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From veil to wig: Jewish women's hair covering.


THE PURPOSE OF THIS PAPER IS TO EXamine the practice of hair covering among Jewish women from a historical and cultural perspective. The topic deserves attention, particularly in light of the renewed observance of this practice among resurgent Orthodoxy and the Ba'alei Teshuva ("reborn" Jews) movement.(1) My interest in restudying the historical and religious sources of the practice was evoked by a stimulating halakhic exchange on the subject that appeared in Judaism.(2) Yet, modern halakhic studies tend to concentrate on the dynamics of legal issues, rather than the historical and social aspects of religious observance.

Our endeavor will focus instead on discovering how the custom grew, developed, and eventually became institutionalized in Jewish life. This approach will further elucidate the practice, since hair covering is not necessarily a matter of only halakhic interest, but, as we shall illustrate, is also subject to strong societal influences. The relevant Biblical and Talmudic sources, and their medieval and modern rabbinic interpreters, will be discussed from the historical and social point of view. Finally, some suggestions for reinterpreting this practice in light of societal changes will be offered.

Historians and anthropologists show that hair has diverse socioreligious and symbolic value in many civilizations.(3) Our interest, however, will be to isolate the meanings that hair has held specifically in Jewish civilization at different times in history. Nowhere does the Bible present an explicit command for women to cover their hair. Yet, because women in the ancient Near East, as in later Greece and Rome, veiled themselves when they went outside, one can assume that the custom probably also existed in ancient Israel. However, the function and symbolic value of hair in the Bible had little to do with the way Jewish customs developed in later centuries. Early classical rabbinic literature, namely Talmud and Midrash, presents an entirely different approach to the problem of hair covering. At that time, hair covering became not only a fashion or a custom, as in the Bible, but was objectified as a rule and regulation for women to follow as a religious obligation. Later rabbinic literature of the Middle Ages further reenforced women's hair covering as an integral part of Jewish religious observance. Only in the modern period was the practice seriously challenged as it faded from general societal convention.

Woman's Hair in the Bible

The Bible presents hair as an ornament, enhancing the appearance of a woman. The attraction of a woman's hair is poetically expressed in the Biblical Song of Songs: "Your hair is like a flock of goats from Gilead" (6:5). The Talmud not only regarded women's hair as beautiful, but as erotic; and for that reason it had to be covered.

Conversely, cutting her hair was a way to make a woman unattractive. The sole place in the Bible depicting a woman's hair being cut is in the laws of the captive woman (Deut. 21:12). After a period of one month, during which time she was permitted to mourn her family, the captor might then claim her for his wife. The fact that her hair was shaved at the beginning of her captivity, whether as a sign of her subjugation or as a part of her mourning, may also indicate to what extent hair was considered an adornment to women. The classical rabbis, including Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim, 8:5; see generally, J.H. Hertz's Edition of the Pentateuch, at Deut. 21:12), have suggested that cutting her hair made the captive less attractive to her captor, perhaps even with the intent that over the course of the month his ardor would cool and he would eventually let her go.

The practive of shaving a woman's hair upon marriage, while not directly influenced by this Biblical account, became prevalent in Central Europe and especially Hungary in the early modern period.(4) This shows that a practice which the Bible viewed as an aberration could be converted into normative religious ritual. What the Bible imposed as a sign of both subjugation and mourning was transformed by history into an expression of female "modesty." Although many rabbis inveighed against the practice, it nevertheless took hold in a number of communities.(5)

In addition to the aesthetic value of hair described in the Bible, the cutting of a nazirite's hair was associated with his transition from one status of life to another.(6) Similarly, in post-Biblical Judaism, covering of the hair signaled a transition in the female life cycle, symbolizing the departure from maidenhood into womanhood. Hair covering may not have served this function for women in the Bible, however, since there is some evidence that the unmarried girl, like her married counterpart, may also have covered her hair. Thus, the betrothed Rebecca demurely covers herself upon first sight of her intended husband (Gen. 24:65).(7) Single women may not have covered their hair in the days of the Talmud.(8) It is therefore uncertain that hair covering in the Bible held the transitional function of marking a change in status, but it may well have been a transitional marker in Talmudic times.

