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The Torah Learning Library of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

Hair Covering Episode, Joy of Text 4:03

by Rabbi Dov Linzer (Posted on March 11, 2019)

These sources accompany the hair covering episode of the Joy of Text podcast.


A. Nature of Obligation

The verse in Numbers {source 1} implies that women (perhaps specifically married women) would normally have their head covered. This point is made explicit from Sifrei {source 2}, which emphasizes the fact that this was a norm, and does not frame it as an obligation. 

Rashi {source 3} emphasizes the issue was the loosening or disheveling the hair, not (or not just) its uncovering. He also states that from the context of the verse, we can infer that it was considered shameful for a woman to have her head uncovered (in public).  Significantly, like Sifrei, he does not frame covering hair as an obligation, but rather points to realities of societal norms.


1. Numbers 5:18

במדבר ה’:י”ח
וְהֶעֱמִיד הַכֹּהֵן אֶת-הָאִשָּׁה לִפְנֵי ה’ וּפָרַע אֶת-רֹאשׁ הָאִשָּׁה וְנָתַן עַל-כַּפֶּיהָ אֵת מִנְחַת הַזִּכָּרוֹן מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הִוא וּבְיַד הַכֹּהֵן יִהְיוּ מֵי הַמָּרִים הַמְאָרְרִים
And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the meal offering of jealousy; and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causes the curse.



2. Sifrei, Numbers, 5:18, s.v., uPara

ספרי, בנדבר, ה’:י”ח, ד”ה ופרע
ופרע את ראש האשה… ד”א לימד על בנות ישראל שהן מכסות ראשיהן ואע”פ שאין ראייה לדבר זכר לדבר ותקח תמר אפר על ראשה (שמואל ב’ יג יט)
“And he shall uncover the head of the woman”, … another interpretation: this teaches us regarding Jewish women (lit., girls) that they cover their hair. And although there is no proof to this, there is an indication to this, as it says: “And Tamar placed a covering on her head” (Sam. 2, 13:19).


3. Rashi, Numbers, 5:18

רש”י, במדבר ה’:י”ח
ופרע. סותר את קליעת שערה, כדי לבזותה, (סוטה ח.) מכאן לבנות ישראל שגלוי הראש גנאי להן (כתובות עב. ספרי יא.)
‘And he shall loosen’ – he undoes the braids of her hair, in order to degrade her. From here [we learn] regarding Jewish women that an exposed head is a disgrace for them.

The Mishna Ketubot {source 4} lists behaviors that a woman would do that would serve as the basis for divorce with cause (and would permit the husband to divorce her without paying the ketubah). These fall into two categories: violations of dat Moshe (Biblical practices) and violations of dat Yehudit (practices of Jewish women) – specifically violations that would somehow compromise the marriage.  Included in the dat Yehudit category is the covering of one’s head (note: head, not hair) in public, as well as other behaviors that would be considered immodest, draw the attention of other men, or violate some sense of marital intimacy.


4. Mishna, Ketubot 72a

משנה, כתובות (עב.)
מתני’. ואלו יוצאות שלא בכתובה: העוברת על דת משה ויהודית. ואיזו היא דת משה? מאכילתו שאינו מעושר, ומשמשתו נדה, ולא קוצה לה חלה, ונודרת ואינה מקיימת. ואיזוהי דת יהודית? יוצאה וראשה פרוע, וטווה בשוק, ומדברת עם כל אדם. אבא שאול אומר: אף המקללת יולדיו בפניו. רבי טרפון אומר: אף הקולנית. ואיזוהי קולנית? לכשהיא מדברת בתוך ביתה ושכיניה שומעין קולה.
Mishnah. These are to be divorced without receiving their ketubah: a wife who transgresses the law of Moses or [one who transgresses] practice of Jewish women. And what is [regarded as a wife’s transgression against] the law of Moses? Feeding her husband with un-tithed food, having intercourse with him during the period of her menstruation, not setting apart her dough offering, or making vows and not fulfilling them. And what [is deemed to be a wife’s transgression against] the practice of Jewish women? Going out with uncovered head, spinning in the street or conversing with every man. Abba Saul said: [such transgressions include] also that of a wife who curses her husband’s parents in his presence. R. Tarfon said: also one who screams. And who is regarded a screamer? A woman whose voice can be heard by her neighbors when she speaks inside her house.

The Bavli {source 45} questions the Mishna’s categorization of not going out with one’s head uncovered as a dat Yehudit, stating that it is actually of Biblical origin based on the verse of uncovering the head of the sotah. The Gemara resolves this seeming contradiction by stating that from the Biblical perspective it would suffice for a woman to cover her head with merely a basket (kaltah), but that dat Yehudit demands more and does not recognize this as a sufficient covering. 

Significantly, the Talmud refers to the Biblical norm as d’oraitta, a technical legal that generally refers to a matter of Torah law (not just a norm).  Similarly, the standard meaning of the term azharah, used here, is “prohibition,” an actual halakhic requirement, often of a Torah nature.  This is in contrast to the descriptive terminology used in Sifrei (“teaches that Jewish women cover their hair.”).


5. Bavli, Ketubot 72a-b

בבלי, כתובות (עב. – עב:)
גמ’…ואיזוהי דת יהודית? יוצאה וראשה פרוע. ראשה פרוע דאורייתא היאִ דכתיב: (במדבר ה’) ופרע את ראש האש
ה, ותנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: אזהרה לבנות ישראל שלא יצאו בפרוע ראשִ דאורייתא ־ קלתה שפיר דמי, דת יהודית ־ אפילו קלתה נמי אסור.
אינו גורס כן ואין פירושו מחוור כלל.
Gemara. … “And what [is deemed to be a wife’s transgression against] the practice of Jewish women? Going out with uncovered head.” [Is not the prohibition against going out with] an uncovered head Biblical; for it is written, “And he shall uncover the woman’s head,” (Numbers 5:18). And this was it taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a prohibition to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered head? — Biblically it is quite satisfactory [if her head is covered by] her work-basket; according to traditional Jewish practice, however, she is forbidden [to go out uncovered] even with her basket [on her head].

Rashi {source ‎‎‎6} offers two explanations as to how the Talmud could infer that the requirement for a woman to cover her head is of a Biblical nature.  His first explanation is that from the fact that the disheveling of her hair is a form of public shaming, we can infer that it is prohibited to do so.  The logic of this is not clear – why should it be prohibited for a woman to appear disheveled in public?  Perhaps the meaning is that it is shameful to appear this way because it is seen as immodest, and we know (from elsewhere?) that it is prohibited for a woman to appear immodestly in public.

Rashi’s second explanation is that what is being discussed here is not a prohibition, but a norm, and that we can infer from this verse that the norm was for women to go out with their heads covered.  This is in line with the Sifrei earlier.  Rashi states that this second explanation is the correct (or more correct) one. 


6. Rashi, Ketubot 72a

רש”י, כתובות (עב.)
דאורייתא היא־ ואמאי לא קרי לה דת משה.
אזהרה־ מדעבדינן לה הכי לנוולה מדה כנגד מדה כמו שעשתה להתנאות על בועלה מכלל דאסור א”נ מדכתיב ופרע מכלל דההוא שעתא לאו פרועה הות שמע מינה אין דרך בנות ישראל לצאת פרועות ראש וכן עיקר.
“It is Biblical” – and why is it not referred to as the law of Moses?
“A prohibition” – since we do such to her [the sotah] in order to make her ugly – measure for measure, just as she did [practices] to make herself beautiful for the man she was having sex with – we can infer that it is forbidden. Alternatively, since it says, “And he shall uncover” – we can infer that until that point her hair was not uncovered. Thus, it can be concluded that it is not the manner of Jewish women to go out with their head uncovered, and [this last explanation] is the correct one.

In framing the halakhic requirement, Rambam {source 7} states that “Jewish women should not [go out with their heads uncovered].”  He does not use the more halakhic terminology that Jewish women “are forbidden” to do so, and there is no indication that this is a Biblical requirement.   Thus, Trumot HaDeshen {source 8}, states that for Rambam, this practice is indicated in the Biblical verse, but is not a Biblical requirement, and not even a strict Rabbinic requirement, but rather a preferred way of practice (or a norm of modesty).

In contrast, Shiltei Gibborim {source 9}, follows the literal sense of the Talmud’s terminology, and states that it is a Biblical violation for a woman to go out in public with her head uncovered.


7. Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, 21:17

רמב”ם, הל’ איסורי ביאה, כ”א:י”ז
לא יהלכו בנות ישראל פרועי ראש בשוק…
Jewish women should not go out with their heads uncovered into the market place…


8. Responsa of Trumot HaDeshen, 242

שו”ת תרומות הדשן, ס’ רמ”ב
הא איהו נמי כתב דפריעת ראש באשה אינו אלא זהירות מדרבנן כדמוכח מלשונו, ומסתמא ס”ל הא דפריך תלמודא דאורייתא ר”ל רמז דאורייתא יש לה
Behold he (Rambam) also writes that an exposed head of a women is only a Rabbinic stringency, as is evident from his language, and it seems that he must understand that that which the Talmud asks – “It is Biblical!” – the intent is that there is a Biblical hint regarding it.


