Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Haredi Rabbi wildly over-reacts to scholarly essay on hair covering

I'm sorry that the title of this post sounds so rude, but I'm trying to make a point. See, there's a long, scholarly article out by Rabbi Micheal Broyde, in which he attempts to provide the halachic history of hair covering. The author goes through all the sources, examines what they said, and concludes (surprise) that different Rabbis in different times, and different places, had slightly different views on the subject. His stated purpose in publishing this research is to uncover a limud zchus, that is a way to judge favorably those married women who dress modestly, keep commandments, and live righteous lives without covering their hair. Along the way Rabbi Broyd says this:

The consensus of the Ahronim for the last few centuries has surely been that there is an objective Torah obligation upon married women to cover their hair. Nevertheless, contemporary halakhic authorities must also be aware that the Tur, Shulhan Arukh, and Levush are not part of that consensus, and that furthermore, the reason they do not join that consensus is because there are Rishonim who dissent. Indeed, a small number of Aharonim do not agree with the consensus either.
After nearly 100 pages, Rabbi Broyde ends with this:
As a rabbi of little stature, I have no intention of deciding halakhic practice for the entire community in opposition to the rulings of the great decisors of our generation. I only wish to point out that there are many Rishonim who rule that the prohibition for married women to go with uncovered hair is a subjective rabbinic violation dependent on societal norms of modesty (and dat yehudit), not a biblical prohibition (and dat moshe). Women and families who have a clear custom not to cover their hair should know that there is a firm foundation for such a practice in the Rishonim and Shulhan Arukh, even if such a view is rejected by the great Ahronim of our day
Or, to paraphrase, Rabbi Broyde is saying:

  1.  I am not telling you what the halacha is or what it should be; other greater men than I have already decided the halacha, and the halacha is for married women to cover their hair;
  2. If we were to go back in time, we'd find various Rishonim who didn't view uncovered hair as quite the scandal Orthodox Jews consider it today; some may have even allowed married women to go around with their hair uncovered depending on what the norms of her particular society were;
  3. Anyone with a real tradition dating to those times and places has a basis to go around with uncovered hair;
  4. but that basis, and indeed the opinion of the lenient Rishonim themselves has been rejected by the great Achronim of our day.

Pretty harmless stuff, no? So what justifies the outrageous reaction from a Rabbi Sholom Miller of Toronto, who said this:
Behold I have seen the article written by an individual as if chas veshalom according the Tur and Shulchan Aruch there is no issur for (married) women to go out with uncovered hair, and the entire issur stems from the law of Das Yehudis [whereas the Gemara states explicitly the opposite] and in our times there is no law of Das Yehudis. And all the lengthy diatribe therein is nothingness and an evil spirit, and the lengthy article that he wrote on this matter is similar to the responsa written by “Acher,” that is Aharon Chariner, who the Chasam Sofer lashed out against, and all the words of the aforementioned “Acher” were the foundation to permit the reformers, as is well known. And so too can be compared the responsa of the aforementioned matir, and it is not the place here to be mefalpel in this matter. And with this I signed on 14 Teves 5771.
Seems like a lot of anger for no reason?

Search for more information about Rabbi Sholom Miller of Toronto at

No comments: