Recently a good friend of mine in the States who is Catholic asked me to buy her a beautiful Israeli chapel veil for when she goes to Mass. After all, I’m sure that she thought it’s the Holy Land, so they must be sold everywhere. In all my touring the country and visiting holy sites of many different religions I have only once seen chapel veils – actually mantillas worn by a group of Mexican ladies on a pilgrimage to the Annunciation Basilica in Nazareth.
Israel is a unique place in that there are a majority of people who do cover their heads. Just by looking, one can tell which religious or ethnic group a person belongs to. Religious Jewish men wear different styles of kippah – knit, black velvet, small, large- and different styles of hats depending upon their sect. Druze men wear white knit caps or maroon fez-type turbans, depending upon their rank. And some of the Muslim men wear tight-fitting knit caps. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to see a Bedouin shepherd sporting his kaffiyeh tied around his head with black rope.
But it’s the women who really take head covering to a whole new fashion level in Israel. The married women are the ones who cover their heads here. So if the woman is religious, right away you know her marital status (secular people or hiloni as well as Christians keep their heads bare). Druze ladies are the plainest, wearing long black robes and white veils. Muslim women cover their entire heads and the neck and throat with a hijab, which gives them a very distinct look.
Orthodox Jewish women also keep their heads covered all the time. Whereas there are no Biblical or Scriptural injunctions that are given, it is a tradition rooted in ancient times. It is both a sign of respect to G-d, that one is under His authority; a sign of one’s marital status; a beautiful crown for a queen; and for some, a sign of modesty in reserving the most beautiful parts of herself for her husband only. It is NOT a sign of feminine subjugation, as the man also covers his head in the religious household.
That said, let’s move to the fun part… the fashion. The headwrap is a creative and beautiful extension of a typical Israeli look. Called a mitpachat, meet-PAH-khat, in Hebrew or tichel, TIH-khel in Yiddish, it is a single or multiple layers of scarves wrapped around the head. Sometimes a bobo is used, which is a padded pouff used to add extra volume and a wig band is essential for keeping the mitpachat in place.
Although married women of all ages wrap their heads in scarves and laces, some of the older women and women who don’t like that look for them, opt for hats. Sometimes berets in felt wool or fluffy knit are worn, others sport jaunty little caps which range from extremely casual to very dressy (weddings, Shabbat, holidays).
Not up here in the periphery where things are more casual, but in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the center you can see amazing fashion statements. I think it’s the influence of French and British Jewish women, but I’ve been recently seeing the most gorgeous fascinator hats worn by young married ladies of style. There are entire shops which just sell hair accessories… and some of the selections are very, very expensive!
The next look, worn by many ladies in the Chabad sect, is the sheitel, SHAY-tl. Be very, very fooled. These are wigs. Not yo momma’s wigs either. Beautiful, long full, silky, luscious locks which cover the head, but feel and look incredibly natural. I remember pointing out women in sheitels to my husband when we first got here and he was pretty incredulous. If you didn’t know, there’s no way you could tell. It’s now become a fun ”game” for us, especially in the larger cities. And of course, they come in all lengths, colors, textures – and price ranges from expensive to exorbitant!
So there you have it, the diverse world of Israeli fashion. One of the most popular items to buy at the shuk, the markets, here in Israel are pashminas. They are huge scarves made of lamb’s wool and woven in the most gorgeous variety of patterns and colors. Many tourists buy them to wear as shawls for cool evenings. Some use them for table coverings or even wall hangings. Jewish women collect them to use as mitpachat. I have a large basket full of them, yet I have never once seen a chapel veil for sale. Not in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem, nor in Nazareth or any other shop selling to pilgrims here. Although it is a rule that one must dress modestly upon entering a church here(no shorts, bare legs or arms), head coverings are not required. I leave you with a few more samples-