Head covering for Jewish women

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Three styles of hair covering common among married Orthodox Jewish women. From left to right: snood, fall, and hat.

According to halacha (Jewish law), married Jewish women are expected to cover their hair when in the presence of men other than their husband or close family members. Such covering is common practice nowadays among Orthodox Jewish women.

Different kinds of head coverings are used, among them the mitpaḥat or tichel (headscarf), shpitzel, snood, hat, beret, and sheitel (wig). The most common head coverings in the Haredi community are headscarves in the form of the tichel and snood, though some wear hats, berets or sheitels; the tichel and snood remain the historic and universally accepted rabbinical standard for observant Jewish women.[1] The headscarves can be tied in a number of ways, depending on how casually the wearer is dressed.

Covering the hair is part of the modesty-related dress standard called tzniut.

Laws[edit]

According to Jewish law (halacha), a woman must cover her hair after marriage.[2][3] The requirement applies in the presence of any men other than her husband, son, grand-son, father, grand-father, or brother,[4] though a minority opinion allows uncovering hair within one's home even in the presence of unrelated men.[5]

The obligation to cover hair applies in public areas.[5] In a private home, some sources recommend hair covering (even in the absence of unrelated men), but the consensus is that hair may be uncovered if no unrelated men are present.[4]

The consensus is that all or most of the hair must be covered.[6] Some sources rule that every single hair must be covered,[7] but many others permit a small amount of hair (each source defines the amount differently) to emerge from the head-covering.[8][6]

Various reasons have been suggested for this head-covering, among them:

  • Historically, head-covering was considered a form of dignity for a woman, and to have one's head-covering removed was a source of humiliation.[9]
  • Married women are expected to behave with a higher level of sexual modesty than single women, due to the commitment they have made to their husbands, and covering their potentially alluring hair is one aspect of this.[9]
  • Head covering is a sign of a woman's married status, which (among other things) could indicate to men that she is unavailable to them.[9]
  • Head-covering indicates awe when standing before God, similar to the kippah for men.[9]
  • Nowadays, head-covering also serves a sign of identification with the religious Jewish community.[9]

Sources[edit]

Rahel (right) with her head covered by a scarf

Numbers 5:18 requires, as part of the sotah ritual, that a married woman's head be made parua (a word which has been understood to mean "uncovered" or "with loose hair"[10]), suggesting that, normally, her hair is not parua. According to the Talmud, this indicates that the Torah prohibits married women in general from appearing parua in public.[11][12]

The Mishnah, however, implies that hair covering is not an obligation of biblical origin. It discusses behaviors that are grounds for divorce, such as, "appearing in public with a parua head, weaving in the marketplace, and talking to any man", and calls these violations of Dat Yehudit[a] ("Jewish law") as opposed to Dat Moshe ("Mosaic law").[13] The Talmud reconciles the sources by saying that if her head is completely uncovered in public, this would indeed be a violation of Dat Moshe, whereas a woman who appears in public wearing a kalta (a minimal covering of part of the hair, perhaps a basket resting on the head[14]) has satisfied Dat Moshe but is still violating Dat Yehudit.[11]

Another relevant Talmudic source is Berakhot 24a, where the rabbis define hair as sexually erotic (ervah), and prohibit men from praying in sight of a married woman's hair. The rabbis base this judgement on a biblical verse: "Your hair is like a flock of goats" (Song of Songs 4:1), suggesting that this praise reflects the sensual nature of hair.[15] However, "with a few exceptions, there is halachic consensus that the obligation of women's head-covering derives chiefly from the sota and, secondarily, from dat Yehudit", rather than from ervah,[16] and a number of leading poskim ruled that while head-covering is required, in societies where this law is widely ignored, the uncovered hair ceases to be considered ervah for the purpose of prayer.[17]

The Zohar, a commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures and the primary source of the beliefs of Kabbalah, also describes the mystical importance of women making sure to not expose their hair. The parashat Naso 125b-126b[18] suggests that a woman who strictly obeys head covering traditions will reap many blessings for her husband and children.

