Monday, October 22, 2007

Sei'ar beIsha Erva = A Woman's Hair is Erva. What Hair?

On Berachot 24a, Rav Sheshet states that "hair by a woman is erva." The context, which Rashi explains applies as well here, is in terms of whether one can say keriat Shema in front of a woman's exposed head of hair.

There are some difficulties in this. After all, non-married women go about with uncovered head, and indeed that is a way of knowing that a betula as opposed to an almana is getting married. If it is really erva, how could they go about in this way. Furthermore, on Ketubot daf 72, there is a derasha from Tanna deBei Rabbi Yishmael from a sota, that since the kohen uncovers her head, from here a warning to Jewish women not to go about with uncovered (/unbound hair). What need for this -- if it is erva, of course one cannot go around with erva exposed!

We can interpret it in that it is erva in terms of causing sexual excitement. So translates Soncino, in fact. Therefore, facing it while saying keriat Shema is distracting. In terms of practical halacha, many poskim make the distinction that it is only an erva in cases when it is usually covered. Thus, an unmarried woman or a gentile woman's uncovered hair, where they normally leave it uncovered, presents no problem in terms of reading Shema. But this is an involved sugya, which I am not going into here. I just wished to present this by way of background.

Now, on to the proposed chiddush.

I would propose that "Sei'ar beIsha Erva" actually refers to a woman's pubic hair, rather than to her head of hair. For that seems to be the context on the daf, and it resolves the aforementioned difficulties.

Earlier on the daf, on Berachot 24a, we have:
ותניא אחריתי הישן במטה ובניו ובני ביתו בצדו הרי זה לא יקרא ק"ש אא"כ היתה טלית מפסקת ביניהן ואם היו בניו ובני ביתו קטנים מותר


אמר מר אם היו בניו ובני ביתו קטנים מותר ועד כמה אמר רב חסדא תינוקת בת שלש שנים ויום אחד ותינוק בן ט' שנים ויום אחד איכא דאמרי תינוקת בת י"א שנה ויום אחד ותינוק בן שתים עשרה שנה ויום אחד אידי ואידי עד כדי (יחזקאל טז) שדים נכונו ושערך צמח
And it was taught in another [place]: If a man is in bed and his children and the members of his household are at his side, he must not recite the Shema' unless there is a garment separating them, but if his children and the members of his household are minors, he may.


The Master said: 'If his children and the members of his household were minors, it is permitted'. Up to what age? — R. Hisda said: A girl up to three years and one day, a boy up to nine years and one day. Some there are who say: A girl up to eleven years and a day, and a boy up to twelve years and a day; with both of them [it is] up to the time when "Thy breasts were fashioned and thy hair was grown." {Yechezkel 16:7}
The hair in this case is hair indicating maturity, and thus refers to pubic hair.
ז רְבָבָה, כְּצֶמַח הַשָּׂדֶה נְתַתִּיךְ, וַתִּרְבִּי וַתִּגְדְּלִי, וַתָּבֹאִי בַּעֲדִי עֲדָיִים: שָׁדַיִם נָכֹנוּ וּשְׂעָרֵךְ צִמֵּחַ, וְאַתְּ עֵרֹם וְעֶרְיָה. 7 I cause thee to increase, even as the growth of the field. And thou didst increase and grow up, and thou camest to excellent beauty: thy breasts were fashioned, and thy hair was grown; yet thou wast naked and bare.

The gemara continues a bit later with a question:
א"ל רב מרי לרב פפא שער יוצא בבגדו מהו קרא עליה שער שער
R. Mari said to R. Papa: If a hair protrudes through a man's garment, what is the rule? — He exclaimed: 'Tis but a hair, a hair!
The question here is whether, if a hair protrudes through a man's garment, is this indecency? Obviously this is not referring to the hair on his head, but rather to pubic hair, which is why one could have a question whether it is indecent. The reply is that it is but a hair, a hair! That is, it is nothing. It is not erva.

The gemara, a bit later, has:

אמר רב ששת שער באשה ערוה שנא' (שיר השירים ד) שערך כעדר העזים
R. Shesheth said: A woman's hair is a sexual incitement, as it says, Thy hair is as a flock of goats.
א הִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי, הִנָּךְ יָפָה--עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים, מִבַּעַד לְצַמָּתֵךְ; שַׂעְרֵךְ כְּעֵדֶר הָעִזִּים, שֶׁגָּלְשׁוּ מֵהַר גִּלְעָד. 1 Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thine eyes are as doves behind thy veil; thy hair is as a flock of goats, that trail down from mount Gilead.
We could interpret this as in line with the previous statement. It is true that for a man, a protruding pubic hair is not considered indecency (in whatever context it would or would not be). However, a woman's public hair protruding out of her clothing would be considered erva, perhaps because of sexual excitement it would cause.

The problem is that the prooftext certainly seems to be talking about the hair on the woman's head, and furthermore the proximity to and pattern after qol beIsha erva. But perhaps this can be resolved as, e.g., explaining that since woman's hair in general has this attractiveness, in this particular instance we would consider this type of hair to be erva by a woman, even though we do not for a man.

But such a reading would explain why unmarried women may go around with rosha parua and why a special derivation is required there.


Soccer Dad said...

IIRC, according the Rambam an unmarried woman may not go out with her hair (on her head) uncovered.

joshwaxman said...

I think that's why in Meah Shearim all the unmarried girls go around with braided hair, so as to fulfill it according to at least that interpretation.

Anonymous said...

