I am in the process of converting to Judaism from being a hellenic pagan (yes, there is a small revivalist movement, and yes, I am deeply grateful I was led away from that path) and I had a specific question about transferable practices and items.

As part of my former path, I had covered my hair for years, and adopted a much more modest dress code. Although this practice is actually part of what led me away from paganism, I am concerned about how to fulfill the modesty requirements if I initially adopted the practice in service to another god. Since committing to the conversion process, I have stopped covering my hair out of respect because I did not want there to be any confusion about why I was doing it (either for myself or for others). I would, however, like to resume modest dress including hair covering if possible. Can I resume the practice, and if so, when? Also, what is the status of the scarves I used to cover with?

So far, I have found information on items used as sacrifices to idols, but that is the closest I've come to finding an answer. My difficulty here is that the scarves themselves were never used as sacrifices, but rather as part of a duty. They are still perfectly usable and in good condition, and they were never "given," so to speak. I also never had a physical rendering of an idol at any point (I am not sure that matters, but mention it in case that distinction does matter.)

Would it be permissible to use them, and if so, what would I need to do to them, if anything? If not, what would be the most appropriate thing to do with them?

Edit: Background information--

Here is a link that explains some of the background of it: http://lady-magique-et-lady-chance.tumblr.com/post/145507542051/veiling-and-binding. I avoided too much description here because I wasn't sure if giving that kind of detail would be problematic. As you'll see from the link, it was related to hair binding, and so if I should get rid of my scarves, I should honestly get rid of my hair ties as well. The scarves themselves weren't specially designed for the purpose, contained no unique imagery or symbols, and were not offerings. I chose scarves over simple braids because I liked the added privacy and because it was specifically a devotion to Hestia (modesty is one of her attributes): http://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/Hestia.html.

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    Your title is at variance with the content of your question. The title says " items used in service of another deity upon conversion". The content says "My difficulty here is that the scarves themselves were never used as sacrifices, but rather as part of a duty." See my comment to MortyV's answer. Please clarify if the scarves were used in service of the avodah zoroh or just as clothing to be modest. Aug 21, 2016 at 21:00
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    I'm really sorry; I'm not sure if I can answer that correctly. I took up dressing much more modestly as a devotion, but the scarves were never offered up. The act was the offering, not the items. Does that clarify it? If not I can try to explain further . . . Thank you for your answers.
    – Rachael
    Aug 21, 2016 at 21:13
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    Hi Rachael and welcome to Mi Yodeya! I hope you enjoy your stay here, and I'm sure the mods will be around soon to give you the full welcome treatment. In the meantime, I'd like to underscore that you should "treat information you find here as if it came from a crowd of your friends," and you should see whichever Rav is helping you with your conversion for specific details for your circumstances.
    – DonielF
    Aug 21, 2016 at 21:18
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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya Rachel! If you don's mind, consider adding in a basic description of the relationship of the practice of hair covering, to the idea(s) of paganism. (or add a link). Better understanding of the role of the scarf; particularly for those with very little background knowledge of paganism would be useful. Hatslacha Rabbah.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 21, 2016 at 22:43
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    If you are currently single, then you can leave your hair uncovered until you are married. That would show the difference. Aug 21, 2016 at 23:41

2 Answers 2

  1. The OP asks if it is proper to continue to adhere to a lifestyle of modest custom (women's dress code; specifically: covering the hair) even though she once did so as a duty to a false god. (revivalist Hellenic Paganism)

  2. The OP then asks about being allowed to keep/use scarves which were once used to cover her hair, in these practices of modesty, in service to a false god. (as above)

2b. The OP (Rachael) is currently converting to Judaism. Welcome, much success!:)

Answer to # 1 :

Although the Torah says: "..."Do not follow any of their (Gentile) traditions" (Leviticus 18:3), that is only where the custom is irrational, specifically rooted in Gentile religion, or is forbidden or deemed immoral by the Torah. However, if the Gentile practice is rational (eat healthy etc.) it is permitted to copy them. (see Rav Sampson Raphael Hirsch; Horeb 505.)

The Rambam generally explains this Mitzvah as an obligation for the Jew to be distinct and separate from the nations in our dress, and actions. Everyone should distinctly be able to tell we are Jews. (Hilchos A"Z 11:1)

Therefore: We must act as Jews and may (should) do rational things. The fact that some Gentiles also act rationally and correctly in their behavior as human beings does not force us to change. Just the opposite is true. We hope that all the nations of the world should be righteous and live rationally and correctly according to Torah values! Jews are after all, a light unto the nations.

