Covered Up is an emotional trip marking one woman’s struggle between personal choice and ultra-orthodox Jewish tradition.
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.
Published date: July 14, 2018

One woman says that it took her seven years to get used to it. Another one struggles daily to put it on in the morning – she has a lot of negative memories of her wedding day, when it became a permanent part of her everyday life.

This is about wigs. Some ultra-orthodox Jewish women wear them, and in the beginning of Covered Up a number of them talk about this with surprising honesty. In their world the wig is an outer sign of a woman’s marital status. It is a protective shield and a sign of her personal integrity. Behind the wig is a very private world.

Free will

But still these women talk to the camera. The Israeli director Rachel Elitzur comes from an ultra-orthodox background herself, and in her film she gives a vivid description of the tension between her free, personal will and the massive social pressure from her surroundings. She wanted to break free, and now she has turned this process into a captivating film.

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She grew up in a small rural community in northern Israel. Everybody was ultra-orthodox. She describes it as a place full of cows and lots of flowers. There were no televisions, no visits to the cinema, no computers, but she read a lot. We meet her after the screening of the film at the Docaviv 2018 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 school for girls. When she turned 20 she got married to a man that had just moved to Israel from the US.

«In ultra-orthodox Judaism a married woman’s hair belongs to her husband.»

«Before the wedding I bought a wig,» she recalls. «I just did it without thinking. But when I got divorced a few years later the questions started to pop up.»

After the divorce the wig bothered her emotionally. In ultra-orthodox Judaism a married woman’s hair belongs to her husband, and being a divorced woman this intimacy interfered with her feelings. She wanted the divorce to be total.

This turned out to be easier said than done.

No way back

In the film, Rachel consults with her parents. Her father explains that there is no way back. Yes, she has divorced, which in itself is a problem in the ultra-orthodox world, but that does not give her any opportunity to return to her status as unmarried. Her father …

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