Women's Headcoverings: hate literature from a Christian
Women's Headcoverings: A Messianic Viewpoint
In Biblical times, women covered their heads with veils or
scarf as a sign of chastity and modesty. The unveiling of a woman's
hair was considered a humiliation and punishment (Numbers 5:18,
Isaiah 3:17, II Maccabees 4:6, Sus. 32). In the orient, the head was
covered as a gesture of respect, in the presence of a notable, an
elder or scholar. From this followed the practice of covering the
head in the presence of god at worship, the practice becoming a sign
The headgear was an ornament. Shulamites long flowing locks
were admired (Song of Songs 4:1, 6:5, 7:5 compare with Ezekiel 16:7).
much art was bestowed in the braiding (Isaiah 3:24, II Samuel 1a4:2;6,
Judges 13). A woman suspected of adultery was disheveled and her
covering was removed by the priest (Numbers 5:18-compared with
Leviticus 21:10). The shearing of hair was the insult of a captive
woman (Jeremiah 7:29, I Cornithians 11:15).
In Talmudic times, women always covered their hair (Ned. 30b;
Num. R-9:1 6). Some aggadic sources interpret this custom as a sign
of a woman's shame and feeling of guilt for Eve's sin. Should a woman
walk bareheaded in the street, her husband could divorce her without
repayment of her dowry. (In Ket. 7:6, the term "dat Yehudit" means
that a woman should not spin or have her hair uncovered in the
street.) By the sixteenth century, praying with the head uncovered was
considered to be a heathen custom.
Girls did not have to cover their hair until the wedding
ceremony (Ket. 2:1). In some contemporary Sephardic communities,
however, it is the custom for unmarried girls to cover their heads.
Some rabbis compared the exposure of a married woman's hair to
the exposure of her private parts since they felt that a woman's hair
could be used for erotic excitement (Ber 24a). They forbid the
recital of any blessing in the presence of a bare headed woman. Pious
women even took care to not uncover their hair in their house. This
was particularly true of Kimhit, the mother of several high priests
(Yoma 47A, Lev. R 20:11).
The general custom was to appear in public and in the presence
of strange men with covered hair. It gradually became accepted to be
the general traditional custom for all Jewish women to cover their
hair (Sh. Ar. EH 21.2).
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, some circles of
women began to wear a wig, called in Yiddish, a shaytl, which was made
of artificial or real hair and worn, according to an old Jewish
practice by pious women as a sign of modesty. "Pious married women
never share their hair in public and have it covered frequently by a
wig." This innovation was opposed by certain authorities such as
Rabbinic literature teaches that it is sinful for a Jewish
woman to be seen by any man other than her husband, or to listen to
the recital of prayers without her head covered. Some very pious
Jewish women used to cut their hair off on their wedding day and keep
their head covered with a kerchief, a custom still observed in some
Jewish communities though it has been discarded for the most part.
In modern times, only the strictly orthodox insist on women
covering their hair all the time. It remains however the practice in
some Reform synagogues for women to cover their hair. The majority of
Jews cover their heads at prayer, it's study or religious observances.
This practice isn't based on any law in the Bible or Talmud, but a
first time injunction in the Medieval Jewish Codes. There are places
in the United States where one of the chief divisive distinctions
between Reform and Orthodox Jews is the willingness or the
unwillingness of the congregations to worship with uncovered heads.
II. Eastern Europe
The first intervention of the authorities in this practice
occurred in the thirteenth century when a council held in Breslav
during the year 1266 ordered Jews in Western Poland to wear a yellow
hat. The Piotrkow Diet of 1538, reproved Jews for adopting Christian
attire and compelled them to wear this as well.
The Lithuanian Statue of 1566 as well as the Southern Polish
Statues of 1595, laid down minute specification restricting the
sumptuousness of female dress and jewelry. The Lithuanian Statute
ordered yellow hats for men and kerchiefs for women.
Although the woman's dress was more colorful, her finery was
not meant to be displayed outdoors based on Psalm 45:14. The dress
of Jewish women was generally in the fashion of the period but more
In Western Poland, during the 18th century, it was customary
to wear a bonnet on the Sabbath made of brocade trimmed with lace and
silver stitching. In the east, including Lithuania and parts of
Russia, the earliest form of head covering consisted of lace trimmed
with colored ribbons, glass baubles and beads. In time, pearls and
diamonds gradually replaced popular ornaments.
In Central Poland, Galicia and Hungary, the head covering was
made up of three parts: the harband which covered the hair above the
forehead; the grint which served as the background and the kupke for
the Sabbath which was a sort of tiara. The wig or shaytl was never
considered proper for the very Orthodox.
III. Married Women
The custom of covering the bride's face with a veil so that
she would not be seen even by her husband until after the wedding
ceremony was felt to date back to Genesis 24:65 as well as to Rebecca
and Leah (Genesis 29:23-25). The Mishnah Keith 2:1 states that this
custom has been retained by Jews throughout the Middle Ages. The
wedding begin with the veiling of the bride in the home and was
considered a symbol of her obligation of chastity.
