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The gemarah in niddah (45) says that when the torah says that God "built" Eve out of the bone of Adam what actually happened is that God braided Eve's hair and presented her to Adam as a wife. This is learned out from the word "build". But it seems to subvert the simple meaning of the verse. Furthermore we canonize this as law; one may not braid hair on the sabbath because it violates the work-category of "building".

Why is braiding hair building?

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In an article on OU.org, Rabbi Asher Meir brings two answers from HaRav Kook (Ein Ayah Shabbat 94b). One of them is:

One thing we learn from here is that the esthetic aspect of building is not something extraneous but is an inherent aspect of building. The emotional inspiration provided by a beautiful building is no less important than the shelter it provides, and arranging for this is also part of the melacha

See here for an more fleshed out write up of this idea from HaRav Kook.

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You have multiple individual parts, and you combine them together to form a single thing. However it's not tied together with a knot, so it's not tying. Furthermore most braids are made to last, and are not temporary combining of things. So it's building.

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but it's the human body –  user1668 Jul 5 '12 at 14:35
    
is it? :) I don't believe you have to burry nails and hair, but I could be mistaken. –  avi Jul 5 '12 at 14:42
    
pretty sure it is otherwise how could it be considered eirva? –  user1668 Jul 5 '12 at 15:01
    
If it was, how could we allow unmarried women to walk around with uncovered hair? –  avi Jul 5 '12 at 15:49
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@PM Also, even if the hair were to be considered "the human body", why would that prevent you from doing melacha with it? You cannot write on the body, you cannot carry a person's body, you cannot bruise a person's body... so too, you cannot build something on a person's body. –  Shimon bM Jul 6 '12 at 9:06

Firstly, one may not braid hair on Shabbat regardless of how one categorises it. In the Mishna, Shabbat 10:6, braiding hair is forbidden by all authorities, the only difference being whether it is forbidden MiDe'Orayta or whether it is forbidden MiDeRabbanan. Rabbi Eliezer holds that it is forbidden MiDe'Orayta, and the gemara's interpretation is that this is because it falls under the category of "building". The chachamim disagree, but still forbid it because of shevut.

Secondly, there are innumerable instances in which the simple meaning of a verse is "subverted" in order to establish the halakha. There are principles, however, by which this is done. These principles, while they might not align with current systems of logic that you are familiar with, are nonetheless rigorous and (somewhat) consistent. They are known as middot, and if you take a little time to familiarise yourself with the principles of midrashic exegesis, you might be less surprised to see things like this.

In fact, the Mishna in Hagigah 1:8 acknowledges this problem when it declares that the laws of Shabbat "are like mountains suspended on a hair, for there's [only] a little bit of scripture, but a great many halakhot."

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I don't think you answered the question; WHY is it building? –  user1668 Jul 5 '12 at 15:02
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You answered that –  Shimon bM Jul 5 '12 at 15:14
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Sorry, it uploaded my comment before I'd finished writing it and then wouldn't let me save my edit. What I wanted to write was: I took your question to be why braiding hair is considered melacha. If you want to know why it's specifically <i>boneh</i>, rather than <i>qesher</i>, then I'd say that the answer is in the passage you referenced from Niddah, and is based upon a midrash concerning Eve. If you're looking for a further explanation that is "rational", rather than midrashic, I don't know that there necessarily is one. –  Shimon bM Jul 5 '12 at 15:24
    
The question is very clearly about why it is in the category of "building". –  Seth J Jan 18 '13 at 15:53

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