A few days ago while wasting a rainy Seattle day indoors, I flipped to E!, one of my guilty pleasure channels. The show Christina Milian Turned Up was on. It is not something I normally watch, but I was intrigued when Liz Milian, Christina’s younger sister, mentioned Judaism. She was preparing for the rabbi to come to her house to help her kasher the home she shares with her family.
I was, of course, instantly drawn and quickly Googled my way to her Facebook and Instagram pages which I am now enthusiastically enjoying.
It is not just that Liz Milian is a woman of color in the public eye converting to Orthodox Judaism, it’s that she’s doing so in a real, passionate, and committed way.
I’ve always been drawn to Orthodox Judaism; there’s a level of commitment to Lit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed.", to be sure, but what really piques my interest is the tradition, joy in Jewish life and practice, and the communal norms and expectations. There are aspects of Orthodox Judaism, specifically hair covering and ideas of modest dressing, that are intriguing and seemingly easy mitzvot for me to introduce into my life.
In Orthodox Jewish communities it’s expected that when a woman is married that she will cover her hair. What she covers her hair with varies from community to community. Some favor long, amazing (albeit expensive) wigs, while others favor shorter wigs and still other communities use scarves and hats. These head coverings mark a woman as married, and it’s also presumed that when a woman (or man for that matter) wears something on their head that they’re probably a bit more religious than the person who’s head remains naked. This presumption may or not be true, but it’s been my experience that a person who covers their hair and dresses modestly is likely to be living a more halakhically observant Jewish life.
So what happens when you’re a Jew like me—a Jew who doesn’t identify with any particular religious denomination and instead picks and chooses?
Truth? I’ve always been obsessed with hair coverings. Long before I decided to become Jewish, I spent hours on YouTube watching both Jewish and Muslim women wrap ordinary colorful scarves, into beautiful creations atop their heads. Each YouTube video would lead me to another and before I knew it, I’d spent over an hour online.
With 613 mitzvot to chose from, living a life as a non-Orthodox Jew, why hair covering?
Honestly, I’m not sure.
I like the idea of putting something on my head each morning that reminds me that there’s something bigger than me.
I like the idea that it identifies me as a Jew, though I know a lot of Jewish women of Color are sometimes identified as either Muslim or Rastafarian before Jewish, but that’s another blog post.
I like that covering my hair after marriage means that I’m incorporating a new Jewish tradition into my life.
And honestly, I really like the fashion aspect. I mean who wouldn’t want to swap out awesome hair wraps for bad hair days?
I’m lucky to have many women in my life that I look up to; stringently Orthodox women to Modern Orthodox women to women who identify as Just Jewish and all of whom cover their heads in some way. In speaking with my friends, I’ve learned that covering can sometimes lose it’s excitement, that covering is sometimes dictated by community, and that covering can bring a closeness to G-d, by bringing awareness back into one’s body.
I’m not sure what will happen the day after I marry my partner when I put a scarf on my head, but I’m looking forward to finding out.