9. Shiltei Gibborim, Rif, Ketubot, 32b, Rif Pages, quoting Riaz (R. Yeshaya of Trani, 13th Century)

שלטי גיבורים, על רי”ף כתובות (לב., ברפיו), בשם ריא”ז
ואם לא היתה קלתה על ראשה הרי זו אסורה מן התורה שנאמר ופרע ראש האשה
And if she did not have a basket on her head – behold this is Biblically forbidden, as it states, “And he shall uncover the woman’s head”.


B. Norm of Modesty or Ervah (‘Nakedness’)

(1) Gemarot – Ketubot (Norms) versus Berakhot (Nakedness)

There are two competing Talmudic discussions regarding the need for a woman’s hair (or head) to be covered: Ketubot and Berakhot.

 The Talmud in Ketubot {source 1010}, as we have seen, frames this as a norm of modesty – either a practice of Jewish women (dat Yehudit), or a practice already alluded to in the Torah.  The context in the Talmud is that of married women.  It may be that this norm of modesty was observed by unmarried women as well (but the legal implications – the permission to divorce without a ketubah payment – applied only to married women), but it is equally possible that it was a norm practiced only by married women. 

It is also important to note that in this passage the emphasis is on covering the head, not the hair.   This could possibly be satisfied if just the majority (or perhaps even less) of the head is covered, without covering every hair, and with allowing longer hair, extending beyond the head, to be uncovered.  And for Rashi {source 6}, the issue was not that the hair was uncovered, but that it was free-flowing and disheveled.

Note also that because this is a norm of modesty, the emphasis is not on whether other men will see her hair, but on whether her hair is uncovered in public places. Thus, the Talmud permits it to be fully uncovered in a shared courtyard, because it is a non-public space, although she can be seen by those whose houses open up into the same space.  A semi-public space, such as an alleyway, would only require a mid-level covering.


10. Bavli, Ketubot, 72b

בבלי כתובות (עב:)
גמ’…ואיזוהי דת יהודית? יוצאה וראשה פרוע. ראשה פרוע דאורייתא היאִ דכתיב: (במדבר ה’) ופרע את ראש האשה, ותנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: אזהרה לבנות ישראל שלא יצאו בפרוע ראשִ דאורייתא ־ קלתה שפיר דמי, דת יהודית ־ אפילו קלתה נמי אסור.
אמר רבי אסי אמר ר’ יוחנן, קלתה אין בה משום פרוע ראש. הוי בה רבי זירא, היכא? אילימא בשוק, דת יהודית היאִ ואלא בחצר, אם כן, לא הנחת בת לאברהם אבינו שיושבת תחת בעלהִ אמר אביי, ואיתימא רב כהנא: מחצר לחצר ודרך מבוי
… “And what [is deemed to be a wife’s transgression against] the practice of Jewish women? Going out with uncovered head.” [Is not the prohibition against going out with] an uncovered head Biblical; for it is written, “And he shall uncover the woman’s head,” (Numbers 5:18). And this was it taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a prohibition to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered head? — Biblically it is quite satisfactory [if her head is covered by] her work-basket; according to traditional Jewish practice, however, she is forbidden [to go out uncovered] even with her basket [on her head].
R. Assi stated in the name of R. Yohanan: With a basket [on her head a woman] is not guilty of [going about with] an uncovered head. In considering this statement, R. Zera pointed out this difficulty: Where [is the woman assumed to be]? If it be suggested, ‘In the street’, [it may be objected that this is already forbidden by] Jewish practice; but [if she is] in a court-yard3 [the objection may be made that] if that were so you will not leave our father Abraham a [single] daughter who could remain with her husband! — Abaye, or it might be said, R. Kahana, replied: [The statement refers to one who walks] from one courtyard into another by way of an alley.

In contrast to the discussion in Ketubot, the Talmud in Berakhot {source 11} speaks about hair as ervah, nakedness.  This is a term used to also describe even a small uncovered part of a woman’s skin, her calf, and her voice.  The halakhic significance of this categorization is twofold:

(1) A man may not recite the Shema when looking at (or listening to) such “nakedness” of a woman, as he will be sexually distracted and not able to concentrate on the Shema.  This restriction applies even if the woman in question is his own wife – it is not about the licit or illicit nature of the act of looking or listening, but about the likelihood of being distracted. 

(2) A man is prohibited to look at (or listen to) such “nakedness” of a married woman who is not his wife.  (This most likely refers to sexual gazing, not mere casual glancing).

There is some debate and discussion in the Rishonim whether, and under what circumstances, one or the other of these categories applies (see, for example, Rashi {source 12}).

Here, the emphasis is on the hair, not the head, and no minimum amount is mentioned, implying that even the smallest amount of uncovered hair could be an issue.  Although there is a particular concern here for gazing at the nakedness of a married woman, nevertheless, inasmuch as it is a concern for “nakedness,” it would seem that this would apply to unmarried women as well.  Finally, there is no discussion about this being an issue of “going out in public.”  Since it is about nakedness and not norms, it should be a problem for a man to ever look at the hair of a woman who is not his wife, regardless of whether it is a public space or not.


11. Bavli, Berakhot, 24a

בבלי, ברכות (כד.)
אמר רבי יצחק: טפח באשה ערוה. למאי? אילימא לאסתכולי בה ־ והא אמר רב ששת: למה מנה הכתוב תכשיטין שבחוץ עם תכשיטין שבפנים ־ לומר לך: כל המסתכל באצבע קטנה של אשה כאילו מסתכל במקום התורףִ אלא: באשתו, ולקריאת שמע.
אמר רב חסדא: שוק באשה ערוה, שנאמר (ישעיהו מ”ז) גלי שוק עברי נהרות, וכתיב (ישעיהו מ”ז) תגל ערותך וגם תראה חרפתך. אמר שמואל: קול באשה ערוה, שנאמר (שיר השירים ב’) כי קולך ערב ומראך נאוה. אמר רב ששת: שער באשה ערוה, שנאמר (שיר השירים ד’) שערך כעדר העזים.
R. Isaac said: A handbreadth [exposed] in a woman is ervah (nakedness). In which way? Shall I say, if one gazes at it? But has not R. Sheshet [already] said: Why did Scripture enumerate the ornaments worn outside the clothes with those worn inside? To tell you that if one gazes at the little finger of a woman, it is as if he gazed at her secret place! — No. It means, in one’s own wife, and when he recites the Shema’.
R. Hisda said: A woman’s thigh is a sexual incitement, as it says. “Uncover the thigh, pass through the rivers,” (Isa. 47:2) and it says afterwards, “Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen.” Samuel said: A woman’s voice is a sexual incitement, as it says, “For sweet is thy voice and thy countenance is comely.” (Cant. 2:14). R. Sheshet said: A woman’s hair is a sexual incitement, as it says, “Thy hair is as a flock of goats.” (Cant. 4:1)


12. Rashi, Berakhot 24a

רש”י ברכות (כד.)
לאשתו ולקריאת שמע ־ אם טפח מגולה בה ־ לא יקרא קריאת שמע כנגדה.
שוק ־ באשת איש.
ערוה ־ להסתכל, וכן באשתו לקריאת שמע.
קולך ערב ־ מדמשבח לה קרא בגוה ־ שמע מינה תאוה היא.
“For one’s wife and regarding saying Shema” – if a handbreadth is exposed, one should not say the Recitation of the Shema in front of it.
“A thigh” – of a married woman
“Is nakedness” – to gaze at it. And similarly regarding one’s own wife and the Recitation of Shema.
“For thy voice is sweet” – since the verse praises her regarding her voice – we can infer that it is a source of sexual desire.

How are we to reconcile the seeming contradictions between the passage in Ketubot which is less restrictive (only public spaces; head not hair; married woman) with the passage in Berakhot which more restrictive (possibly all hair, in all places, and for all women)? 

Perhaps the simplest way is to note the different contexts and the persons to whom these passages are being directed.  The Berakhot passage is directed to the man – what he is to avoid when reciting the Shema, or what to avoid when looking at other women who are not his wife.  They are not directed to the woman; there is no indication that a woman must cover her hair, just as there is no indication that she must cover (silence) her voice.  (This is a larger discussion regarding tzniut in general – whether it is directed to the woman’s appearance of the male gaze.) In contrast, the passage in Ketubot is referring to the modesty norms of women and what is demanded of them, and these norms do not require them to cover their hair fully or to cover it in all places.  So married woman can have some of their hair uncovered (Ketubot), only other men just shouldn’t be gazing at it sexually (Berakhot). 


