What do you think of women’s roles in traditional Judaism vs Conservative/Reform/etc? It seems strange to me that women can’t lead prayer/services or wear tallit.
I think certain feminists (not just in the Jewish world) have made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that being equal means being like men. Femininity is rejected and representations of masculinity are rushed toward eagerly. Instead of working to increase the regard in which traditionally feminine things are held, they uphold the notion that traditionally feminine things are inferior and reject them in favor of traditionally masculine things.
And that’s not my feminism. Men and women are different and Hashem put us on this planet for slightly different purposes, and there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. What’s wrong is the implication that women and femininity are inferior because of the differences, and anything that results from that implication.
It seems strange to me that women can’t lead prayer/services or wear tallit. At the Conservative synagogue I go to, women wear tallit and kippot, do women ever wear kippot in Orthodox?
No. Some veeeeeeeeery Modern Orthodox rabbis will allow tzitzis, but even a lot of them say it should be done in a private way, not a way people can see, because to do it publicly is haughty. In that same world there is something known as “partnership minyanim,” which rely on a huge number of leniencies to allow women to lead certain parts of the service. But personally I find the whole thing very sketchy - the leniencies they use are from various different rabbis, who might each have allowed ONE of the necessary leniencies, but would never allow the full combination of leniencies they use.
But given what I said above, that’s not a problem that women don’t do those things. The thing is, the kind of feminism I described above, which exists outside of Jewish circles too, has an additional aspect that exists specifically within the Jewish world - namely, that these people only really recognize public, well-known ritual acts as the practice of Judaism. Suddenly leading davening, wearing a tallis and/or kippa, and putting on tefillin are the absolute center of Jewish practice, and a Judaism that doesn’t include those things feels incomplete. The problem is that that’s not all Judaism is. Judaism encompasses every single part of life, even how you put on your shoes (yes, there’s a halacha for that). So people who feel that women need to be doing those things in order to be fulfilled Jews are missing the point, are overlooking the vast majority of Jewish life. This is usually not their fault or anything, it’s a fault in the society around them. They really, really want to be Jewish and feel Jewish and do Jewish things, which is an amazing and correct impulse, but it gets to the point where it’s (not that they think of it as such) no longer about what Hashem wants from them, it’s about what makes them feel Jewish.
There are 613 mitzvos. But no one person is capable of doing all 613. Some things only men can do, some things only women can do, some things only kohanim can do, and so on. Some things certain categories of people aren’t obligated in, but they can do them. Others, they are both not obligated in and not allowed to do. This is because Hashem created the world in such a way that different individuals, and different categories of people, have different spiritual makeups. When we do a mitzvah, we are elevating part of the physical world into the spiritual realms. Some people have the spiritual capacity to elevate some things, while other people have the spiritual capacity to elevate other things, and some things NONE of us have the capacity to elevate (for example, treif food. That’s why it’s treif - because we can’t elevate it). None of these groups are inferior to the others, they just each have their own special talents. Just as a child who is more gifted at language arts is not superior or inferior to a child who is more gifted at math (where each child lacks the other’s strength), so a person who has the spiritual capacity for elevating tefillin is neither inferior nor superior to the person who has the spiritual capacity to elevate going to the mikvah after the time of niddah.
Now, let’s say you had two tasks you needed to accomplish, and two people who could accomplish them. You have a young, extremely strong person who is not particularly intelligent. You have a middle-aged certified genius who spent their life studying mathematics but who is not physically impressive. The two tasks you need to accomplish are moving an incredibly heavy object, and solving a complex equation. Would it make sense to assign the young, buff person to solve the equation and the older, weaker person to move the object? Of course not. You would play to each person’s strengths to get both tasks done.
So too with the way Hashem commanded us in the mitzvos he gave us with the intent of accomplishing the task of elevating the world.
Or do unmarried women ever cover their heads? (I know married women traditionally cover their hair.)
Some Sefardi women have a custom to cover their heads whenever they daven or make a bracha, regardless of their marital status. However, it should be pointed out that covering one’s head (as with a kippa, or this Sefardi custom) is a completely unrelated concept to a married woman covering her hair, and has a different purpose.
(2nd part of the ask answered privately because I wasn’t able to be so helpful with the questions in it)