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A reason that I propose for why divorced women continue to cover their hair and divorced men continue to wear a tallis (a phenomenon whose existence I vouch for) is that taking on a mitzvah (with the intention to keep it going) is seen as making a vow(1), and so we do not roll back that action. In general, it seems there is a Jewish philosophy that observance may be increased, but never decreased(2).

In modesty this reason is obvious to me: something that becomes ervah cannot later become not-ervah. So we do not roll back our increases in modesty in particular.

My question is this: if a woman becomes a baalat teshuva after being divorced, must she cover her hair (as she never did before)? If a man becomes a baal teshuva after being divorced, must he wear a tallis (as he never did before)? If so, how does that square with my assumptions above?

(1) Source: A text I have seen used by some for Hataras Nedarim on Erev Rosh Hashana includes as a vow to be annulled:

"...אוֹ  אֵיזֶה דָבָר טוֹב שֶׁנָהַגְתִּי שָׁלשׁ פְּעָמִים וְלֹא הִתְנֵיתִי שֶׁיְהֵא בְּלִי נֶדֶר..."

I posit that this applies even to obligatory acts.

(2) As my source, consider these quotations of text:
"The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat relates that the academy of Hillel advocates lighting the candles as we know today, in ascending order. The academy of Shamai disagreed and argued that we light the Chanukah candles starting with eight candles on the first night, then seven candles on the second night. This method continues in descending order, so each night has one less candle than the preceding night. “Each viewpoint has either a model from the Torah or a logical argument to support their opinion.” Beit Hillel applies “a general rule that is followed in many areas of Torah: “One increases in matters of holiness, and does not diminish” “Maalin Ba’Kodesh ve’ayn Moridin.”

Halacha follows Beit Hillel, and this is why we light increased candles every day.

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    The simplest conclusion to draw from your ultimate question is that there are other reasons for the practices you attest to other than the reasons you brought. Do you have any reason to think this isn't true? (Incidentally I don't find the claim "something that becomes ervah cannot later become not-ervah" obvious in the slightest. Citing support for it would add value to your post.) – Double AA Dec 11 '14 at 4:47
  • @SAH - can you find a source that unmarried men don't need to wear a Tallis? – Danny Schoemann Dec 11 '14 at 8:01
  • My understanding is that there are quite a few halachic authorities who permit divorced women to uncover their hair even if they did cover it when they were married – Daniel Dec 11 '14 at 13:03
  • I wanted to add that I would like to follow up the various objections and add sources, but my question has at this point been edited beyond recognition. Frankly, I have no idea what's going on in it anymore. – SAH Feb 13 '15 at 10:27
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Tallis -- this is easy. The halachic default is that everyone 13 and up should be wearing a Tallis; Ashkenazi never-married-men happen to have a custom otherwise. (Rabbi Meiselman, for instance, feels this whole custom is in error and his unmarried sons wear tallisos.) In absence of such a custom, we default to the standard -- wear a Tallis.

Hair covering -- practically, this is going to be difficult for many baalei teshuva, and most poskim will tell her to not cover, it will increase her likelihood of meeting a guy. But theoretically, whether the reason for covering post-marriage is societal norm, or erva generated by the obligation, it would apply here. The fact that she wasn't cognizant of that obligation, or never addressed it, doesn't make it not exist. Basically I challenge your premise that it's about a neder. I've never heard anyone suggest that.

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