As mentioned earlier, among the causes for divorcing a wife
was walking in the street with her head uncovered. It is listed among
these causes : adultery, relations with her husband while
menstruating, exposure of her forearms and frivolous conduct with
The main function of women was that of presiding genus and
guardian of the home. This was considered her temple: the education
of her children, her divine service; her family, her congregation. It
was her duty to supervise all domestic matters including: the
maintenance of Kashrut, home celebration of Sabbath and festivals, the
early education of her sons as well as a good measure of the education
of her daughters. The wife encouraged the husband to study Torah
(Midrash Genesis 17:12).
The Talmud did not consider it dignified for women to be
exposed to the roughness of everyday life outside the home (Psalm
45:14, Yeb 77a). By nature, the woman's main function was to act as a
helpmate to her husband, "A beautiful wife, beautiful without
cosmetics, doubles the days of her husband and increases his mental
comfort." (Yeb 63b, Ber 57b)
It was the duty of her husband to try, at all costs, to avoid
her from shedding tears, "for god counts the tears of women." Talmud
also opposed the husband's reliance on his wife's income. He was
forbidden to recite prayers in front of any woman who was not fully
dressed and this included his wife's head covering.
In the latter part of the Middle Ages, according to an old
Jewish custom, married women, for the sake of modest, covered their
hair in the presence of strange men because of the erotic effect of
the hair. The Talmud cautions women against going out with their head
uncovered, even praises the covering of a woman's hair in the house.
Midrash numbers 9:16 states that only heathen women went about with
their heads uncovered. It was forbidden to pray in the presence of an
unmarried woman with uncovered hair (Ber 25A). The Zohar called the
covered hair of the head of the wife, "The chastity of the house."
In Mishanic times it was a universal practice for women to
cover their hair, it's violation was deemed grounds for divorce
without paying the kethubah. Later custom became more lenient toward
unmarried women. It was an inviolable Jewish custom that women should
not be seen in the streets with their hair uncovered (Ket. 7:6).
In the Septuagint, the Mosaic Law regarding Numbers 5:18 is
taken by the rabbis to mean, "The priest shall uncover the woman's
head." As stated in Midrash Rabbah on Numbers 5:18:
In the place where he set her to begin with there he
sets her afterward (In other words, she moved about
from place to place.) before the "lord": Is it not
already written above that he must set her before
Yes, but the repetition is to indicate that he must set
her before whom she stands, before the "lord". And let
the hair of the woman's head go loose. This may be
compared to a priest who entered a cemetery while his
servant remained waiting outside to avoid being
defiled. As though it was not sufficient for the
latter to be like his master! In the same way so that
the priest might not go out of misplaced pride object:
"Am I to uncover a woman's head? It says, before the
"lord", and let the hair...go loose. And let the hair
go loose (ib); why? Because it is usual for the
daughters of Israel to have their head covered.
Consequently, when he uncovers the hair of her head, he
says to her: "You have departed from the way of the
daughters of Israel, whose habit it is to have their
heads covered, and you have walked in the ways of the
idolatrous women, who walk with their heads uncovered.
Rabbi Ishmael derives from this, the law forbidding women to
walk with uncovered hair (Ket. 72a; Sifre Num.11).
Traditional custom as interpreted by the rabbis comes from
Numbers R. 28:20, "The distinction of kamlhit, who saw seven of her
sons made high priests and two officiate on one and the same day, one
of them being Simon ben Kamlhit, mentioned by Josephus (Antiquities
28. 2,2) as "Simon son of Camithous", is ascribed by the Rabbis to
the fact that even the ceiling of her house had not seen the hair of
her head." Yer. Meg. 1.72a).
Talmudic understanding saw an uncovered head as a sign of
nakedness and incentive to improper glances. it is unlawful to recite
the Shema in the presence of a woman with a bare head.
Originally, the custom was for married and single women (Ned.
30b). Also, law (B.K. 90a) were set which fined 400 drachmas for
tearing off a woman's head covering in the street. Paul, in
I Corinithians 11:12-13, also supported this.
Pirke R. El. XIV said that as a result of Eve's curse, a
woman must go about covered as mourners. Later in Talmud and
occidental countries, there is mention of unmarried women with
V. Modern Commentaries
Gablein states that a woman praying and prophesying is to
have her head covered or a covering on the head. A covering on the
head is an outward sign of being in the place of subjection. Another
reason is given why praying women should wear outwardly, as sign of
subjection, because of the angels. Angels are watchers and attendants
of heirs of salvation. The church is known to them and (Ephesians
3:10) so they observe Christian worship. Angels themselves are in
subjection and yields obedience.
I Corinthians 11:10 states, "Therefore, the woman ought to
have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels."
Strong indicates that the Greek for woman refers to, "A woman,
specifically a wife; a woman; be married." (#1135 gune, sdginomai).