To summarize: woman's hair in the Bible is viewed positively, as an adornment to her beauty. It is doubtful that hair covering marked a transition from maidenhood to a married state.

Hair Covering: Law or Custom?

The approach taken by post-Biblical interpreters has been influenced by how they have categorized the practice, whether as law (halakhah) or custom. It is, therefore, appropriate at this point in our study to ask: Was hair covering a custom in the Talmudic period, or a halakhically binding rule? What is the force and authority of custom in Judaism? Religious authorities have disputed the matter through the centuries. The categories have not always been clearly distinguishable, particularly since custom in Judaism often receives the force of law. Jewish law could even be based upon custom; for example, legal rulings sometimes cited custom as a historical, authoritative precedent.(9)

Yet, custom in Judaism, unlike law, "functions without preconceived intent and anonymously."(10) Custom is formulated by the practice of the people, not decreed from on high by authorities. This means that there is a certain anarchist, populist tendency in the process. Discomfort with the undefined lines of authority inherent in custom led some rabbis to formulate the principle that all custom actually comes from earlier, forgotten law (i.e., rather than just from the people). This represents an effort to lend greater legitimacy to what already constituted usual practice.(11)

Custom has a force and dynamic of its own. It is one of the ways in which religious practice develops and is reinterpreted over time. However, the development of custom is not entirely allowed a free reign. Sometimes, a custom was deemed inappropriate, and religious authorities stepped in to fight against it. This seems to be what has happened both in the case of modern women choosing to wear wigs or choosing to uncover their hair, as will be discussed below.

Hair Covering in Classical Rabbinic Sources

In addition to law and custom, Jewish religious practice is subdivided into other categories. In our case, the obscure concept of dat Yehudit plays an important role. Literally, dat Yehudit means "Jewish Law," but this explanation does not tell the whole story. The Mishnah appears to say that the duty to cover hair is a dat Yehudit rather than a Law of Moses, clearly implying that there is a distinction between a "Mosaic Law" and a "Jewish Law" (dat Yehudit). "Mosaic Law" is apparently considered by the Mishnah to be Torah-derived, whereas "Jewish Law" seems to be Jewish practice stemming from the people, i.e., what we have described as custom. Thus, the Mishnah apparently considered hair covering to be a matter of Jewish custom. Nevertheless, the Talmud (or, Gemarah) gives Biblical foundation for the practice of hair covering and, contrary to the Mishnah, declares it to be a Torah-derived law. Furthermore, it is interesting that the term dat Yehudit is used only in connection with women's behavior, leading some to define the term as "customs specifically relating to women's modesty."(11)

Modesty laws in rabbinic literature functionally acted to render the woman inaccessible and unavailable to all but her husband. Rousselle, a cultural historian, writes in regard to ancient Rome that the veil or hood worn by an honorable woman "constituted a warning: it signified that the wearer was a respectable woman and that no man dare approach without risking grave penalties.... Although the veil was a symbol of subjection, it was also a badge of honor, of sexual reserve, and hence of mastery of the self."(12) Similarly, hair covering was a sign not only of rabbinically enjoined modesty, but of a wife belonging to a particular man, and the veil had to be worn whenever she was in mixed company or went out in public.(13)

According to the Mishnah, for a woman to go about with uncovered hair represents unacceptable conduct. In fact, such behavior is so improper that it is considered sufficient grounds for a husband to divorce his wife without benefit of compensatory financial support (ketubah). The Mishnah states:

These are they that are put away without their ketubah: a wife that transgresses the Law of Moses [dat Moshe] and Jewish custom [dat Yehudit]. What [conduct is such that transgresses the] Law of Moses? If she gives her husband untithed food, or has connection with him in her uncleanness, or does not set apart dough-offering, or utters a vow and does not fulfill it. And [what conduct is such that transgresses] Jewish custom? If she goes out with her hair unbound, or spins in the street, or speaks with any man.(14)

As we have stated, a distinction is made in this mishnaic text between the Law of Moses (dat Moshe) and Jewish law (dat Yehudit). Hair covering is clearly defined as non-Pentateuchal, a matter of custom. The fact that the Mishnah distinguishes between Pentateuchal law and Jewish custom might suggest that the latter is placed on a lower level of importance, yet both are grounds for divorce. Moreover, the severity of divorce without the benefit of the marriage contract and the monetary protection it provided for the woman should not be underestimated. The requirement of hair covering was taken seriously, even if a matter of custom.