(2) Rishonim – Context and Prevailing Norms Matter

The above discussion, that a woman’s requirement to cover her hair emerges only from the Ketubot passage and not from Berakhot, assumes that the “nakedness” of hair in Berakhot means that hair can elicit sexual thoughts, not that it is considered to be like the genitals.  If hair was so considered, it would have to be fully covered under all circumstances.

Many Rishonim make this point explicitly.  Ravyah {source 13}, and similarly Rosh in the context of Shema {source 14}, states that those things mentioned in Berakhot – hair, voice, and a woman’s calf – are only a contextual ervah; that is, they are considered ervah only if it is the norm for them to be covered. In contrast, in a society in which these are normally exposed, it is unlikely that they will provoke sexual thoughts, and they are not an ervah.  It is for this reason that unmarried girls need not cover their hair. 

Rashba, citing Ra’avad {source 15}, adopts a similar approach, and states that since it was the norm for married women to wear some hair outside their hats, this hair is not considered an ervah since it is normally exposed.  [He goes on to say that for this reason the Talmud’s statement that a woman’s voice is an ervah, which originally referred to her speaking voice, in his contemporary context would only apply to her singing voice, since in his time society was less segregated and men were accustomed to hearing a woman’s speaking voice. It should also be noted that for Rashba, certain parts of a woman’s body, such as her shok (originally calf, but in this context, possibly thigh) are objectively an ervah like her genitals and this is not based on context.]

Shulkhan Arukh, in the Laws of Kriat Shema {source 16}, rules in accordance with Rashba and Ravyah.

It must be noted that these rulings are in regards to the recitation Shema and what might be a source of sexual distraction for a man.  This is distinct from the question of whether it is permitted for a woman to go with her hair uncovered.  Nevertheless, it is implicit in all these rulings that married women did not cover all of their hair, and that this behavior was seen as acceptable and not a violation of dat Yehudit.  None of these sources deal with the possibility that a married woman would be permitted to go with all of her hair uncovered – against dat Moshe ­- if that were the societal norm at the time.


13. Ravyah, Berakhot, no. 76 (cf. Mordekhai, Berakhot, no. 80)

ראבי”ה, ברכות, ס’ ע”ו
וכל הדברים שהזכרנו למעלה לערוה דווקא בדבר שאין רגילות להגלות, אבל בתולה הרגילה בגילוי שער לא חיישינן, דליכא הרהור, וכן בקולה לרגיל בה.
And all the things that we mentioned above regarding ervah – this is only in a thing that it is not common to uncover, but an unmarried girl who is accustomed to uncover her hair – we are not concerned about this, for there are no lustful thoughts, and similarly regarding her voice for those who are accustomed to it.


14. Rosh, Berakhot, 3:37

רא”ש ברכות, ג’:ל”ז
אמר רב ששת שער באשה ערוה בנשים שדרכן לכסות שערן אבל בתולות שדרכן לילך פרועות מותר לקרות כנגדן
“Rav Sheshet said: The hair of a woman is ervah” – this is regarding women for whom it is the custom to cover their hair, but regarding unmarried women for whom it is the way to go with their head uncovered – it is permissible to read Shema in front of them (with their head uncovered).


15. Rashba, Berakhot, 24a, s.v. viHa Di’amar Rav Yitzhak

רשב”א, ברכות (כד.), ד”ה והא
והא דאמר רב יצחק טפח באשה ערוה – פירש הראב”ד ז”ל דאפשר דוקא ממקום צנוע שבה, ועלה קאתי רב חסדא למימר דשוק באשה מקום צנוע וערוה הוא ואפילו לגבי בעלה… אבל פניה ידיה ורגליה וקול דבורה שאינו זמר ושערה מחוץ לצמתה שאינו מתכסה אין חוששין להם מפני שהוא רגיל בהן ולא טריד, ובאשה אחרת אסור להסתכל בשום מקום ואפילו באצבע קטנה ובשערה…
Regarding that which Rav Yitzhak wrote that a handbreadth exposed of a woman is an ervah: Ra’avad explains that it is possible that this is only in regards to a hidden place on her [body], and it is in this context that Rav Hisda says that a shok of a woman is considered a hidden place and an ervah, even insofar as her husband[‘s reciting Shema]… But her face and hands and feet and the sound of her speaking voice which is not singing, and her hair which is outside her veil, which is not covered – we are not concerned about them because he is accustomed to it and he is not distracted.  But regarding another women [not the man’s wife] – it is forbidden to gaze at any part of her, even a small finger and her hair…


16. Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayim, 75:2

שולחן ערוך, אורח חיים, ע”ה:ב’
שער של אשה שדרכה לכסותו, אסור לקרות כנגדו. הגה: אפי’ אשתו, אבל בתולות שדרכן לילך פרועות הראש, מותר.
הגה: וה”ה השערות של נשים, שרגילין לצאת מחוץ לצמתן (ב”י בשם הרשב”א) וכ”ש שער נכרית, אפי’ דרכה לכסות.
Hair of a woman which is usually covered – it is forbidden to read [Shema] in its presence. (Rema: Even if she is his wife). But unmarried women for whom it is the norm to go with their head uncovered – it is permissible
Rema: And the same holds true for hair of women which normally goes outside the bonnet. And certainly a wig [is not a problem], even if it is normally covered.


(3) Rambam – Even Unmarried Women

 Rambam’s rulings on hair covering are generally more restrictive than those of other Rishonim.  Perhaps taking his lead from Berakhot’s characterization of hair as ‘ervah,’ he states that it is inappropriate for even unmarried women to go out into the marketplace with their heads uncovered {source 17}.  He also assumes that women would have some form of head covering even in the home {source 20}.  At the same time, he never states that dat Moshe is a Biblical requirement; he seems to treat it as a Biblical norm (see Trumot HaDeshen, above {source 8}).  He also indicates {sources 1819} that dat Yehudit (the need for a full hair covering) could be shaped by the norms of the current society, although he does not seem to extend this to what is required by dat Moshe (some form of a hair covering).


17. Rambam, Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations, 21:17

רמב”ם, ,הל’ איסורי ביאה, כ”א:י”ז
לא יהלכו בנות ישראל פרועי ראש בשוק אחת פנויה ואחת אשת איש.
Daughters of Israel should not go out with an exposed head into the marketplace – whether an unmarried woman or a married woman.


18. Rambam, Laws of Marriage, 24:17

רמב”ם, ,הל’ אישות, כ”ד:י”א-י”ב
[יא] ואלו הן הדברים שאם עשת אחד מהן עברה על דת משה – יוצאה בשוק ושיער ראשה גלוי…
[יב] ואיזו היא דת יהודית, הוא מנהג הצניעות שנהגו בנות ישראל, ואלו הן הדברים שאם עשת אחד מהן עברה על דת יהודית: יוצאה לשוק או למבוי מפולש וראשה פרוע ואין עליה רדיד ככל הנשים, אע”פ ששערה מכוסה במטפחת…
[11] if she (a married woman) does any of the following acts, she transgresses dat Moshe: if she goes out into the marketplace with the hair of her head exposed…
[12] And what is dat Yehudit? This is the practice of the modest women that Jewish women practiced. And the following are the things that if [a woman] did one of them she is a violator of dat Yehudit: If she goes out into the marketplace or into an open street and her head is uncovered and she does not have on her a rdid (veil) like all women – even though her hair is covered with a mitpahat (handkerchief/scarf)…


19. Rambam, Laws of Marriage, 13:1, 11

רמב”ם, ,הל’ אישות, י”ג:א’, י”א
[א] כמה הכסות שהוא חייב ליתן לה, …ונותן לה חגור למתניה וכפה לראשה…
[יג] מקום שדרכן שלא תצא אשה בשוק בכפה שעל ראשה בלבד עד שיהיה עליה רדיד החופה את כל גופה כמו טלית נותן לה בכלל הכסות רדיד הפחות מכל הרדידין…

[1] How much is the clothing that he is obligated to give her? … And he must give her a belt for waist and a kippah (covering) for her head…
[13] A place where the practice is that a woman should not go out into the marketplace with only the kippah that is on her head until she has on her a rdid (veil) that covers her entire body like a tallit, he must give her, included in his obligation of clothing her, a rdid, of the least expensive of the rdids…


20. Rambam Laws of Sotah, 3:5

רמב”ם, ,הל’ סוטה, ג’:ה’
ומקבצין עליה קבוץ גדול של נשים שכל הנשים הנמצאות שם חייבות לראותה שנ’ ונוסרו כל הנשים וגו’, וכל איש שיחפוץ לבא לראותה יבא ויראה, והיא עומדת ביניהן בלא רדיד ובלא מטפחת אלא בבגדיה וכופח שעל ראשה כמו שהאשה בתוך ביתה.
And they gather to observe her a great crowd of women – for all women who are present there are obligated to see her, as it says, “And all the women shall turn, etc.” (Ezek. 23:48). And any man who want to come and see her should come and see. And she stands among them without a rdid (veil) and without a mitpahat (handkerchief) – but rather with her clothes and the kupah that is on her head, like a woman is in her home…


C. “Wild” or “uncovered”?

In addition to the possibility that even dat Moshe would be subject to changing societal norms, some poskim point out that dat Moshe and dat Yehudit require not that the head be covered, but that it not be parua.  We have been translating this phrase as “uncovered,” but these poskim argue that it is more accurately translated as “wild, free-flowing hair.”  According to this, even uncovered hair would not be a violation of dat Moshe or dat Yehudit if it were braided, or even possibly if it were cut short and not free-flowing. 

