I’d like to respond to a number of issues in this post. For one, I’d like to respond to a number of criticisms of my video post, “Going to the mikvah with your ‘nappy’ hair”.
1. Too negative.
I hate this criticism. Heehee, H-A-T-E. I feel like I hear it every time I write something critical of the Jewish community or critical of anything really. People want you to talk and walk softly, make it pretty, make it less ugly. But I’m not that kind of writer. I’m blunt. I tell it like it is. My husband’s been trying to get me to talk and walk soft for over three years and well, you can see how it’s going….
In this video, I wasn’t highlighting something positive about the mikvah, but something negative and so indeed, I was negative in the video. Duh.
2. Making a big deal out of something small.
This is not a small issue, as I pointed out in the video, to women with hair like mine. It is one thing to get criticized about your hair when you’re fully clothed, it is quite another to get criticized when you are completely naked in front of a complete stranger. Get it? Good.
(Incidentally, a white Jewish friend told me a mikvah lady has commented repeatedly rather unfavorably on her body parts! Apparently, someone’s got to start “mikvah lady sensitivity training”!)
3. This makes me want to never go to the mikvah!
Oy vey, this was certainly never my intention. I hope that the fact that I continue to write critical things about the Orthodox Jewish community but very much so maintain my membership in the Orthodox Jewish community shows how much I love Judaism in spite of the criticisms I have.
I love going to the mikvah. Yes, really. Every single time, it’s a reminder of the first time I went for my conversion ceremony and how far I’ve come since then. Often, I wish I could languish in the mikvah and focus on that instead of doing a hit-and-run-dip as so frequently happens.
Do I have criticisms about niddah and “family purity”? Yeah? So? Who doesn’t? I’ve never met a woman who thought that being in niddah was awesome (though many women will tell you that keeping the laws of family purity does affect their relationship with their husband in not just negative but positive ways).
4. I said detangling my hair without conditioner was barbaric.
My rabbi agreed. After three years of pulling out my hair LITERALLY, I talked to him about this issue because I finally formulated it into a simple question: “Can I use conditioner to comb through my hair and then shampoo it out?” Duh. (Update: Many people have contacted me to say that one can use conditioner and NOT have to shampoo it out.)
5. This isn’t a criticism but I want to point out, I did not feel comfortable talking about mikvah issues on my blog. I learned really early on that talking about “going to the mikvah” was just not done in the Orthodox Jewish community because doing so is seen as immodest for many reasons, including that your mikvah visits are supposed to between you, your husband and the mikvah lady. I decided to write/talk about this issue after many friends coerced me.
Okay, that’s it for my response to the criticisms about my video.
Part 2 of “Going to the Mikvah with your ‘Nappy’ Hair”:
First, let me state that I am not black. Yes, according to outdated American standards of race, the one-drop rule means that I have enough African ancestry that I could go around calling myself black. (Though many-most-people would just roll their eyes and look at me, and my light skin, with confusion). As someone of Dominican ancestry, I am multiracial…black, white and a little sprinkle of everything else (native American possibly if they weren’t all dead by the time the Spaniards, well, you know).
So once again, I am not black. And despite this, I am going to write about an issue that is considerably out of my depth and I probably should have waited until after watching “Good Hair” to write about. Mostly, I’m writing this because no one seems to be writing about this. I know. I’ve Google-ed.
A number of African-American Jewish unmarried women and prospective converts have told me that they are concerned about how “going to the mikvah” will effect how they will be able to style their hair. (And please, please, stop yourself before you react with: just shave your head! Just shave your head! Just shave your head! What’s the big deal? Just shave your head! Why are black women so obsessed with their hair? Shave your head! Wear a wig! Straighten your hair! SO NOT HELPFUL!)
As I should probably clarify, when you go to the mikvah, your hair needs to be squeaky clean and combed through so that nothing gets between you and those mikvah waters.
The first time I heard this, I thought…well, if I was still regularly straightening my hair, would this mean that I would have to get my hair done AFTER going to the mikvah every month? Probably. Interesting. Possibly “inconvenient.”
But my African-American friends thought…well, um, this means I can’t wear my hair in dreadlocks, braids, cornrows, weaves and a whole manner of other hairstyles that I, as a Latina who had only two options growing up: straightened or not (and therefore pulled into painful ponytails), cannot even imagine or name.
In my understanding, the issue is NOT JUST the expense, the time and more of having to change your hairstyle and then flip back and forth and back and forth and back. It is a question of whether (again, please read sensitively) WE MUST DO WHATEVER WE CAN FOR HALACHA (Jewish law) EVEN IF IT UNINTENTIONALLY disenfranchises black women. Something about this makes my stomach hurt. It’s…disturbing to me, I’m not even sure how to articulate why. And would the rules be different if the people explaining these laws were themselves black women?
(Update: Some people, not the lovely people that commented, said yes, we must do whatever we can for halacha no matter how it disenfranchises any woman. I was told to “Suck it up!” Oh, thanks. So helpful. Thanks. That was sarcasm, by the way.
A Shabbos spent perusing the latest newsletter from the JOFA: Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance makes me wonder otherwise. Am I an Orthodox Jewish feminist after all? Just because I think women should have…options? And just because I’m wondering what those options are within the bounds of Jewish law? I mean, why is it that every other curly-haired married woman is STILL being told that she CAN’T use conditioner in her hair to prepare for the mikvah?)
If I brought this issue up with a rabbi (or even most rabbis), he might pass out. I don’t think they’re ready to conceive that Jewish laws around mikvah use might be infringing on the right for a woman to wear her hair any way she damn well pleases. One rabbi probably still has post-traumatic stress disorder from dealing with my many questions about my issues with headcovering.
So, I probably shouldn’t mention to him that maybe, to me at least, this all looks a little bit racist/racial or at the very least, Euro-centric (because how many white European rabbis ever had to deal with women’s hair issues much less “black” hair issues?).
Am I starting a fire where there is no cause to? Sigh. Okay, now you can tell us to shave our heads (not!).
A fan, and friend, Ann Ephrat Lapin, noted on my Facebook page: “My dad told of the Abayudaya women all having gone out to have corn rows put in prior to their (rabbis’) arrival…then the rabbis having to insist they remove them before immersing. The rabbis felt so bad, they paid for them to get their hair done again after the mikvah.”
So, when your rabbi pays for your hairstylist because of mikvah-related issues, that means you’re “tight,” no?