Angels has a question mark and is unclear (# 2465 or 2432; issagelos
similar to angel/angel-like). The Greek for veil is "katakalupetai"
which suggests a veil that hung down.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary states, "The word for angels in the
expression 'because of the angels' does not refer to elders. Nor does
it refer to evil angels (Genesis 6:1-4). It refers to good angels who
are present in worship meeting s since they live in the presence of god
(I Corinithians a4:9; Luke 14:7,10l Ephesians 3:10; I Timothy 5:21;
Psalms 138:1). The insubordination of women in refusing to
acknowledge the authority of their husbands would offend angels who,
under god, guard the created universe (Colossians 1:16, Ephesians
1:21) and know no insubordination." (Pg. 1247-1248)
For the counsel concerning veiling of women in public worship
there were three reasons: 1. theological reason, 2. Biblical reason,
3. physical reason. "In the final analysis, the hat or veil is not the
important thing, but the subordination for which it stands. The
presence of both is ideal."
Matthew Henry says this is a positive sign. Adam Clarke's
Commentary on the Whole Bible states that it was a sign of humility
and very womanish.
The passage is addressed to "every man" and "every woman"
indicating the widest application and conveying the ideal of a
universal principle, without reference to marriage, eliminating the
concept that this is binding only on the married.
Paul W. Marsh writes concerning the long-standing tradition
of veiled women in Asia:
A study of life among veiled women in Asia reveals
that both aspects of the word (exousia-authority) are
true. A sign of being under own authority and that in
experience no contradiction exists. The concept
fundamental to all cultures utilizing the veil is the
subjection of woman to man. yet within the realm of
subjection, the woman has a place of authority,
dignity, respect and security. This is provided by the
veil itself which preserves her dignity in contrast to
the unveiled woman whose bare face is the evidence of
loose morals, or the general shamelessness of Western
habits. Many Moslem women confess to a feeling of
utter nakedness and shame on being seen without a veil;
the veil is their greatest right and security. Paul
argues from a somewhat similar background. For a
Corinthian woman to throw off her veil in church was
not only to deny her subjection but to abandon her
According to Detweiler, the commandment had a four fold purpose:
1. It is a witness of obedience and dedication to god
and Messiah, for it reveals a desire to fill the sphere
of life designated by god's order.
2. It is a witness to man challenging him fill his place.
3. It is a witness in the Christian brotherhood, for
the spirit and attitude of voluntary submission it
represents enables woman to fulfill her place in the
4. It is a witness to the world, to a society that
disregards Scriptural truth and practices, and that
does not recognize god's order.
It is interesting that the second part of the passage is
dealing with communion is universally practiced but the first half of
chapter eleven is widely ignored. Paul was writing not only to the
Corinthians, but "to all the churches of god". I Corinthians 14:39
states all Paul's teachings here are commandments.
For those who may regard the veiling as a quaint little
religious symbol used only by a few culturally bound sects, it must be
remembered that all cultures abound in symbols, including our
contemporary culture. There are, for example, numerous emblems of
both religious and secular organizations.
It is not a matter of the validity of a particular symbol
with which one needs to be concerned, but rather, whether it is of
divine or human origin.
god is concerned about the attitude of our heart and one of
the ways it has been evident is the mention of head coverings. It has
obviously connected itself with many aspects of womanhood and has
symbolized modesty and submission to one's husband, "that you should
remember the "lord", your god."
Dr. Enos Martin on the present tension in male-female
The anxiety in male-female relationships today is the
fear of "being taken". Mothers warn daughters, "Be
careful, men are out to take advantage of you." Men
warn each other, "Be careful when you get close to that
woman or she will manipulate you."
The church is one place in the world where we ought to
be free of the fear of being taken; one place where our
hopes and fears are known and respected. the covering
on a Christian woman is a symbol that she is in a
relationship with her brothers where she is protected
and respected, a relationship where she doesn't need
to fear being taken or used, a relationship where she
need not manipulate her brothers for survival, but
where her Christian brothers delight to enhance her
The covering signifies that the Christian woman is in a
relationship where her brothers care for her as Messiah
cared for the church. The covering then should be an
attractive symbol of a beautiful relationship existing
between Christian brothers and sisters.
Let us be careful for god looks on the intentions of the
heart (Hebrews 4:12). We are not to be as the Pharisees and Saducees,
who flaunted outward religion without reason or conviction of heart.
Was this a sign of divine origin from the beginning of time? It was
mentioned in all Scripture from the earliest time, and was threaded
throughout the history of every culture. How much should we be
influenced by our culture styles and fashion? Our responsibility is
keeping, in proportion, ourselves to the Word of god and our obedience
If we do accept head covering for ourselves, is it not a sign of
freedom and a sign of our betrothal to Messiah and man? Let every
man be convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5).
We need to realize that we are free when we do not have to submit
to an unholy inner drive to prove our equality to men, but rather
realize, "How gentle god's commands; How kind his precepts."