In support of this position, they point to the Gemara Sotah {source 21}, which states that the Kohen would undo the braided hair of the sotah, the woman suspected of adultery.  This description is an explication of the Torah verse that he would “para the woman’s head,” making it clear that – at least in the sotah context – a head that was parua was a head whose hair was both uncovered and unbraided.  Significantly, Rashi {source 22} connects the unbraiding of the sotah’s hair with the norms of modesty of Jewish women, indicating that an “uncovered head,” in that context, as well, would mean that the hair was both uncovered and unbraided.

This approach is echoed, in a weaker fashion, in Magen Avraham {source 23}, who uses it to resolve a seeming contradiction in Shulkhan Arukh.  In one place, Shulkhan Arukh states – following Rambam – that even unmarried women must cover their hair, while in another he states that this is required only of married women.  Magen Avraham resolves this contradiction by stating that unmarried women are not required to cover their hair, but they are required to ensure that it be braided so it not be free-flowing.  For him, it is obvious that this does not suffice for married women; they need to cover their hair regardless of whether it is free-flowing or braided.


21. Bavli, Sotah, 7a, 9a

בבלי, סוטה, (ז.), (ט.)
מתנ’ … וסותר את שערה
גמ’ …היא קלעה לו את שערה, לפיכך כהן סותר את שערה

Mishna: … And he undoes (lit. deconstructs) her hair
Gemara: … She braided her hair for him (her lover), therefore the Kohen undoes her hair…


22. Rashi, Numbers 5:18

רש”י, במדבר ה’:י”ח
ופרע. סותר את קליעת שערה, כדי לבזותה, (סוטה ח.) מכאן לבנות ישראל שגלוי הראש גנאי להן (כתובות עב. ספרי יא.)
‘And he shall loosen’ – he undoes the braids of her hair, in order to degrade her. From here [we learn] regarding Jewish women that an exposed head is a disgrace for them.


23. Magen Avraham, Orah Hayim, 75:3

מגן אברהם, או”ח, ע”ה:ג’
וי”ל דפרועות ראש שכתב בא”ע היינו שסותרות קליעת שערן והולכות בשוק דזה אסור אפילו בפנויה וכן פירש”י פ’ נשא על ופרע רש האשה ומ”מ צ”ל דפנויה לא מיתסרי מדאורייתא דא”ת דקרא איירי גם בפנויה א”כ גם בגילוי ראש תהא אסורה לילך דמהכא ילפינן בתובות פ”ז שלא תלכנה בנות ישראל בגילוי ראש אלא ע”כ קרא לא איירי בפנויה רק שמדת צניעות היא לבתולות שלא לילך כן.
And we can say that the uncovered head that Shulkhan Arukh refers to in Even Ha’ezer is referring to hair whose braids are undone when she goes out in the marketplace – this is forbidden even for an unmarried woman, and so states Rashi in his commentary to Nasso on the verse, “And you shall let loose the woman’s hair.” And nonetheless, we must say that an unmarried woman is not Biblically forbidden – for if we were to say that the verse is referring even to an unmarried woman, if so, then it should be forbidden to go even with uncovered hair [with braids], for it is from this verse that the Talmud in ch. 7 in Ketubot learns that Jewish women should not go with uncovered heads. But rather we must say that the verse is not referring to an unmarried woman, but rather it is a practice of modesty for unmarried women not to go that way [with unbraided hair].


D. Responsa

The competing characterizations of ‘ervah’ and ‘dat Yehudit’ can be seen in the opening lines of the responsa of Hatam Sofer and Rav Moshe Feinstein.  

Hatam Sofer (R. Moses Sofer, 1762-1839, Pressburg) {source 24}  opens with a citation from Berakhot and the characterization of hair as nakedness.  Following this, he rules that every strand of hair must be covered.  To account for the Rishonim (and Shulkhan Arukh) who state that context matters and permit a married woman to not cover the hair that is outside her hat, he argues that this only permits a few strands that would be near impossible to keep covered; anything more would be considered ervah and must be covered regardless of context.  He also states that dat Yehudit can – based on the societal context – require even more than it did in the time of the Gemara, and thus requires Hungarian women to cover even these few strands, based on the practice prevalent in his time. (He also requires women to cover their hair in their own homes!).

Rav Moshe Feinstein{source 25}, in contrast, opens with a citation from Ketubot and focuses on the requirements of dat Yehudit, and that it is these norms that define what is an ervah. He argues that the requirement of dat Yehudit focuses on the head, and not the hair, and that logically it would suffice for the majority of a woman’s head to be covered.  In the end, he pulls back from this conclusion and states that since it is not specified what portion of the head must be covered and what portion may be uncovered, the entire head becomes defined as a part of the body that is normally covered; that is, it is all considered to be the ervah of the Gemara Berakhot. But, he continues, this ervah of normally covered parts of the body is only a problem if a handbreadth or more of it is exposed.  He thus concludes by permitting under a square handbreadth of hair to not be covered, specifically two finger-widths (1/2 handbreadth wide) of hair emerging from one’s hat, stretching from one ear to the next (2 handbreadths long).

24. Responsa Hatam Sofer, Orah Hayim, 36

שו”ת חתם סופר, אורח חיים, ל”ו
ראיתי לבאר כאן דיני שער באשה…:
הנה בברכות כ”ד ע”א אמרינן דמשבח קרא בשיר השירים בשערך כעדר העזים ש”מ דערוה הוא, וכ’ הרא”ש שם דוקא לנשואות שדרכן כן לכסות אבל פנויות שדרכן להיות גלויות לאו ערוה הוא, והרב”י סי’ ע”ה מייתי הרשב”א שכ’ בנשואות נמי אותן שערות הרגילות לצאת חוץ לצמתן והבעל רגיל בהן לא מיטריד הבעל בהן ומותר להבעל לקרות ק”ש כנגדן ע”ש כי כן כוונתו.
והנה בשיר השירים [ד’ – א’] כתיב מבעד לצמתך שערך כעדר העזים, פירוש שיבח בה קרא בשני דרכים, א’ ששערה יפה כעדר העזים, שנית שבחה בצניעות שהרי אותן שערות היפות המיפות אותה אם היו מגולים מ”מ מתכסים הם מבעד לצמתך, שמלבד כובע שעל ראשה עוד יש לה צמת בגד המצמצם השער שלא יבצבצו לחוץ, ומ”מ אותן מעט שא”א לצמצם כ’ רשב”א שהיוצאים מהצמות אינם ערוה לגבי בעל דרגיל בהן ומותר לקרות ק”ש כנגדן:
… היוצא מזה ללכת במקום שרבים מצוים הוה במטפחת בלי כובע עוברת על דת יהודית ויוצאת בלא כתובה, ובחצרה כבר קבלו עלייהו אבות אבותינו בכל מקום ששמענו שנפוצו ישראל לאסור עכ”פ, ואפשר העוברת על זה יוצאת בלא כתובה שכבר נעשה ממנהג זה דת יהדות:
אמנם בתשובת מהר”מ אלשקר צווח השואל על מנהג נשותיהן בארץ ישמעאל שיוצאות הנשואות בשורה א’ של שער בין האזן לפדחת תלוי לה, וכתב מהר”ם אלשקר על זה שגם בימי חכמי הש”ס יצאו כן … וכ’ עוד שם אפילו הני נשי דבאו מארץ אדום לארצות ישמעאל ושם לא נהגו לגלות אותן שערות אינו מוכרח דממנהג ישראל וחומרא נהגו כן אלא משום דבארצות אדום גם האומות אינם יוצאות באותן שערות וכיון שכן לא שייך נותנין עליו חומרי מקום שיצא משם, אלו דבריו ז”ל:
והאמנם בארצותינו שהאומות יוצאות פרועי ראש ואמותינו לא יצאו ונזהרו מאד וחשו לדברי הזוהר והקפידו על זה מאד, אע”ג דאילו היינו עומדים למנין לקבוע הלכה היינו אומרים דאותה שורה מבוארת בש”ס להיתר… מ”מ כיון שתפסו המנהג כהזוהר על זה כ’ מהר”א שטיין מנהג עוקר הלכה ונעשה הלכה קבוע…
הכלל היוצא כל שום שער בשום מקום בראש ופדחת בנשואה אפילו בחדרה ערוה היא אם לא שיש לה מטפחת בראשה ובשוק וחצר של רבים גם כובע, ואמנם בשורה שער שבין אזן לפדחת ואינה מקולעת וסד בסיד במקום שנהגו אינה ערוה, ובארצותינו שהמנהג עפ”י זוהר עוקר הלכה …
I have seen fit to explain here the laws of hair [covering] for women…
Behold in Berakhot 24a we say that the verse in Song of Songs praises the hair of women, “Your hair is like a flock of sheep” – we see that it is an ervah. And the Rosh writes there that this is only for married women for whom it is the practice to cover their hair, but for unmarried women for whom it is the custom for their hair to be uncovered, it is not an ervah. And Beit Yosef quotes the Rashba who writes that even for married women also, those hairs which normally come out of the bonnet and the husband is accustomed to he will not be distracted and it is permissible for the husband to recite Shema opposite them, see there.
Now behold, in Song of Songs it says, “[your eyes…] from behind your veil, your hair is like a flock of sheep” (Cant. 4:1). The explanation is that the verse is praising her in two ways: (1) That her hair is as beautiful as a flock of sheep and (2) It praises her modesty, that those beautiful hairs which beautify her were they to be uncovered, nonetheless she covers them behind her veil or hairnet, that in addition to her hat that is on her head, she also has a hairnet – a piece of clothing that collects her hair that it should not push itself outside. And nonetheless those few hairs which are impossible to keep collected, the Rashba writes that those hairs which come out from the hairnet are not ervah regarding the husband…
… What comes out of this discussion is that if she were to go in a public space with a handkerchief covering her hair but without a hat, she would violate dat Yehudit and may be divorced without a ketubah. As far as going out into her courtyard: our father’s fathers have already accepted upon themselves in all places that the Jewish people are scattered to forbid [going there with one’s hair uncovered] under any circumstance, and it is possible that one who violates this is divorced without a ketubah, for this practice has not established the current (more restrictive) dat Yehudit.
However, in the responsa of Mahram Elshakar (no. 35) the questioner screamed about the practice in the Islamic countries of married women who would go out with an exposed row of hair extending from the ear to the forehead, and Mahram Elshakar writes that even in the time of the Talmud this was the practice… He also writes there that one cannot adduce any proof from the fact that women who came from Christian countries to Islamic countries did not have the custom (in their lands of origin) to expose this row of hair, that this custom or stringency of totally covering the hair is of a Jewish nature. Rather, this practice emerged from the reality that in Christian lands even the Gentiles do not go out with those hairs uncovered. Hence, he concludes, we do not enforce this custom when they move to Islamic countries (where this is not practiced). These are his words.
However, in our country where the Gentiles go out with their hair uncovered, and our mothers did not go out in such a fashion, and were extremely careful to always cover their hair, and were concerned for the words of the Zohar [that forbids uncovered hair even in one’s house], and have been very punctilious regarding this, even though were we to take a vote we would admit that that one row of hair is permissible according to the Gemara … nonetheless since they have adopted the custom like the Zohar, regarding this Rav Isaac Stein writes that a custom uproots a law and becomes the fixed law…
The principle that comes out of all this is that any hair whatsoever, on anyplace on the head or forehead of a married woman, even in her room, is an ervah if she does not have a handkerchief to cover her head, and in the marketplace and public courtyard, even a hat is required. However, that one row of hair between her ears and forehead, even if it is not braided or matted down, in a place where the custom is to keep it out it is not an ervah, and in our country where the custom is according to the Zohar, that uproots the law [and it is forbidden]…


