect of cheshbon hanefesh and also an aseh tov (do good) aspect.
I'm very into investing in the aseh tov aspect because that automatically brings one to turn from evil.
Not always, but a lot of times it works out like that.
For example, many people struggle with appropriate reading material for Shabbos.
This is really common, particularly during long Shabbos and particularly for people who are new to the whole thing and struggle to occupy themselves in way that is permitted according to the Laws of Shabbat, (i.e. no phones, no electronic entertainment or diversions, etc.).
That's all normal.
What happened for me was the more I read kosher things, Shabbat Laws and inspiration, and the more I emotionally bonded with Shabbat, the more I felt the negative effect of non-Shabbosy reading material.
It took me out of Shabbat in a tangibly unpleasant way.
In other words, reading non-Shabbosy material became too uncomfortable to continue doing it.
(For the details, please see that previous post.)
So when we work on ourselves, we naturally start to feel an aversion to non-Torah behaviors & activities.
It may take time, but it happens as long we keep going.
A Time to "Just Do It" & A Time for Gradual Influence
Having said that, there is also a "Just Do It" component to Judaism.
For example, rather than continuously reading up on the deeper meanings of Shabbat, one should simply start keeping it.
Yes, keep reading about it!
But Shabbat is one of these things that the act of doing it brings connection in its wake.
Likewise, I heard that men new to Judaism should simply start learning Gemara.
Yes, it must be introduced on a level manageable for a newbie, but anecdote after anecdote has proven the value of just sitting a Jewish guy down and learning with him.
And placing oneself in the influence of Torah affects one all on its own.
For example, after I spent a year in Eretz Yisrael, I entered one of the Orthodox shuls I'd attended before that year, and was happily shocked to notice that 5 or 6 women were now wearing shaitels.
Before, they either weren't covering their hair at all or they covered the top of their head with a hat and wore the rest of their hair loose or in a ponytail.
Interestingly, these women were mostly not baalot teshuvah, but had been attending shul in this modern Orthodox community since they were little.
That year, the community imported a kollel.
Now more frequent and steady Torah-learning occurred, plus the variety and amount of Torah classes blossomed.
Of course, the shul rabbi had always given shiurim, both to men and women.
But this injection of copious Torah affected the community more in 1 year than the rabbi had in 2 decades.
And for what it's worth, I also believe in the power of the support of Torah.
When a community decides to support Torah learning, even if they themselves aren't on that level, it grants them favor from Heaven.
It increases their merits.
Plus one mitzvah leads to another in its wake.
So the effect of increasing a Torah influence in the community rendered an unanticipated & powerfully positive effect.
Real Change Comes When Wrong becomes More Uncomfortable than Right
So while we do need to address issues of what's wrong (while always showing examples of what's right so that people gain an idea of what to aspire to), by investing in teshuvah and reaching out toward greater inspiration & understanding, that is the best way of all to improve things.
For example, I tend to take a strong stand against shaitels that clearly violate halacha by all major opinions (including the opinions of those who solidly permit shaitels).
I often call them "va-va-voom shaitels" or "Las Vegas showgirl shaitels."
And yes, I think there does need to be at least some pushback against this trend.
They need to be called what they actually are: Not pretty. Not nice.
(I could use stronger language than that based on Chazal, but let's just stick with the above.)
Many people really do not know that these shaitels are halachically problematic.
(Well, that's not completely true. The men know because they know how seeing such shaitels, especially combined with the makeup and heels, makes them feel. But many women really don't know. They think it's chumros and anyway, when everyone else is doing it, it honestly doesn't seem so bad.)
At the same time, I know full well that real change won't occur unless a mental & heart change occurs.
Unless a woman feels that undignified behavior or dress is too uncomfortable to bear any longer, she won't really change.
And by "uncomfortable," I mean emotionally uncomfortable.
And this is true for anybody.
Change Others by Example, Not by Rebuke
Maybe it's best to end with a core idea from Rav Eliyahu Dessler's Strive for Truth, Volume I, Part II, the end of the chapter entitled Mitzvot of the Heart:
If one suffers from "evil" in one's heart (even if one is otherwise a good person, but hey, no one is perfect except Hashem), then one simply accept reproof; the heart rejects it.
There is only one way, says Rav Dessler: "...show him the perfection and unity of the spiritual life."
Meaning, the beautiful interaction of a genuinely frum family, the multi-faceted relationship of a real rav and his talmidim in a good yeshivah, and other such examples.
Rav Dessler reassures us that even one with evil in his heart will still see the truth in other people (who behave correctly), and this eventually brings one to see what is wrong in his or her own heart, and thus correct it.
One of the main purposes of life is the soul's journey.
People start off at different levels & with varying inclinations.
It can take time for people to arrive at certain destinations.
Some take longer than others.
On that note, I want to describe my personal journey from shaitels to cloth hair-coverings — but keeping in mind that regardless of my personal feelings, there are very big talmidei chachami who permit shaitels.
Also, it is MUCH easier & more acceptable to wear scarves or hats in Eretz Yisrael as a opposed to doing so in modern Western countries (where a hair-scarf can seem weird, unprofessional, or attention-getting — although Muslim women now do so without any qualms).
In contrast, it's perfectly acceptable in Eretz Yisrael to go to the most formal event or fulfill the most professional role while wearing a hair-scarf or hat.
So that makes a difference too.
(And by "perfectly acceptable," I'm not referring to the rabid anti-Torah Leftists who froth at the mouth regarding any expression of Judaism. I mean perfectly acceptable within the general social structure of normal people here.)
Yet in the interest of full objectivity, here is a halachic discussion of the issue, including sources for all different opinions:
As stated in the above link, however, the very immodest va-va-voom shaitels are not okay and any hairstyle forbidden for a single woman's natural hair is really not okay in a shaitel.
But as stated above, this is a journey and different people find different parts of the journey more challenging or less challenging.
How I Discovered that Hair-Scarves Express the "Real" Me
When I first got married, I looked forward to wearing shaitels. I thought it would be fun.
I thoroughly enjoyed perusing the different options for style and color, including trying on different types.
And I went into marriage sure that my shaitel would be a protection, just like in all the stories.
