The practice of married Jewish women covering their hair is based on the concept of tzniut (modesty, literally privacy), which is an important principle in Jewish tradition. The laws of tzniut for both men & women encompasses various aspects of modesty, including dress, behavior, and speech, with an emphasis on reservation. The specific mitzvah (commandment) related to hair covering is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah but is discussed thoroughly in the Talmud. One relevant passage often referenced is from the Book of Isaiah (Yeshayahu) 47:2-3, addresses the uncovering of the hair of a woman. While this passage is not directly connected to the mitzvah of hair covering, it is sometimes seen as an allusion to the importance of modesty.
The mitzvah of hair covering for married Jewish women is considered an obligation rooted in the concept of tzniut (modesty). It is viewed as a commandment intended to preserve the sanctity and privacy of the marital relationship, operating on the basis that a married woman’s hair has the same status as any other private part of the body.
Here are some key points regarding the mitzvah of covering hair for married Jewish women, its interpretations, and related cultural factors:
- Rabbinical Interpretation: Halachic authorities have interpreted the concept of tzniut to include the practice of married women covering their hair. This interpretation is based on texts such as the Talmud and subsequent legal writings, which outline expectations for modest behavior and dress within Jewish communities.
- Symbol of Marital Status: Hair covering is seen as a symbol of marital status, reminding others of the woman’s commitment to her spouse and her role within the framework of Jewish family life. In theory, a woman could get a wig to look exactly like her hair—even making a wig from her own hair in theory—but wearing a head covering is supposed to symbolize the significance of and pride in marriage; ultimately it would still be observing the mitzvah though. It represents a woman’s dedication to maintaining modesty and dignity in public settings, preserving her beauty for her husband within the intimate sphere of the home.
- Personal Flavor: Variations of the specific practices of hair covering may vary among communities will play a role in the exact nature, but the point is the same. Some women may choose to wear hats, scarves, wigs (known commonly as sheitels from Yiddish), or other head coverings. The specific practices depend on individual customs, rabbinic guidance, and personal choice. For example, in America wigs are the norm in most places, while a scarf is more typical in Israel.
- Modesty and Tzniut: The concept of tzniut extends beyond hair covering and encompasses a broader ethos of modesty in attire and behavior. Modesty is valued as a virtue and commandment in Judaism, promoting humility, privacy, and the focus on inner qualities rather than external appearance. In principle, overly flashy clothes would still be problematic, if less so than revealing clothes. While tzniut has many positives in its own right, it also prevents sin from someone else, as a Jewish man is not allowed to see a woman who is not modest, and vice versa.
It’s worth noting that practices regarding hair covering can vary among different Jewish denominations and individual choices. While it is more commonly observed in Orthodox and traditional circles, some Conservative and Reform Jewish women may also choose to cover their hair as an expression of personal or religious commitment.
The mitzvah of hair covering reflects the multifaceted nature of Jewish traditions, blending religious teachings, interpretations, and cultural values to shape practices related to modesty and personal expression within the context of marriage.
The analogy comparing a married woman’s hair to other private parts of the body underscores the gravity of the mitzvah. Just as certain areas of the body are reserved for the private realm, a woman’s hair is considered part of her intimate beauty that should be exclusively shared with her spouse.
Tzniut, of which hair covering is a specific application, is a central value within Orthodox Judaism. It encompasses modesty in dress, behavior, and speech, encouraging individuals to focus on inner qualities rather than external appearance. Tzniut fosters an atmosphere of respect, dignity, and spiritual elevation.
Cultural factors also contribute to the practice of hair covering within Orthodox Jewish communities. The commitment to adhering to religious traditions and the desire to maintain continuity with Jewish heritage are influential factors. Additionally, communal norms and expectations, as well as the influence of religious leaders and teachings, play a significant role in the observance of this mitzvah.
It is important to note that the practice of hair covering may vary among Orthodox Jewish women, and individual customs can differ. Some may choose to wear hats, scarves, wigs, or other head coverings, while others may adopt more specific practices according to their community and personal beliefs.
Ultimately, the decision to observe the mitzvah of hair covering is a deeply personal one, guided by religious conviction, adherence to Orthodox Jewish teachings, and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Torah in the context of tzniut and marital sanctity.