You Shall Pursue

April 5, 2013

Lipstick and Pearls and Tefillin, Part 2

Filed under: Spirituality — Tags: , , , , — marleyweiner @ 12:30 pm

Issues of gender and dress, especially around ritual garments, have been coming up a lot for me lately. The first time I wrapped tefilin, I felt like I was in “Orthodox man drag” (I’m recovering from this gut reaction, but slowly). I still don’t like wearing kippot because I feel like it’s a very masculine garment that doesn’t jibe with my gender presentation. I’d rather wrap my hair to cover it during prayer, but that carries a whole other set of assumptions about my level of religiosity (and relationship status). Yesterday, I wore a headscarf to shul, and I felt like I was in “Orthodox woman drag.” And I’m also trying to decide whether or not to start wearing tzitzit.

tefillin are the wrappy arm things

tefillin are the wrappy arm things



I wonder what it means that so many ritual garments are coded “male” in my mind, and about the huge internal barrier that makes me feel conflicted about taking on certain rituals, especially wrapping tefilin. Breaking gender boundaries, even if they are internal, is a challenging thing. Especially when you are so closely aligned with a more traditional gender presentation in other ways.

And also part of it is about my hesitancy around looking “Orthodox” or “religious.” Clothing is a powerful marker of group identification, and  I’m still struggling to figure out where I sit between my secular/Reform roots, and the more religious life that I feel myself drawn towards.

Long story short, I never thought so many of my internal struggles around my Jewish identity and practice would come out in my clothing choices!


  1. It’s an interesting question for anyone who’s female, liberal, and religiously observant. I find for whatever reason that wearing a tallit is absolutely fine, but tefillin really don’t work for me. I don’t know how much has to do with gender and how much has to do with signifiers associated with orthodoxy. It’s complicated.

    Comment by Leiah Moser — April 5, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

  2. My parents gave me my tefillin when I was twelve (and a tiny Conservative feminist), so they never felt like drag to me. I have more trouble with the yarmulkeh — I prefer it as ritual headcoverings go, but I feel odd wearing it in Orthodox spaces. I end up wearing scarves that don’t cover all of my hair instead. This almost works, but it makes me look like a married woman on the low end of frumness. As a lesbian in a committed, but not married, relationship, I’m more weirded out by the idea of “married drag” than “Orthodox drag.” (Especially since I’m most likely to wear that scarf when going to my partner’s family’s not-at-all-modern Orthodox shul, generally accompanied by my genderqueer-but-wearing-girl-drag-under-protest partner.)

    Comment by manuscriptgeek — April 5, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

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