And I made sure that my shaitels conformed to the requirements of tsniyut: straight, above my shoulders with a doll-hair part (rather than a skin-like white part), and mixed human-synthetic hair (i.e, it looked like a wig and not real hair).
But I got a few responses from mushchatim, even something just like out at the shuk buying coriander, for crying out loud.
And I didn't get it at first because I was like, Hel-looo? You see that I'm married, dweeb. What are you thinking?
But then I did some reading about it too.
Also, here in Eretz Yisrael, where not-so-religious Sephardi Jewish men and Arab men have no cultural concept of modest hair-covering as a wig, but only as cloth, some of them do interpret wigs as being a sign that you don't really want to cover your hair and that you're not really so into the faithfulness of your marriage.
Because you still look "available."
And why would a married woman want to look available?
As a woman myself, I understand the ambiguous desire to "feel good about herself."
I also understand that many wives do so to please a husband who is kind of a "lech" (meaning, one who not just wants a shaitel, but wants a va-va-voom shaitel and all the immodest fashion to boot).
But men whose minds are degenerate anyway view this differently.
Anyway, as time went on, I grew uncomfortable with the whole concept of shaitels.
Finally, I became too uncomfortable to wear shaitels any longer, so I wore regular hair-coverings instead.
Now, wearing modest clothes do not completely ward off pigs, but it does help a whole heck of a lot.
The thing is, would I have listened to people who told me shaitels were halachically problematic?
Yes, to an extent.
But I still would've been confused by all those fine, decent women wearing shaitels.
And maybe in my heart, I would've felt like I still wanted a shaitel.
Certainly, if people called me names or criticized me for wearing a shaitel, I would've mostly felt hurt or thought they were crazy and not taken their opinion seriously.
At the other extreme, what if I was the kind of woman who wanted that degenerate attention?
Or what if I felt I needed to be a slave to fashion in order to "feel good" about myself?
Or what if I was a rebellious type of person who enjoyed provoking others & making a statement?
With those types, nothing really helps until an inner change is made.
As long as she only feels good when dressing with compromised modesty, she will not change.
If dressing with dignity makes her feel bad, she also will not do it unless forced, and even then she will drop all the dignity the moment she can because it's not coming from within herself.
But because it came from inside, from being in a world that cares about tsniyus, I was able to change.
And please know that when I was secular, I really thought that people who dressed modestly out of ideals (as opposed to comfort) were stupid and repressed. I thought they needed both education & psychological help.
So change can happen, but the main change needs to happen from the inside.
Appearances are definitely misleading.
But what's behind the appearance can be very helpful to know.
For instance, many "perfect" people cultivate handy secrets & clever shortcuts to fulfill their needs.
For example, years ago, a "perfect" friend of mine confided one of her shortcuts: She put the children to bed dressed for the next day.
Then she insisted I never tell anyone I heard it from her because she never wants anyone to know.
It never occurred to me to do such a thing, but once I heard it, I was hooked.
I'd get my kids showered and then put them in clean clothes. Sure, I made adjustments. For example, you needn't make your boys sleep in tzitzit and your girls sleep in tights.
And on hot nights, they could sleep without their shirt because it wouldn't take much time to put on their shirt the next morning.
This tip saved me so much stress on school mornings. I did it for years.
Having said that, most people don't like this suggestion.
It sounds weird. They tell me they could never do such a thing.
And I guess that's why my "perfect" friend insisted I never reveal my source.
Sure, it's not for everyone. Pajama pants are much more comfortable than regular pants, for example. So it depends on your child.
But many people simply don't like the idea.
Maybe it depends how many young children you need to get dressed in the morning in a short amount of time, with the pressure of the school transportation coming by a certain time.
Whatever you think of the idea (please remember, everything — the kids, the clothes, etc. — were CLEAN), it was my morning lifesaver during that phase.
Another time, I spent Shabbat in the American home of a family with 7 kids under the age of 10.
And it was perfectly spotless at all times.
I wondered how the young mother did it.
So I asked her.
And she said that part of it is that she puts away any mess immediately. Then she told me something surprising: If she doesn't have a place for something or if she doesn't have the time or energy to put it in the right place, she just tosses it in a closet or anywhere out of sight.
"Really?" I said. It sounded like those people who shove everything under the couch or throw it in laundry baskets when they hear guests are coming. That didn't seem like her at all.
"Yes," she explained nicely. "After all, it's not going to stay there forever, right? At some point, you go and find a place for it. Like, you see it in the closet or drawer and it bothers you, so eventually find a place for it."
Huh. That was a very interesting insight (which I'm not sure applies to everyone, but it was still a handy idea).
She also admitted that her children prefer to play on the main floor of the home, where their mommy is. Even though their basement was set up as a playroom with very appealing toys, the children (like most children) prefer playing where their mommy is. They might play in the basement playroom for 20 minutes, but she could never get them to make that their main play area.
So those are two examples of how "perfect" people don't do everything by the book.
Over the years, I've learned to ask people about their method when I see them excel in an area.
For example, I noticed that in one family, the siblings got along really well. It didn't matter boys or girls or what kind of personality or ages. Everyone was great friends with each other.
And the mother wasn't amazing in other areas, but in the area of sibling relationships, I figured she must be doing something right. So I asked her and she told me, and I did it too and it worked!...and for the life of me, I can't remember what it was.
(That is so weird & frustrating. But I did it for years.)
So whether a person seems overall "perfect" or whether the person simply excels in a particular area, they usually have some kind of secret or method that works for them and that you can benefit from too.
And they're usually happy to tell you. (It can even be a big compliment for them that you think so highly of whatever it is that they're doing.)
Because they know that without the secret of their success, they would suffer consequences they prefer to avoid.
And they don't want you suffering either.
The rebbetzin who mentored me in my early years of motherhood once asked me, "How much choice have you really had in your life? You didn't pick your parents or your upbringing. You didn't pick your personality. How much choice have you really experienced — and how much real choice do you think others have had?"
I thought about it as she went on to explain that even something like choosing a spouse, which looks like choice, often isn't; it's predetermined (although prayer can influence an enormous amount of that predetermination).
And it's true that lot of other things I've done, like becoming frum and deciding to live in Eretz Yisrael were more emotional decisions rather than decisions that first underwent heavy deliberations.