The Talmud (in the Gemarah) attempts to minimize the distinction made by the earlier rabbis of the Mishnah. They question the categorizing of the practice as being merely custom, and argue that it should instead be understood as Pentateuchal. The rabbis, in doing this, made the practice of hair covering for women even more stringent. The Talmud selects the unhappy subject of the suspected adulteress (sotah) to demonstrate its case:

"And [what is deemed to be a wife's transgression against] Jewish practice? Going out with uncovered head." But [is not the prohibition against going out with] an uncovered head Pentateuchal; for it is written, "And he [the priest] shall parah [?] the woman's [i.e. the suspected adulteress'] head" [Num. 5:18!, and this, it was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a warning to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered head.(15)

The Talmud's claim, that hair covering is a Biblical injunction, is based upon the command in the Book of Numbers that the priest is to parah the hair of the suspected adulteress (sotah). The word parah is variously understood. We will present four sources, two from the Talmud, one from the Tosephta, and one from Midrash, to demonstrate that opinions about the word, and what exactly the priest was doing to the sotah's hair, were not uniform, in contrast to the assumption held by many today that he was uncovering her hair.

First, the Talmudic passage just cited explains it to mean "uncovered." Some interpreters claim that this is proof that the women normally had their hair covered, or the priest would not have been able to uncover it. Even if the Talmud is correct, the Biblical source cited about the sotah is only evidence that the custom was observed in Biblical times--it is not proof of the practice being Biblically ordained for all time.

The second source, an earliy Midrash known as Sifrei, offers two different, contradictory interpretations of this difficult word parah. The first view(16) states that in order to fulfill the ritual of parah, the priest had to stand behind the accused. A second, anonymous opinion(17) then adds that this Biblical rule teaches that daughters of Israel must cover their heads.

"And he shall parah the head of the woman." [This means that the] priest turns to stand behind her and performs the act of parah in order to fulfill the Biblical commandment of parah, [these are] the words of R. Ishmael. Another opinion [is that] it teaches concerning the daughters of Israel that they should cover their heads.(18)

Actually, it is unclear what the word parah means in the first statement in Sifrei, but the fact that the priest must stand behind the woman may indicate that he was taking her plaits apart. Otherwise, he could certainly tear or remove a covering from her head without being in that position. This perspective is supported by the Mishnah as well,(19) which interprets the word as meaning satar, "to loosen, or unravel [her braids]."(20) In other words, the first view was that the word parah means loosening the sotah's hair, while the second opinion supports the contradictory belief that it refers to uncovering her hair.

The medieval commentator, Rashi, explicitly supports our explanation for the first statement in Sifrei, i.e., that the priest was unraveling, not uncovering, her hair. He cites Sifrei, and explains it by adding that the priest was standing behind the woman so that he could loosen her braids. Nevertheless, he undermines the importance of this variant interpretation by concluding with the second opinion in Sifrei that from this we learn that the daughters of Israel should not uncover their heads.(21) Rashi elswhere totally ignores the explanation of "loosen," stating that parah always means "uncovering the hair."(22)

Our third example comes from the Tosephta (collection of Tannaitic teachings supplementing the Mishnah). The majority of Tosephta manuscripts do not mention undoing the woman's braided hair. They say only that the priest uncovered her head.(23) A minority of the manuscripts, however, provide an explanation that encompasses both meanings of the word parah. Adopting a measure for measure sense of retribution, this view states that just as she had spread her sheets for her lover, the priest takes the covering from her head and puts it under his feet; just as she had braided her hair for her lover, the priest dishevels it.

The Talmudic commentary on the mishnaic tractate, Sotah, offers our fourth and final source. The rabbis question (as do we) the source of a surprising mishnaic statement that not only the sotah's hair is affected, but her bosom is to be uncovered as part of her shame. After deliberation, they come to the conclusion that the woman's hair is to be loosened, but her bosom uncovered. Hence, they incorporate both meanings of parah, "to uncover," and "to loosen."(24)

Summary of Views on Parah -- To "Uncover" or "Loosen"

The evidence presented indicates that there was considerable difference of opinion concerning the translation of the pivotal word parah. Did it mean to uncover or to loosen? We have seen that while the majority of texts support the interpretation of "uncover," there is a significant minority view that accepts the meaning of "loosen." Mishnah Sotah, Sifrei and a minority of Tosephta manuscripts all include the idea of "loosening." The Talmud on Sotah also lends itself to the interpretation of "to loosen," whereas the Talmud on Ketubot embraces the opposing view, "to uncover." Despite uncertainty about the meaning of the word, it is Ketubot, with its emphasis that hair covering is Pentateuchal and based on the Biblical verse dealing with the sotah, that eventually became widely accepted by commentators like Rashi as providing the basis for Jewish practice. This is in spite of the fact that it contradicts the Mishnah upon which it is based. Despite the prevailing view that hair covering is Biblically based, the practice is not listed among the fundamental Biblical commandments, according to the taryag mizvot (rabbinic enumerations of the 613 commandments of Judaism).(25)

The Seductiveness of Eve as a Cause for Hair Covering

Instead of the sotah imagery employed so heavily in halakhic sources, aggadic traditions rely on an equivalent typology by employing the figure of Eve. They interpret the custom of hair covering as a sign of woman's shame and feeling of guilt for Eve's sin.(26) The Midrash implicitly understands Eve's attractiveness as having contributed to her temptation and seduction of the man. Consequently, it became her responsibility to modestly cover her hair, considered a sexually alluring feature that men would be powerless to resist.

Blaming women for seducing men finds fuller expression in The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan (ARN): "Why does a woman cover her head and a man not cover his head?(27) A parable. To what may this be compared? To a woman who disgraced herself and, because she disgraced herself, she is ashamed in the presence of people. In the same way Eve disgraced herself and caused her daughters to cover their heads."(28) The Midrash continues in this vein, explaining that women walk before the bier at funeral processions, heads covered, to atone for Eve's having brought death into the world.(29)

Talmudic passages dealing with hair covering do not mention the Eve story, although the notion remains that women's hair is sexually enticing. It is for this reason that one must not recite the shema prayer in front of a woman with uncovered hair.(30) Women, then, must cover their heads so as not to distract men from their prayers.

Hair Covering from the Middle Ages to Modern Times

By the time of the Middle Ages, covering of hair as a religious obligation was firmly entrenched. This is not surprising, since it was still the general societal practice for married women -- both in the Christian and Muslim world -- to cover their hair.(31) In the Jewish world, contemporary religious teachers added impetus to its observance. Rashi repeatedly emphasizes that the law of sotah teaches that Jewish women were not to uncover their heads, and his teaching certainly held great weight and reinforced the practice. Maimonides,(32) and later the authoritative code of Jewish law known as the Shulhan Arukh,(33) speak of hair covering as the accepted traditional practice for all married Jewish women.

From Veil to Wig

The first serious challenge to traditional hair covering came from the wearing of wigs, which came into vogue among the French in the 16th century. The wig was worn by both French men and women, and it eventually influenced the Jewish woman to emulate her French neighbors. The practice of wearing wigs was at first denounced by rabbinic authorities, but eventually accepted by most rabbis. Still, many pious Jewish women, accustomed to more traditional headgear, found it difficult to accept the new custom. It led to controversy in the Jewish community. Some felt that the wig itself was satisfactory headcover, while others wore a wig and put a covering over it.(34)

Cosmetic use of wigs and hair pieces was already a feature of women's styles in the Talmudic Period.(35) It was never intended in the Talmud to be a substitute for hair covering, however. Many European rabbis of this period inveighed against what appeared to them a novelty and inappropriate emulation of the "ways of the nations" (hukot ha-goyim).