If so, a Jewish woman (and practicing convert to Judaism) should dress modestly in the way of "tznius".

Besides, what is the alternative?? Would someone specifically suggest that Jewish women wear bikinis and mini-skirts, because some Gentiles suddenly decided to dress modestly??!! That would obviously be ridiculous!

Revivalist Hellenic Paganism actually has no book of law or text of tradition. The general concept they have is to adhere to "piety". This is generally described as repaying kindness, having guests, and living in moderation etc. These are simply rational ideas sometimes taken from the Torah; or just described as "being a good person". The only mistake is that these Pagans believe these life rules to be the will of many gods who live on Mt. Olympus etc.

The idea of being "good" or "modest" is not disqualified simply because these misguided people think "the gods" said so. :)

As far as covering one's hair: Jewish women usually do not cover their hair if they are single. Married women do so.

In any case, the general rule is: If it is general modesty, or Jewish tznius code, then it is obviously OK even if idolaters also do this. If it is a very specific way in modest dress, that is noticeably peculiar to a sect of idolaters, then a Jew should not imitate it.

Answer to #2 :

Moses told Pharoah that Pharoah would also send sacrifices with the Jews on his behalf when they left Egypt. (Ex. 10:25) This is one source where we see that a Gentile who recants his idolatrous belief, causes the idol to become permissible for use. Otherwise, how could Moses accept animals from Pharoah to sacrifice to G-d? The Egyptians worshiped animals. It must be that Pharoah, realizing that the Jewish G-d was real and his animals were not really gods, nullified the animals' idolatrous status by disbelieving in them. Then he gave them to Moses. At that point they were kosher.

See also Talmud A"Z 64a-b. The Gemara discusses that people who were in the conversion process were advised to sell any idolatrous items before becoming Jews so they could benefit from selling them. This is because converts obviously no longer believed in the false gods, so their idolatrous material was nullified and therefore permitted.(The thing is once they were Jews, they could no longer do this because it would look bad.)

Also, please note: An idol worshipped by a Jew can never be nullified; only an idol worshipped by a Gentile can be nullified.

But, a scarf worn to be modest, is not an idol or an item of idolatry, even if the person practiced modesty for the sake of a false god. So keeping it or selling it is certainly OK.

However, if it is obvious that a piece of clothing is a uniform for that idolatrous group (nun's habit) it shouldn't be worn even if it is "modest" . :)

I hope this helped. As always, consult your conversion Rav. Much Success!

  • Great point about rationality and non-incompatibility with Judaism as the tests for whether a Gentile custom can be followed. A world in which nothing invented or developed by a non-Jew could be used would be a very limited one indeed. Take something as simple and useful as the mathematical branch of Algebra (al-jabr), something not grounded in any religion and that is universally useful, but invented and developed in the Islamic world. Apr 14, 2017 at 12:42
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    @RobertColumbia Thank you Robert. Great point. Although, my kids, who are in high school, may disagree about Algebra being useful. :) Apr 14, 2017 at 12:45

No way can items used for avodah zarah be used in any way, shape, or form. They are regarded as tumah, should be thrown away, and not found in your house. In my opinion, covering your hair should be farther down on your priority list than avodah zarah issues.

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    The scarves were not used for avodah zoroh! The OP says "My difficulty here is that the scarves themselves were never used as sacrifices, but rather as part of a duty." The duty was "modest dress". Aug 21, 2016 at 20:56
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    OP needs to describe what the scarves were used for.
    – madechai
    Aug 21, 2016 at 20:59
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    Yes. See my comment to the question. Aug 21, 2016 at 21:01
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    What is your source that items used for avodah zarah must be thrown away, as opposed to not using them for avodah zarah anymore? Also, can you give a hard source that says "covering your hair should be farther down on your priority list than avodah zarah issues"?
    – DonielF
    Aug 21, 2016 at 21:19
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    avodah zarah 13A: The following question was then asked: R. Nathan says: On the day when remission is made of the usual tax towards idolatrous purpose, the proclamation is made: 'Whosoever will take a wreath and put it on his head and on the head of his ass in honour of the idols, his tax will be remitted; otherwise his tax will not be remitted!' How should the Jew act who is present there? Shall he put it on? That means that he is enjoying [the odour of idolatrous articles]! Shall he not put it on? Then he confers a benefit [of paying tax towards idolatry]! Cont.
    – madechai
    Aug 21, 2016 at 21:40

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