There is a teaching somewhere that בּנות ישראל אין להם שער לא בבית השחי ולא בבית הערוה. Wouldn't that pose a problem for your pshat ?

joshwaxman said...

it depends what it means.
the reference is to a statement by Rava in Sanhedrin 21a.
According to Rashi there, it means that before they sinned, Biblical Jewish women did not have pubic hair, naturally so. Tamar was different because she was the daughter of a yefat Toar, and thus came from gentile stock.

But by the time of Rav Sheshet, surely they did.

ADDeRabbi said...

regarding the statement of Rava, see maharsha ad loc, that the daughters of israel were like that because they removed the hair, not because it didn't grow at all.

regarding kol, perhaps it can be interpreted along the lines of the 'kolanit' according to at least one opinion in the gemara in ketubot. it would fit with the passuk quoted.

joshwaxman said...

I can understand some of why one would want to say this -- after all, pubic hair is a basis of determining between minor and adolescent in halacha; and the story of Pilegesh beGiveah according to one opinion was that he found she did not shave a pubic hair, which was therefore a danger.

Still, it is hard to understand this Meharsha locally. He deals with the issue of the *question* of the gemara. Would not one assume that this refers to married women who shave, and Tamar was unmarried? The issue is resolved in that they did it for beauty, and thus non-married women would have done so as well, in which case Tamar is a good question.

But it seems to be that Maharsha neglected the *answer* of the question in the gemara. If all women shaved, then why would Tamar not shave just because she is the daughter of a yefat Toar? It makes much more sense that this is genetics. Perhaps one could say this was a practice she picked up from her mother, but it is much more difficult to force into the gemara than genetics. It is awkward, in my opinion.

Still, if it is indeed a result of shaving, the local interpretation has an even easier time, as you point out. We just have to apply the statement that "sear beIsha erva" to a woman who did not happen to shave.

In terms of "qol," I was considering that possibility. It looks good. However, one possible complication is that it is used in the showdown between Rav Yehuda ad Rav Nachman described on Kiddushin 70a. It *seems* that Rav Yehuda is taking somewhat extreme interpretations of the statements there, but it might give us a hint of what it means. Still, perhaps we can connect it with medaberet im kol adam...


joshwaxman said...

another point occurred to me abuot the aforementioned gemara in Sanhedrin.

The response about daughter of a Yefat Toar is not meant to be genetics. If she was the daughter of a giyoret, she would not have had pubic hair, just like any other Israelite at that time. Rather, based on other gemaras, Tamar was conceived from the intercourse King David had with her mother on the battlefield, before conversion. Therefore, Tamar was born non-Jewish and subsequently converted. Therefore, she would have had pubic hair.

Looking Forward said...

I don't know if you'l read this, but I would like to point a few things out.

A the relevant mishnah in kesubos discusses things almost exclusively the province of married women, save for three things: talking to men, and covering her upper arm. But I would point out that you're not really allowed to divorce someone if you knew that they had this issue before hand, and in these cases how could you not know? Would you not have heard from thus and so that she speaks to the bochuim in the market! no! kamashmalan that this restriction only applies to a married woman, and since everything else only applies to a married woman, so to does covering her arm only apply to a married woman.

So then in the context here what do we say? many opinions hold that likewise kol b'isha only applies to a married woman, and not to a penuya, and I saw an interesting teshuva of the bach (hachadashot, 55) where he mentions that its fine for bochurim and besulos to eat together and say shhsb"m even though there are men and women toegether, "becasue there are no hirhurei avaira".

So to I think here, the sar can only be properly erva if the woman herself is erva to you, meaning if she's a married woman, hence rashi's comment that covering the hair only applies to a married woman.

when she is single, you could marry her, and thus the thoughts (while they are not permitted durring krias shema) are non-theless not hirhurei avaira.

Likewise one isn't forbiden to gaze at a penuya (except from kabala, see bais yosef and further the magen avraham in hilchos tefilin where he says that things that are m'divrei kabala may not be enforced upon the popluation) and I think so to here, the hair of an unmarried woman isn't erva simply because she isn't assur to much of anyone.

joshwaxman said...

nice points. thanks. it is indeed an interesting way of reading that gemara.

a rabbinic friend of mine pointed out (I think it was in the name of Rav Schachter, but I could be remembering it wrong) that one could then read the gemara as
Kol | BeIsha Erva
Voice | in a woman who is an erva to you.
Sear | BeIsha Erva
Hair | in a woman who is an erva to you

I think that *that* is too much of a radical reinterpetation of those words, and that it does not really fit into the gemara as it continues. E.g. why then would those words possibly apply to one's own wife when saying kriat shema.

But in terms of Rashi's take on it, Rashi's understanding of the gemara certainly is plausible.

I would also note that Rashi *also* says this in regard to shok, that this only applies to a married woman. If we understand this to mean thigh rather than calf, then we (perhaps) have justification for Jewish unmarried girls to wear miniskirts, or (perhaps) men to look at unmarried Jewish girls who happen to be wearing miniskirts. And if calfs, then for them to wear skirts up to the knee. At least according to a possible interpretation within Rashi.

See this post on parshablog, where I show the relevant Rashi, and discuss it a bit.

The Bach discusses this Rashi in terms of shok Beisha erva, in Orach Chaim, hilchot Kriat Shema, siman 75, d"h vechen here:

and he expands on this idea, and says that Rashi's motivation is that on a man, the shok is not erva at all.

Of course, not everyone needs to agree with Rashi.

Kol Tuv,

AA said...

Check out the Or Zarua's Girsa of the Gemara in 1:133

He doesn't have שער יוצא לו בבגדו but rather...


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