Yes, I did spend around half an hour seriously weighing whether I should put off making aliyah immediately to make more money or whether I should make aliyah at the first possible opportunity — but the decision to live in Eretz Yisrael for the rest of my life was definitely a decision of the heart, not the head.
I became frum while exploring frumkeit. But I mostly explored it and read the pros and cons in order to reassure myself that it was the right decision. Some things bothered me, but I just kept at it anyway and I don't know intellectually why.
Deep down, I knew I wanted to keep Torah & mitzvot — that's it.
Of course we still must take responsibility for our decisions. In Shamayim, we're still held responsible for our actions.
And of course, the wiser we are, the more we are able to step back and weigh a decision intelligently. (Reading mussar books really help with this.)
The rebbetzin told me this to help me foster more compassion and understanding for others...and also for myself.
(I wanted to be more like her, so she revealed this as one of her key attitudes toward being relatively non-judgmental toward others, which enabled her to be incredibly helpful.)
Recalling this also reminds me of my first experiences with the concept of a shul mechitzah (a partition separating men and women in the synagogue.)
Oppression & Discrimination – Wherefore art Thou?
I first came to Eretz Yisrael at the age of 16 when my parents forced me to join a tour group of other teenagers from our non-Orthodox denomination.
I suppose it was similar to today's Birthright program.
Anyway, in the movement for Conservative (which is actually way too liberal) "Judaism," there is a concept of keeping Shabbat.
Where I grew up, only the rabbi & cantor actually kept Shabbat (and even then, the cantor's wife allowed herself to turn off lights).
Only those who lived near thriving Orthodox communities (which was not our situation) tended to be more Orthodox in their practice.
Anyway, our tour group went to the Kotel, which was an AMAZING experience.
But I didn't really notice the mechitzah and didn't think of the Kotel area as shul anyway. The cover-up thing we were given by the guard to tie over immodest clothing felt totally appropriate for some reason, and we'd been warned that would happen before we arrived, so it wasn't a shock either.
But as for a real Orthodox shul experience? That happened later.
One Shabbat, the program decided to take us to an Orthodox shul. I was intrigued because I'd vaguely heard about these Orthodox shuls with their terribly oppressive mechitzahs, a form of ancient Mesopotamian chauvinism (or so I'd been brainwashed).
To reinforce this concept, a girl from my group (who was from one of those communities influenced by a surrounding Orthodox community) walked with us toward the shul like she was heading to the gallows. (Let's call her "Mara.")
When I expressed how excited I was to experience services in a real Orthodox synagogue for the first time (and excited to experience authentic ancient oppression of my gender just like in all those embittered feminist stories!), she made some negative statement about it.
Since then, I've met other young women like her and what I didn't realize at the time was how badly their living between the two worlds of Torah-true Judaism and the "Conservative" rip-off messes with their mind. It doesn't allow them to enjoy Judaism unless it's within the very narrow framework of whatever their specific understanding of Judaism allows.
The concept of mechitzah (or even separated seating without a mechitzah) had never been mentioned in my congregation. It simply was not an issue or even a topic. But for her, it was an issue that had been debated with passion. And probably anger.
Anyway, we arrived at the Orthodox shul, and guess what?
The mechitzah was not oppressive — not even one little bit!
It consisted of a series of wooden partitions on wheels with lattice-work at the top. Yes, your view of things was blocked to an extent, but you could still more or less see what was going on.
The men in their light-colored button-down shirts and knitted kippahs seemed to be having a good time and when the women wanted to see the Sefer Torah, one of the gray-haired men pushed the mechitzah aside to grant the women a better view.
I could not believe how un-oppressed & un-discriminated against I felt.
It was exhilarating to see that my heritage was even better than I'd been led to believe.
Mara stood near me with the same sober, agonized look on her face.
"I don't feel bad at all!" I enthused to her. "It feels more or less normal!"
Staring straight ahead, she winced at my enthusiasm and murmured, "Yeah. But women aren't allowed to touch the Sefer Torah."
I looked around. It seemed like not all the men managed to kiss the Sefer Torah either.
Also, in my congregation back home, we could all touch the Sefer Torah to kiss it and it's not like bells and whistles went off whenever I did it.
And now, I simply did not feel the lack.
In fact, I didn't even know we weren't allowed. The Sefer Torah was there in view, but not close enough to reach. It was all very natural.
In other words, it wasn't a big noticeable deal.
I asked her if it was true than women were really forbidden from touching the Sefer Torah and why would that be? But she couldn't give me a coherent answer.
Anyway, looking around at the Orthodox congregation, everyone seemed happy and also able to follow the service without anyone needing to tell them what page to turn.
I just saw a bunch of happy, knowledgeable Jews and found it all attractive.
And Mara never seemed happy the entire tour because things either weren't frum enough or were too frum.
Like I said, since then, I met other young women like her from that denomination, and they are often conditioned to be so uptight and unable to fully enjoy whatever Judaism they do practice.
But back to my mechitzah experiences...
Great Observations at the Great Synagogue
At one point, we walked to the Great Synagogue in Yerushalayim on Shabbat.
On our way there, we passed the radical Leftist group, Women in Black.
I didn't really know what they were, just that they stood their in their shapeless black gowns with their homely faces and their chins raised with a very proud & self-righteous look on their faces.
I understood they were for "peace," but they did not look very nice or peaceful to me.
We found ourselves in the women's section above (that kind of mechitzah also felt completely unoppressive, BTW) and then one of the Women in Black strutted in, seated herself with a great deal of pride, and sat up straight with her chin raised for the rest of the time, a holier-than-thou look on her face the whole time.
This also did not say "peace" to me.
I thought she looked a bit intimidating, like she was looking for a fight.
In fact, she reminded me of those bullies from school that looked for any excuse to put down & humiliate others, so it was best to avoid talking to them at all.
At one point, a very little girl dressed modestly in lots of pink and frills and ruffles ran into the men's section downstairs.
Would they bellow at her? Block her? Reprimand her?
I saw a chassidish man rush toward her and I tensed even more.
He lovingly scooped her up in his arms and returned to his place.
So much for that stereotype of crazed bellowing chassidim who overreact to the slightest thing.
