Why Some Hasidic Jewish Women Shave Their Heads

Most Hasidic Jewish men and women adhere to a strict dress code with historical roots. Hasidic Judaism developed in 18th-century Eastern Europe, and a lot of the Hasidic wardrobe stems from the dress of that time.

Rachel Freier, judge in Brooklyn's 5th District, the first Hasidic woman to win elective office in the US.

What's Hasidic Judaism?

Hasidic Judaism is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that started in 18th-century Europe. Its traditions still evoke the olden days. Hasidic people follow Orthodox law even more closely than Orthodox Jewish people, which means they don't typically own TVs or go to movie theaters, and they have a fraught relationship with the internet. Many only use it for business purposes.

Today, it's unusual to see Hasidic Jewish people outside of Israel and Brooklyn, but this wasn't always the case. Hasidism was quite popular when it was founded, but it was almost totally wiped out during the Holocaust. Now, even in Brooklyn, Hasidic enclaves are mostly confined to three neighborhoods: Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park. These communities are tight-knit and insular, with their own schools and, in a way, their own language — many Hasidic people still speak Yiddish, a Jewish dialect widely spoken before the Holocaust. They have many other unique norms, too, which brings us to ...

Why Do Some Hasidic Women Shave Their Heads?

Hasidism comes with a pretty strict dress code. Men typically wear black pants, white shirts, and black jackets. They also often have long beards and curls on either side of their heads, called payot. For women, modesty is key, which means wearing long skirts and long sleeves and covering their hair with a scarf, hat, or wig, especially once they're married.

Hair-covering is common throughout Orthodox Judaism, but some Hasidic women take it a step further and shave their heads. In the Hasidic tradition, uncovered hair is similar to nudity — and, according to some Hasidic leaders, the only way to ensure modesty is for women to shave their heads altogether. (That way, a stray hair can't pop out of a wig; there's no hair to stray.) Some women report feeling violated by this tradition; others say they're cool with it; still others note that this isn't a universal practice, and some Hasidic women wear wigs without shaving their heads.

If you'd like to learn more about Hasidic Judaism, check out "Hasidism: A New History" by David Biale. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.  

Hasidic Traditions and Rules of Modesty

Written by Curiosity Staff August 1, 2017

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