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{Article originally appeared on author’s website Emes Ve-Emunah}

I was sent an article this morning authored by Rivkah Slonim. It is about women covering their hair and it appears on a Chabad Website.

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Virtually all Orthodox Jews and many non Orthodox Jews know that most Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair after they are married. I have discussed this issue many times in the past. Briefly the Halacha is as follows. There are 2 parts to hair covering: Das Moshe and Das Yehudis.

Das Moshe is the term used in Halacha to connote that which is the immutable Halacha transmitted to us via Moshe Rabbeinu. That is inviolable. The requirement of Das Moshe is for a married woman to cover most of her hair.

Das Yehudis is the term that refers to a custom of modesty for women that is accepted by a predominance of them in a given society. If a woman transgresses one of these customs, she is liable for the transgression of Das Yehudis, a Halacha that is relative to community standards.

There has been much written about this practice in Halacha. Suffice it to say that, the vast majority of Poskim believe that a married woman must cover at least most of her hair.

How to do that is another question. That’s where this article by Rivkah Slonim comes in. She promotes the view of the late Rebbe of Lubavitch that women must cover all of their hair but may do so by using a wig. To the best of my knowledge he did not limit what kind of wigs a woman may use. More about that later. (There are Poskim that forbid the use of a wig, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

I have always had trouble understanding this entire concept. Please understand that I am not God forbid promoting the idea that it is permitted for married woman not cover their hair. As I said the Halacha is pretty clear, despite attempts by some to be Dan L’Kav Zechus (judge favorably) those Modern Orthodox women that do not cover it.

But that does not make my understanding of it any less difficult – for the following reasons.

First – It is a derived Halacha and not explicitly stated in the Torah. It is taken from the procedure of the Sotah (a woman suspected of adultery after being secluded with another man) where the Torah requires Beis Din to reveal her hair. By dint of the requirement it was derived that women are supposed to cover their hair or else why would they be asked to uncover it. Many Torah level laws are derived in similar ways and are not explicitly written in the Torah.

But it is the contradictory nature of the concept of Sair B’Isha Erva (the hair of a woman is considered her nakedness) that perplexes me. That concept only applies to married women. Single women do not have to cover their hair at all, no matter what their age. The same woman who 5 minutes before she gets married may walk around with all of her hair exposed, is forbidden from doing so the minute she gets married… and forever after that.

I think this conundrum and the fact that general societal attitudes about hair covering changed are in part the reasons so many religious women in the great Jewish community of Lithuania in Europe chose to abandon covering their hair. Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein makes note of that abandonment of hair covering in his magnum opus, the Aruch HaShulchan.

If a woman’s hair equals nakedness, then there can be no other conclusion but to say that the nakedness of hair is not the same as the nakedness of skin. Because if it did, why must only married woman cover their hair? So the words Sair B’Isha Erva remain a complete mystery as to what they actually mean.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.
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