Unmarried women[edit]

The medieval codes do not mention any exemption for unmarried women.[19] According to the Mishna, if a woman went to her wedding with hair uncovered, this serves as proof that she was a virgin (i. e., never before married) at the time.[20] This seems to indicate that never-married women did not cover their hair, but divorced and widowed women did continue to cover their hair. This is also the position taken by the Jerusalem Talmud[21] and is generally the accepted ruling today.[22] However, R' Moshe Feinstein permitted divorced and widowed women to uncover their hair in cases of great need, for example, when a head covering might interfere with dating or obtaining a job.[23] Exact rulings in such cases vary depending on the community and the individual's situation.[22]

In Yemen, unmarried girls covered their hair like their Muslim peers;[24] however, upon Yemeni Jews' emigration to Israel and other places, this custom has been abandoned. Aharon Roth praised this custom.[25] Magen Avraham ruled that while unmarried women need not cover their hair, they must braid it so that it is not disheveled.[26] This ruling is practiced in some Hasidic communities nowadays.[22]

When a woman gets married, opinions differ regarding when exactly she must begin covering her head: after betrothal (rare today), after the chuppah ceremony, after yichud, or only after the couple has spent a night together.[22] Even according to the more stringent opinions, the bridal veil (which partly covers the hair) may be considered sufficient cover for the remainder of the ceremony.[22]

Non-Orthodox Judaism[edit]

Conservative and Reform Judaism do not generally require women to wear head coverings. Some more traditional Conservative synagogues may ask that married women cover their heads during services. However, some more liberal Conservative synagogues suggest that women, married or not, wear head-coverings similar to those worn by men (the kippah/yarmulke); and some require it (or require it only for women receiving honors or leading services from the bimah) – not for modesty, but as a feminist gesture of egalitarianism.[27]

In the 21st century, some non-Orthodox Jewish women, mainly in North America, began covering their heads or hair with scarves, kippot, or headbands.[28] Reasons given for doing so included as an act of spiritual devotion,[29] as expression of ethnic identity, as an act of resistance to a culture that normalizes the exposure of the body,[30] or as a feminist reclamation of modest dress, a practice sometimes seen as non- or anti-feminist.[31]

Mitpaḥat[edit]

Knotted tichel

Mitpaḥat (Hebrew: מִטפַּחַתmiṭpaḥat), also called a tichel (Yiddish: טיכל tikhl), is the headscarf worn covering the hair.[32] Mitpaḥot can range from a plain scarf of any material worn over the hair to elaborate head coverings using multiple fabrics and tying techniques.

According to Ibn Ezra, already in Biblical times, Israelite women wore a form of cloth head covering similar to that worn by Muslim women in his own time (12th century).[33]

Etymology[edit]

The word Mitpaḥat is a Hebrew word which literally means a covering or mantle, though is also used to mean many other things such as towel, apron, bandage, or wrap. Its current meaning is taken from post-biblical Hebrew, and is most likely derived from the Hebrew word טִפַּח (tipaḥ), meaning spread out or extended.[34]

The Yiddish word tichel is the diminutive of tuch ("cloth"). Compare German Tuch ("cloth"), and the corresponding Bavarian diminutive Tiachal, Tücherl ("small piece of cloth").

Shpitzel[edit]

A Jewish woman wearing a sheitel with a shpitzel or snood on top of it

A shpitzel (Yiddish: שפּיצל) is a head covering worn by some married Hasidic women. It is a partial wig that only has hair in the front, the rest typically covered by a small pillbox hat or a headscarf.[35] The hairpiece may actually be silk or lace, or else made of synthetic fibers, to avoid too closely resembling real hair.[36] The shpitzel was popular among Hungarian Hasidim in the 19th century, and it is worn by some contemporary women who follow the customs of that community.

