08 August 2007

Head & Hair Covering For Women (Pt. 1)

Last month, R' Sedley (I only found out about his blog through a Google blogsearch on this topic) posted on the topic of head/hair covering for Jewish women, starting off with:
I have been asked by someone about the sources for women's hair covering. Why do they have to cover their hair? Who has to cover her hair? When does the hair need to be covered? How much? and Where does it say so in the Torah?
He then proceeds to not answer the questions.

In the Talmud, there are essentially just two [albeit separate] pericopes which discuss head and hair covering: one at Kesubos 7.6 (both Mishnah & the Tosefta) with the Talmudic commentary thereupon (in both Talmuds) and the other at Berakhos 24a (click here for these Talmudic sources).
Yesterday, I sat down with Rabbi Josh Yuter to read through some of the halakhic sources on head and hair covering for women, focusing on the Talmudic excerpts, though also reading briefly through the relevant passages on the topic in the Mishneh Torah and the Shulhan Arukh. As generally married Jewesses cover their heads/hair, it is pretty relevant for me, as I am getting married in four days to a young lady who has asked me about this particular topic.
While Josh emphasized the distinctness to me between these two pericopes which have been conflated in the halakhic literature (and I agree), I cannot entirely separate these two entirely in a descriptive fashion as they most certainly somehow be related. In other words, what it was that caused Rav Sheshes to read into the verse "your hair is like a flock of goats" (SoS 6.5 & 4.1) in order to make his hermeneutical read of "A woman's hair is a nakedness" (Berakhos 24a)? The book of Song of Songs is filled with a number of statements of the recognition of feminine beauty and yet only a few are selected to depict, in this section of Talmud, "nakednesses". I think there must have been something in the culture that not only was for a woman to contain her hair, but also a covering of it. Nevertheless, maintained Josh, was that, halakhically, these are separate discourses, which is certainly interesting.
Aside from the nakedness discussion is that of not covering it would be one of the things which goes against Jewish custom (one of four things [in the Mishhah] and one of five things [in the Tosefta]). In both Talmuds, the discussion takes on a spatial dimension as to where she must cover her head or not (and how). Thus, there is clearly a social (socio-religious(?)) element to a Jewish woman covering her hair (perhaps indicating that she is married(/taken))?

I see that JOFA has a listing of various articles and such on this topic and I hope to read through them in the future.


rabbi sedley said...

Thanks for the link. But what is the answer?

The truth is that the question (as I worded it) is not valid (which I was trying to say).

And as you point out, the main issue is not from the Torah, but being part of klal yisrael, and fulfilling daat yehudit. (Details as to where, how much and whom are just that, details).

I look forward to reading your future discoveries on the topic. And mazel tov for your wedding!

Rabbi Sedley

Special Ed said...

i always thought one of the main sources was the torah clearly states that a sotah's hair is uncovered during the process, meaning it was usually covered?

I know thats not our reason, but do neither of the gemaras you brought up mention that?

Rabbi Sedley said...

I had some more time now, and I've written an article about hair covering for married women (which is basically a synopsis of what Ellinson says on the topic).

You can read it at www.torahlab.org

Your feedback would be appreciated (leave me a comment there if you agree, or disagree or neither).