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By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
MARRIED WOMEN WITH UNCOVERED HAIR
QUESTION: A married female guest at the Shabbos table does not have her hair
covered. May Kiddush be recited in her presence or not?
DISCUSSION: According to Torah law, married women must cover their hair(1)
whenever they are outside their home(2). Although a woman who fails to do so
forfeits her kesubah and should technically be divorced by her husband(3),
many poskim hold that nowadays, when many women erroneously, but sincerely,
believe that they are not required to cover their hair, the husband is not
required to divorce them since it is their ignorance, not their disregard
for the Law, which leads them to sin unwittingly(4).]
Since the hair must be covered, when it is not covered it is considered an
ervah, an uncovered area. No male may recite Kerias Shema, pray, recite a
blessing, or learn Torah when the uncovered hair is visible to him(5).
Accordingly, if such a person happens to be at the Shabbos table, Kiddush
may not be recited.
Many theories have been postulated as to why some women - although
meticulous in keeping other mitzvos - are lax in regard to covering their
hair. Some do not cover their hair at all and others do so partially. It
must be stressed that this practice is roundly condemned by all poskim.
There is not a single, solitary authority who finds a leniency for married
women to have their hair uncovered(6). Indeed, in recent years there has
been a gradual improvement and many women who did not previously cover their
hair, have begun to do so.
In the last century or so, the many women who did not cover their hair
presented a halachic problem. The previously mentioned halachah that a
woman's uncovered hair is considered an ervah regarding Kerias Shema and all
blessings, made it practically impossible for men to recite tefillos and
blessings or to learn Torah in their own homes. A situation developed which
was impossible to live with.
Because of the prevalence of the problem, the Aruch ha-Shulchan(7) ruled
that in a locale where the majority of married women do not cover their
hair, we can no longer consider hair an ervah. In his opinion, only in a
locale where most women keep their hair covered can uncovered hair be
considered an ervah. This controversial ruling was accepted by some
poskim(8) and strongly rejected by others(9). Harav M. Feinstein(10) ruled
that one can rely on this leniency only under extenuating circumstances.
Concerning our case in point, therefore, the following guidelines are
1. If it is possible to explain the problem to the woman in private without
embarrassing her, then that would be the preferred solution.
2. If it is difficult to do so, one should avert his face from her or close
his eyes before reciting Kiddush.
3. If that is difficult, one can rely on the poskim who rule that under
present-day conditions, women's hair is not considered an ervah.
4. If the woman sitting at the table is not Jewish, her uncovered hair is
not considered an ervah(11).
5. If the woman at the table is not dressed properly [according to minimum
halachic guidelines], then, too, the man saying Kiddush must avert his face
or close his eyes(12). The Aruch ha-Shulchan's leniency does not apply to
1 Divorced or widowed women are also required to do so, although some poskim
hold that their obligation is Rabbinic; see Igros Moshe E.H. 1:57. See
Machazeh Eliyahu 118-120 for a complete discussion.
2 According to the Zohar and many poskim, women should cover their hair even
in the privacy of their own homes; see Mishnah Berurah 75:14 and Beiur
Halachah for more details.
3 Kesuvos 72a; E.H. 115:1-4.
4 See Igros Moshe E.H. 1:114; Doveiv Meishorim 1:124; Lev Avraham 1:105
quoting the Chazon Ish.
5 O.C. 75:2. This halachah applies to one's own wife, sister, mother, etc.
6 There are some communities that have allowed women to expose the small
portion of hair that protrudes from beneath the head covering. See Modesty,
An Adornment for Life, pg. 236-240, who explains that this custom has no
basis in Halachah and should be discontinued. It must be stressed, that even
those who are lenient do not allow more then a total of 2 tefachim by less
than half a tefach of hair to show (a tefach is approximately 3.5 inches).
See Igros Moshe E.H. 1:58 and O.C. 4:112.
8 Ben Ish Chai, Parashas Bo 12; Seridei Eish 2:14; Yabia Omer 6:13.
9 Mishnah Berurah 75:10; Chazon Ish O.C. 16:8 and most other poskim.