You may have heard of or seen Jewish women wearing scarves as a head covering. They are often referred to as “Tichels” which is the Yiddish word for scarf. The Hebrew transliteration is mitpachat. Many of the women wear them because of the Jewish law that a married woman should cover her hair when around non-immediate family members. Part of the reason is due to honoring the privacy of the intimacy of a husband and wife since the hair is seen as a private area for a married woman. Others wear them for additional spiritual reasons, including the concept of tznius. Tichels are not the only methods of covering the hair. For example non-Sephardic observant Jewish women may chose to wear hats, snoods, or wigs.
Tznius is the Jewish concept of modesty and privacy but not only for the husband and wife relationship. It also has a beautiful meaning for a woman’s relationship with the Holy One. The idea is that the holiness is revealed when the physical is hidden which is why we wear clothing. When a person, man or woman, reveals their bodies that is often the first thing a person will notice about them. This is not a judgment but an observational occurrence. However, when you meet someone with their bodies covered and their hair/head covered you tend to notice the windows of the souls first, their eyes. Many women have said that they fear hair covering causes us to lose our freedom or is oppressive. However many of us do not see it this way. When a woman is not forced to practice hair covering, we see it as a beautiful freedom for the soul. How could tying scarves on the head be freedom you may ask? One answer is because we are free from the sexualized image norms bombarding us in society. Our physical self no longer dominates our soul, and the way other people see and treat us is different as well. Ultimately, we are expressing our freedom of religion and identity as Jewish women.
Personally for me the practice of hair wrapping and head covering elevates my soul, my mind focuses on higher things, and as a practical element my hair stays clean when I go out. Additionally my environmental allergies are not as strong for some reason. I truly cannot start my day until my head is wrapped and I even add an adapted blessing because it is so special to me: “Baruch atah HaShem, Eloheinu meleckh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al mitzvot tznius.” This translates to “Blessed are you Holy One, our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the practice of modesty.” We are commanded to walk modestly before our Creator and this is part of my fulfillment of this beautifully rich and delicious command. Also, there is a cultural element. For thousands of years women have been wearing scarves on their heads with flowing beautiful gowns. Tichels give me that feminine connection to my ancient sisters as well as my modern ones, no matter which religion or denomination of Judaism, there is this respect for the Holy One, for ourselves, and for each other that scarves tie together.
Chavivah is a graphic design volunteer and beta tester for Darshan Yeshiva