Tur writes (O.C. 75) that one cannot say Shema while standing near the uncovered hair of a woman. However, he then qualifies this statement by noting that if the woman in question is an unmarried girl there is no problem, since it is normal for her hair to be uncovered and thus there is nothing distracting or arousing about it. However, in E.H. 21, the Tur writes that Jewish women may not go into the marketplace with uncovered hair, and that this law applies to both married and unmarried women! How does he explain this seeming contradiction?

The Perisha and the Chelkat Mechokek explain that when the Tur (and the Shulchan Aruch) speaks about unmarried women covering their hair, he is speaking about divorcees and widows, who have already been married. However, a girl who has never been married does not have to cover her hair. The Bach notes that while the gemara seems to make no distinction between married and unmarried women, both Mordechai and Ra'avyah claim that virgins may leave their hair uncovered. The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 75:2) makes this clear by ruling that it is forbidden to say Shema only in front of feminine hair that is normally covered, but their is no problem if the girl is a virgin.

With regard to this issue, the Be'eir Heitev (E.H. 21) is the poseik who states in the starkest terms that covering the hair depends on one's status as a virgin. However, the Shevut Ya'akov and the Chavot Yair claim that it is not dependent on whether or not a woman has actually had intercourse, but rather it depends on her being designated for a man. Thus, when the custom was to do the "erusin" half of a wedding as early as a year before the final culmination of the marriage, they would require the girl to cover her hair during that year, even though she had yet to have relations with her soon-to-be husband. On the other hand, their view also allows for a leniency by Rav Moshe Feinstein who rules (Igrot Moshe E.H. 1:57) that a widow can leave her hair uncovered if covering it will cause her a major loss (such as scaring off potential suitors who see covered hair as a sign of a married woman).


Our next issue is where it is forbidden for a woman to have her hair uncovered. Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin, in an article in Techumin 13, offers a fascinating suggestion. Since the law of a woman covering her hair is learned from the procedures surrounding the Sotah, and since these procedures took place by the Temple, perhaps there is only a requirement for a woman to cover her hair while in the Temple (similar to women today who only cover their hair when entering a synagogue, as a gesture of respect for the sanctity of the place)! However, Rav Henkin rejects this idea, and claims that the point of using Sotah as a source is to emphasize that uncovered hair is considered to be an embarrassment for the woman.

Nevertheless, it does seem that the public nature of the revealing of the hair of the Sotah is a detail that should be instructive to us. We have already mentioned the fact that the gemara distinguishes between a woman whose hair is revealed when out in the marketplace and a woman whose hair is uncovered in her own private courtyard. At the end of last week's Chabura we asked if these locations were specific, or if they were merely prototypes and descriptions of types of areas. The Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 115) seems to see them as prototypes, ruling that a woman's hair may be uncovered in a courtyard as long as there are not people who pass through it. However, if the courtyard, private as it may be, has members of the public who come in, it would be forbidden for her to uncover her hair. This point is stated as well by the Magen Avraham, who forbids a woman to uncover her hair if there are other people around (other than her family). He also cites the Zohar which, in the spirit of the story of Kimchit cited last week, forbids a woman to uncover her hair at all. The Beit Shmuel (E.H. 21) qualifies this a bit, stating that covering the hair in the privacy of one's own home is a function of tzni'ut, modesty.


One of the hotter topics today in terms of women covering their hair is how much hair, if any, is allowed to be left hanging out of the hat (or whatever is being used as a covering)? Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe E.H. 1:58) offers a perspective on how to deal with this issue. He notes that the gemara does not say that Jewish women are forbidden to walk around with their hair uncovered. Rather, the gemara says that they may not walk around with "p'ru'at rosh," literally meaning with their hair all wild (see, for example, Vayikra 13:45, where a metzora is commanded to grow his hair long - "rosho yihiye paru'a"). As such, there may be room to distinguish between a woman whose hair in completely uncovered and one who hair is mostly covered but has a little bit hanging out.

Shulchan Aruch (E.H. 115) cites Rambam as saying that a woman whose hair is covered with a handkerchief should be divorced, since this is not considered to be enough of a covering. We have already noted that there is some discussion over what is known as a "kalta," which is a lesser form of covering, and whether or not it will be sufficient to qualify as a true hair covering. Ramo (O.C. 75:2) seems to allow some hair to be uncovered. He states that one may say the Shema in front of hair that is normally sticking out of the hat.

One of the main views on this point is that of Maharam Alshaker, who states that it is fine for a woman to have some hair emerging from the covering. However, the Chatam Sofer and the Tzemach Tzedek, seizing upon the aforementioned view of the Zohar, state that no hair may be revealed at all. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein, in the teshuva mentioned in this section, rules that there may be room to be lenient. The gemara in Berachot 24a that states that the hair of a woman is considered to be an "ervah," beings by saying that a tefach of a woman is also an "ervah." A tefach is a measurement roughly equivalent to a fist of an average sized man, and the gemara is teaching us that it is forbidden for a man to look at that amount of a woman's body. Thus, Rav Feinstein suggests that a tefach is the minimum amount that is considered to be an ervah and anything less will be fine. As a result of this analysis, he permits a woman to reveal one square tefach of hair. However, he then notes that since a woman's head, on average, is about two tefachim wide, she should not allow more than half of a tefach to stick out, so that the resulting square will be one square tefach.

[I have heard it said that two tefachim may be sticking out. It is possible that this is a corruption of this statement of Rav Feinstein - not that two vertical tefachim may be sticking out, but rather that half of a tefach can stick out for a length of two tefachim.]


Finally, we come to the issue of wigs, known in the gemara and halachic literature as "pe'ah nachrit" (a foreign corner of hair), and it Yiddish as a sheitel. Ramo (O.C. 75:2) rules that a man may say Shema while standing within view of a woman wearing a sheitel. This echoes the view of the Shiltei HaGibborim in Shabbat who rules that a pe'ah nachrit is not considered to be an ervah since it is not actually part of the woman's body. The Ateret Zekeinim picks up on this and says that while most wigs are not considered to be an "ervah," if a woman were to have a wig made out of her own hair, it would be considered an ervah for her and she would have to cover it (whether or not women in general have to cover their wigs is a debate among Acharonim).

The Sdei Chemed forbids a woman to wear a wig since it will appear that her hair is uncovered. This view is echoed by Rav Ovadia Yoseif (Yabia Omer E.H. 5:5), a view that he has stated in extremely strong terms in the past few years. However, both the Tiferet Yisrael and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe E.H. 2:12) say that if one can tell that the hair is a wig, then there is no problem. Rav Feinstein, displaying a sensitivity to a real difference between men and women, notes that even if men cannot tell that the hair is a wig, as long as women can tell (and it is my experience that they usually can), then there is no problem. Even on the Sephardic side of the coin, there are those, such as the Yaskil Avdi who are lenient and permit sheitels to be worn.


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