It’s Tuesday, and we have a Tuesday TorahTutors Tidbit for you! Real Torah, from real TorahTutors sessions.
An adult student with little experience studying halakhic texts asked to delve into the laws of head coverings for married women. It turned out to be a great introduction to the development of halakhah, as well as a chance for the student to practice her Hebrew – all while learning about a practice she anticipated taking on with her upcoming marriage.
She first learned that the mitzva has a somewhat surprising Torah source: a verse we’ll read this week outside of Israel (Bamidbar 5:18), which describes the kohen releasing the hair of a sotah (a woman formally suspected of adultery).
Rashi offers two explanations to connect the verse and the mitzva. First, he suggests the sotah’s hair was released in response to her apparently having done so to attract her paramour – which implies, says Rashi, that the act of releasing her hair was forbidden. Alternatively, and perhaps more straightforwardly, he notes that the fact that this (married) woman’s hair had to be released implies a presumption that it was not released before – i.e., that (married) women typically did not go out with loose hair. The Torah attests to this practice to indicate that it is a Torah-expected practice.
(Note that Rashi’s explanations carry different implications regarding the reason for the law: in the first, we might understand it as a way to avoid making oneself look inappropriately alluring; in the second, we get no hint as to the reason, but simply the fact of the expected practice.)
Due to this scriptural origin, the Gemara (Ketubot 72a) calls head covering a Torah law – yet, the Mishna indicates there is a set of standards that applies only on a Rabbinic, or perhaps customary, level.
Determining what sort of covering is required at which level, and in what circumstances, and why – and the many approaches to all these questions – offers a fascinating in-depth course of study we were thrilled to provide this student.
We would be honored to do the same for you – or your child – about any Jewish topic or text of your choosing.