Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Hair covering at home

15 August, 2006

Question:

Firstly, thank you so much for the wonderful service you provide for jewish women around the world. I consult your website often, and I enjoy learning about all aspects of niddah — even the ones I have never thought about. You are an incredible resource and you should just know that women around the world are grateful. My question falls a little bit outside of the scope of niddah, but it is difficult to find people to ask questions about hair covering to, so I thought I would give it a try and ask you.

I have been married for a little bit over a year now and hair covering is incredibly difficult for me. I have never had such a difficult time keeping a mitzvah. It feels incredibly oppressive, I feel ugly all the time, my hair is thinning and falling out, sometimes it gives me headaches and I am very self-conscious. I try to avoid looking in the mirror because it just makes me upset and feel ugly. This is not because I am narcissistic and think I have the most beautiful hair in the world, dafka not, It's more an issue of freedom — I never feel free in the same way that I used to, and I don't feel like myself. It is a very emotional issue for me and I often cry when thinking about it and talking about it. I get overwhelmed by the thought of never being able to walk outside again without my own hair. The clips on my sheitel set off the metal detector at my work place, and there are numerous daily discomforts I face because of this mitzvah. I have heard that there is possibly a lenient position that allows a woman to not cover her hair in her home no matter who is there. I have also heard that this same opinion applies in other private homes and I was wondering if you could elaborate on this position. I have heard it mentioned in the name of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, but I was hoping I may receive some clarification from you. Are you at all familiar with this position? What is the origin of this idea and which modern poskim subscribe to this idea? Also, I am ashkenazi and my husband is sepharadi, does that bear any significance on the application of this leniency? I look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you very much.


Answer:

Thank you very much for your kind words.

Your question is very important.  We're sorry to hear that covering your hair has become such a challenge for you.  We give you a great deal of credit for your commitment to finding a way to fulfill this mitzvah despite your discomfort. 

The preponderance of halachic opinion is that your hair should be covered, even at home, when you are in the presence of men aside from your husband, son, or father.  Although there are a few dissenting opinions, we are not aware of modern poskim who dissent.  We have no direct knowledge of R Lichtenstein's view on this issue.  You could write to him to clarify his position or consult your local rabbi. 

The origin of the idea is the Talmudic discussion of whether there might be different minimum requirements for hair covering in different settings, as in a private setting.  However, in practice, the application of any difference is usually limited to one's home when men outside the family are not present and, according to some, to other private settings where no men are found.  There may be grounds to expose some of the hair in private even in the presence of strangers, (see the sourcs cited below: p. 47 of Understanding Tzniut or p. 21 of the Tradition article).

Our site's rabbinic supervisor, R Yehuda Henkin, has written extensively about haircovering.  We recommend reading his book Understanding Tzniut (Urim), as well as chapter 16 of his book Responsa on Contemporary Jewish Women's Issues (Ktav). His article "Contemporary Tseni'ut" was printed in Tradition magazine (vol. 37 no. 3, Fall 2003) and is available online here.

Understanding the halachot can often help in adjusting to them.  If you would like to talk to a yoetzet or to write to us for other ideas to help you through this mitzva, please get back to us or our hotline.  Sometimes, something as simple as switching the type of haircovering you use can make a difference.


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