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The custom for married women to shave their heads is, evidently, a fairly widespread custom that exists at least amongst (certain) Hasidim. I have heard a variety of supposed, non-authoritative explanations for this practice, but, hitherto, I have been unable to find an explicit, written source. It would be greatly appreciated if some light were shed on this subject matter, particularly the following questions:

  1. What is the source/origin of this minhag? What is the underlying reasoning behind it? Is it primarily halakhic? Kabbalistic? Cultural? Historically speaking, how old is it?
  2. Sociologically speaking, who abides by this custom? For instance, some (e.g. Satmar) clearly do adhere to this practice whilst others (e.g. Sepharadim) clearly do not. My understanding had been that this was an exclusively hasidic minhag. Is this truly so? Are there non-Hasidim/Misnagdim who hold this way? If so, who? Conversely, are there Hasidim who don't practice this? If so, who, and why?
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    Sources supporting this practice: Shu"t Avnei Tzedek (YD §106) (by the Yetev Lev), Shulchan HaEzer (Vol. 2, 9:10), and Nit'ei Gavriel (Hil. Nidah, Vol. 3, 3:15). The custom is based largely on the Zohar (Naso 127a): דהא נוקבא בעייא לספרא שערא כד אתיא לאזדווגא בדכורא. (Opposition to this custom abounds, though: eg. Sh"A YD 182:5). – Fred Oct 29 '13 at 7:10
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    @Fred, sounds like an answer. Why not post it as such? – msh210 Oct 29 '13 at 18:44
  • @msh210 Because I don't really think it's a full answer, and I don't have time to write one up now. But I'd be more than happy if someone wants to use sources in my comment to help them write a complete answer. – Fred Oct 29 '13 at 18:50
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    Male shadim have hair. Female ones do not. That's why Boaz felt Ruth, to see if she had hair so he would know if she was a shade or not. Seffer chassidim #1155. Just sayin. – user6591 Dec 8 '14 at 20:49
  • See comments here parsha.blogspot.com/2008/01/… – רבות מחשבות Jan 18 at 15:04
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Rav Herschel Schachter told me that the reason they do it is because they are afraid that a hair will be left out of the mikveh when they do tevila. To avoid this problem they shave their heads. I have also heard that they suspect that there will be tangles, which are חציצה for the tevila, so they shave their heads. Neither of these reasons would really justify literally shaving all the hair off, just cutting it short. In terms of an esoteric reason, I have heard that it is an extra ''dose'' of צניעות, modesty, to combat a growing פריצות, immodesty. Sociologically, I have never heard of anyone but chassidim practicing this, which would lead me to assume that it was not practiced before the Advent of chassidus. (This is not exactly מוכרח, as it could be that the places that became hotspots of chassidim were already doing this.)

The גמרא in Nedarim says that a man can undo his wife's נזירות, as it is considered a ''matter that comes between them'' (דברים שבינו לבינה), as he can claim that ''I can't stand a woman with a shaved head'' (אי אפשי באשה מגולחת), as a נזיר must shave his/ her head once he/she is done with the נזירות. It seems fairly evident that head-shaving was not normative practice (at least in the times of the גמרא) and that it is so extreme that it can be called ''something that comes between them''.

  • How many Hungarian non-Chassidim are left, and do they shave their hair? – Shmuel Brin Oct 30 '13 at 22:15
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    Moses, thank you. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein makes these exact points with regards to a "mixed-marriage" couple -- her family usually shaves their heads, and in his family the women don't. Rabbi Feinstein says if it was good enough for the Gemara to say "I want my wife to have hair!", it's good enough for us! And what about erring to the side of extra tznius? No, err to the side of extra shalom bayis! – Shalom Oct 30 '13 at 23:40
  • @ShmuelBrin Does it matter if there are any left? I heard from a very not-chassidic Hungarian-origin couple that her mother would shave in accordance with the Hungarian (non-chassidim's) custom. – Adám Oct 31 '13 at 19:16
  • @NBZ he says that he never heard of non-chassidim shaving their hair, and deduces that it was invented after Chassidus. I just wanted to point stronger that his parentheses may be more accurate (which your testimony seems to back up). – Shmuel Brin Oct 31 '13 at 20:16
  • To be extra careful not to have a chatzitza for the mikvah seems rather strange reasoning considering it's not normal for women to shave their heads and could be looked at as an issue of begged ish – Dude Nov 24 '13 at 18:48
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These are vey good questions and I do not have all the answers, but one thing I wish to clarify as this misconception is quite widespread: this custom was not invented by Hassidim. In fact, this custom predates chassidus and possibly dates back to the days of the rishonim. See for example Shut tashbatz part 3, 299, where he mentions a custom of קציצת הפיאות כמשפט הבנות on the day the girls get married. However, this could simply be interpreted as a reference to a practical haircut that newlyweds used to get, and not a complete shave. But if it is indeed a reference to the shaving custom, then it is probably the earliest source to mention this (unless we count the Zohar which is unlikely to have been followed at that point).

