Modesty at the Shabbos Table
Question: May Kiddush be recited in the presence of a married female guest
whose hair is not covered?
Discussion: According to Torah law, a married woman must cover her hair
whenever she is outside her home. In earlier generations, a woman who
failed to do so forfeited her kesubah and was liable to be divorced by her
husband. In more recent times, when some women erroneously, but
sincerely, believed that they were not required to cover their hair, many
poskim held that the husband was not required to divorce his wife for this
transgression, since it was her ignorance of the Law, not her disregard for
it, which led her to sin.
Many theories have been postulated as to why some women —although meticulous
in the observance of other mitzvos—are lax in regard to covering their hair.
Some do not cover their hair at all and others do so only partially. It must
be stressed that this practice is roundly condemned by all poskim. There are
no halachic authorities who permit a married woman to leave her hair
uncovered. Indeed, most recently—in the last few decades—there has been a
gradual improvement, and many women who did not previously cover their hair
have begun to do so.
Since the hair must be covered, it is considered an ervah, “an uncovered
area,” when it is not covered. No male may recite Kerias Shema, pray,
recite a blessing, or learn Torah when the uncovered hair is visible to him.
Consequently, if a married lady with uncovered hair is sitting at your
Shabbos table, Kiddush may not be recited. This halachah applies to one's
own wife, sister, mother, daughter and granddaughter as well.
The obligation of covering the hair requires a married woman to cover all of
her hair. If a woman covers most of her hair but leaves part of it
exposed, the part which is exposed is considered an ervah. But this
includes only the hair of the head itself. Hair that grows on the neck, the
forehead or the temples, as well as lighter colored hairs which grow
sparsely on the face (“baby hairs”) need not be covered. [As a basic
rule, “head hair” includes only hair which could grow in long strands;
short, wispy hairs which cannot grow long are not considered “head hair” and
need not be covered. ]
In the last century or so, the fact that many women did not cover their hair
presented a serious problem.
The halachah that a married woman's uncovered hair is considered an ervah
regarding Kerias Shema and all blessings made it practically impossible for
men to recite tefillos and blessings or to learn Torah in their own homes.
In view of this unfortunate reality, the Aruch ha-Shulchan ruled that
in a locale where the majority of married women do not cover their hair, we
can no longer consider hair an ervah. In his opinion, only in a locale where
most women keep their hair covered is uncovered hair considered an ervah.
This controversial ruling was accepted by some poskim and strongly
rejected by others. Rav M. Feinstein ruled that one may be lenient
only under extenuating circumstances. [Quite possibly, the Aruch
ha-Shulchan’s leniency may not be applicable nowadays in many locations, as
more and more women cover their hair and those who do not may no longer be
in the majority.]
Concerning our case, therefore, the following is the correct protocol:
The preferred solution is to prevail upon the woman—in private without
embarrassing her—to cover her hair at least during Kiddush. If not
practical, then one should look away from the woman, fix his gaze upon a
bencher or a siddur, or close his eyes while reciting Kiddush. The same
should be done during recitation of all other devorim shebekdushah,
including Birkas ha-Mazon and learning Torah. [Under extenuating
circumstances, when none of the above solutions apply, one may rely on the
Aruch ha-Shulchan’s view that uncovered hair is not considered an ervah.]
If the Shabbos guest is not Jewish, her uncovered hair is not considered an
If a woman is not dressed properly according to minimum halachic
guidelines —whether she is Jewish or not—then, too, the man saying
Kiddush must avert his face or close his eyes. The Aruch ha-Shulchan's
leniency does not apply to immodest dress.
1. Divorced or widowed women are also required to do so, although some
poskim hold that their obligation is Rabbinic; see Igros Moshe, E.H. 1:57.
See Machazeh Eliyahu 118-120 for a complete discussion.
2. According to the Zohar, quoted by many poskim, women should cover their
hair even in the privacy of their own homes; see Mishnah Berurah 75:14 and
Beiur Halachah, s.v. michutz, for more details.
3. Kesuvos 72a; E.H. 115:1-4.
4. See Igros Moshe, E.H. 1:114; Doveiv Meishorim 1:124; Lev Avraham 1:105
quoting the Chazon Ish.
5. But a woman is permitted to daven and recite blessings even though she
is facing another woman’s uncovered hair; Mishnah Berurah 75:8.
6. See Teshuvos v’Hanhagos 1:62 quoting Chazon Ish, Doveiv Meisharim 1:124
and Lehoros Nosan, end of vol. 5.
7. Although in some communities some married women leave a small portion
of their hair uncovered, see Modesty, An Adornment for Life, pg. 236-240,
who explains that this custom has no basis in Halachah and should be
discontinued. In addition, even the lenient view which allows exposing a bit
of hair, only permits exposing a small area measuring a square tefach; see
Igros Moshe, E.H. 1:58 and O.C. 4:112-4.
8. A Practical Guide to Tzenuis, pg. 24.
9. Piskei Teshuvos 75:10.
10. O.C. 75:7.
11. Ben Ish Chai, Parashas Bo 12; Kaf ha-Chayim 75:16; Seridei Eish 2:14;
Yabia Omer 6:13.
12. Mishnah Berurah 75:10; Chazon Ish, O.C. 16:8; Divrei Yoel 10 and most
13. Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:39, 42, 43; O.C. 3:23, 24; O.C. 4:15; E.H. 1:114.
14. Igros Moshe, O.C. 4:15.
15. Or a girl who is no longer looked upon as a baby or a toddler –
approximately 5-7 years old, depending on her size and maturity; Chazon Ish,
16. Minimum halachic standards require that a woman’s legs from her knee
and above, her arms from the elbows and up and her neckline from the
collarbone and down are completely covered.
17. Mishnah Berurah 75:1; Chazon Ish, O.C. 16:8. Not all poskim agree that
closing one’s eyes is sufficient in this situation.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org