I obtained permission to post two letters sent in response to R. Michael J. Broyde’s article on women covering their hair (see these posts: I, II). The first is by David Keter and the second by Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin.
UPDATE Apr 24 ’13: Re the Keter letter, please see this post which raises serious questions about the letter’s authenticity: link
Rabbi Broyde’s article on hair covering returns me to my early adulthood learning in Israel. I moved to Israel in 1949 after graduating from Columbia and I was learning in Rav Issser Zalman Meltzer’s yeshiva, Etz Chaim in Jerusalem. I was engaged to a woman who would not cover her hair and I spoke to the Rav Meltzer about this matter at some length. He told me that it was better not to marry someone who would not cover her hair. After I told him that I really loved this woman and wanted to marry, he graciously gave me permission to speak to three of his students, Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni, Rabbi Elazar Shach and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aerbach. So off I went.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explicitly told me that if this woman was right for me, I should marry her even if she would not cover her hair, as there as no obligation for a husband to compel his wife to cover her hair, since many other pious women did not cover, such conduct was not immodest, just a sin. Rav Auerbach made it clear to me that he thought uncovered hair was a sin by a married woman, but not my sin.
Rav Yehuda Gershuni pointed me to the Yad HaLevi that Rabbi Broyde notes in his article and told me very clearly (as Rabbi Broyde stated he heard from Rav Gershuni himself) that there was no halachic obligation upon women to cover their hair in a society where women generally did not, based on this analysis.
But it was Rav Shach who startled me with his halachic view. Rav Meltzer had told me to listen to Rav Shach closely, as “Rav Shach was married to his [Rav Meltzer’s] niece and she did not cover her hair.” Rav Shach met me at some length, and told me very clearly and directly that whether hair covering was obligatory or not when most modest women did not cover their hair was a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rambam, since Rambam called hair covering a dat moshe and Mechaber called it a dat yehudit. Rav Shach told me that it was better to be strict on this matter, but one who was makil, yesh al ma lismoch. When I pressed Rav Shach about explaining the basis for the Mechaber‘s view, he told me that the Mechaber is adopting the view of the Tur, which must have been his view the Rosh as well, although Rav Shach indicated that he did not see that view in the Rosh himself.
When I asked him about his own wife not covering her hair, he corrected me and told me that my information was wrong and while his wife had not covered her hair in Europe or while he was learning at Etz Chaim, now that he was at Ponevitch she certainly did cover her hair. (For those who doubt that Rebbetzin Guttel Shach did not cover her hair for many years, see the pictures of her found in the Moshe Horowitz’s book about Rav Shach, entitled HaRav Shach Shehamaphteach Beyado [Keter, Jerusalem, 1989] on the second unnumber page of pictures after page 64 of Mrs. Shach in 1942.)
Thus, it is worth noting for the record that the observation that forms the heart of Rabbi Broyde’s article, that the Tur and Shulchan Aruch adopt the view that hair covering is a subjective dat yehudit and the Rambam considers hair covering to be an objective dat moshe, was not first made by Rabbi Broyde at all, but was first stated by Maran Rav Elazar Shach zt”l.
Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin
Rabbi Broyde has been indefatigable in spreading word of a heter for married women to go about bareheaded in public. I am of two minds about this: on the one hand, it appears a classic case of limud zechut. On the other hand, I am not convinced that the heter is valid halachically, going as it does against the simple import of the Gemara and the weight of the poskim.
Here let us count the Rishonim, parallel to an exchange between Rabbi Broyde and myself in Techumin 27 and 28. As Rabbi Broyde lists them, there are at least eight early authorities who are explicitly of the opinion that going bareheaded in public is a Torah infraction. They are Riaz, Shiltei haGiborim, Tashbetz, R. Yerucham, Rashba, Riban [in Shitah Mekubetzet, mislabled as “first edition of Rashi”], Ran and Meiri, to which should be added Rivash as quoted in Shitah Mekubetzet. These by themselves make going about bareheaded at least a safek d’orayta.
To this list of osrim must be added those who classify going about bareheaded as a violation of dat Mosheh, which certainly implies at least a rabbinical prohibition and not merely a minhag of women. Thus we add Rambam, Etz Chayim, Semag, Orchot Chayim and Ezrat Nashim. And see Bnei Banim vol. 3 no. 22 (written to Rabbi Broyde in 5753), where I noted that Rosh, Semak and some others do not categorize dat Yehudit as a minhag; in fact, Rosh in Ketuvot defines it completely differently. (Also see my recent Understanding Tzniut, pp. 31-34.) For this third group of Rishonim, dat Yehudit itself may be a rabbinic ordinance and not subject to change by custom.
In context of listing the Rishonim, on page 118 Rabbi Broyde misconstrues the language of Sefer ha’Itur [ot mem mered, s.v. hasha’ar harishon], which reads as follows: “And what is dat Yehudit? If she goes out and her head is uncovered etc., as found in the Gemara.” The reference to the Gemara is to the discussion of “roshah paru’a– d’orayta hi!”; Sefer ha’Itur simply cites the sugya; no support for Rabbi Broyde’s thesisâ€”that going out entirely bareheaded violates only dat Yehudit–can be inferred. Nor can he marshall support from the Ravyah [vol. 4, p. 290] which simply quotes the Mishnah in Ketuvot word for word, and leaves out the Gemara entirely.
Rabbi Broyde further writes that the Shulchan Aruch in Even haEzer 115:4 holds that the prohibition of going wholly bareheaded is only a matter of custom, dat Yehudit. But even were we to ignore the improbability of the Shulchan Aruch endorsing a view not found in the Bet Yosef, the claim hinges on the language of the Shulchan Aruch:
“What is dat Yehudit? It is a custom of modest behavior adopted by daughters of Israel. These are the things that, should she do any of them, she violates dat Yehudit: she goes out to market or to an alleyway open on both ends or to a courtyard frequented by the public veroshah paru’a ve’ein aleha redid like all women even though her hair is covered by a kerchief.”
Does “veroshah paru’a ve’ein aleha redid” mean “when she is [completely] bareheaded and without a shawl (chador) over herâ€¦,” in which case going completely bareheaded is listed under the category of dat Yehudit? Or does it mean “when she is bareheaded, e.g. without a shawl…,” in apposition, in which case going completely bareheaded with neither a shawl nor even a kerchief, is not subsumed under dat Yehudit?
The entire paragraph starting from “What is…,” except for the words “or to a courtyard frequented by the public” is a quote from Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 24:12. Rambam’s meaning is clearly the second of the above two interpretations, since in 24:11 he lists going completely bareheaded as dat Mosheh. Unless it used Rambam’s exact language while meaning the opposite, the Shulchan Aruch cannot have meant that going completely bareheaded in public is only dat Yehuditâ€”a notion, as mentioned, not found explicitly– and, therefore, this cannot serve as a basis for limud zechut.
In my opinion, then, Rabbi Broyde’s core position that many if not most Rishonim and the Shulchan Aruch view going bareheaded in public as subject to custom, is untenable. This is not to gainsay Rabbi Broyde’s valuable discussions of the meaning of d’orayta and other matters, just as I make no attempt at point-to-point evaluation of his lengthy article. One criticism I will make, however, concerns his claim on page 121 that R. Yochanan in Berachot 20a viewed “naked” women emerging from immersion. Chas veShalom, they were clothed, as Tosafot wrote in Bava Metzia 84a s.v. yetiv and as I wrote to Rabbi Broyde in the aforementioned vol. 3 no. 22.