The rabbis maintained that the traditional prohibition against women displaying their hair was to prevent the special feminine attraction from bringing men to unholy thoughts. The wig, they claimed, could evoke the same feelings as the women's own hair. R. Katzenellenbogen (16th century, Padua) encouraged women to accept the teachings of their leaders, even when they sometimes proved unpleasant. He adjured them not to go with uncovered hair, nor to don a wig. To beautify oneself with a wig, he argued, was as if one went uncovered, since, to the naked eye, there appeared no difference between hair and wig.(36) Other rabbis, as late as the 18th century, mustered an array of halakhic arguments to show that wigs should be prohibited. R. Jacob Emden (1697-1776) was among a number of others who disapproved of the wearing of wigs, even declaring that reading of the shema in the presence of a woman wearing a wig was prohibited.(37) On the other hand, R. Moshe Isserles (1525?-1572), in his notes to the Shulhan Arukh, declared the wig to be acceptable, and his lenient ruling was eventually accepted by Ashkenazi Jewry.(38)

No doubt great pressure was exerted by women, whose legitimate claim to the right to make themselves attractive was recognized. Though the fashion of wigs was discontinued among non-Jews, it continued among Jews as a religious necessity. Once Jewish women experienced the relative freedom of the wig, as compared to the scarf, in giving them beauty and self-respect, they refused to resume the earlier headcovering. Despite their lack of formal halakhic influence, the women made a statement through their continued wearing of the wig in the face of rabbinic opposition. The amount of documentation representing rabbinic discussion of the matter demonstrates the extent to which women were disobeying rabbinic objections.(39) Between the scarf and the wig, women chose the wig and stubbornly fought for the right to wear it.

Eventually, however, there was dissatisfaction with the wig as well, which found expression in the large numbers of women who simply stopped wearing them. By the early 20th century, R. Jehiel Epstein (author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan) deplored the lack of observance of head covering among women, already claiming that the majority of women violated its observance. However, cognizant of this most unhappy reality, he makes it clear that it is permissible to pray in the presence of women whose hair is uncovered. Epstein's ruling was societally motivated by an environment in which the practice of headcovering was no longer widely observed.

Societal mores led some rabbis to take a more lenient stance toward head covering. R. Yehoshua Babad (1754-1838) wrote that the matter depended upon the general local practice. Jewish women could do as other women of their locale did. If the (presumably modest) women of a region were not accustomed to going about with headcovering, then Jewish women could not be considered immodest if they also did not cover their hair.(40)

Rabbi J. B. Hurewitz (1868-1935) was particularly energetic in his support of Jewish women who chose to uncover their hair, a position for which he drew considerable criticism.(41) Hurewitz defended both innovations -- the wig (although he considered it ugly) and the bare head -- because he claimed that societal changes could lead to a change in this Jewish custom. Following the same line of reasoning as Babad, he argued that in a place where it is acceptable to cover the hair, a woman going against the accepted custom is regarded as immodest. Men in such a place are unaccustomed to seeing a woman's hair and will become excited at the sight of her. In this instance, there is no difference between a married and an unmarried woman. Concerning unmarried girls, Hurewitz introduces various rabbinic sources attesting that in different locations they do go out with uncovered hair even though the married women cover their hair. The practice of unmarried girls, therefore, also depends on the custom of the place.(42)

In principle, Hurewitz was opposed to the use of wigs. He stated that in a place where women covered their hair, a woman going out with a wig was in transgression of Pentateuchal law. Nevertheless, Hurewitz continued, the custom had spread in spite of consistent rabbinic opposition to it. Women became accustomed to the wig, and gradually opposition faded. Hurewitz maintains that women eventually became dissatisfied with the wig as well and, gradually, many stopped wearing it. They disregarded male protests, especially in America, until it became the custom even for modest and observant women to go with uncovered heads. Who, Hurewitz queries, would dare today to say that these women are immodest and sinful? He replies to his own question by stating that the daughters of Israel are respectable and decent.

Although Hurewitz does not condone the actions of the few Jewish women who first broke with convention,(43) he ultimately accepts the societal change that was brought about after the grass-roots movement had become widespread and began to represent normal practice. Hurewitz is also unique in suggesting that uncovering their hair allows women to fit into the society in which they live. Blending into the larger society, however, is not usually considered a plus in traditional circles.

Opponents of uncovering the hair, on the other hand, assert even today that hair covering cannot be changed (whether or not it is Pentateuchal) because it is based on an underlying Jewish principle -- modesty -- which cannot be countervailed. Modesty, they would argue, is not variable, regardless of the mores of the larger society. Consequently, any change in the practice would result in a misguided custom which cannot be countenanced.

