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Mama Deb
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Mama Deb [userpic]
On more esoteric note:

I got asked the question again last night

What question?

"How do you manage your hair in the mikveh?" It's the second time I heard that in a week.

My hair is long. At this point, if it's down, I have to pull it out from under the waistband of my skirts. I assume that's waistlength - I don't have a waistline. This is my best guess.

Combed out, the very wispy ends touch the top of my seat. I wear it up - pulled back in a ponytail and then twisted up and fastened with a large barrette. I can do this in seconds, and it's easy to cover. I think the barrette is breaking my hair, but I can't think of anything that would be easy and flat.

The thing about the mikveh, the ritual bath, is that there can be no barrier between me and the waters of the bath. That means being completely clean, with no stitches or bandages or adhesives. Permanent fillings are permitted; temporary ones are a question. It also means no nail polish, cosmetics or contact lenses. Hair dye is fine; hair extensions are, at the least, a question.

Tangles and knots are out. Hair must be fine combed and tangle free. This is easier with short hair, and was the reason the first woman asked me this question. She wears her own hair short, like many Orthodox married women. This is, I think, a result not just of piety but just the general trend of women in their thirties/forties in the US, especially after having a kid or two. I know a number of women, religious and otherwise, who cut their long hair after the second baby just out of sheer practicality, and there is also a thing about long hair being inappropriate after a certain age, and at 39, I've passed that age.

And she's right. My hair is fine and curly and it knots and tangles if I look at it funny, so it's an extra thing to worry about on mikveh night. However, it's permitted to use conditioner and even when I didn't know that, I managed.

But that is a reason that Orthodox married women keep their hair on the short side. It's also easier to dunk, which was the concern of the mikveh lady. Hair floats. If every bit of it is not immersed, the toveling is not effective. I have to make sure it's completely wet, usually by holding it down for the first dip, and go down deep. This is not a problem for me. It's even fun. But it does mean I have to be watched carefully.

The third reason is that very short hair is easier to cover. Which is not quite right. Very short hair is easy to cover. So is hair long enough to pull into a ponytail, or longer. It's the inbetween hair that can't be pinned up that sticks out from a wig or under a hat. I'm too lazy to get my hair cut as often as would be required to keep it short enough, so I might as well keep it as long as I want it. Which is as long as it will grow. It probably wouldn't look good under a wig, but I don't wear wigs.

There's a book out now whose name I've forgotten - essays by women about hair covering. There are two by women in groups that shave their heads. Neither present this as a major trauma. One, who was raised a Satmar chasid, was very matter-of-fact about it. You grow up, you get married, you shave your head. Everyone does it - your mother or mother-in-law or both come to you the day after your wedding and it's almost a party. Then you just touch it up once a month. They wear hats-on-wigs or bangs-and-scarves outside the house and turbans inside, and some keep a long wig or floaty scarf to wear for their husbands. It's not a big deal for them. Although, there is a flaw in their logic. Yes, it's *easier* for them to dunk this way, but if long hair means that dunking is nonkosher, they're in trouble, since they have long hair for their first time, *before* their weddings.

The other was a convert who never liked her hair, and she got all "it's a sacrifice and it means removing the last of her former life." when she got married. She finds it light and convenient, and the money she saves on shampoo! :) But, and on the other hand, this is a sample size of *two*. Not enough to come to any conclusion.

The other essays had hat wearers and scarfwearers and wig wearers, including one woman who began wearing a wig because of chemotherapy but kept it on afterwards for modesty, and what takes to make the decision and even how to buy a wig. I found it fascinating, but then again, it's my life.

And I suppose as long as my hair is as long as it is, I'll get that question.



There's a book out now whose name I've forgotten - essays by women about hair covering

The book is called Hide and Seek and I can't remember the name of the editor because I've lent the book out. Although some of the essays weren't as appealing to me as others, the book helped me get over some of my own ill-feelings toward covering my hair. Since I've only been covering my hair for 6 1/2 months, I'm still finding ways of dealing with it. My hair isn't as long as yours, but it's long as compared to most Orthodox women I know. I've been asked more than once already about dealing with my hair and the mikveh... so thanks for posting this!

Anyway, it's not like I can do anything about it now while it's sefira. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!

I eased into hair covering - going from "only in synagogue" with my hair over my shoulders to "only outside the house" with my hair in a ponytail until finally, a few years ago, I found myself wondering which hat I was going to wear at a party in my own home. And that was that.

At this point, I only uncover around other women, such as my martial arts class, or in situations where I'll be seen only by close family - my mother and brothers, my husband's parents and brother. I wear a hat at my husband's family Chanukah parties, which includes various cousin's boyfriends.

However. I don't know how I would have felt if I'd started covering from the beginning. I think it would have been okay, because I've always loved wearing hats, but I don't know. I'm glad I got the chance to ease into it.