25. Iggrot Moshe, Even Ha’ezer, 1:58

אגרות משה, אבה”ע, א’:נ”ח
בגילוי מקצת מהשערות ובביתה שהחמיר החת”ס…

כ”ז ניסן תשכ”א

הנה עצם האיסור נאמר בכתובות דף ע”ב תנא דב”ר ישמעאל מקרא דופרע את ראש האשה אזהרה לבנות ישראל שלא יצאו בפרוע ראש, ולא נאמר אזהרה שלא יצאו בשערותיהן מגולות, משמע שתלוי בחשיבות פריעה על הראש בכולל שבשביל גילוי מעט שערות אין להחשיב שהראש הוא פרוע. שאם היה נאמר האיסור על השערות היה שייך לומר שנידון כל מעט שערות בפני עצמן אבל כשנאמר על הראש הרי יש לידון על הראש בכולל.
וגם הא פשוט שאין למילף מהקרא איסור אלא מה שצריך הכהן לפרוע בראש הסוטה… ובסוטה ודאי לא סגי בפריעת משהו… ואף אם נימא שלא בעינן כולו מ”מ חלק גדול מהראש צריך ודאי שיהיה פרוע…
אך אף שהלמוד אפשר ליכא לפ”ז אף על יותר מטפח כפי המסתבר שחלק גדול מהראש לדין סוטה הוא הרבה יותר מטפח דהוא רוב הראש או לכה”פ קרוב לרוב הראש, מ”מ הא עכ”פ יש למילף דכל הראש הוא ממקומות המכוסים דהא לא מסוים איזו חלק מהראש הוא מקום שמגלות אלא דרשאות לגלות משהו מהראש באיזו מקום שהוא ונמצא שכל הראש הוא נחשב מקום המכוסה
אך שאין ראיה לאסור לגלות אף שהוא מקום המכוסה אלא כפי השיעור. וכיון שכל הראש הוא מקום המכוסה, יש לאסור ממילא מדין ערוה כמו מקומות המכוסות שבגופה…
ולכן כיון שבדין מקומות המכוסים יש חלוק בין טפח לפחות לענין ראיה שלא בכוונה… גם בשערות יש חלוק זה דאין מקום להחמיר בשערות יותר מגופה כיון דכל האיסור הא משום שנחשבו מקום מכוסה,…
… גם מה שהחמיר החת”ס לאסור מדת יהודית אפילו בחדרה בלא מטפחת … ולכן שיטת החת”ס בזה הוא דבר תמוה.
ולכן לדינא אף שמן הראוי שיחמירו הנשים לכסות כדסובר החת”ס הואיל ויצא מפומיה דגאון גדול כמותו בין בדין הראשון בין בדין השני, ובדין השני הא איכא גם מעלה דצניעות דקמחית שכתב הד”מ, אבל פשוט שאלו הרוצות להקל בשני הדינים אין להחשיבן לעוברות על דת יהודית ח”ו, ואין להמנע אפילו לת”ח ויר”ש מלישא אשה כזו אם היא יראת שמים ומדקדקת במצות ובעלת מדות. אבל הוא רק ערך ב’ אצבעות בגובה שהפנים הוא ערך אורך ב’ טפחים ויהיה בצרוף פחות מטפח ויותר אסורה.
Regarding uncovering some hairs and [uncovering the head] in the house, that the Hatam Sofer was stringent…
27 Nissan 5721 (1961)
Behold, the essence of the prohibition is stated in Ketubot 72, from the teaching of the House of R. Yishmael from the verse “And he shall let loose the head of the woman” – this is a prohibition for Jewish daughters that they should not go out with their head uncovered. And it does not say that they should not go out with their hair uncovered. This implies that it is dependent on what is considered to be an uncovering of the head in its entirety, for because of the revealing of a few hairs we cannot consider that the head is uncovered. For were the prohibition said regarding the hairs, we could say that a few hairs could be treated by themselves, but since it is said regarding the head, we must consider the head in its entirety.
It is also obvious that this verse regarding a sotah can only forbid (a married woman to expose) the amount of hair that, were it to be exposed, would fulfil the Kohen’s obligation of exposing the head of the sotah… Now in the case of the sotah, it certainly does not suffice to uncover just a little bit (and hence it is not possible that a woman is forbidden to expose even a little bit of her hair)… Even if we were to say that the Kohen does not need to uncover all of it, nevertheless, a significant portion of the head definitely must be uncovered (and therefore it only makes sense to require a woman to not leave a significant portion of her hair uncovered)…
However, although it would be logical to conclude that the sotah verse permits even more than a handbreadth to be uncovered, since a significant portion of the head – which would be the majority or close to the majority of the head – is much larger than a handbreadth – nonetheless, we can learn that the entire head has a status of a covered place of the body. Since it is not designated which portion of the head women may uncover, but only that they are allowed to uncover a certain portion of the head in some place, this leads need to cover the head without designating which places may be uncovered defines the entire head to be one of the covered places of the body.
However, there is no basis to prohibit a woman from exposing an amount of her hair that is less than the minimum amount of what may be exposed of the covered places on one’s body. Since the entire head is defined as a covered place, we should forbid based on the rules of ervah, for her to expose it just like she cannot expose other covered places on her body…
Therefore, since the law regarding covered places of the body makes a distinction between a handbreadth and less that a handbreadth when it comes to seeing without lustful intention… even regarding hair such a distinction holds, for there is no reason to be stricter with hair than with her body itself, since the entire prohibition is because it is considered a covered place…
… Also what the Hatam Sofer was stringent to prohibit on the basis of dat Yehudit for a woman to be even in her room without a handkerchief on her head… behold the opinion of the Hatam Sofer in this matter is incomprehensible.
And thus, as a matter of law, although it is appropriate that women should cover their hair as is the position of Hatam Sofer since it emerged from the mouth of a great scholar such as he, whether regarding the first issue [the amount of hair that can be exposed] or regarding the second issue [covering in the house], … However, it is obvious that those who want to be lenient in these two cases we cannot consider them violators of dat Yehudit, God forbid, and even a talmid hakham and God-fearing person should not hesitate to marry a woman like this if she is God-fearing and scrupulous about observing the commandments and has a good character. But even this allowance is only approximately two fingerbreadths high, for the forehead is approximately two handbreadths long, so the area is one square handbreadth, and anything more is forbidden.