As has been shown in this essay, the Bible presents little information, only suggesting that some covering might have been worn, as was customary throughout the ancient Near East. In the Rabbinic Period, the practice became obligatory. Classical rabbinic sources illustrate great concern for the practice; however, there is no uniform opinion as to whether hair covering is Pentateuchal or a custom. By the Middle Ages, hair covering was uniformly observed by Jewish women, consistent with societal practice generally, while the Modern Age saw a grass-roots rebellion among women fomenting use of the wig as an alternative to hair covering. The rabbinic opposition was eventually overcome. Eventually, there was widespread disregard for the practice of hair covering itself. Nevertheless, for Jews who were religiously oriented, the problem of how to avoid hair covering within the realm of halakhah had to be confronted. There were a few rabbis who tolerated the lapse of the custom with the understanding that society had changed and it was no longer considered immodest to keep one's hair uncovered. Most rabbinic decisors, however, were determined to protect prior halakhic opinion from incursion and change.

With the resurgence of Orthodoxy in the 1950's, the majority view has become particularly onerous for many religious women, who chafe against the hair-covering restriction, much as religious women did in earlier periods. It is, therefore, unfortunate that there has been no contemporary concerted effort among Orthodox rabbis to directly confront and solve this problem.

As already noted, there is considerable precedent for reinterpretation of this particular practice. Societal changes have conditioned re-interpretation in other matters as well. For instance, the law of evidence concerning a husband who has disappeared at sea is determined by the Talmud. Nevertheless, a strict halakhic decisor like the Hatam Sofer (known for his adage, "Anything new is forbidden by the Torah") suggested that improved communication had obviated the need for such strictness, since, if the husband were alive, the means existed for his contacting his wife.(44)

In a fairly close analogy to the matter of hair covering, we find that men were prohibited by the Talmud to use a mirror, since this was viewed as falling under the rubric of the prohibition: "A man shall not wear a woman's apparel" (Deut. 22:5).(45) This was reinterpreted by Isserles to mean that in a time when not only women use mirrors, there is no objection to men using them.(46) This interpretation is based upon a change in the mores of society. Why has not the change in women's head styles come under similar review and revision?

Many religious women have internalized the value of hair covering and find meaning in it.(47) Many others, however, find it restrictive and burdensome; and they feel that there is sufficient precedent in Jewish law that they can, as Rabbi Hurewitz and others have suggested, be modest, observant women with or without covering their hair. However, it is the very fact of a wide variety of practices among orthodox women, and of halakhic opinions sanctioning them, that makes any broadscale reinterpretation of the halakhah in this area less likely, at least in the near future.


(1.)Earlier studies on the subject include those of Louis M. Epstein, Sex Laws and Customs in Judaism (New York: Ktav, 1948; rpt. 1967), 36-60; G. Ellinson, The Modest Way: A Guide to the Rabbinic Sources, Woman and the Mizvot 2 (Jerusalem: World Zionist Organization Department for Torah Education and Culture in the Diaspora, 1992); and Moshe Weiner, Glory of the King's Daughter: Laws of Modesty in Women's Dress (New York: Empire Press, 1980). A number of the relevant rabbinic commentators are assembled in the useful collection, Sefer Sanhedrai, ed. A. Weizer (Tel Aviv: Yesod, 1971) [Hebrew].

(2.)Marc Shapiro, "Another Example of 'Minhag America'," JUDAISM 39 (1990): 148-154; and Michael J. Broyde, Lilli Krakowski and Marc Shapiro, "Further on Women's Hair Covering: An Exchange," JUDAISM 40 (1991): 79-94.

(3.)Christopher R. Hallpike, "Hair," The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. M. Eliade (New York: Macmillan, 1987), VI, 154-157.

(4.)The practice had meager medieval antecedents and was observed by only a minority of women in 16th century Central and Eastern Europe, but grew in popularity over the course of the next two centuries; see Epstein, pp. 58-60.

(5.)Epstein, pp. 55-60.

