Jun 12, 2010

Down With Doilies!

The doily: Where did it come from? Why is there a box of them at Orthodox synagogues? And, perhaps most importantly, why has the doily replaced head-covering?

I'm finding that more and more women at my Orthodox shul aren't covering. Now, outside of shul to each their own, but it seems to me that in shul, wearing a hat has always been sort of a sign of modesty and married-ness. Lately, however, women who covered (at least in shul) have stopped. Some have lost their scarves and hats in place of, you guessed it, the doily.

Now, I'm not out to chastise anyone for not covering (some of my closest friends don't cover on a day-to-day basis, but I'm pretty sure they at least go that extra mile for shul!), I'm just trying to figure out if this is a trend Orthodox shul wide, or if it's just something unique to my current, modern Orthodox community.

Can I expect doilies galore in Teaneck, New Jersey when we move there in a few weeks? Or is it more of the traditional, tichel and hat-wearing kind of place? Is a doily okay?

Let's talk halakot on hair covering. Let's get down and dirty. On doilies.


Rabbi V the Ex-Intern :-( said...

I always thought doilies were a more mid-20th-century thing that have been going out of fashion as hats, scarves and (shudder) wigs become more popular. I don't think i've ever noticed a woman in her 30s or younger wearing a doily... but maybe i just haven't been paying attention?

Anonymous said...

I really dislike the doily, just because it is ugly...but to each thier own. I go to a Conservative shul and lots of women where it.

However it is important to remember that there is a difference between "hair covering" and "head covering". Many women feel compelled to cover their head when they are davening, not as a sign of marriedness, but as a sign of respect towards G-d. My take is that maybe the women who are wearing them aren't married yet but still want to cover their head during services??

Ansky said...

It's possible that you are seeing more doilies because it's the summer. Women may choose not too wear hats in the summer because it is just too darn hot both on the way to shul and more often than not, inside shul as well. During the summer months, I choose not to wear a tie to shul because of the heat. I find it uncomfortable. Women may be leaving their hats at home and opting for the lighter doily.

As for Teaneck, you will see doilies in Teaneck as well but most women will wear hats, tichels, and sheitels. As Mellisa said, the head covering in shul does not have as much to do with marriedness as it does with showing respect for the shul and G-D.

the rabbi's wife said...

I always thought doilies were a Christian/Catholic thing b/c of the NT verse about women praying with their heads uncovered or something like that. (not that Evangelicals seem to do it, but I know Catholics used to and Orthodox Christians still do)
My Grandmother was a florist and whenever she used to deliver flowers to the catholic funerals/weddings they made her cover her head (in the 50's).
If you're no going to cover all the way, why would you choose to use something so odd looking versus a wide headband or cool scarf? I'm just sayin'...

kerri said...

Sure, hats may be too warm in the summer, but there are other ways to cover without going into doilies. This reminds me of the SATC episode that had the scrunchy. Ick.

KosherAcademic said...

All the MO women I know cover in shul, and cover with more than a doilie (that I can recall anyway). And if it helps, Chavi, I *do* cover in shul or at events or simchas that put me in a similar situation (ie a brit milah at a shul). Just not the rest of the time (anymore).

Anonymous said...

In addition, it's seems to be a North-American thing. Being from Europe, I've never seen it being used there. Either hat, tichel, sheitel, or bandeau in orthodox shuls. Maybe in the UK?


YC said...

I hope they never get rid of them. They are primarily for guests even if used primary by non-guests

Suburban Sweetheart said...

Eeek! Unless they're for arts & crafts, I'm strictly anti-doily. They strike me as so... Mennonite.

Glutenfreebay.com said...

Hm, my comment was apparently eaten. I live in the Teaneck area and I go to three different shuls in Teaneck, where I've never seen doilies except on the heads of some older women who came of age at a time when MO women did not cover their hair... and the non-frum family members who sometimes go to shul with their frum relatives. Doilies are nothing new and I don't think there's a resurgence of them. I just think it depends on where you daven whether you see a lot of them or not. Teaneck has moved steadily to the right over the years, so there is a lot more hair-covering than there used to be. And probably fewer doilies at shul. At the shuls I go to, even people who don't cover their hair during the week tend to wear something bigger than a doily to shul on shabbos.

So, IMO, compared to other places I've been, Teaneck is a tichel, hat or sheitel kind of town, depending where you daven. There are shuls where you see more hats and shuls where you see more sheitels. But as in any community I've been in that's not yeshivish or haredi, you can expect to see the occasional older woman wearing a doily.

le7 said...

I never got the doily thing. It always struck me as more of a reform/conservative thing. The only places I've ever seen doilies have been at the reform and conservative synagogues I went to as a child. Now that I go to orthodox shuls most of the regulars I know wear sheitels (and a few tichels). Most of the guests I've seen are usually wearing nothing on their heads or very cute summery hats.

