Monday, March 01, 2021

I am neither a rabbi nor a scholar. But I do get nervous when someone offers absolutes to heartfelt questions that warrant thoughtful consideration and a deep review of the sources.

The anonymous author of the letter, “Don’t Forget the Divorced and Widowed” (January 28, 2021), raises the immense challenges many formerly married women confront. In response, a reader, in his letter titled “Revisiting the Divorced and Widowed” (February 11, 2021), starts by acknowledging some of the concerns raised, but then, in my humble opinion, simplistically dismisses issues that require serious pause.

As an example, hair covering for a divorced or widowed woman. The author correctly notes that hair covering extends beyond tzniut and demonstrates the woman is no longer a maiden. As a result, he concludes, “this writer does not see any way to allow a woman to uncover her hair after she was married.”

Too bad. The issue of a woman’s hair covering is more complex than just splitting hairs.

In a famous teshuva, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Even HaEzer IV 32:4), offers a leniency concerning this matter. He was asked about a widow fending for her children and whose job prospects were undermined by wearing a head cover. Rav Moshe replied there is room to be lenient and that Torah law applied only to married women.

Others, including the Yad HeLevi (Rabbi Yitzchak Simcha HaLevi Horwitz’s magnum opus on Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot), considered hair covering for even married women to be strong minhag but not a Torah law; and that communities where the custom of women was not to cover their hair, one was not required and heaven forbid we consider our women anything but proper and kosher—בנות ישראל נאות וכשרות הן. (Yad Halevi #175).

Other poskim—including R. Yehoshua Babad (Sefer Yehoshua #89) and R Yosef Masas (Mayim Chayim 2:110)—likewise asserted that the practice for married women to cover their hair is a custom, and not a Biblical obligation.

So, for divorced and widowed women, our Halacha on this issue and others cited in the January 26 letter is not monolithic. My hope is you’ll find a rav who can guide you with compassion and appreciation to your situation. And that whatever you ultimately decide, you will be supported. 

Mitch Morrison