(The passage in the Rambam cited by Robert S. Barnes forbidding Jewish women to shave can further be interpreted as a polemic against his fellow Sephardic Jews who followed this custom. In fact the Rambam himself demurs to a similar custom in Egypt, where the bride would dress like a male and dance with a sword under the chuppa in front of the men. This letter has been cited in full in the beginning of the sefer Maaseh Rokeach. The shaving custom if followed by Sephardim in the days of the Rambam may well be linked to this cross dressing theme/ritual observed by Egyptian Jews as the Rambam's letter attests to.)

Fast forward a few hundred years we find the Chasam sofer mentioning this same custom in his responsa YD (siman 195) in which he discusses the problems that arise from it in relation to tevila/immersion. The Netziv mentions this custom in his sefer Haamek Shaala part 12, 95 (responsa) as well, and calls it a custom that was "instituted by the Rabbis" suggesting that this custom is quite old. There he also discusses why this custom was not followed in the times of the Mishna. This custom is also briefly mentioned in the sefer keli chemda.

By now it should be clear that this custom is not exclusive to chassidim (chasam sofer and netziv were not chassidim I assure you), and that it also predates the establishment of chassidus. For some reason (most likely because it smacks of superstition) this custom was completely forsaken by the majority of Jewish kehilot, and was only preserved by a handful of Chassidim and by some yekki communities, but as I have shown, this picture does not do justice to the reality in the old European communities where this custom was widespread.

According to R Menashe Klein (in mishneh halachos my main source here) this custom was instituted by the Council of Four Lands. However this does not necessarily preclude an earlier date for this custom, as they may have merely been the ones who standardized it, but the custom may have been around well before it became widespread in Europe. You can read here for more on this, and the reasons behind this bizarre custom.

The most likely origin for this custom is the Zohar. In two places (Parshas Naso and Pinchas) the Zohar encourages women (particularly menstruating) to shave. In one place the niddah is encouraged to burn her hair because the hair is contaminated and dangerous. In another place the niddah is encouraged to shave before she immerses in the mikveh, so she becomes more pure and fit for her husband when she immerses. So the origin is most probably kabbalistic.

Before I close this discussion I would like to note that this custom is also found by the ancient people of Sparta; they had a similar custom of shaving off the head of the bride that was about to marry, and like the Egyptian Jewish brides, mentioned earlier, they dressed like men on the day of the wedding as well, see here.

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sorry for my english: from the Torah you see that married women did not shave there hairs.Starting with the captive women, the wife of one ben peleg, the sota ceremony etc etc...Opposite you will see that shaving the hairs means humiliating ( sota, captive women etc..) not talking about the women that help the nazi during the war. I heard that the origin of shaving women hairs was in the midle age in order for the jewish new kala to escape ( not being desirable ) the droit de seigneur.

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    Most of this is irrelevant. You only show the custom is less than 3500 years old (which was pretty obvious), and you give some sourceless speculation in your last sentence, which I don't find all that convincing as presented. – Double AA Oct 29 '13 at 21:03
  • @DoubleAA His source is that the Torah said that it's a bad thing. – Shmuel Brin Oct 30 '13 at 22:18
  • @ShmuelBrin on the contrary, he speculates that the Torah sees it as a bad thing. – yoel Oct 31 '13 at 1:53
  • @yoel It's pretty explicitly Pshat. You can tell me that all interpretation of pesukim is speculation if you really want. – Double AA Nov 3 '13 at 21:30
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    @SethJ, nothing to downvote other than grammar, no citations, and a total failure to answer the actual question? Near as I can tell, what is your opinion about this minhag isn't the question. – Yirmeyahu Dec 8 '14 at 20:30
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According to Rambam Laws of Idol Worship it is forbidden as it is considered "ornamenting oneself with a man's ornaments":

יא [י] לא תעדה אישה עדי האיש, כגון שתשים בראשה מצנפת או כובע, או שתלבוש שריון וכיוצא בו, או שתגלח ראשה כאיש; ... הכול, כמנהג המדינה.

A woman shall not ornament herself with a man's ornaments, for example a ritual head wrap or hat, or armor and such things, or to shave her head like a man; ... Everything according to the custom of the city

While he qualifies the overall paragraph making it relative to normal practices in the larger society, it seems that according to his stance it would be forbidden since most western societies including Israel consider it abnormal for women to shave their heads.

If something violates a Torah prohibition and is explicitly mentioned in such an early source as being prohibited, then it would seem that it's source is clearly not halakhic in nature.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the qeustion. – Double AA Dec 7 '14 at 18:45
  • (Incidentally, Fred already noted this judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/31969/… ) – Double AA Dec 7 '14 at 18:45
  • @DoubleAA I looked at Fred's comment and he only mentioned Sh"A YD. I think this is a significant source because it shows a very early source listing this practice as being a violation of a Torah prohibition. It would seem this answers the question whether or not the source of the minhag is halakhic. – Robert S. Barnes Dec 8 '14 at 9:51
  • The Shulchan Arukh is just quoting the Rambam. I still don't think it answers the question. If the sources ends up being that they do it to avoid hairs not going underwater at the Mikva, is that not a claim that its source is halachic in nature? You might have proven that it is still a bad custom, but you haven't helped with the sourcing. – Double AA Dec 8 '14 at 16:07

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