Still No Oppression or Misogyny
Back home around a year later, I ended up at on Orthodox shul one Shabbat, maybe with the modern Orthodox youth group which a secular Jewish friend of mine heard about and invited me to come along with her.
We attended an Orthodox shul which catered to a very mixed crowd. The rabbi himself was fully frum. The worshipers ranged from fully frum to those who drove to shul on Shabbat and got out of their cars wearing a kippah and tallis.
So the mechitzah was as unobtrusive as possible while still being more or less kosher.
I didn't feel a thing. Meaning, the seating felt totally normal.
Also, the decor of the shul was so attractive, much nicer than my non-frum congregation's decor of orange & brown, left over from the Seventies when orange & brown was considered really cool.
Finally, the separate seating did make sense to me because having grown up in mixed seating, of course I was well-aware of how boys and girls were checking out each other when they should have been praying.
All the huffy objections like how men and women should be able to control themselves and how families should be able to sit together didn't hold water because I'd already seen the reality.
So Much is a Matter of Mazal
And because that over-hyped negative stereotype against Torah Judaism had been broken down, it opened my mind to Torah Judaism in general because if the whole mechitzah issue had been distorted & blown out of proportion, then a lot of the other information I'd been given about the frum from the non-frum were probably also lies and half-truths.
And indeed, they were.
But the thing is, circumstances could have turned out so differently.
The wooden mechitzah with the lattice top could have really bothered me.
I could have been influenced by tense, unhappy, brainwashed Mara.
I could have had negative experiences with the mechitzah or the frum Jews davening in those shuls. (After all, some people do have legitimately negative experiences.)
Or just the idea of separate seating could have still bothered me, despite the practical reality that it didn't interfere at all with the shul experience.
Why wasn't I bothered or negatively affected?
I don't know why.
It wasn't anything I did. It wasn't a choice.
I guess it's just that Hashem wanted me to experience things as I did.
And that's that.
(And a lot of life is like that.)
The Yetzer Hara against Heartfelt Tehillim and Tsniyut: The Challenges & How to Win Your Own Battles
If you think about it, the influence of the yetzer hara is truly bizarre.
For example, if you make a slow, thoughtful bracha with real kavanah before eating, the food tastes so much better.
Saying a heartfelt bracha before eating enhances both our physical & emotional pleasure.
Yet we struggle to remember to say a bracha with kavanah, and many brachot are said by rote with little awareness of what we are saying.
Yet the 15 seconds it takes to say a really geshmak bracha which enhances the taste of the food — that's too difficult? Not desirable enough?
It's irrational if you think about it, yet extremely common.
I really noticed this when I started saying 1 perek of Tehillim a day with heartfelt kavanah. (You read about how that started here: Saying Tehillim: Getting Back to the Barest Basics.)
Not only did I say the Tehillim with careful kavanah, but also felt a desire to go through it again and discuss it with Hashem each time.
Needless to say, it is an enjoyable & meaningful experience.
Really taking my time over each verse and using the Metzudah translation & explanation, plus sometimes the classic commentaries, I'm finding new meaning in verses I've been saying for decades, including verses I thought I already understood well.
For example, Tehillim 19 came to vibrant life in a completely new way — as if I'd never read it before.
The experience is absolutely delicious.
I haven't timed how long each perek takes, but I think it's around 10-15 minutes.
Yet surprisingly, I found myself skipping it completely a couple of times.
Or sometimes, I only managed to say it right at the end of the day.
And I found myself saying, "I couldn't find the time" or "The day just flew by and I never managed to do it."
Really? Throughout an entire day, I never had 15 minutes to spare? Or maybe even 5 to just say the Tehillim with kavanah without the follow-up discussion?
It's true that some days are jam-packed and we don't have a moment to think, let alone sit down and do something meaningful.
But the realization hit that I was pushing it off because it felt "heavy." There was an emotional difficulty to it.
So if it's so short, easy, and deliciously satisfying, why not rush to do it the moment I have even a minute of spare time?
How could something so deliciously satifying feel "heavy"?
It ruins everything.
It makes even the most enjoyable things look like a drag UNTIL you actually do them!
Another huge, yet totally irrational yetzer hara is the one against tsniyut (dressing and behaving in a dignified, modest manner).
Men are obligated in tsniyus too, but women even more so.
(Just like how men are obligated more in certain mitzvot, like praying in a minyan regardless of weather or convenience, keeping his payos even when he's balding & would like to shave it all off like all the really cool secular and non-Jewish guys do to cover their balding, wearing tzitzit no matter how hot it is outside, etc.)
Rebbetzin Heller once mentioned an old photo she saw of herself and her friends in their younger days. They wore skirts that weren't long enough (fashionable in that decade), so they are pulling them down in the picture, maybe sitting kind of cramped to really cover those knees, and are wearing the big clunky shoes fashionable then.
They looked awful, she thought (maybe not her exact words, but approximately). Yet at the time, they were very into dressing like this back then.
And this is so often true of non-tsniyus clothing.
A lot of immodest clothing looks bad or makes us look bad, yet some are mosser nefesh to wear this, spending extra money and risking their Olam Haba (not to mention social disapproval in some cases or problems with her school) for this.
Around 20 years ago, short narrow stiff shirts came in style. They didn't look good on anyone because it made the body look awkward and disproportional.
Also, most women are pear-shaped and the hem of the shirt hit right before the hips, which is unflattering to most and really not modest or dignified.
They didn't even look good on slender girls because of the shirt's shape.
Interestingly, I noticed that the shirt only looked good on short plump girls because they needed the shirt a few sizes bigger, which made it the right length on them and was no longer disproportionate.
It was such an ugly and untsniyus style (especially the short length), I thought it would go out of fashion quickly. But to my surprise, it hung around for about 15 years!
I rarely found a top I could wear during that time.
It also wasn't tsniyus unless you wore a very wide skirt, but even then...
If the wearer bent over at all, the back of the shirt slid up, which revealed the completely forbidden torso area.
If the wearer raised her arm at all, the shirt also often slid up too far.
Once, I was on the bus behind a beautiful young woman, obviously frum. Her hair, nails, and posture announced that she cared very much about looking just right and that she invested a lot of effort in looking good.