In line with Rav Moshe, these last two responsa assume that the starting point of the discussion needs to be dat Yehudit and its parameters.  Unlike Rav Moshe, however, they do not state that as a result of the indeterminacy of the area that needs to be covered, that the entire head becomes an ervah.  Rather, all that is required is what is demanded by the norms of dat Moshe and dat Yehudit.

For Rav Henkin {source 26}, dat Moshe demands that the majority of the head be covered; this is not contextual and can never be compromised.  On the other hand, dat Yehudit is a function of the prevailing norms.  Thus, in places where the norms (of all women? Of Orthodox women?) is for the minority of the head to be uncovered, or even to not cover shoulder-length hair that falls outside of a hat or head-covering, it would be permitted to leave this hair uncovered, as long as one covered the majority of her head.  (He does, in his closing, voice some hesitation about actually acting on this ruling in practice).

Rav Messas (1909-2003; Chief Rabbi of Morocco; Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem) {source 27} takes this approach to its logical conclusion.  In a responsum which is fascinating just in terms of the historical record of how practices of hair covering changed based on geographic location and contemporary mores, and how a rabbi deals with facts on the ground that seem to be at odds with halakhic demands, he argues that even dat Moshe is not a Biblical requirement but rather a norm found in the Torah, and is itself subject to change based on the current societal norms.  (He also adds that it is only free-flowing and not braided hair that is a problem, even according to dat Moshe.)  Rav Messas thus concludes that in a society in which the norm is for a woman’s hair to be uncovered, there is no halakhic requirement that she cover her hair.


26. Responsa B’nai Banim (R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin) III:21

שו”ת בני בנים ג:כ”א
בשאלה האם אשה נשואה רשאית לגלות משערה… שאסור לאשה לצאת פרועת ראש ברבים כמו שאמרו במסכת כתובות (עב.) בשם תנא דבי ישמעאל ונלמד מן הכתוב בפרשת נשא פרק ה’ ופרע את ראש האשה … וכוון שהנוול הוא בפריעת ראשה כלשון הכתוב שהוא רובו או כולו של הראש כדין רובו ככולו בכל מקום, אין לאסור משם יציאה בגילוי מקצת הראש…
לעניננו נראה שדת יהודית תלויה במנהג המקום, כמו שמוכח ברמב”ם שבפרק כ”ב כתב שאם יוצאת ואין עליה רדיד ככל הנשים עוברת על דת יהודית ואילו בפרק י”ג משמע שיש מקומות שיוצאת שם בכפה בלבד … וכן פשוט בראשונים שדת יהודית היא כפי המנהג כמו שפירש”י שנהגו בנות ישראל ואע”ג דלא כתיבא, ובתוספות רי”ד פרש שאין בו איסור אלא שהנשים נוהגות בו דרך צניעות עכ”ל…
והקולא שאם באותו מקום נהגו הנשים לגלות אפילו יותר מטפח מחוץ לכובען ואפילו שערות על הכתפים שוב לא הוי משום דת יהודית…
כן נראה ללמד זכות על הנשים ושלא למחות באותן המגלות יותר מטפח, אבל לנהוג כן לכתחילה וכי מפני שאנו מדמים נעשה מעשה…

Regarding the question of whether a married woman is allowed to uncover her hair… It is forbidden for a woman to go out with her head uncovered in public. This is stated in Ketubot (72a) in the name of the tana from the house of Rebbe Yishmael, and is derived from the verse in Nasso, Numbers 5, “And he shall uncover the head of the woman.”… Since this disgrace relates to her uncovered head, as is the language of the verse, which is either the totality or majority of her head, following the general principle that the majority counts as the entirety of a thing, one cannot forbid on this basis a woman going out with only part of her head uncovered…
For our purposes it seems that dat Yehudit is dependent on the practice of the place, as is evident from Rambam, who in chapter 22 (of laws of marriage) writes that if a woman goes out without a rdid like other women she transgresses dat Yehudit, while in chapter 13 it is implicit that there a places that she may go out with just a kippah (less than a rdid)… And it is similarly clear in other Rishonim that dat Yehudit is defined by the current practice, as Rashi defines the term: “that which the daughters of Israel have adopted as a practice, although it is not in the Scripture.” And Tosafot Rid explains that there is no prohibition, but woman have adopted this practice as a norm of modesty…
This would lead to the leniency that in a place where women have the practice to uncover even more than a handbreadth outside of their hats, or even to uncover the hair going down to the shoulders, it would not be a problem of dat Yehudit (as long as the head is mostly covered).
This is what seems appropriate to defend the practice of women and not to protest against the women who reveal more than a handbreadth. However, to adopt such a practice ab initio (should not be done). For just because we are able to make an argument, does not mean that we should act upon it…