(6.)The story of Samson, the nazirite, suggests that hair was regarded as having a special force or vitality. When Samson's hair is cut off, his strength vanishes. Although the Bible attributes Samson's strength to God, and his loss of it to breaking his nazirite's vow, at a mythological level, it is Samson's hair that houses his supernatural powers. In either case, Samson's hair holds important symbolic value for the story.

(7.)Cf. Tamar in Gen. 38:14 and the coquettes in Isa. 3:16-24. Other important references to hair covering are found in Lev. 10:6; II Kings 9:30; Isa. 47:2, III Macc. 4:6; Susanna 32; and Judith 10:3. A number of these references indicate that uncovering the hair meant demeanment and a debased status.

(8.)In Talmudic accounts the bride is said to go to the hupah with head uncovered (see M. Ketubot 2:1 and 2:10; and Epstein, pp. 44-45). This may only indicate that she was uncovered for the ceremony, not necessarily that as a maiden she normally went uncovered. There is sparse, contradictory evidence as to whether unmarried girls covered their hair in the ancient period, whether Biblical or Talmudic. Most Talmudic discussion of hair covering involves the married woman. Even in the medieval period the situation is diverse, with Maimonides (Yad Ha-Hazakah, Issurei Bi'ah 21:17) opting for hair covering of girls, as opposed to Ashkenazi decisors who say it is unnecessary.

(9.)The Hatam Sofer (1762-1839) represents an extremist position arising out of opposition to the incipient German Reform movement, having ruled that from his time forward no distinction was to be made between the smallest custom and a Biblical prohibition (See Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. "Moses Sofer," XV, 79).

(10.)Encyclopedia Judaica, s.v. "Minhag" (M. Elon), XII, 8; and M. Elon, "Minhag," in The Principles of Jewish Law, ed. M. Elon, The Institute for Research in Jewish Law 6 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1975), pp. 91-110.

(11.)Encyclopedia Talmudit [Talmudic Encyclopedia], s.v. "Dat Yehudit," VIII, 19 [Hebrew]; Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Nashim, Hilkhot Ishut 24:12.

(12.)Aline Rousselle, "Body Politics in Ancient Rome," in A History of Women in the West, I. From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, ed. P.S. Pantel (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 315.

(13.)I Corinthians 11:3-16; see also L.J. Archer, Her Price is Beyond Rubies: The Jewish Woman in Graeco-Roman Palestine, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement, Series 60 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), pp. 212 and 247-248.

(14.)M.Ketubot 7:6. The translation is that of H. Danby, The Mishnah (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933, rpt. 1983). J. Neusner (The Mishnah: A New Translation [New Haven: Yale University, 1988]) translates "with her hair flowing loose."

(15.)B. Ketubot 72a-b.

(16.)This view is attributed here to R. Ishmael.

(17.)This view is attributed in the preceding example (from B. Ketubot) to Rabbi Ishmael.

(18.)Sifrei Ba-Midbar, Pisqa Nas's 11. These two very similar pericopes (B. Ketubot 72a-b and Sifrei), i.e., that the law of sotah teaches that Jewish women were not to uncover their hair, were redacted differently in their separate Talmudic and Midrashic contexts, with the result that two contradictory views are attributed to R. Ishmael. Whereas the passage in Ketubot flows smoothly, consistently supporting the argument that parah means "uncovered" and that Jewish women are not to uncover their heads, the pericope in Sifrei appears to be displaced and is inconsistent with the argument that precedes it, namely, that parah means "to dishevel."

(19.)M. Sotah 1:5.

(20.)M. Jastrow, Dictionary of Talmud Babli, Yerushalmi, Midrashic Literature and Targumim (New York: Pardes Publishing House, 1950), p. 1033.

(21.)Rashi on Num. 5:18.

(22.)Rashi on B. Sotah 8a; see also his commentary on B. Ketubot 72b.

(23.)T. Sotah 3; A. Hoffer, "Which Disheveling [Uncovering] of Hair for Women is Biblically Prohibited?" Hazofeh Lehakhmat Yisrael 12 (1928): 330-335; M.J. Broyde, p. 85.

(24.)B. Sotah 8a (on M. Sotah 1:5) reads:

Our rabbis taught: "And he will parah the head of the woman." It states only her head; how to I know [it also applies to] her body? Scripture states: "ha-ishah" ["the woman," i.e., her womanhood, or the woman herself]. If so, why does Scripture state, "...he will parah her head" [which is included in "the woman"]? It teaches that the priest loosens her hair [but uncovers her bosom!.

