Under My Hat – a mashup of memoir, sociology, history and observations – chronicles the challenges facing Jewish women straddling the tensions between an Orthodox religious life and the forces of secularism. First published in 1997, I am delighted that KTAV have republished it in 2019 – adding my 75 page introduction delving into the impact of more than 20 years of evolutionary change. My insights and analysis demonstrate how women’s scholarship and mastery of Talmudic texts, the burgeoning movement of Orthodox women clergy, enhanced ritual participation, women’s political and communal leadership and the pushback against the ‘modesty wars’ are shaping an Orthodox community that is struggling to be ‘fit for purpose’ in contemporary society.
In the first edition of Under My Hat, I modestly, but presciently, raised issues that are now reshaping the Orthodox world and have made an impact on the lives of my daughters and their contemporaries. My daughters, Avigayil and Elisheva, were on the front cover of the original edition, blissfully unaware of the purpose of this charming photo.
The book received a lot of attention at the time, and I was grateful for the interesting and challenging conversations that ensued. Recently, I realised that a new generation of young women were facing many of the same challenges, and I wanted them to read Under My Hat. But I was also aware that things had changed dramatically over the last 20 years – hence a decision to write an update reflecting on the last 20 years and I am very grateful to KTAV for bringing the book back to life.
Other things changed – I changed my hair covering to a sheitel – wig – when I returned to the workforce after a few years at home with young children. There is a code of hair-covering that assumes a certain world-view about the woman in question, but I was not going to let others define me. In fact, I was simply and self-consciously trying not to stand out. To the untrained eye, and certainly in my workplace where it was not expected, one would not have guessed that my hair was covered. My sheitel is short and very simple – so simple that when I started appearing at the school gate after work, loud whispers were wondering, ‘how come she doesn’t cover her hair anymore?’
While Under My Sheitel doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, I can assure the reader that I have many new thoughts, and another daughter, Yonina. Under My Hat asks difficult questions, acknowledging that answers may be elusive. My bold predictions for the future may infuriate, but they cannot be easily ignored.