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

@Rabbi V So you don't dig the sheitel, eh!? How do you feel about falls? :)

@Melissa_O Nope. These are women in their 40s and 50s who are married and who either used to cover and stopped or are married and just don't care to cover beyond a doily (ugly as they are).

@Ansky The shul up here is perpetually -30 degrees, so it surprises me when people show up dressed for 90 degree weather (I get wearing whatever you want on the way, but in shul? Seems to me people would cover up, at least to stay warm!). I know it's about respect for HaShem and the sanctity of the place, and that's what gets me most about it -- not about whether people are married or not. My rabbi once told a perpetual convert who was horrified at the thought of covering her hair (even as she was going through an Orthodox conversion) that she would have to at LEAST cover in shul.

@TheRabbisWife I totally concur :)

@Kerri ... lol.

@KosherAcademic You know I adore you and however you choose to cover or not is all you, sister. I'll love you no matter what. :)

@Anon Maybe. It's just so ... un-orthodox (I don't mean that religiously as orthodox with a capital O, but stylistically I guess, Jewishly).

@YC I agree they serve a purpose. But are they serving the RIGHT purpose? Guests who don't know the traditions aren't expected to cover their hair unless they really want to. I understand having the kippot out for guys, that's an easy fix for a dude, but for a woman? It's more complicated.

@SuburbanSweetheart Ohmigosh! I totally agree.

@GlutenFreeByTheBay Interesting insight into my future home! When we were there, we saw lots of hats, tichels, and a few sheitels at the local coffee joint.

@le7 I concur about the Conservative presence of the doily. It seems at my Orthodox shul up here people have taken to them because they don't mess up their hair and are easier ... I just don't know if it sends the right message or does much for the frumkeit of the shul :\

Anonymous said...

My entire life I've seen doilies. Very common in all Shula I've been to. Get used to it, they're here to stay and no one should be judged on how they do, or don't, cover their hair.

YC said...

@Gluten-Free By The Bay
"Teaneck has moved steadily to the right over the years, so there is a lot more hair-covering"
Even if Teaneck did move to the right, hair-covering is not evidence of a "right wing" move or shift. It is not some minority opinion chumra either.

Glutenfreebay.com said...

YC: I didn't say it was a chumra. personally I think the halacha is pretty clear-cut in favor of it. I just know that the shift towards women covering their hair is a relatively new development in the MO world, and haircovering in Teaneck has become more common as the community has become more right-wing religiously. One could certainly argue that correlation does not imply causation, though. It has also become a way women judge each other, or are judged, on their hashkafa... often unfairly, as evidenced by a friend who feels uncomfortable at one of the Teaneck shuls I go to because she's the only one in a sheitel and feels people are not welcoming to her because they assume that her sheitel means she's less socially or religiously liberal. Haircovering is something that has historically been more common in more religiously right-wing communities and has become more common in the MO community as MO folks have become less concerned with assimilation (vs the post-war generation) and more concerned with being more machmir about halacha. Again, not saying it's a chumra... but it is one of many signs of the way the MO community has in some ways becoming more strict in observance of the halacha. I think the increase in haircovering is a positive thing. And haircovering is not only incumbent upon, or chosen by, religiously right wing Jews. Far from it. But I do see the rise in its popularity in the MO world as part of a constellation of signs of a general shift in religious outlook.

If you disagree I would love to hear why!

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

I'm no expert on anthropology, and the question here isn't one of halacha. But I grew up seeing doilies in the sixties in the local Orthodox shul.

My guess at a cultural answer is that women covering their hair according to halacha had fallen out of fashion. There has been a resurgence of haircovering, but back then it was very common for a married woman who was generally observant to nonetheless not cover her hair. I don't know why; I'm just recording here the common observation. Nonetheless, when they came to shul, they felt obligated to do 'something'. Somehow, doilies became the solution. Sort of like the paper kipot they used to have on the ready at the Kotel. Doilies are, in fact, a thoroughly inadequate substitute; but that's what was in vogue in shuls at the time. There used to be a little basket at the men's entrance with kipot, and one at the women's entrance with doilies.

I do not think at all that those women were doing this for 'head covering' like a man's kippah. That wasn't much thought of or advocated back then. That's a newer thing.

Additionally, of course, there is no widespread historical custom for a woman to 'cover her head' out of respect to God. That was, for various reasons originally related to the courts/batei din, a custom followed by *some* men that became more widespread over time. A married woman's hair covering is rooted in a halachic notion that is already established in the g'mara. Whether it is Dat Yehudit or Dat Moshe is irrelevant to the fact that it was understood to be a universal obligation; where men's headcovering was not universal at first.

Parenthetically, the above is why I always find it a bit strange when I am with a woman rabbi who wears a kippah. For her, there is no such historically established custom; yet the item is inadequate to fulfill the actual halachic obligation that she is ignoring. I keep meaning to ask about that one day...

Anonymous said...

If you want to understand doilies, listen to R' Broyde's excellent shiur on hair covering in halacha. He addresses this exact topic.


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