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Why do people say that the hair of a married woman is considered as nakedness, but not the hair of a single woman? Isn't hair just hair? What if a man grew his hair long - would it also be considered erva?

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Rambam Hilchos Isurei Biah 21:17 includes single girls. –  sam May 15 '12 at 2:00
@sam Bach, Beis Shmuel, Taz, Chelkas Mechokeik, and Be'er Heitiv hold that single girls/virgins are not included. That's the common practice in most places. –  Fred May 15 '12 at 2:09
@fred I know the Rambam is the only one ,thats why I didnt put in a the answer box,but there is no question acc to the Rambam. –  sam May 15 '12 at 3:05
@sam - Got it. Still good to put those references out there, though. –  Fred May 15 '12 at 4:29
And why is it ok if some is uncovered (let's follow the stringent opinion that it is accidental) up to a Tefah? –  Seth J Jun 6 '12 at 14:43
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

A requirement for a married woman to cover her hair, whether d'oraysa or d'rabbanan, is suggested by the fact that the kohein would uncover a sotah's hair (Kesuvos 72a). Hair is additionally considered an ervah when it is customarily kept covered. Since married women must cover their hair, the sight of this normally covered area is an ervah. For single women who do not and need not otherwise cover their hair, it is not (Bach, Even HaEzer 21:2).

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I don't see how this answers why married is different than single –  yydl May 15 '12 at 2:05
@yydl - The idea is that the fact that a married woman's hair is generally covered (and is supposed to be covered) changes the way people look at it. This makes it an ervah. This explains why common disregard for the obligation to cover hair is a basis for kulos with regards to kriyas shema. –  Fred May 15 '12 at 2:12
Okay. But then why do married women need to cover their hair (and not single girls)? –  yydl May 15 '12 at 2:20
@yydl Firstly, it may simply be a standalone d'oraysa (according to some Rishonim). According to those who say it is an asmachta (like the Terumas HaDeshen's understanding of the Rambam), R' Daniel Shiloh suggested the following reason: "The hair covering is meant to remind Jewish women to act always in accordance with the guidelines laid down for them. By our sages' understanding, any woman already experienced in male-female relationships requires this reminder, hence the obligation falls upon every non-virgin." –  Fred May 15 '12 at 2:31
I'm getting dizzy from this circular logic. "Married women must cover their hair. Therefore, since they must cover their hair it is 'Ervah. Therefore, since it is 'Ervah, they must cover their hair." –  Seth J Jun 6 '12 at 14:45
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To add to Fred's answer: in Sifra (to Num. 5:18, the same verse that the Gemara cites) R. Yishmael finds support for the idea that unmarried virgins don't need to cover their hair in II Sam. 13:19, ותקח תמר אפר על ראשה, by explaining אפר as "a scarf" - i.e., we see that Tamar began covering her head with one only after she was violated. (As the commentary Meir Ayin there notes, R. Yishmael may have arrived at this understanding - instead of the standard translation of אפר as "ashes" - because the usual verb that would go with that is ותעל, "she cast up," or ותזרק, "she threw.")

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l points out (Igros Kodesh, vol. 11, letter 3592) that since the verse in the Torah is talking about a married woman, there's nothing to tell us that it should be extended to an unmarried one. As for a deeper reason behind the distinction, he suggests that since the requirement that women cover their hair is a consequence of Chavah's having misled her husband Adam into sinning (Eruvin 100b), then it need not apply to a girl who has never had a husband.

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The verse in the Torah is also only talking about a women who is doubtfully unfatithful. Maybe only she is required to cover her hair. –  Double AA May 15 '12 at 3:56
@DoubleAA: then what would be the point of uncovering it during the ordeal - putting her again on the same level as any other married woman? –  Alex May 15 '12 at 3:58
@DoubleAA - Since the Torah only states that the sotah had her hair covering removed (not put on) as part of the process, presumably she wore a hair covering before she became a sotah. –  Fred May 15 '12 at 5:22
@Fred , Alex: Good points. Let's try the other way: the verse in the Torah is also only talking about a women who is a gedolah. Maybe only she is required to cover her hair. –  Double AA May 15 '12 at 5:27
@DoubleAA - It's an exegetical principle to assume that only the smallest reasonable group is included. Sotahs had to be married, so all married women must have covered their hair. We can make no inference beyond that. –  Fred May 15 '12 at 5:40
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