Etymology[edit]

The Yiddish word "Shpitzel" is related to the grammatical diminutive of the high-German word "Spitze" which can either mean "point" or "lace"; the latter translation is most likely the right one in the context of this article.

The term shpitzel may also be used to refer to the ends of a loaf of bread in some dialects.[37] In this case, the above-mentioned translation "Spitze" = (end)point/peak is applicable, with its High German grammatical diminutive "Spitzchen".

Sheitel[edit]

A woman with dark brown shoulder-length hair
Judge Rachel Freier, a married Hasidic woman, wearing a sheitel

Sheitel (Yiddish: שייטל, sheytl m.sg.; שייטלעך, sheytlekh m.pl. or שייטלען, sheytlen m.pl.) is a wig or half-wig. The related term in Hebrew is pei'ah (פאה) or pei'ah nochrit (פאה נוכרית).[38] The Sheitel started to be used by some Jewish women as a headcovering in the 18th century, though its use has been opposed by traditional rabbis.[1]

Traditional sheitels are secured by elastic caps, and are often designed with heavy bangs to obscure the hairline of their wearers. More modern lace-front wigs with realistic hairlines or real hair are growing in popularity.[38]

Some modern Orthodox women cover their hair with wigs. A style of half wig known as a "fall" has become increasingly common in some segments of Modern and Haredi Orthodox communities. It is worn with either a hat or a headband.

Acceptability[edit]

The practice of covering hair with wigs is debated among halakhic authorities. Many authorities, including Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,[39] permitted it, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe actively encouraged it,[40] while many other authorities, especially Sephardi rabbis, forbid it. Some Hasidic groups encourage sheitels, while others avoid them.[41] In many Hasidic groups, sheitels are avoided, as they can give the impression that the wearer's head is uncovered. In other Hasidic groups, women wear some type of covering over the sheitel to avoid this misconception, for example a scarf or a hat. Married Sephardi and National Religious women do not wear wigs, because their rabbis believe that wigs are insufficiently modest, and that other head coverings, such as a scarf (tichel), a snood, a beret, or a hat, are more suitable. In stark contrast, the Chabad rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, encouraged all married Jewish women to wear sheitels, though in Torat Menachem, he writes that in fact, "if she can cover her hair with a scarf, it is definitely good if she would do so, but in reality, we know that this doesn't happen."[41][42]

In 2004, controversy arose over natural hair sheitels procured from India when Rabbi Elyashiv announced a prohibition on the use of Indian hair in Jewish wigs.[43] It was discovered that the hair used for the production of these wigs was taken from a Hindu temple where pilgrims travelled to undergo the ritual of tonsure (head shaving). According to Jewish law, one cannot derive benefit from anything used in practices considered to be idolatry. Today, many wigs used by Jewish women come with a hechsher (kosher certification), indicating that they are not made with hair originating from rituals deemed to be idolatrous.[44] Kosher certification also implies that the sheitels are recognizable as wigs, no longer than the top vertebra of the spinal cord, and appear neat and modest.