27. Rav Yosef Hayim Messas (1892-1974, Morocco, later Haifa, Israel), Otzar HaMikhtavim, 3:1884

ר’ יוסף בן חיים משאש, אוצר המכתבים ח”ג’, אלף תתפ”ד
למעלת החכם המפואר וכו’ כהה”ר שלמה שושן ישצ”ו…
מכתבו הבהיר הגיעני ולרוב הטרדות לא יכולתי להשיב עד כה ראיתי שאלתו שאלת חכם הנוגעת לעצמו והיא זה כשנה נשא אשה בראשה מכוסה ממחוז וג’דא ועתה מוצא מקום עבודה בקאזא בלאנקא
ושלח אחר אשתו שתבא אצלו ותאבה לבא ואך בראש מגולה כמנהג המקום והזמן וכבודו לא רצה ואחר כמה חליפות מכתבים שעברו ביניהם וצערא דגופא שסבל קבל תנאה לבא בראש מגולה ואך הוריו מעכבים על ידו בזה שלא תגלה ראשה בשום אופן והיא באחת ולא תשוב רק לגלות והוא עומד בין הבינים ואינו יודע איזה דרך ילך אם ישמע לקול הוריו או לאשתו ובעי מר מנאי לחוות דעתי להמציא לו צד היתר בענין זה להראותו להוריו להשקיט המיית לבבם הסוער ולשפות שלו ם בין כל המשפחה
תשובה. דע בני כי אסור גלוי הראש לנשואות היה חמור אצלנו פה מחזק’ וכל בכל ערי המערב טרם בוא הצרפתים ואך אחרי בואם במעט זמן פרצו בנות ישראל גדר בזה וקמה שערוריה גדולה בעיר מהרבנים והחכמים ונבוני עם יראי א-להים ואך מעט מעט קם השאון לדממה ויחדלו הקולות כי לא הועילה שום תוכחת לא בנחת ולא באש מתלקחת כי אין חזק כאשה אמרו הקדמונים ועתה כל הנשים יוצאות בריש גלי פרועי שער זולת הזקנות הן שמכסין את ראשן ולא כולה רק מניחיו חלק גלוי מצד פנים ואני בלכתי בס”ד לשרת בקדש בעי”ת תלמסאן זה כשלשים שנה ראיתי הדבר פשוט שם ובכל המחוז אצל כל הנשים גם הזקנות שכלם פרועי ראש עם כמה מיני תגלחות משונות כאשר נמשך הדבר גם פה בכל ערי המערב.
ובכן נתתי לבי ללמד עליהם זכות כי אי אפשר להעלות על לב להחזיר הדבר כמאז כי הדבר הולך ומתפתח עם התפתחות הזמן בכל דבר ובגשתי לחפש בדברי הפוסקים אשר לפני מצאתי רק חומרא על חומרא ואסור על אסור ובכן אמרתי אשא דעי למרחוק לשאוב מן המקור משנה וגמרא ונושאי כליהם הנמצאים לפני אולי נמצא להם פתח תקוה ליכנס בו כי באמת קשה לנשים ולבעליהן לעבור על מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא בענין זה יותר מכל דבר בהיות הדבר הזה גלוי לעין כל והודות לא-ל כי מצאנו הרבה פתחים למקום ליכנס בו בהיתר ולא באסור והם:
הנה יסוד מוסד לכל הפוסקים אשר בנו עליו כמו רמים מקדשם הוא מה שדרש ר’ ישמעאל ופרע את ראש האשה אזהרה לבנות ישראל שלא יצאו בפרוע ראש כמ”ש במס’ כתובות דף ע”ג סוף ע”א ופרש”י ז”ל וז”ל אזהרה מדעבדינן לה הכי לנוולה מדה כנגד מדה כמו שעשתה להתנאות על בועלה מכלל דאסור אי נמי מדכתיב ופרע מכלל דההיא שעתא לאו פרוע הוה שמע מינה אין דרך בנות ישראל לצאת פרועות ראש וכן עיקר עכ”ל
וההבדל שיש בין ב’ הפירושים הוא עפ”י א’ משמע שהטעם שמגלין שערה הוא כדי לנוולה בגלוי כמו שעשתה היא לבועלה להתנאות לפניו בראש מגולה משמע שאנן הוא שאסור לן לגלות שערה ברבים לנוולה על חנם ואך כדי לעשות לה מדה כנגד מדה התירה לנו התורה אסור זה כדי לנוולה אמנם היא אין לה שום אסור בגלוי ראשה שאם רצתה לנוול עצמה תנוול לכל עת שתרצה ובכל מקום שתרצה בבית ובשדה, ואך מפי’ ב’ ופרע מכלל דעד השתא לאו פרוע הוה ומה טעם משום דאין דרך בנות ישראל לצאת פרועות ראש משמע שאסור לה גם עצמה לגלות שערה שלכך בא הכתוב להזהירה שלא תשנה מדרך בנות ישראל בשום אופן.
הרי לך מפורש דלפי’ א’ אין לה בזה אסור כלל שאין בזה רק משום נוול ואם תרצה לנוול עצמה תנוול ולפי’ ב’ ג”כ אין האסור מצד עצם הדבר של גלוי שער רק מצד מנהג בנות ישראל שנהגו לכסות ראשן משום שחשבו בזמנם שיש בזה צניעות לאשה והמגלה שערה נחשבת פורצת גדר הצניעות ולזה הזהירה תורה לכל בת ישראל שלא תעשה הפך מנהג בנות ישראל בזה.
וא”כ עתה שכל בנות ישראל הסכימה דעתן שאין להן בכסוי הראש שום צניעות וכ”ש שאין להן בגלוי הראש שום נוול ואדרבה גלוי שערן הוא הודן והדרן ויופיין ותפארתן ובגלוי שערה מתגאה האשה לפני בעלה ובועלה א”כ נעקר האסור מעיקרו ונעשה היתר.
… הרי לך שלדעת רע”ק דמתני’ ולדעת כמה תנאי כפי’ א’ של רש”י ז”ל שאין שום אסור לאשה לגלות ראשה שאם רצתה לנוול עצמה תנוול וכ”ש לפי האמת שאין בזה אלא צד ביוש ולפי’ רשאי אדם לבייש את עצמו וכמש”ל…
ועוד דעדיפא מכל זה כי פי’ דברי ר’ ישמעאל אינו כמו שאנו מבינים בשטחיות דבריו שעומדים על רגל אחד דהיינו גילוי הראש לחוד אלא דבריו עומדים על ב’ רגלים דהיינו ב’ רעותות גלוי שער וסתירת שער מקליעתו וקשריו אבל גלוי שער לחוד אינו באזהרה כלל ופי’ זה מוכרח ממשנה בסוטה דף ז’ וזל”ה … וא”כ מה ת”ל ופרע את ראש האשה אלא מלמד שהכהן סותר שערה דהיינו הורס קווצותיה הקלועים ומתירן ופושטו על צוארה וכתפותיה וזה נפל אף בזה”ז לאשה בעלת שער ארוך לסתור אותו מקליעותו ולהניחו פרוש אנה ואנה מעורבב ומדובלל וכ”כ המג”א בא”ח סי’ ע”ה סק”ב דמ”ש מרן באה”ע לא תלכנה בנות ישראל פרועות ראש היינו שסותרות קליעת שערן והולכות בשוק עכ”ל ע”ש
הראת לדעת דפי’ ופרע ראש האשה היינו שמגלהו וסותרו ועל זה אמר ר’ ישמעאל אזהרה לבנות ישראל שלא יצאו פרועות ראש דהיינו שערן מגלה וסתור מקליעתו ומעורבב ומדובלל אבל אם רק מגלה וקלוע או סרוק ומתוקן שאין לה בו שום נוול לית לן בה וכל זה הוא אפי’ לפי זמניהם
וחכם אחד כתב לי ראיה לאסור ממעשה דקמחית שזכתה לז’ בנים ששמשו בכהונה גדולה בחייה בשביל שלא ראו קורות ביתה קליעת שערה דמשמע מזה שהוא אסור גדול והנזהרת בו יש לה שכר גדול אפי’ בעוה”ז והשבתיו כי ודאי שמע המעשה מאשה זקנה המספרת מעשיות ולא ראה המעשה במקורו שהוא ביומא דף מ”ז ע”א וז”ל ת”ר ז’ בנים היו לקמחית וכלם שמשו בכהונה גדולה אמרו לה חכמים מה עשית שזכית לכך אמרה להם מימי לא ראו קורות ביתי קלעי שערי אמרו לה הרבה עשו כן ולא הועילו עכ”ל הרי לך שחכמים דחו דבריה שאינם אלא שיחת אשה זקנה כי הם ידעו שאין בזה אסור רק מנהג שנהגו בנות ישראל
המורם מכל זה שדבר זה של כסוי הראש בנשים אינו אלא מצד המנהג דוקא שחשבוהו בזמן הקודם לצניעות והעושה הפך המנהג היתה נחשבת לפרוצה אולם עתה שהנשים עלו בהסכמה שאין להם בזה שום נוול ושום פריצות חלילה ואין בכסוי הראש שום צניעות, רק צביעות, ועברה על מצוה שהזמן גרמה א”כ אזדא ליה אסורא…
ואנן נוסיף עוד דבר המובן מאליו לכל מבין עם תלמיד שהאידנא שכל הנשים מגלות שער כל ראשן חזר שער הנשואות כשער הבתולות שכלן מתאימות רגילות לגלותו כי מדי הוא טעמא בבתולות משום דרגילות לגלותו לא מקרי בגלויין פריצות הוה”ד והוא הטעם האידנא בנשואות הרגילות לגלותו דלא הוי בזה שום פריצות חלילה וכן לענין מ”ש שער באשה ערוה [ברכות כ”ד] מדי הוא טעמא בבתולות משום שאין הרהור ברגיל לראות הוה”ד בנשואות הרגילות האידנא אין הרהור ברגיל וכל אדם מבשרו יחזה שרואה אלפי נשים עוברות לפניו יום ויום בראש מגולה ואינו שם לבו להן, והמהרהר, לא מחמת שער גלוי מהרהר. זהו ידידי הנר’ לקוצ”ד ברור בכל זה ועוד יש הרבה מה להאריך בזה ואין הפנאי מסכים ומה גם שאין עוד צורך באורך ומעתה עיני הוריך יראו וישמחו ויהי שלום בחילך שלוה בארמנותיך אמן
הצעיר החו”פ עוב”י מכנאס יע”א בטבת דהאי שתא ואיש אל משפחתו תשובו תשי”ד לפ”ק ע”ה יוסף משאש ס”ט
(translation by Rabbi Dov Lerea, lightly edited)