Also. I know other religious women with long hair - one person I know has longer hair since she started covering it. Just say that you and your husband like it long, and that you manage just fine.

Whats a mikvah? and why do you have to keep your hair un-knotted?

On hair length
My hair does the same, to a slightly lesser extent, and its at my waist line. On second though that may be because juniors jeans sit on the hips more than the waist(experiments) Yes if I had something with an at waist waistline my hair would get caught. My hair is waistlength. Therefore your hair is probably waist length, or longer. My hair will probably always be long- its way to much trouble short, but it seems to behave well when long.


I said it was esoteric. :)

A "mikveh" is a ritual bath. Oh, *that* cleared things up.

It's a pool that's built in such a way as to combine regular tap water with "living water" - water that has not come from pipes - usually, it's rain water that has been collected in stone cisterns, although ice also works, or a natural, rainfed stream. Or the ocean or certain rivers, but there's this privacy thing, so we don't use those if we can avoid it. Also, mikveh water can be heated. Heated is *good*. The construction is complex and requires a lot of expertise in both construction and Jewish law.

It's purpose is to remove tumah, ritual impurity - to be precise, to remove a very low level of impurity caused by a woman having had her period or a baby. Higher levels, which require additional rituals that we cannot do, and are only problematic at times when we have a Temple in Jerusalem, we don't worry about so much.

The reason we are concerned about women is that a woman in a state of "niddah" - having had at least one period without going through the ritual bath - cannot have sex with a man. A married woman in that state can't even touch her husband or sleep in the same bed with him. Or serve him a plate of food or share a glass of wine with him. She can sleep in the same room, though. This time lasts from the start of her period until a full week after it has ended, and we test thoroughly to make sure we have ended. On the night after the seventh day, the woman goes to mikveh. It's always at night, for privacy reasons.

Hair must be unknotted because a knot or a tangle will cause a separation between the woman and the ritual water. And that renders the ritual dunking to be invalid, so she'll still be in a state of niddah. And then she'll go home to her husband and both have now committed a violation, if unknowingly.

Oh, some men go, too. There are men's mikva'ot for that purpose, but it's a very different experience for them. There are no elaborate bathrooms because a shower is enough, and there is no privacy issue. Where a woman's dunking is between her and the attendant who makes sure she's prepared and dunks properly, and there is a blessing to be said (naked, neck deep in water, with a washcloth on her head), it appears to be a social thing for the men, complete with gossip and boys running around. Men are not required to dunk, so there is no blessing. And they usually go in the morning, although some have a custom to go Friday afternoons.


Wow. That is really complicated sounding. I can see how you could have trouble with long hair. Is it like a normal bath, or is it just dunking and a blessing? Why is a woman "in a state of niddah" after her period or haveing a baby? I'm sorry if this is bugging you , but i'm a curious person, and i'm catholic, so I don't really know anything about jewish rituals.


It's nothing like a normal bath.

You take one beforehand. And a shower. If you prepare at home (you can do all your preparation in the mikveh building, which is useful in winter time, when you go right after work), you take another shower in the mikveh building just to rinse off.

You put on a robe and paper slippers and the mikveh attendant comes in, asks you questions and checks your nails and escorts you to the ritual bath, which is usually a rectangular pit in the ground, filled with warm water(nicely tiled, of course.) She checks you for loose hairs and such before you walk down a flight of stairs into the pit. You dunk once, are pronounced "kosher!", she tosses you a washcloth. That goes on your head while you stand there, arms crossed over your breasts, and say the blessing, and possibly another prayer, and then you go down once more. Except that most people go either seven times more or twice more. I've done seven, but I mostly go twice. Each time, you're pronounced "kosher". And then you climb the stairs and wrap yourself back in the robe and go back to your little bathroom where you prepped, and you get dressed.

Some mikva'ot provide hair dryers in the bathroom, others have a line of mirrors and blow dryers and such on the way out. Before leaving, you ritually wash your hands.

Nothing like a normal bath. It takes maybe five minutes. The prep takes longer - it should take an hour, but after twelve years practice, it takes me maybe 30 minutes.

We do it because it's a commandment from the Bible - a husband can't have sex with his wife while she is a menstruant, until she goes to mikveh. A new mother is in the same position until she stops bleeding. We wait an additional seven days for many reasons. "Niddah" means "menstruant".

Fascinating post. Thanks, again, for sharing these details of your religious life.

I'm 39, my hair is mid back. I don't plan to cut it. Despite what people think, longer hair seems easier to care for than when my hair was a couple of inches long. I hated having to get it cut every three weeks, and then there was the problem of being able to wear it only one way.

Hair-holding option?

I find that four hairpins will hold my waist-lenghth hair in a nice, secure, flat bun, with no ponytail. I do have to *make* the pins, (they're about four inches long, made from steel clothsline that I twist and cut into a long u-shape, and then I file the ends smooth) but that's pretty easy after the first set.