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mishnaic manuscripts read דת יהודים Law of the Jews but printings, following most Bavli manuscripts, read דת יהודית Jewish Law. Cf. דת ישראל in t. Ketubot 7:6.
  1. ^ a b Cahn-Lipman, David E. (1991). The Book of Jewish Knowledge: 613 Basic Facts about Judaism. Jason Aronson. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-87668-575-4. In the late eighteenth century, women began covering their heads with a wig (a sheitel). Ironically, many rabbis opposed this innovation because they saw it as being indecent.
  2. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'ezer 115, 4; Orach Chayim 75,2; Even Ha'ezer 21, 2
  3. ^ Schiller, Mayer. "The Obligation of Married Women to Cover Their Hair" Archived 2008-04-07 at the Wayback Machine. JHCS 30, 1995, 81–108.
  4. ^ a b Hair covering at home
  5. ^ a b Deracheha: Women and Head-Covering V: Where
  6. ^ a b Deracheha: Women and Head-Covering IV: How
  7. ^ Magen Avraham 75:4; Chatam Sofer I:36
  8. ^ Rema, Orach Chaim 75:2; Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer 1:58; R' Ovadiah Yosef (quoted in Et Tzenu'im Chochma 79a)
  9. ^ a b c d e Deracheha: Women and Head-Covering II: Rationale and Meaning
  10. ^ 'וראשה פרוע'
  11. ^ a b Ketubot 72a-72b
  12. ^ Yakov Yitzchak Fuks (1989). Halichot Bat Yisrael (in Hebrew). Jerusalem.
  13. ^ Mishnah, Ketuboth 7:6
  14. ^ Jastrow dictionary, קַלָּת
  15. ^ Brachot 24a
  16. ^ Women and Head-Covering I: Halachic Basis
  17. ^ R' Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:42; Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 75:7, etc.
  18. ^ "Hair Covering in Jewish Law | Sefaria". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  19. ^ e.g. Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah 21:16, SeMaG, lo Taaseh 126, Orchot Chaim, Ketubot 34, Tur, Even haEzer 21, Shulchan Arukh, Even haEzer 21:2.
  20. ^ Mishnah Ketubot 2:1
  21. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Ketubot 2:1
  22. ^ a b c d e Deracheha: Women and Head-Covering III: Who
  23. ^ Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer 1:57 and 4:32:4
  24. ^ "Dress Codes: Revealing the Jewish Wardrobe" Archived 3 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine, An exhibition focusing on this collection was presented at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem 11 March 2014 – 18 October 2014
  25. ^ Sefer Shomer Emunim, Rav Aharon Roth zt"l
  26. ^ Magen Avraham, 75:3
  27. ^ Kaplan Sommer, Alison (Dec 15, 2013). "Should a Jewish Woman Cover Her Head ... With a Yarmulke?". Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. Haaretz. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  28. ^ Bernstein, Alyx (3 February 2020). "Headband Nation". Tablet. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  29. ^ Kent, Aiden (29 August 2022). "We Need More Jewish Modest Style Influencers". Alma. 70/Faces Media. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  30. ^ Pockrass, Ally (8 March 2018). "Why These Secular Jewish Women Are Covering Their Hair". Alma. 70/Faces Media. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  31. ^ Jacobi, Zo (24 June 2021). "A Short History of Tichels and the Modern Resurgence". Jewitches. Retrieved 19 September 2022.
  32. ^ Encyclopedia of Judaism: Tichel
  33. ^ Ibn Ezra to Exodus 38:8
  34. ^ Klein, Ernest (1987). A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary Of The Hebrew Language. Jerusalem: Carta Jerusalem. ISBN 965220093X.
  35. ^ Hella Winston (15 November 2006). Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. Beacon Press. pp. 21, 181. ISBN 978-0-8070-3627-3. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
  36. ^ Elbinger, Naomi (18 December 2011). "The Tichel: A Short History of Headcovering Fashion". MavenMall Blog. Archived from the original on 2013-03-08. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  37. ^ Vaux, Bert. "Dialect Survey: What do you call the end of a loaf of bread?". Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  38. ^ a b Sherman, Julia (November 17, 2010). "She goes covered".
  39. ^ Rav Moshe Feinstein (29 October 2007). Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer chelek 2, siman 12.
  40. ^ All over his published correspondence
  41. ^ a b Letters on the importance of wearing a sheitel from the Lubavitcher Rebbe
  42. ^ "Torat Menachem תשי"ד P. 189-190"
  43. ^ Wakin, Daniel J. (2004-05-14). "Rabbis' Rules and Indian Wigs Stir Crisis in Orthodox Brooklyn". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-04-21.
  44. ^ hair sources and background. "Kosher Wigs". prweb.com. Retrieved August 17, 2013.

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