And while we're on the subject of covering up...
Hadassah Sabo Milner, an Orthodox Brit currently living in Canada, writes about her changing emotions about covering her hair:
When I was first married, years ago, I didn’t want to cover my hair, I just did it because it was asked of me. Almost every time I covered it I felt like I was putting shackles on. I never researched it, never wanted to understand the reasons why. I just went along with the flow – shalom bayit, y’know? I know there are a lot of women out there who feel the same way, and yet they plod along because it is expected of them.
At the time that I uncovered my hair, about 10 days after receiving my Get, I did so after a lot of conscious thought and reflection... My Get happened mere weeks after we separated. I was in so much deep pain and suffering and at that time, I needed, for myself, to physically show signs of my grief (other than crying all day long wherever I was – that gets old quickly), to work through the grief and the pain and the anguish and all of that.
It was never about “not married any more so who needs to cover their hair, I am doing what I want”. I needed to do it to help heal my spirit. I needed to show myself and the world that I was not the same person I was when I was married.
By the time last year’s barmitzvah preparations were in full swing and the barmitzvah boy asked that I wear a sheitel and not a hat to the festivities, I had to do some tremendous soul searching... Standing there, on the day of the barmitzvah, watching my son lain his parshah, my heart swelling with enormous pride and love and gratitude to G-d, I knew I had come full circle. I knew my mourning was very much over. I let go of the past, of the pain, of the anger and bitterness. That day marked my son’s barmitzvah but also in some ways my rebirth.
Since that day I have been lucky in finding my soul mate, and in February we celebrated our wedding, and the merging of two lively households. I wore a sheitel to my wedding. I cover my hair now when I leave the house. I am a married lady, and it is what’s right for me.
Many religious men take it for granted that their wives will cover their hair, but they have no idea what a difficult mitzvah this is to keep. I struggled for so long with it, and it was only in the absence of keeping this mitzvah that I learned to appreciate the finer points of it. I wish that when I had first got married that there were classes to explain the whys and wherefores of hair covering, to help us come to terms with it. As girls and teenagers, we obsess about our hair, and then all of a sudden we are expected to cover it. It’s a lot to have to deal with."
A reminder that in our religion, too, covering one's hair is not always an issue of entirely free choice - there are social and familial pressures at play here too.
So - like the burka - should sheitls be banned?
The difference, I think, is that wearing a burka makes it difficult to interact with others, obscuring a woman's personality and turning her into a faceless entity.
A sheitl may be uncomfortable and unwanted (for some), but it does not obscure a woman's essence. It is not oppressive, nor does it interfere with public order.
In addition, a burka is a political statement to do with radical Islam, not just a religious (and social) symbol like the sheitl.