Kallah's Choice: Hair Covering Practices of Orthodox Women in an American Small Town

Open Access
Milligan, Amy K.
Graduate Program:
American Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 20, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Simon Josef Bronner, Dissertation Advisor/Co-Advisor
  • Simon Josef Bronner, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Charles David Kupfer, Committee Member
  • Michael Lee Barton, Committee Member
  • Kamini Grahame, Committee Member
  • Andrea Lieber, Special Member
  • hair
  • Jewish
  • Judaism
  • folklore
  • bodylore
  • Lancaster
  • synagogue
  • women
Hair covering serves as a siman nisuin (sign of marriage) for many Orthodox Jewish women. This ethnographic study profiles the hair covering practices of a small-town Orthodox synagogue that struggles with the tensions of acculturation, assimilation, and identity in a context where it is difficult to live as an observant Jew. Using hair covering as an entry point into the lives of these women, an understanding of the empowerment of the choice to cover (or not to cover) hair emerges that demonstrates the congregation's commitment to safeguarding traditional Judaism. I argue with comparative cultural, psychological, ethnographic analysis that women's uplifting of hair covering as a ritualized behavior is critical to the survival of Orthodoxy in their situated context.