Tuesday, June 5, 2012

An Instance of Interpretation

One of my favorite pieces of Shulhan Arukh is the following:

 לא תלכנה בנות ישראל פרוענות בשוק, אחת פנויה ואחת אשת איש (Even HaEzer 21:2)
The daughters of Israel should not walk with uncovered heads in the marketplace, both unmarried and married women.

It has always sounded pretty definitive, to me.  In fact, when I was in college, I had fairly strong feelings that I was "doing it right" in contrast to my Orthodox peers, in this matter.  Of course, nothing stays that simple- halakha expands and comments and interprets, and as you'll see later, the term פנויה/unmarried woman gets interpreted in rather surprising ways in this case.  I don't want to jump ahead of myself, but the interpretations lead to what is normative practice today, which very clearly does not involve all Jewish women wearing a head-covering of some sort.  Although, before I was married, this source was one of the ones that gave me support in choosing to wear a kippah or the equivalent all the time, without feeling like it was inauthentic.

I'm also told, although I haven't researched it myself yet, that there are Sefardi/Edot HaMizrach communities where unmarried women do, or at least did, cover their heads.  And I've heard of Sefardi rabbis who promote the idea that all women should have a head-covering of some sort to pray.  It'll be an interesting area to explore...  I expect that the fact that women in the broader society in which those Jewish communities were living did cover their heads influenced this halakha and its interpretation.

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