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In reading scores of halakhic material on the subject of kisui rosh le-nashim throughout the ages, I have found that there are essentially two views as to the nature of the obligation for a woman to cover her hair in public - that it is an actual law (לאו) of the Torah and that it is minhagh (מנהג) of Jewish women. While it seems that these two views were once mutually exclusive (i.e. one side permitting the uncovering of a woman's hair in public and one side prohibiting it), today they seem to have merged into a view that although due to hergel (הרגל) in seeing womens' hair it has lost it's status as `erwah (ערוה) they are nevertheless required to cover it (cf. Arokh HaShulhan 75:7 & Igroth Mosheh, Orah Hayim 1:42).

During the discussions of permitting some (in this case more than a tefah but less than all) hair or all hair to be left uncovered in public, the point is usually stressed that even if someone did hold that it was a subjective obligation, they are stuck in a bind since the local custom is determined by the practice of religious women and not irreligious or non-Jewish women. And, so the argument goes, since the overwhelming majority of religious Jewish women cover their hair, the obligation - even for those who may hold that it is determined by custom - is still binding today.

However, the way in which the overwhelming majority of Jewish women today cover their hair - either all or part of the time - is by using a sheitel/wig. So, especially since the sheitels today are so realistic, worn long around the shoulders, and are even at times made of the woman's own hair (!), doesn't that communicate that the religious Jewish world is essentially fine with women's hair showing? Doesn't that invalidate the need for covering at all?

I have been told that the actual isur is seeing the actual hair and not hair in general, but this seems illogical and with this logic we could say (halilah wa-has) that nude pictures of women are okay to look at since it is not actual `erwah, etc. Which, of course, is blatantly ridiculous to any religious Jew.

So doesn't the wide use of Sheitels among Orthodox Jewish women prove that hair no longer retains the erotic status that it once had and that the halakhic obligation for women to cover their hair in public has been nullified?

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The fact that hair of a betulah and hair of a nesuah can have different statuses when they look exactly the same makes your analogy to pornography suspect. –  Double AA Jun 19 at 4:45
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@Maimonist If the other twin is still unmarried can everyone else see her hair? Yes. Hence hair is not the same as random other nudity. –  Double AA Jun 19 at 5:11
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Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/16373 and this comment. –  Fred Jun 19 at 5:14
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@Maimonist Such an idea is only illogical if it is the sight which is inherently erotic (as, for example, a photograph from Playboy magazine likely is) whereas here we see that is not the case, as is evidenced from the twin sister's hair. Perhaps you should consider further that the point of covering hair is not, as you said, "in order to prevent hirhurei `averah". –  Double AA Jun 19 at 5:30
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I think you are incorrect in suggesting that the overwhelming majority of women who cover their hair use a sheitel. This is maybe true in America, but certainly not in Israel, for example. –  Daniel Jun 19 at 6:10
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3 Answers 3

Firstly: What makes you think that Sheitels are a recent development?

See the Gemara in Sanhedrin 112a:

בעי רב יוסף שיער נשים צדקניות מהו אמר רבא הא דרשעיות אסור (דברים יג) תקבץ ושרפת כתיב מי שאינו מחוסר אלא קביצה ושריפה יצא זה שמחוסר תלישה וקביצה ושריפה אלא אמר רבא בפיאה נכרית היכי דמי אי דמחובר בגופה כגופה דמיא לא צריכא דתלי בסיבטא כנכסי צדיקים שבתוכה דמי ואבד או דלמא כיון דעיילא ונפקא כלבושה דמי תיקו

It's clear from there that Righteous Women wore Sheitels in the time of the Gemara and before that, since Ir HaNidachat only applies when there's a Sahedrin!

Secondly: What makes you think that hair is erotic and therefore to needs to be covered?

  • See the Shiltei Giborim (Shabbos 29a in the Rif) who Paskens that only the area where the hair grows needs to be covered - and he seems to permit the longer hair to be left uncovered. (He says so 3 times.)
  • Note that unmarried women do not need to cover their hair. For that matter, even ugly hair, or thin-barely-visible hair needs to be covered on a married woman.

It would seem to me that we learn from Sota that a married woman must cover her hair. No reason given; as usual when we try give a Mitzva a reason, we then feel we can prove the reason doesn't exist and then abolish the Mitzva.

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rambam holds unmarried women and girls need to cover. –  MoriDoweedhYaa3qob Jun 19 at 17:55
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Rabbi Michael Broyde makes this exact point. "Would we allow a woman to wear a shirt that had an image of her bare chest on it? No, because that image is inappropriate in our culture."

Furthermore, if a woman would travel to some country where all the women keep their hair covered and wear a ritzy-deluxe sheitel there, she would turn a lot of heads. Presumably that would be prohibited.

What he, Rabbi Willig, and many others suggest is that there are two different laws. One is that "hair is erva", however that is subjective to current mores. (Note that Talmudic quote didn't say "married hair", just "hair.") The other is an objective law, "married women should cover their hair" -- irrespective of its erotic status. The sheitel thus satisfies the letter of the law, because it's a covering; and the spirit of the law is satisfied because hair is not erotic in today's liberal Western culture.

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I'm curious what prohibition you'd quote, when forbidding that shirt or that ritzy sheitel. (I'm referring to the 613 "official" Mitzvot, not "I feel it's not a Jewish thing to do" statement.) –  Danny Schoemann Jun 19 at 9:58
    
@DannySchoemann It would be the same as uber-tight shirts or leggings. Whichever one means "not tznius". –  Double AA Jun 19 at 15:01
    
@DoubleAA - correct. But we still have the original question: What issur is it? The reason I'm asking is that if it's לפני עיוור then it would depend on social norms. Plenty women wear tops that [inadvertantly?] highlight their bust - where do we draw the line between "the classic/modern (highlight your figure) cut" and the "gaudy T-Shirt"? It also then depends on whether you're walking down Meah Shearim or downtown Tel Aviv. But we don't seem to have such a distinction in Halacha. –  Danny Schoemann Jun 22 at 8:55
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@DannySchoemann See judaism.stackexchange.com/q/35151/759 though nothing good has come up yet. –  Double AA Jun 24 at 5:47
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Certainly not the standard approach, but Rav Abadie holds that the primary reason for a married woman to cover her hair is to make her attractive (hence a sotahs hair is uncovered to disgrace her) here is his answer to the shaitel question https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kajqCvyTfZI

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Actually, covering the hair is to make the woman LESS attractive. I would generally say that a teichel, hat / cap or snood, or bath towel (I have seen this, though it's rare) is definitely less attractive than a woman's natural hair. I do see the argument regarding shaitlach - many are nice looking, but still a woman's natural hair is nicer. Hence, in all cases, the need to cover it to lessen the chances of "attraction" to men.... what you might call "hirhurim". –  DanF Jun 19 at 17:34
    
DanF, i would agree that the "covering makes a woman less attractive" is the standard approach, i just wanted to point out that there are genuine talmidie chachamim and poskim that hold the exact opposite. –  avner Jun 22 at 21:13
    
R. Abadi is one person, not 'talmidei chachamim', and is well known for having highly unconventional views... anyway, in you linked video he doesn't actually answer the shaitel question, but he does answer it here: hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1525&st=&pgnum=386 (he thinks that the fact that hair may not seem enticing today, that's irrelevant to what the Torah deems beautiful, and quotes a Ksav Vehakabbalah to that effect) –  Matt Jun 23 at 3:59
    
@Matt He is certainly a talmid chacham and posek and it is likely that one of his students who is prodigious agrees with him. (I'm not commenting on the content of what he actually did or didn't say.) –  Double AA Jun 24 at 5:46
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