When she stood up to go, she leaned over to pick up the bag on the seat next to her (which means she wasn't even bending over so far), yet the shirt went up so much, I was really shocked...
...to see what a hairy back she had!
I had never seen such a hairy back on girl before, a layer of such thick black hairs for a girl, and didn't know that such a thing existed.
I felt mortified on her behalf, even though she had no clue she'd just exposed her hirsute back to anyone behind her.
I can't imagine she would've felt fine with that, especially not when her eyebrows were so carefully sculpted with nary a facial hair to be seen either.
If she had any idea that could happen, I'm sure she never would wear such a shirt (or she would at least wear a longer shirt under it).
And I guess it says a lot about both of us that her hairy back (hairiness isn't forbidden at all in halacha) is considered more mortifying than the total breech of tsniyus. (There is no heter for a woman to reveal her torso area.)
See how the yetzer hara totally messes with our minds?
The Low-Down on Skirts
And what about skirts?
Long, wide skirts are infinitely more comfortable & convenient than short skirts — and also more than narrow skirts, even if they have a slit.
Especially if the wearer constantly needs to tug down the short skirt as she walks. Very inconvenient & awkward-looking.
In hot weather, long loose skirts allow the air to circulate and cool the body, which is one reason why Arab men traditionally wear them.
Unfortunately, a skirt came into style a few years ago (and has not yet disappeared) that looks completely tsniyus on the hanger. It's more than wide enough and definitely covers the knee.
The problem is, it doesn't cover much more than that.
Because the hem is flouncy and the skirt is so loose, I think it's hard to tell even when trying it on that it's actually too short.
It's a real optical illusion for a skirt, something I never saw before.
And the slightest breeze or movement causes it to fly up.
So if a girl is even just almost running or if there's any wind, you end up seeing a lot more than you bargained for.
I heard at least one very embarrassing story in which the wind caused this type of skirt to fly up over the girl's face, much to her mortification (because the skirt is wide and not as long as it looks, it catches the wind even when it's not a flimsy fabric).
Yet so many good frum girls & women wear this skirt.
(Note: Wide ankle-length skirts can also fly up in the wind. Pleated skirts are the least likely, as are straight skirts that aren't too narrow. Tsniyus is so individual, it's hard to come up with hard-and-fast rules that apply to everyone. It's very much intuitive, sort of like the female personality.)
Does Corona Hint at a Jewish Woman's Crown?
A lot of married Jewish women really struggle with covering their hair.
A caring & spiritually sensitive reader sent me a link to an article on the great protection provided to a married Jewish woman for covering her hair properly.
(Thank you, caring & spiritually sensitive reader!)
Corona means "crown" or "crown-shaped."
In astronomy, the corona is the gaseous envelope of the Sun, usually only visible during a solar eclipse when the pearly glow of the Sun's corona surrounds the dark disc of the Sun...
...sort of like how a Jewish women's hair-covering surrounds her head.
Interestingly, cameras that can photograph auras also capture an enhanced aura around the covered hair of a married Jewish woman, very much like the stunning corona of the Sun. (Please see The Human Aura for more.)
Also, the Kli Yakar compares righteous woman to the Sun, considering righteous woman as essential to the world's existence as the Sun itself.
(Please see for more about that here The Kli Yakar - Parshat Chayei Sara and scroll down to the end.)
According to the article, the corona of coronavirus hints to the unique protection Hashem endowed women by bequeathing Jewish women with the mitzvah.
And this should give us pause for some thought.
The Good, the Bad, and the Las Vegasy of Hair-Covering
When I was first becoming frum decades ago, a newly married acquaintance showed up to shul wearing a baseball cap with her hair stuffed up underneath.
(A real New York Yankees-type baseball cap, not one of those brimmed hats for women.)
I derided it to an older friend of mine because I thought it so sloppy & undignified in general, and especially inappropriate for shul on Shabbos.
(This was outright lashon hara, by the way, and I should never have said a word about my thoughts. Assur, assur, assur.)
But my older friend stopped me short and said: "No. Covering your hair is HARD. If she's covering her hair, then you cannot criticize her. Some women won't cover their hair at all unless they can wear a baseball cap. So never criticize a woman who is covering her hair al pi halacha. Her hair was actually all covered, right?"
Yeah, it nearly all was, surprisingly, considering that baseball caps aren't really made for that.
"So there's no room to criticize her."
And that was that.
At that point, I hadn't realized that covering hair was so hard for some people, and I especially did not realize that even a frum-from-birth woman (like the baseball-cap-wearer) might find hair-covering a very challenging mitzvah.
But some do.
And whoever doesn't have that particular challenge has her own challenges in another area.
It's good to know this and be more aware of other people's challenges, even though I still don't think baseball caps are dignified headwear for daughters of the King.
But sure, they ARE a million times better than nothing.
(And I think they're also much better than these knock-your-eyes-out long luxurious shaitels.)
For me the idea of covering my hair wasn't hard at all; it was even fun — although when I stopped wearing shaitels, I struggled to find a hair-covering that was convenient to use, looked nice, and was dressy enough to wear to weddings.
That aspect was my hair-covering challenge.
But I never felt I didn't want to cover my hair; I did, but struggled to find the most compatible solution for a couple of years.
When pre-tied headscarves came into fashion, my hair-covering frustrations vaporized as if they never existed. Thanks, Hashem!
But it's true that some women really dislike covering their hair, no matter what.
This is despite the fact that hats, shaitels, and pre-tied scarves are so much easier as far as convenience & maintenance go — much less fuss because they're all ready to go and you don't need to do much except make sure they're not crooked when you put them on.
You don't need to worry about bad hair days (although bad shaitel days do exist, as do days when you just can't tie the scarf evenly or when the pre-tied scarf isn't sewn properly — actually, I'm not coordinated enough to tie a scarf properly so I was always having bad-hairscarf days until the pre-tied came along).
When you cover your hair, you don't need to worry about dandruff, limp hair, dry hair, hair crazy with static, brillo hair, gray hair, or hair-thinning & female baldness.
Redhead women who didn't enjoy being redheads finally found relief when they could don a brunette or auburn shaitel.
