By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times
Before we get to any halachic analysis, let us just make a quick point.
The school in question has a remarkable reputation in reaching the highest ideals of chinuch. They imbue their students with pride in Yiddishkeit as well as a very healthy sense of self-esteem. They give their students proper “idud.” This is true from the hanhallah down to the remarkable moros.
When one first sees the video that is making its rounds, the immediate thought is that it is a typical pre-school lice check.
But then you see the ruler. The next thought is, are they measuring the size of the louse? And then it sinks in. They are measuring hair length. Then you are told of the reaction on social media – some people think that the school is taking things too far.
On the other hand, this is the school’s policy. If the school wants to make a rule on hair length – why can’t they?
It all comes down to one point. Is there a halachic basis for having short hair for single and young girls? And if there is such a basis, is this the normative halacha in our circles or not?
There may be a shocking contradiction in the words of the Shulchan Aruch between what he writes in Orech Chaim and what he writes in Even HaEzer. In chapter 75 subparagraph 2 of Orech Chaim, the Mechaber rites that one is forbidden to recite the shma before the hair of a married woman. However, in front of single girls, who go with uncovered hair – it is permitted.
In Even haEzer 21:2 it states that daughters of Israel should not go out with uncovered hair, whether married or single.
RESOLVING THE CONTRADICTION
There are a few ways in which this contradiction in the words of the Shulchan Aruch is resolved. There is the Bais Shmuel’s answer, and the Mogain Avrohom’s answer.
ONCE WERE MARRIED
Rav Shmuel Ben Uri Shraga Feibish (1650’s), author of the Bais Shmuel, states (21:2) that the case in Even HaEzer is discussing divorced or widowed women. They are single, but they were once married. Hence they must cover their hair. Rabbi Moshe Lima, author of the Chelkas Mechokaik, (1615-1670) learns similarly to the Bais Shmuel as does Rav Yoel Sirkes, author of the Bach.
HAIR MUST BE BRAIDED
Rav Avrohom Gumbiner (1635-1682), author of the Mogain Avrohom, has a different approach. He writes (OC 75:3) that the prohibition in Even haEzer is to undo one’s braid and let the hair run loose in the street. The Mogain Avrohom writes that this is forbidden even for single girls. He explains that this is not a Torah prohibition, but rather a midah of tznius.
The practice of many in Meah She’arim is to follow this Mogain Avrohom and that is why one sees long braids in Meah She’arim.
In America, however, most Poskim resolve the contradiction according to the understanding of the Bais Shmuel.
There is another group of people, who learn like the Mogain Avrohom, but claim that if the hair is short then there is no problem. This seems to be the approach of Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk, author of Oz v’Hadar Levusha. It is this author’s view that the Old Yishuv in Yerushalayim (Meah Sh’arim) has rejected the view of this latter group. [The author’s cousins reside in this neighborhood, by the way.]
NOT FOUND IN THE TALMUD
There is no mention anywhere in the Gemorah that single girls have to have short hair. Indeed, from the narrative of Rochel the daughter of Kalba Sabuah – the indication is that she did not have short hair (although one can answer this question that it was bound – but this is not so mashma).
There is also the issue mentioned in the Zohar (BaMidbar 151) that long hair is discouraged because it represents Midas haDin. However, this is limited to men and not to women, especially young girls. This is borne out by the AriZal in Shaar HaMitzvos page 23b where he cites the verse, “v’ish ki imrat rosho.”
The author of the Sidrei Taharah (190:55) writes that he does not wish to add stringencies on Bnos Yisroel. This should be the approach that we take in general for a number of reasons, particularly when the standard of tznius in our communities has always been to follow the approach of the Beis Shmuel.
The Gedolei haPoskim have ruled that we should avoid adding stringencies – especially upon others. This is clearly expounded in the Rosh in Shabbos (2:15). See also the Pri Chadash OC 451, the Kuntrus Acharon of the GraZ (440:1). See also the Ben Ish Chai on Parshas Shoftim letter 27.
WHY WE SHOULD AVOID EXCESSIVE CHUMROS
There are a number of reasons why we should avoid adding excess chumros.
One reason that is not inconsequential is that we do not wish to look down upon others, chas veshalom. Adopting stringencies can at times cause us to incorrectly judge others -chas veshalom.
Another reason is that, often, if the young girls do not conform to these allegedly stricter standards, their self-perception of themselves may at times be lowered. Our jobs as parents and as mechanchim are to build the self-esteem of our children and students – not to lower their own perception of themselves. Now while it is unclear as to whether measuring hair length in this community could do so, some are of the opinion that if it affects even one person – why risk it?
In Parshas Dvarim, the pasuk tells us that Klal Yisroel are the descendents of Avrohom, Yitzchok, and Yaakov. Rashi points out that this is somewhat extraneous. He answers that it teaches us that Klal Yisroel would have been worthy to enter into Eretz Yisroel just for having descended from even one of them.
The point is that Moshe Rabbeinu is pointing out to us that we are descendants of all three – the simple understanding of this is that he is trying to build up our self-perception of ourselves.
If a young woman likes her hair to be a certain way, and that is the normative halacha as codified by the vast majority of our Poskim – then why deny her what she defines as her beauty?
We should not be judgmental in what different schools in different communities do. We should also be very careful when discussing the reputation of a wonderful model school. There is a basis for long unbound hair to be considered not tznius. However, it is a position that is not the normative halacha in American circles. It is, however, the normative view in the old yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. The measure of four inches below the collar bone as embodying the definition of non-tznius hair seems to be without a source in halacha. We should avoid adopting chumros that go against halachic and communal norms – particularly when they may affect others negatively. Of course, as in all matters, a school should pose their questions to Gedolei haPoskim as to what and what not to implement.
When these incidents come up, we should look at them as teaching moments in Torah, halacha, and hashkafah rather than an opportunity to be judgmental and bash.
The author can be reached at [email protected]