Theater of Cruelty

The search for compromises

Covered Up
Regissør: Rachel Elitzur
( Israel)

JEWISHNESS / Covered Up is an emotional film about a woman's inner struggle between personal choices and ultra-Orthodox Jewish tradition.


One woman says it took her seven years to get used to it. Another struggles daily to wear it in the morning – she has many negative memories from her wedding day, when it became a permanent part of her everyday life. It's all about wigs. Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish women wear them, and in the beginning Covered Up some of them talk about this tradition with astonishing honesty. In their world, the wig shows that a woman has the status of married. It is a protective shield and a sign of her personal integrity. Behind the wig there is a very private world.

Free will

These women still talk to the camera. Israeli director Rachel Elitzur herself has an ultra-Orthodox background, and in the film she portrays a vivid portrayal of the tension between her free, personal will and the massive social pressure of her surroundings. She wanted to tear herself apart – and now she has made this process a fascinating film.

The wig is a protective shield and a sign of the woman's personal

Elitzur grew up in a small, rural community in the northern part of Israel. Everyone around her was ultra-Orthodox. She describes it as a place full of cows and lots of flowers. There were no televisions there, no cinema, no computers – but books, and Elitzur read a lot. New Time met her recently, right after the screening of Covered Up at the Docaviv Film Festival in Tel Aviv.

"When I was 17, we moved to Bnei Brak." Elitzur refers to an ultra-
Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, where she attended a strictly religious girls' school. When she turned 20, she married a man who had just moved to Israel from the United States. "Before the wedding, I bought a wig," she recalls. "I just did it, without thinking about it. But when I got divorced a few years later, the questions started to pop up. ”

After the divorce, the wig tormented her emotionally. In ultra-Orthodox Judaism, a woman's hair belongs to her husband, and as a divorced woman, this intimacy conflicted with her feelings. She wanted the divorce to be total. It turned out to be easier said than done.

No way back

In the film, Rachel seeks advice from her parents. The father says there is no going back. Yes, she has divorced, which in itself is a problem according to the ultra-Orthodox tradition, but this still gives her no opportunity to return her status as unmarried. Her father is a warm man, and his frustration at not being able to be there completely for his daughter is clear. Both face social norms that are very difficult to escape. When Rachel asks her father about his chances of finding a new husband, his only advice is to pray to God and hope for the best.

Covered Up Director Rachel Elitzur

The grandmother puts things in perspective: She wears no wig. When she was young, the norms were less strict and she had more freedom of choice. Would she have invested 10 000 shekel in a wig? Absolutely not. What about the 1000 shekel? No way. How much then? The grandmother might have considered 100, but both she and Rachel know that this is an unrealistic price. She says that a wig at least resembled a wig in her day. Today they are so skillfully made that you cannot distinguish them from real hair. So what's the point then? The grandmother considers it a waste of money and lists a number of worthy causes she would rather support. Still, she is not prejudiced, because she understands what social pressure is attached to the whole thing.

In ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the woman's hair belongs to her husband.

"There is no world thing about wigs in the Holy Scriptures. It just says that a woman should cover her hair, ”says Daniel Sperberunder during the reception after the screening. He is Rabbi Rachel consulting with the movie. He is also a professor of Talmudic Studies at the Bar Ilan University, known for his opinion that the interpretation of divine commandments has become much stricter in recent decades. "It's a big problem when that kind of thing becomes an irrevocable injunction, and completely absurd when a wig becomes a true copy of real hair."

New acknowledgment

Rachel has her first encounter with a secular hairdresser who admires her hair. Little by little, she becomes confident that she has something that is beautiful and natural, and that she feels good in her own body. Previously, she worked in an ultra-orthodox company where there was no question of throwing the wig. Then she got a place at the religious film school Ma'aleh in Jerusalem, where she found a far more open atmosphere – and where she decided to make this film.

Rachel is aware that she shares a problem with many women from all religions: She has no desire to break with her faith, but she would like to find the right compromise. "I handled the stressful situation after making my decision by praying to God," she smiles. "I had come to a point where my wig was worn, and I had to invest in a new one if I wanted to continue using it. A new wig costs 13 000 shekel, and I thought it was a lot of money for something I didn't need or want. ”

Elitzur wears long, black gloves when we meet. For her, it's another step away from inhibiting norms. An ultra-Orthodox woman is not allowed to greet men, but she would like the opportunity. The gloves give her a certain opportunity, without giving up the tradition completely. Another compromise, which is largely the essence of her film.

The film was shown at the film festival
Docaviv in Tel Aviv.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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