When I was still single, I often held my hair back with a scarf (not outside, but if I was reading or cleaning) because my hair bothered me when it hung in my face and a ponytail was too uncomfortable or the ponytail didn't catch all the shorter hairs around my face that were still long enough to bother me. A scarf around my head did the trick.
Also, I remember when a 60something woman took off her shaitel next to me as we were at a shaitel macher together.
I was shocked to see this elegant dignified woman was bald except for a few tufts of hair and then a thick lock of gray hair above her forehead, into which she inserted the little comb of her shaitel to hold it on to her head.
So there are lots of enjoyable reasons about covering hair, but it's true that a great many women find it extremely difficult, emotionally speaking, and find all sorts of reasons why they can't, or why they can't do so properly, or even why they stop doing so after having done so for years.
Please note: I am NOT talking about people who are just getting started in tsniyus and still trying to find their way (sometimes coupled with extreme opposition by friends & family members, especially an anti-haircovering husband).
That's tsniyus-in-progress and NOT the same as someone who is already firmly grounded in frumkeit (whether they're FFB or came to it later) and gets married knowing this is a halachic obligation, yet still gets really upset about it.
The other extreme is the women who spend thousands of dollars on a shaitel that looks exactly like real hair and is styled and colored to knock your eyes out.
Because covering hair is hard, they reason, you need to feel good about it. Like, Las-Vegas-showgirl-good.
Or they mistakenly assume that va-va-voom is a kiddush Hashem.
(Seriously. It's very common for women to think that looking like a total babe is a kiddush Hashem. They mean this in all innocence. Strange how their husbands never try to disabuse them of this notion, which of course the husband, being a man, knows how she really appears in the eyes of others & Hashem. Hmm...)
BTW, really long hair is an incredible nuisance. These elbow-length or waist-length shaitels are clearly yetzer hara because they aren't tsniyus and they aren't comfortable and they're exorbitantly expensive.
Or the shaitels that have tons of hair piled up like a beehive tower. VERY uncomfortable. And exorbitantly expensive.
Meaning, there's no advantage to them except to be eye-catching & turn heads. It's a weird phenomenon.
And just to be fair, let's take a quick look at those who have actual sensory problems with hair-covering: There IS a minority of women whose hair grows in the opposite direction and they experience anything from minor discomfort to actual pain when covering their hair.
This can also go with having a sensitive head; these women struggled when wearing barrettes or headbands as little girls.
This is a genuinely challenging situation. No joke.
They're still obligated, however.
And yes, they need to be more flexible when looking for solutions.
But one woman who wore either shaitels (one of the least comfortable things to wear if your hair grows the wrong way) or berets told me that because her hair grows the wrong way, it's a real mesirut nefesh for her to cover her hair.
She's in constant discomfort.
But she did it. She always did it and she never stopped. And you should know that she is receiving MASSIVE reward just for this.
Believe me, if Jewish Law ordered women to NOT to cover our hair or if it commanded us to wear revealing clothing, we'd complain about how hard it is like:
And that's how the yetzer hara works.
Battling the Yetzer Hara: Try to Focus on What TRULY Provides You with REAL Enjoyment & Satisfaction
True, I don't have a hair-covering yetzer hara, but I have other yetzer haras (like the one trying to stop me from saying Tehillim with kavanah — even just 1 perek a day!).
I have my own battles (like how I spend my time & how I eat), which end up being hour-by-hour battles throughout the entire day.
And the next day, I wake up knowing I have to start them all over again from the beginning.
That's how it is until you win that particular battle and move on to your next level.
We all have this.
Our job is to embrace what we truly enjoy and find both rewarding & fulfilling despite the obstacles.
May Hashem grant us all the sweet merit to overcome all our battles with the yetzer hara — and especially to know that it's the yetzer hara in the first place!
In the haftarah for Parshat Shemini (Shmuel II:6:1-7:17), we encounter David Hamelech's dancing for Hashem and the criticism of his wife Michal, the daughter of Shaul the former king.
Michal was an extraordinary person who'd displayed her spiritual greatness from the time she agreed to marry David after he killed Golyat (Goliath), and then later when she exhibited unswerving loyalty to David when he was pursued by her father.
Her constructive criticism of her husband's style of dancing was meant well; she had her husband's honor & and the honor of his exalted position in mind.
Yet Michal received what appears to be an extreme consequence for her reprimand:
She never had a child. (Shmuel II:6:23)
(Or she never had another child, meaning that she had children until that point. Or she had a child on the day she died, implying that she died in childbirth [Radak]. The truth is, it's even more complex than that because there are different interpretations regarding Michal and her children, who they were and when/if she had children of her own or if she raised her sister Meirav's children who were thus considered Michal's, etc.)
The Bigger One is, the More Sternly One is Judged
We know that Hashem judges greater people by more exacting standards.
This is fair because the greater a person is, the more knowledge & awareness & capability they possess.
For example, when a 2-year-old in preschool wrangles a toy away from another 2-year-old, knocking the other 2-year-old down in the process, we intervene to educate the pint-sized aggressor in the ways of good middot & civilized behavior.
However, if a 30-year-old does this to another 30-year-old at work, we call the police.
It's even likely that the 30-year-old aggressor will pay some kind of fine, suffer consequences in his career, and even serve jail time, depending.
We treat 2-year-old aggressors & 30-year-old aggressors differently because we have different expectations of their knowledge, awareness, and capabilities — and rightly so.
So we can accept Michal's consequence on that basis alone.
But there's more.
A Glimpse into One Underlying Reason
When King Shaul killed the Kohanim of Nov (Shmuel I:22), this also affected the Givonim, a group of Amorim who sort of converted to Judaism (back when grey statuses were still possible & official) and became the wood-hewers and water-drawers for the Beit Hamikdash.
(Because of their lesser middot, they were forbidden by King David to marry into the Jewish people.)
By either killing them directly or by harming their lives by killing the Kohanim (on whom the Givonim depended for their livelihood) [Shmuel II:21], Malbim says it was decreed from Above that there should be no more descendants of King Shaul.
And this decree was revealed to King David.
Michal's misguided scorn of her husband's behavior was the final straw necessary to seal the decree against King Shaul's descendants.
And according to Malbim, this was the real reason she suffered this consequence.
