The gemara in Ketubot 72a presents two categories of women who can be divorced without receiving the sum of money stipulated in their ketuba (marriage contract). In other words, these are cases where the women are deemed to have violated the terms under which they were married, and thus the contract is considered to be broken. The two categories are referred to as "Dat Moshe" and "Dat Yehudit." The former category includes cases when the woman causes her husband to violate Torah law (the religion of Moshe), while the second category seems to be more focused on issues of personal modesty. The latter category is called "Dat Yehudit" since it includes things that are not explicitly prohibited by the Torah, yet have been accepted by the women of Israel as a binding custom.

The first item listed among those things considered to be "Dat Yehudit" is when a woman goes out with her hair uncovered. However, as the gemara notes, this is not simply a law that was accepted over time by Jewish women. Rather, we know from the case of the sotah (a woman suspected by her husband of committing adultery) that Jewish women have to cover their hair, since part of the process of humiliating the sotah in attempts to make her confess her sin is that the kohein uncovers her hair. Obviously, if this was considered to be a potentially effective means of shaming her into confession, it must be that it was the norm for her hair to be covered (see also Bamidbar Rabba 9:16)!

The gemara in Ketubot thus notes that while the warning for a woman to cover her hair is indeed derived from the case of a sotah, it does not require her to cover her hair in any fully meaningful fashion (Rishonim differ on the exact meaning of the term "kalta" used by the gemara to describe the covering mandated by the Torah; Rashi claims that it is some form of a basket, Meiri interprets it as being some sort of cloth cap, and Rambam claims that it is a kerchief). However, according to the "Dat Yehudit" a woman's hair must be covered in a more meaningful manner when she goes out in public.

Before we can investigate the details in the continuation of the gemara in Ketubot, and before we can fully understand the nature of this law, there are three other sources in the gemara which discuss the issue of a woman covering her hair. The gemara in Berachot 24a discusses a number of things about a woman that are deemed to be "ervah" - nakedness. The last thing listed is the hair of a woman, which the gemara tries to prove from a verse in Shir HaShirim.

However, this gemara is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it does not specify what type of women it is speaking about - all women or just married women? Furthermore, Rashi explains the other cases in this gemara as speaking specifically about a person's own wife, and noting that the various areas on her body (or her voice) or considered to be a nakedness for him during the recitation of the Shema, and thus he would have to relocate or have her relocate in order for him to continue saying the Shema. While we can logically expand this to include any woman (obviously if a man cannot see his own wife's thigh or hair he should not be looking at that of another man's wife), can we expand this to apply to times other than during the recitation of Shema? Is a woman's hair intrinsically considered to be nakedness, or does it merely qualify for this distinction qua the requirements for a person to be in a proper environment during prayer, but at any other time there would be no problem per se for a woman to display her hair?

The third gemara that discusses this issue is anecdotal in nature. The gemara in Yoma 47a, after citing several statements of one Rabi Yishmael ben Kimchit, then notes that Kimchit herself merited to have seven sons serve as the high priest. When asked what she did to deserve this wonderful reward, she replied that even the walls of her house never saw her hair uncovered. While this statement is not recorded as a binding legal decision, it nevertheless indicates the existence of a very high level of modesty that was practiced by some (the gemara does note that Kimchit was not alone in this type of conduct).

What emerges from these three sources in the gemara are two main issues that present themselves with regard to the requirement for a woman to cover her hair. One is more of a modesty issue, as is highlighted both by the gemara in Ketubot (as explained by Tosafot Rid) as well as the case in Yoma. On the other hand, there is the gemara in Berachot, which seems to be introducing a more formal and legal aspect to this law. According to that source, we are dealing with an "ervah," a term which hearkens back to the verses in the Torah which discuss the various forbidden types of relations.

Our final source brings both of these concepts together. The final mishna in Gittin (90a) states that according to Beit Shammai, a man should divorce his wife only if he discovers a "davar ervah," meaning that she is acting in a loose manner. The gemara explains that if a man's wife goes out with her hair uncovered he is commanded to divorce her, based on the verse in Devarim 24 which states that a man divorces his wife if he finds a "davar ervah" with her. This gemara is very similar in its examples to those listed in Ketubot, and since both discuss the man's right to divorce his wife it would stand to reason that they are basically the same law. However, while in Ketubot they were classified as "Dat Yehudit," here they are viewed as being part of the Torah's definition of nakedness! Perhaps we can suggest that the entire concept of "tzni'ut," modesty, is a series of customs that have been accepted for the purpose of preventing one from committing more serious violations of the Torah's sexual morality code. This would be in line with the aforementioned discussion in Ketubot, which states that covering the hair is a Torah-based law made stricter by later custom.

Going back now to the gemara in Ketubot, Rav Assi claims that a woman who wears a "kalta" is not considered to have her hair uncovered. Rabi Zeira challenges this statement on the grounds that there is no conceivable case when it can be true: if we are talking about a woman wearing such a symbolic covering in public, we have already stated that "Dat Yehudit" prohibits it; and if we claim that this means within the confines of her own property, then we will destroy the entire institution of marriage in Judaism! How so? By claiming that a "kalta" is not a problem of having the hair uncovered in private, we are implying that it is possible for a woman's hair to be uncovered in private and thus be considered a violation of this law. However, women obviously have their hair uncovered at home, and if this implication were to be true then we would be making it incumbent on every man to divorce his wife for this infraction!

Abaye solves Rabi Zeira's problem by stating that Rav Assi is speaking about a woman who is going from one courtyard to another by way of an alleyway. Rashi explains that such an alleyway does not have many people making use of it, and thus she can get by with a lesser form of hair covering. Rosh, citing a statement from the Yerushalmi, states that an courtyard that has many people coming into it is considered to be an alleyway (meaning that it is considered more of a public zone), while an alleyway that has no people using it is considered to be a courtyard (i.e. more of a private area). Ritva sums up this issue by noting that there are three different aspects to this law: in a courtyard (private property) a woman does not have to cover her hair, in a completely public area she has to cover her hair in a substantial manner, and in an alleyway she has to cover her hair, but she can do so in more of a symbolic manner ("kalta").

This last issue will take us into a discussion that we will expand upon next week. Are the different area described in the mishna to be taken literally, or are they to be understood as defining categories? Can a woman leave her hair uncovered within the confines of her own home, regardless of who else is there, or do such leniencies apply only when she is truly in private (or with her family)? What exactly is meant by a "kalta"? Are there various degrees of covering the hair that are acceptable in the eyes of halacha in different situations? We will investigate the answers to these questions and others next week.

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