Musings on 'Jewish Hair'

The buzz about “Good Hair,” Chris Rock’s new documentary about black hair, has got me thinking about “Jewish hair”: what it is, what it means, and where I — a straight-haired woman — fit into this curious piece of Jewish identity.

“Jewish hair” is a tricky thing to define, since Judaism can include people from any racial or ethnic background. And while Jews are known to have a variety of hair colors, as well as levels of curliness, “Jewish hair” seems to refer to dark, curly, and often frizzy, hair.

The first time I became aware of “Jewish hair” was when I went to an overnight for prospective students at Brandeis University. Up until that moment, sitting in a crowded upperclassmen dorm, I had never really thought about my hair as a part of my Jewish identity. But as I looked around the room, a sea of dark curls, I couldn’t help but notice that I was one of the few people with straight hair. With my light eyes and straight, brown hair, I found myself wondering if I “looked Jewish.” And even more troubling, did I want to “look Jewish?”

The introduction of Rebecca Rubin, the Jewish American Girl Doll, sparked conversation about this question a few months ago.

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Leah Berkenwald is the online communications specialist at the Jewish Women’s Archive, and a contributor to its Jewesses With Attitude blog, which cross-posts weekly with the Sisterhood.

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Musings on 'Jewish Hair'

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