In a sense, her inner scorn and her verbalized criticism were preordained because they provided the necessary act to finalize a Heavenly decree against her father's descendants.
Everything is Going according to the Master Plan
So we see from this that there is so much more going on behind the scenes than what is visible to the eye or comprehended by our minds.
Far above our intellects are calculations that take into account all sorts of details, including past & future events.
The above does not explain everything & cannot explain everything.
But it does give us a glimpse into some of the behind-the-scenes workings and reassures us that everything is both supervised & taken care of down to the tiniest detail.
On a Rosh Chodesh, not long after we were first married, my Moroccan-born Israeli-bred husband and I went to visit an older cousin of his living in a small but attractive apartment in a predominantly secular neighborhood in Yerushalayim.
Her name was Dina & she served us some leftover hamin (Moroccan cholent), in which every garbanzo bean tasted like it had been cooked individually to perfection.
As we sat in her kitchen, I couldn't help noticing the massive placard of Birkat Hamazon taped to the wall next to the kitchen table, similar to what you find in some schools. Above was a handwritten sign saying: Rosh Chodesh today – ya'aleh v'yavo!!!
Ya'aleh v'yavo is a special prayer inserted within Birkat Hamazon (and Shemoneh Esrei) in honor of Rosh Chodesh.
That's odd, I thought. Her youngest in his 20s. Why does she need such a large placard by the table?
She must have put it up for her grandchildren, I figured.
Nice. She initially impressed me as more traditional than religious – the type that keeps Shabbat and kashrut, but isn't always knowledgeable in other areas – but apparently she's more knowledgeable & serious about her mitzvah observance than she appeared. Very impressive.
At the time, I also didn't realize she was covering her hair because the shaitel she wore was a very realistic copy of the bordeaux-colored hair popular among older Sefardi women in Eretz Yisrael.
Then I noticed a sign on her fridge: Rosh Chodesh today – don't forget ya'aleh v'yavo!
And on her upper kitchen cabinet, I saw another handwritten sign: Remember – ya'aleh v'yavo!
I was no longer so sure the massive Birkat Hamazon with its accompanying Rosh Chodesh reminder was for her grandchildren because signs on refrigerators & kitchen cabinets are usually for oneself and not for the grandchildren.
Then we moved into the artfully decorated living room, where I saw another massive placard of Birkat Hamazon taped to the azure wall next to the dining room table.
That's definitely unusually because many people don't wish to affect their living room-dining room look with a massive placard of Birkat Hamazon.
I realized that in this home, Birkat Hamazon was of the utmost importance.
And this placard also sat under another handwritten admonishment to remember to say ya'aleh v'yavo.
I realized it must be for her.
Just to make sure, I politely asked her about it.
With a self-conscious yet contented little laugh, she admitted that yes, it was for her. Still, self-conscious she murmured something about how it's just her thing.
"Nice," I enthused. "Very nice, actually."
In all my life, I had never seen someone so concerned about forgetting to say ya'aleh v'yavo during Birkat Hamazon.
Impressed, I wondered where her dedication to ya'aleh v'yavo came from.
And I think I got the answer several years later on the way to a family wedding.
The Long-Lasting Influence of "Beis Yaakov" of Tangier, Morocco
On a special bus reserved for taking my husband's extended family to his brother's wedding, I found myself sitting next to Dina.
Not only did I like Dina, she also had the most beautiful French-Ladino accent on her Hebrew, making her even more of a pleasure to listen to.
Also, whenever I find myself with my husband's older female family members, I always try as gently as I can to get them to tell me about their lives back in Morocco.
Usually, they're a bit hesitant due to Moroccan culture being looked down on by Ashkenazi (mostly secular) Israelis as primitive. Sometimes, their own children make fun of them for it. The fact that for many (maybe even most) Moroccan Jews, Arabic is their main mother-tongue didn't help things.
(It's a very Jewish-style Arabic however – it's not Judeo-Arabic, but more like yeshivish English.)
Some cover it up by emphasizing their knowledge of French, but the majority of Moroccan Jews I've met are more comfortable speaking Arabic.
But once you show you're open-minded and even eager (though not too eager, because that can be kind of demeaning too), they usually open right up.
Dina had grown up in Meknes speaking French and Arabic. Then her parents sent her to the Jewish girls school in Tangier, where they spoke Ladino.
Dina was of that age which some girls attended school and some didn't. And no offense to the romanticized image of the pious unlearned Moroccan woman (who did exist, but that type was more characteristic of the generation above Dina), but in Dina's generation, there is a sharp difference between the ones who received a Jewish education and the ones who didn't.
The ones who didn't are often traditional, but not necessarily so pious or so knowledgeable.
I know how weird that sounds because their own mothers were pretty knowledgeable in the areas they needed to be. So why didn't it get passed down to their daughters without a formal education? I'm not sure. I think it has to do with the same ruach that affected the Jewish girls in Europe pre-WWII. The Beis Yaakov girls were stunning in their knowledge, middot, and mesirut nefesh. But most of the girls who did not manage to receive a good formal Jewish education did not end up the same way as the Beis Yaakov girls, even if they had pious mothers. Some did, but most did not.
But the Moroccan women you'll meet who received a solid Jewish education in Morocco are incredibly committed.
Anyway, I asked Dina if it was Beis Yaakov, and she said it wasn't exactly a branch of Beis Yaakov, but it was very similar to Beis Yaakov.
Because these were sheltered Jewish girls from good families living away from home in a dorm in a country where neither Jews nor females had many rights, the school really watched over the girls like their own daughters.
Dina recalls that in addition to the warmth of the teachers, there were also madrichot (counselors) in the dormitory (which was in the same building as the school, I think). Because girls married by age 18 in Morocco at that time, the madrichot weren't much older than the students, and they were more like big sisters to the students.
One of Dina's warmest memories of her school was Rosh Chodesh.
On Rosh Chodesh, all the girls would get together and produce a meal fitting for Rosh Chodesh, along with a variety of the tasty little Moroccan pastries you see at their simchahs until today.
Then they would all sit down to eat and sing piyutim (poetic Hebrew love songs to Hashem written by holy rabbis), including special piyutim for Rosh Chodesh.
And I realized that this solid foundation in Yiddishkeit is what held Dina so firmly throughout all the years and transitions.