To the honorable Sage, haRav Rabbenu Shelomo Shushan, May his Rock and his Redeemer protect him…
I received your clear letter, but my many other responsibilities prevented me from responding until now. I have seen the letter which this learned man has written regarding his situation, which is that this year he has married a woman who has covered her hair in the city of Wadjada, but now he has found work in Casablanca.
He sent for his wife to join him there. She agreed to re-locate [and join him,] but on the condition that she can uncover her hair as is the current custom of the time and place. Yet, his honor did not want this, and, after the exchange of several letters [between husband and wife,] and considerable discomfort, he finally agreed that she can come with uncovered hair. Yet, his parents have become involved and forbid her from revealing her hair under any circumstances. She, on the other hand, refuses to come under any other circumstances other than uncovering her hair, and he now stands in the middle, not knowing what to do. He does not know whether to listen to the voice of his parents or of his wife. It is in this set of circumstances that he desires me to express my opinion, in an effort to find a basis for permitting her to expose her hair, so that he can show his parents and quell the agitation swelling in their hearts, as well as effect harmony within his family.
Response. Know, my son, that the prohibition for married women to uncover their hair has been a very strictly followed norm here in Meknes (Morocco), and throughout all of the Western Sephardic countries (i.e., Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia), until the French came. Once he French came, Jewish women started breaking this practice after only a short amount of time. [Once this occurred,] a great tumult arose amongst the rabbis, sages, and pious leaders in the city. Yet, ever so slowly, the great tempest slowly subsided and quieted down to barely a whisper, because the rebukes were of no avail—neither gentle rebukes nor fiery diatribes—for, as our ancient sages declared, “There is nothing stronger than a woman.” So now, all of the women go out with uncovered heads and with free, untied hair—except for the old women, and even they do not cover all of their hair, but leave a portion out, along the side of their faces. And I, having come to serve the sacred calling in the distinguished city of Talmasan for the past thirty years, have seen this practice spread throughout the entire municipality amongst all of the women, including the elderly. Virtually all of them go out with untied hair, with all sorts of different hairstyles, as this custom has become widespread here throughout the cities in the West.
Therefore, I felt obligated to find a way to find some merit in their practice, for it would be inconceivable to imagine trying to force them to return to the practices of the past, for the matter continues to progress, just as all things progress over time. However, when I started looking closely at the words of the poskim who came before me, I found nothing but stringency upon stringency and prohibition upon prohibition. As a result, I said to myself, “Let me cast my view more widely, so as to draw from the original sources,” that is to say, the Mishnah, Gemara, and the early commentators upon them. Perhaps there [I would find] a doorway of hope through which to enter, for it is indeed painful for wives and their husbands to transgress a positive commandment which the time has had an influence on in this matter more than any other, since this topic is practiced publicly in full view of all. Thank God, therefore, that I found many doorways through which to enter—doorways of permissibility, and not of prohibition, they being:
Look! The foundational text upon which all legal authorities have built their sanctuaries as towering places (c.f., Ps. 78:69) is the midrash of Rabbi Yishmael, (Bavli Ketubot 72a), “… and you shall untie the hair of the woman… this is an admonishment to Jewish women not to go out in public with an exposed head…” There, Rashi, of blessed memory, comments, these being his words: “This is an admonishment – From the fact that we do this to her to disgrace her, middah kneged middah, (quid pro quo) as she did this (uncovered her hair) to look beautiful to her lover, we can infer that it is forbidden (to uncover a woman’s hair in public). Or, alternatively, there is another way to understand this: since the verse says, “unloosen,” it implies that up until that moment, her hair was not unloosened. This implies, that it was not the way of Jewish women to go out in public with an uncovered head, and this is the proper understanding.”
There is a significant difference between the two interpretations of Rashi. According to the first interpretation of Rashi, the reason for uncovering her hair is to disgrace her in public, just as she herself did to herself when she was alone with her lover to look attractive to him with an uncovered head. This implies that according to the Torah, it is forbidden for us to expose her hair in public in general, for that would disgrace her, except that in this case the Torah specifically permits us to disgrace her this way, as a matter of quid pro quo. Yet, [this means], that as far as she is concerned, she has no prohibition against she herself exposing her head in public [if she so chooses to do so.] If she wants to disgrace herself, she is free to do so anywhere she wants—at home or in the field. However, the second interpretation [of Rashi,] “uncover her head, implies that up until this moment she did not go out with an uncovered head” and, for what reason? “Because Jewish women did not customarily go out with exposed heads.” This would imply that she herself is also forbidden to expose her head in public. In that regard, the verse from the Torah admonishes her with the prohibition of her uncovering her hair for any reason, it being forbidden to deviate from the norms of practice established by Jewish women.
Therefore, it is clear that according to Rashi’s first interpretation, there is no prohibition against a woman deciding for herself to uncover her hair, since this is only a matter of personal shame. If she wants to embarrass herself, she is free to do so. Furthermore, according to the second interpretation, that of “and you shall uncover,” there is also no prohibition regarding the action of uncovering the hair per se. Rather, the prohibition is related only to covering the hair as a norm established by Jewish women, since they thought, in those times, that this was an expression of modesty for a woman, and one who uncovered her hair was considered to have violated the boundaries of modesty. The Torah, therefore, was admonishing all Jewish women not to deviate from the norms of modesty established by Jewish women.
Therefore, now that all Jewish women agree that covering their hair does not indicate any expression of modesty, and even more, that uncovering their hair in no way brings upon them any loss of dignity—on the contrary—showing their hair is a source of their [feeling] beautiful and dignified, and that through exposing her hair a woman feels self-pride before her husband and lover, such that this prohibition must be considered to have become fundamentally uprooted and transformed into a permissibility.
… Therefore, it stands that according to R. Akiba in the Mishnah (Baba Kama 90a), as well as according to several Tannaim according to Rashi’s first interpretation of the section in Ketubot, that there is no prohibition prohibiting a woman from uncovering her own hair. If she wanted to embarrass herself, she could—and certainly since this would entail no physical abuse, only an emotional shame, and there we know that a person may embarrass himself if he wants to…
Even more compelling than all of this is the fact that we have not even understood Rabbi Yishmael’s words to their full extent. We have only, up until now, presented a superficial interpretation of his words, standing on one leg, as if he were only talking about uncovering a woman’s hair. Yet, the fact is, R. Yishmael’s words stand on two legs, namely, he is talking about the twins of uncovering the hair and about untying the hair so that it hangs freely. This means that uncovering the hair alone means absolutely nothing without also untying the hair from a braid or a clip or a fastener. This interpretation of R. Yishmael is necessitated by Talmud Bavli Sotah 7. It states there: “… If this is true, then what is the meaning of the entire phrase together, ‘the head of the woman?’ It implies that the Kohen loosened her hair from its braid, and spread the hair out so that it fell on her shoulders and her neck.” This applies also to today: a woman with long hair, with her hair loosened and unkempt, the hair falling all over herself in an unkempt way, appears disheveled and disoriented. This is exactly what the Magen Abraham said in Orah Hayim 75:2, that what Our Master (Rabbenu Yosef Caro) wrote in Eben haEzer, “Jewish women should not go outside with unkempt hair,” means that they should not loosen their hair so that it falls over the face when you go out into the marketplace (public).
It has now been demonstrated that the interpretation of the phrase, para rosh ha’isha, means, to “uncover and to loosen.” Regarding this interpretation, we now understand Rabbi Yishmael to have meant, “The Torah is admonishing Jewish women not to go out in public with uncovered hair, meaning, uncovered, untied, and disheveled. However, if the woman’s hair is only exposed, but tied back, or combed nicely, or fixed up, such that the condition of her hair is in no way shameful or embarrassing to her, then there is no problem – and all this is all true, even in their times!
One sage wrote me a proof of the prohibition, based upon the tale of Kimhit, who bore seven sons. She merited to see all 7 of her sons serve as Kohanim Gedolim in her lifetime, since, “the walls of her house never saw the braids of her hair.” This implies that since this is such a serious infraction, Kimhit is greatly rewarded—even in this lifetime—for never breaching this prohibition. I responded to him by saying, “You must have heard this tale from an old woman who was spinning tales! You certainly have not seen the tale in its original context! It appears in the Talmud Bavli Yoma, 47a. There, the text reads: “Our Sages taught in a braita: Kimhi had seven sons, and very one of them served as the Kohen Gadol. The sages asked her: ‘What have you done to deserve this?’ She answered, ‘The walls of my house have never seen my braided hair. The Sages responded: ‘Many women could make the same claim, but they do not receive this same reward!” So—in reality, the Sages reject her very words! They are regarded as nothing more than the idle words of an elderly woman—for the Sages themselves knew that there was no prohibition here—only a matter of norms for a custom maintained by [a consensus of] Jewish women.
This brings us to the main point: the entire matter of women covering the hair is a matter of custom only, since during an earlier age women thought that covering their hair in public was a matter of modesty, and anyone who behaved in a way that was contrary to the accepted norm would have been considered licentious. However, these days, in which women have reached a consensus that there is no inherent shame or licentiousness – Heaven forbid! – in walking in public with uncovered hair, and that there is no intrinsic modesty (tzniut) in covering the hair, only colorfulness (tz’biut), (i.e., covering the hair is a matter of fashion), then the mitzvah of the time has passed, and the prohibition has gone…
Finally, we are going to add the obvious. In these days, now that all women go about with exposed hair, there is no difference between the hair of unmarried women (which is permitted to be uncovered) and the hair of married women. The principle for unmarried women applies to everyone, since today everyone ordinarily goes out with uncovered hair, so this cannot be considered a “breaking of a norm.” Therefore, this is the law and the practice of married women as well, going out with uncovered hair, that – God forbid! – there is no licentiousness in this behavior. This applies also to the principle that a woman’s hair is sensual (Talmud Berakhot 24.) Since, therefore, there is no worry about the sensuality of the hair of unmarried women, since they ordinarily walk about with uncovered hair, so, too, there is no concern about the sensuality of the hair of married women these days, since one’s sexual imagination is not stimulated by that which is ordinary. Every man knows this in himself, for he sees thousands of women passing him on the street every day, all of them with uncovered head, and pays no attention to it. And one who does have sexual thoughts, is not having these thoughts because he sees uncovered hair. In this manner, my dear friend, I see the matter according to the limits of my ability. I could go on and on, but my schedule does not allow it. Furthermore, there is no intrinsic gain in greater length—for now the eyes of your parents will gaze and rejoice, such that there may be peacefulness in your home, tranquility in your abode. Amen.
The youngster, the one who resides here, “city and mother of Israel,” Mekhnes, May God protect her, the month of Tebet this year, “May each man return to his family,” = 5714, Sincerely, Yosef Messas, Sephardi Tahor.