Ex-Hasidic Woman Marks Five Years Since She Shaved Her Head

Leaving Ultra-Orthodoxy — and an Archaic Tradition — Behind

Then and Now: Frimet Goldberger used to wear and wig and a hat over her shaved head (left). Today she grows her hair long.
courtesy of frimet goldberger, nate lavey
Then and Now: Frimet Goldberger used to wear and wig and a hat over her shaved head (left). Today she grows her hair long.

By Frimet Goldberger

Published November 07, 2013, issue of November 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I remember the first time I felt the cold, prickly air on my newly shaved head. I remember looking in the mirror. I remember staring at the pile of auburn hair in the vanity sink of the cozy basement apartment I now shared with my husband of less than a day. I remember my mother gathering the hair into a garbage bag and disposing of it, unaffectedly. I remember placing the new wig on my bare head and fussing over the few stray hairs the shaytl makher, or wig stylist, forgot to spray into place.

The morning after my wedding, three months after my 18th birthday, my mother shaved my head, and I felt absolutely nothing. Was I supposed to feel sad at this loss? Was I supposed to feel violated? I did not. Married women shave their heads because Hashem and the rebbe command them to do so. According to the Talmud, a woman’s uncovered hair is equivalent to physical nudity. Hasidic rabbis have taken this a step further, requiring women to shave their heads to ensure that not a single hair is seen. For Satmar women like me, it is a grave sin not to shave. You would not be buried in the Satmar beys-hakhayim, and if that weren’t serious enough, you would also put your children, live and unborn, at imminent risk of terrible diseases.

The Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, famously gave emotional, tear-jerking speeches against married women growing their own hair. “Jewish daughters, our mothers and fathers gave up their lives to our Father in Heaven for the sanctity of His name, but you, their daughters, don’t want to give up even a few hairs?” he asked in a speech on Yom Kippur eve in 1951, according to “The Rebbe,” a 2010 biography by Dovid Meisels. “What does Hashem Yisbarach (God) ask of us? A few hairs! Because of a few hairs you are making yourselves lose both worlds. Jewish daughters, shave your hair and give honor to the Torah.”

The last time I buzzed off my hair — exactly five years ago — was nothing like that first time. The anniversary marks a pivotal juncture in my life, a point of momentous change that led me on a path to a new life. The day before that final shave, on an unusually warm October night, my husband and I sat at an oblong wooden table in a side room of the main Satmar synagogue, in the upstate New York village of Kiryas Joel. At the table were eight middle-aged men in black hats and suits; they sported long gray-and-white beards. I sat with my trembling hands folded on my lap and adjusted my long black skirt — part of the uber-modest ensemble I had carefully chosen hours before — for the umpteenth time, and awaited the storm.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.