For the past few decades, married women covering their hair has attained a meaning beyond the halakhic obligation. It has become a sign of increased religious observance particularly among the young, rejection of parental modeling, a shift to the right. This significance adds layers of meaning to discussions that might seem purely halakhic.
R. Michael J. Broyde has dedicated many articles to exploring the startling theory that many authorities of the past would not have required married women to cover their hair in a society, such as todayâ€™s Western world, where married women regularly walk around with revealed hair. This approach cuts against the grain of accepted wisdom. It not only contradicts the conclusion of all contemporary literature, it disputes the essentially universal understanding of the sources by anyone approaching the subject. But is R. Broyde wrong?
In a recent issue of the journal Tradition, R. Broyde presented an extended argument of his position (link). In the latest issue, R. Eli Shulman critiques that presentation extensively, to which R. Broyde responds at length. The entire exchange can be found here: link.
Who is right? A few years ago, I spent many hours carefully going through R. Broydeâ€™s arguments and concluded that, in my opinion, he is incorrect. To offer a critique now, however, I would have to spend even more time combing through his latest article on the subject, an effort for which I currently lack the stamina. The issue is complex because the subject contains many moving pieces. It involves terms that lack precise definitions, which leads different authorities to sometimes saying similar things with very different meanings.
For now, I leave it up to these two fine scholars to work it out.