I consider myself a Conservative Jew, however I have recently begun to consider covering my hair (since I'm married) and only wearing skirts (not pants). I have started by wearing long headbands. What does that make me? Am I still a Conservative Jew? If not, what am I?
The Conservative movement as a movement has not issued rulings on all aspects of Jewish life.And even when decisions are made by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, they serve as guides for local rabbis to follow - or not - at their discretion.To the best of my knowledge, hair covering by women has never been the subject of any ruling.I can attest to the fact that there are indeed some women who affiliate with the Conservative movement who do cover their hair and I know some women who affiliate with the Orthodox movement who are lax in covering their hair.Your question suggests that religious identity is determined by one’s dress (a uniform, so to speak) rather than by one’s beliefs or behaviour.Nothing could be more fallacious.(Incidentally, there are ample sources to suggest that hair covering is not a halakhic requirement. See my Perspectives on Jewish Law and Contemporary Issues, p. 369ff. and Michael Broyde, “Hair Covering and Jewish Law: Biblical and Objective or Rabbinic and Subjective?” Tradition 42:3, Fall 2009). So covering your hair will not necessarily disenfranchise you from affiliation with the Conservative movement.What will make a difference is why you choose to cover your hair.Conservative Judaism is rooted in a scientific, historical, and critical – yet respectful and loving – approach to Jewish sources.
If, at the end of the day, after reviewing the sources and analyzing the relevant texts, you determine that the authorities mandating hair-covering are convincing, you are behaving as a Conservative Jew.
I too was once a affiliating Conservative Jew. At that time I asked my wife to wear a head covering because Jewish law required the practice. While this orientation was present in the Conservatvie Movement 30 yars ago, I do not see it in Conservative Judaism today.
No serious Conservative Jew would consider oneself to be “traditional lite” but rather, “Total Torah right.” When a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I saw that there were some women who observed this practice. A Conservative Movement that is committed to pluralism and tolerance should consider this choice a legitimate option.
Jewish law does not forbid women to wear pants; Jewish law forbids cross dressing. It is true that Rabbi Isaac Wcicz of Israel’s Edah ha-haredit Ultra Orthodox community viewed women’s pants as bigdei shahats, this is an aesthetic and not religious claim.
The questioner should ask herself whether her choices are theological—to do what God wants her to do—or social—where one’s dress and ritual choices are determined by identifying with people who share that discipline and whose approval one solicits. Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Joseph Soloveitchik endorsed women’s head coverings but outlawed wigs. [bShabbat 64b] Most Orthodox women—and even rabbis—are unaware of this legal fact. Some women [and men] observe ritual in oirder to belon and not because they believe.
There is now a body of literature that argues that women’s head covering may no longer be binding. See Michael Broyde, Tradition 42:3 (Fall 2009). See also Mayim Hayyim 2:110. The passage that calls women’s head covering a Torah obligation, bKetubbot 72a-b,—appears to be a post-Talmudic gloss, which explains why Maimonides does not call the requirement “Torah based.”
Because the questioner associates women’s skirts and head covering together, I also suspect that she is re-affiliating socially and ideologically. Her template is “not what the canon commands” but what “do Orthodox Jews do.”
Whatever decision is made, it should be made honestly, with modesty of mind, and with respect.
Your religious behavior may or may not be connected to how you label yourself. The fact that you wish to practice more modesty may, indeed, be a sign of your desire to become more observant and, thereby, move into a different stream of Judaism. On the other hand, your desire for increased amounts of modesty may simply be a reflection of where you are regarding personal comportment.
Many people in the Jewish community speak about moving into a post-denominational world. This is where any movement label may be obsolete, and Jews select those behaviors with which they’re comfortable and those communities in which they feel it’s most appropriate to worship. I know of Orthodox communities where there is no mechitzah, of Conservative communities where there is a mechitzah, and of Reform communities where there is an increasing focus on kashrut. And when I say “kashrut”, I speak of at least three kinds: traditional Kashrut, as in Orthodox observance; eco-kashrut, as Jews think less of particular ingredients and more about the overall approach to the environment and ethical treatment of animals; and hekhsher tzedek, where all processes are examined for ‘best practices’ from the Torah point of view).
I would counsel you not to worry about the particular kind of Jew you may be, and focus more on the particular ritual and ethical commandments you wish to practice. Then try to find a compatible community where the majority of Jews practice in the same way. At the same time, you may wish to find a Rabbi who can be a guide for you, to direct you in these processes of finding out how you wish to identify as a Jew. I wish you success on this journey.
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