She covered her hair even when it was uncomfortable & unfashionable to do so, like among secular upper-class people who already looked down on her for being Moroccan.
While I normally don't admire shaitels that are indistinguishable from real hair, I feel that in Dina's situation, it's a tremendous virtue & I admire her so much for it.
It shows her mesirut nefesh for covering her hair. In her situation, there was no other comfortable way to do it.
And now her unique dedication to ya'aleh v'yavo also made sense.
The "Beis Yaakov" of Tangier managed to ingrain into their students a profound appreciation of Rosh Chodesh – a monthly holiday with a special emphasis for women.
And that quiet impact still reverberates many decades later.
Okay, I just have to vent here. True confession time: I ALSO WANT TO LEARN IN BEIS YAAKOV OF TANGIER! I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time! ... Okay, yes, I know that Hashem always put me exactly where I needed to be in order to achieve my personal tikkun, but I can't tell you how much I would've loved learning Torah Judaism in Ladino (!!!) with a familial staff, and cooking & baking all sorts of delicacies on Rosh Chodesh while singing piyutim with all the girls. It's really something worth envying, no?
Solid 20-Minute Discussion from Rabbis Wallerstein & Epstein about Why the Morning Blessing "Thanks, God, for Not Having Made Me a Woman" is NOT Offensive or Misogynist, What It All Means, and Where the Question is Coming From
By the way, if anyone is struggling with the wording in the morning brachot for men & women ("Blessed are You...for having made me according to His Will" vs. "Blessed are You...for not having made me a woman"), Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein and Rabbi Epstein offer a solid discussion of this in the video below, and branch out into related areas of this topic.
It's the first question they answer after the introduction at 1 minute & 43 seconds into the video, then goes on for around 19 minutes.
Here is the link:
Special Event: Five Towns Question and Answer
(Note: I haven't finished listening to the whole shiur yet, so I don't know what the rest of it is about.)
UPDATE: Correction: It was the Tunisian Jewish women who dressed in billowing white wraps and pointy head-coverings, not the Greek Jewish women. (Sorry for the misinfo!) Plus, 2 authentic photos of these Tunisian Jewish women & men have been added to the end of the post. (Their heads look pointy because, apparently, pointy princessy hair-coverings – which they wore under the white sheet – were in style back then...)
Because tsniyut means a lot more than just the technicalities of inches regarding widths & lengths, I often prefer to use the word "dignity" or "refinement" as the translation, even though technically, the word means "hiddenness" in Hebrew and is indeed used that way throughout Tanach (and often not talking about women's clothing, but about Jewish behavior or even miracles – as shown in An In-Depth Discussion of One of Today's Most Despised Topics: Tsniyut/Tsniyus/Modest/Dignified Behavior & Dress).
For example, a friend of mine mentioned Jewish women of a certain group she sees from time to time in her neighborhood.
These women dress in traditional Arab dress, meaning a black hijab around their head and shoulders, plus a long black robe.
My friend says it doesn't really bother her in principle (yet some others get personally offended & disgusted when they see these women), except that when she first encounters these women, she's tenses up and checks them out until she realizes they are Jewish women and not potential terrorists.
And others certainly feel the same.
In fact, I imagine that any Jew (including Jewish men) in the vicinity would do as my friend and surreptitiously keep an eye on this women for suspicious activity, including trying to gauge whether she might have a suicide bombers belt around her midriff.
It's hard to label these clothes as "tsniyut," even though the technical covering is halachically sound as far as the length & width go.
Even though many be-hijabed women worldwide are not looking to massacre Jews, some have made strenuous attempts to do just that in Eretz Yisrael.
Hence, when Jews spot a be-hijabed woman in a neighborhood never frequented by Muslim women, they are prudent to be wary until her intentions can be clarified.
So if your clothing is actually instilling anxiety or fear within your fellow frum Jews, that doesn't fit within the bounds of tsniyut (especially because such a style is causing men to look at such a woman with extra scrutiny).
At this point, one might make the argument that all frum women look scary to at least some people because of the incitement of secular media. So a secular person with no other knowledge of frum people might feel anxious upon seeing a frum woman in his grocery store, thinking that it's a Jewish Taliban invading the area.
The difference is that wariness around a black hijab is a reasonable response in Eretz Yisrael. Women dressed in such a style have attempted to murder Jews. Actually, male terrorists have also used hijab and other traditional Muslima coverings to disguise themselves as females and elude Israeli security.
The fear doesn't derive from media incitement or false prejudices.
If your own fellow frum Jews who understand tsniyus cannot help but suspect you are a terrorist when they see you, then this is obviously a breach in tsniyus, despite the careful attention to technical measurements.
Likewise, a book I have on Jewish women throughout the ages shows a photo of a group of Jewish women in ̶G̶r̶e̶e̶c̶e̶ ̶̶Tunisia from the year 1900. While their style of tsniyus was quite commendable at the time, the billowing head-to-toe all-encompassing white sheet with its pointy top gave me a lurch in the pit of my stomach when I first saw it.
For a moment, I thought it was a picture of the Ku Klux Klan (a murderously exclusive gang of bigots – one of their early murder victims was a white Republican senator – formed by Southern Democrats after the Civil War whose uniform consists of a billowing white robe, white covering over the face, and a pointy white head-covering).
Clearly, dressing in traditional Jewish G̶r̶e̶e̶k̶ ̶Tunisian attire today would not be tsnanuah.
So we see that tsniyut isn't just about measurements.
It IS about measurements – covering the necessary parts IS vitally important – but it's not ONLY the technical inches that count. Getting lost in the technicalities can actually produce a lack of tsniyus, as occurs with these Jewish women in hijab.
It's a certain mindset, a certain understanding; it contains nuance and most of all, a desire to imitate Hashem, who is also Hidden from the human eye. (Please see Why is It So Important to be Modest? for more.)
Despite the expansive width & generous length of the clothing, we should not dress like those who (possibly) hate us.
Tsniyut should not strike terror in the hearts of those around you.
Help a frum family get their children back!:
I'm a middle-aged housewife and mother in Eretz Yisrael who likes to read and write a lot.
Daf Yomi Review
Jewish Current Events
©2015-2020 Myrtle Rising