Epstein (p. 200, n. 39) adds that Sifrei Ba-Midbar (ed. Friedmann, 5a) speaks of a sheet being held up to hide the woman from view, indicating that some rabbis were troubled by the idea of baring the woman's bosom.

(25.)Such classifications of the commandments were made at least as early as Geonic times (although there are allusions to them in the classical rabbinic literature), and continued to be created as late as modern times. Maimonides' Sefer Ha-Mizvot is among the most authoritative compilations. Following its precedent, the anonymous Sefer Ha-Hinukh (questionably attributed to R. Aharon B. Joseph Halevi of Barcelona; c. 1235-1300) also did not include hair covering.

(26.)Gen. R. 17:8.

(27.)A similar comparison of male and female practice is made in I Corinthians 11:4-7, which states that men are to uncover their heads in prayer, since they are the image of God's glory, whereas women are to cover their heads submissively, since they reflect only the glory of man.

(28.)ARN B. 9:25; later, ARN B. 42:117 discusses the ten curses pronounced on Eve according to his exegesis. Among these curses is the following: "When she goes out to the marketplace her head has to be covered like a mourner." See also B. 'Erub. 100b.

(29.)B. Ber. 51a. This custom is no longer followed in ultraorthodox Hasidic circles. Women are discouraged from attending funerals altogether because, it is said, the Angel of Death dances before her. Women are expected to prepare food and bring it to comfort the bereaved.

(30.)B. Berakhot 24a; Louis M. Epstein, pp. 46ff; L. Archer, p. 212.

(31.)Therese and Mendel Metzger, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages: Illuminated Hebrew Manuscripts of the Thirteenth to the Sixteenth Centuries (New York: Alpine Fine Arts Collection, 1982), pp. 146, 148; and Judith Baskin, "Jewish Women in the Middle Ages," in Jewish Women in Historical Perspective, ed. J. Baskin (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1991), p. 95.

(32.)Mishneh Torah, Nashim, Hilkhot Ishut 24:12.

(33.)Even Ha'Ezer 21:2.

(34.)Epstein, pp. 52-55; Alfred Rubins, A History of Jewish Costumes (New York: Crown, 1973), pp. 8-10.

(35.)Rubins, p. 8.

(36.)Derashot, ed. Venice, 8a, cited in Sefer Dat Yehudit K'hilkhatah (Jerusalem: The Committee for the Preservation of Modesty, 1973), which enumerates a large number of rabbis opposed to the custom; and Epstein, p. 54.

(37.)Quoted in Sefer Dat Yehudit K'hilkhatah, 17-20.

(38.)Notes of Isserles to Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayim 75:2. Space prevents analysis of the historic and societal reasons why wearing of the wig did not spread among Sephardic women.

(39.)Many of these are collected in Sefer Dat Yehudit K'hilkhatah. See also n. 10 and text ad loc.

(40.)Sefer Yehoshua, #89 (Jerusalem: 1965). For others who supported leniency in the matter, see Broyde, pp. 82-83.

(41.)Yad Ha-Levi 143 (Jerusalem: Zuckerman, 1933). The work is a commentary to Maimonides' Sefer Ha-Mizvot. R.M. Barishansky, "Response to Rabbi Hurewitz' Yad Halevi," Degel Yisrael (June/July 1928): 16-18.

(42.)Even though Maimonides states that unmarried girls should cover their hair, this has not been the prevailing Jewish practice.

(43.)Compare this approach with Rabbi Abraham Kook's view, quoted at n. 14 of Tamar Ross' paper in this issue.

(44.)Hatam Sofer, Even Ha-'Ezer 58.

(45.)B. Shabbat 149a.

(46.)Yoreh De'ah, 156:2. These two cases are cited by L. Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith (London: Vallentine, Mitchell & Co., 1964), pp. 310-311.

(47.)Giti Bendheim, "Remarks on Hair Covering" in Jewish and Female: Choices and Changes in Our Lives Today, ed. S.W. Schneider (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), pp. 237-240.
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Author:Bronner, Leila Leah
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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