Laws of Modesty — A Female Perspective

By Devra Ferst

Published February 25, 2009, issue of March 06, 2009.
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Women of countless faiths and cultures cover their hair for religious reasons. While contemporary society has often tried to assign specific meaning or intention to this act of devotion, these women are rarely asked what significance their head coverings hold for them and why they choose to observe religious laws of modesty. Graduate student and photographer Michele Silver seeks to change this, through her master’s thesis and photojournalism project, “Women and Hair Covering.”

Her Lens: A hassidic rebbetzin blesses the shabbat candles.
MICHELE SILVER
Her Lens: A hassidic rebbetzin blesses the shabbat candles.

An exhibit of Silver’s work, currently on display at the Rubin-Frankel Gallery at Boston University Hillel, presents 30 photographs of Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mennonite and Christian women who cover their hair. Slightly more than half the women pictured are Jewish, of various religious strains, reflecting Silver’s initial interest in her own community’s requirement of hair covering. This interest ultimately led her to question why numerous religions around the globe require a similar observance. “Why is hair such a big deal?” Silver asked.

The women, who are pictured primarily alone or in small groups, are captured in their homes, backyards and places of work, and in times of worship. The mundane and private nature of the locations and events convey the beauty, modesty and intimacy of each woman’s decision to cover her hair. Accordingly, the images are displayed with small placards including only the woman’s religion and location, and a brief description of what she is doing.

Silver explains that hair covering for these women is “an expression of their feelings and spirituality.

“There were different reasons why different religions cover their hair, but the feeling of faith, the feeling of modesty, the feeling of belief and of a commitment to God was universal amongst the women,” she said. “It’s not extremism, it’s not fundamentalism. This is their personal expression.”

The Rubin-Frankel Gallery at the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at Boston University, 213 Bay State Road, Boston; through March 13, Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.-9 p.m.; free. (617-353-7634, www.bu.edu/hillel/gallery)


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