Get intelligent answers to the most frequently asked questions on the topic.
by Sarah Schwartz
Excerpted from “The Eye of the Needle: Aish HaTorah’s Kiruv Primer”
APPROACHING WOMEN’S ISSUES
Before examining the Torah laws concerning women, it is important to recognize that the manner in which one evaluates any Torah law will be greatly influenced by the view one has of the Torah’s origin.
If one assumes that the Torah was written by man, then all the laws contained within it are the products of human minds. In that case, the laws have no absolute value. They are not inherently beneficial for all Jews in all situations. Instead, as products of a finite intelligence, they have limited applicability and depth. More specifically, if created by members of a male-dominated society, these laws could be interpreted as bearing a distinct bias against women.
If one believes the Torah to be divinely authored, however, then all of its laws are the products of the Divine Intelligence of an Infinite Being – for all time, in absolute justness and perfection. In that case, even if one does not understand the reasons for a particular law, one can know for certain that it is designed for the benefit of each and every individual, throughout the generations.
If the kashruth laws, for example, are simply a man-made attempt at a healthful diet, then if it subsequently appears that a non-kosher food is more healthful, there would be no reason not to eat it. As the human innovation of a subjective mind, kosher food would have no overriding benefit or spiritual imperative.
If, however, the Torah was written by G-d, who created all mankind and gave the Jewish people a prescription for the best possible physical, emotional and spiritual well being, then the same kashruth laws take on a completely different meaning. Even if a non-kosher food seems to be more healthful, this does not change the absolute reality that kosher food is better suited for us – even if we do not perceive its benefits.
Once we have established that G-d wrote the Torah, we relate to His laws in a manner similar to the way a patient relates to his doctor. If a patient trusts in his doctor’s expertise, he will take the prescribed medications, regardless of whether or not he understands the physiological process by which they will cure him.
Obviously, if the patient does not have confidence in his doctor, he will be suspicious of his recommendations. That is why, before you choose a doctor, you investigate his record. You only develop trust after you’ve seen repeated displays of his competence. No one would expect you to have blind faith in your doctor.
The same is true with G-d and the Torah. You are not expected to blindly accept that the Torah is a divine document. In order to make an informed decision, you need to consider all the available evidence for its authorship. However, if the Torah is indeed true, nothing would be more tragic than having lived your life with a limited understanding, while the perfect guide-book to greatness was there all along.
The Torah View of Women
People who believe that the Torah is the work of human beings, generally view the laws concerning women as an expression of ancient man’s treatment of women as second-class citizens. They therefore feel compelled to seek out and expose every apparent inference of prejudice, inequality and subjugation of women, and to use that as a valid license to reject the Torah, altogether.
However, if one understands that the Torah was written by an eternal, just G-d, Who created both man and woman in His image, Who gave each specific roles through which to find maximum fulfillment, and Who charged them equally with the responsibility of perfecting themselves and the world around them, then these laws take on a completely different meaning.
One then begins his analysis with the premise that the difference between the roles of men and women were divinely masterminded for the benefit of each, and that one’s self-actualization can best be achieved through fulfillment of his or her unique role.
In analyzing the “women in Judaism” issue, we shall begin with a look at some of the narratives in the Torah concerning women, and try to establish the Torah’s viewpoint of the potential, value and role of women in Judaism.
Women Can Reach Spiritual Levels Equal to Men
One of the earliest accounts of a Jewish woman in history demonstrates that women can achieve levels of prophecy surpassing that of the greatest men.
The Torah tells us that Sarah noticed the destructive behavior of Yishmael (the son of her maidservant, Hagar). She therefore requested that he be sent away, so as not to spoil the spiritual atmosphere desired for the development of her own son, Yitzchak. Avraham was greatly distressed by her request, until G-d said to him, “All that Sarah says to you, listen to her voice.” (Bereishis 21:12)
Rashi explains that we learn from here that Sarah was superior to Avraham in prophecy(1).
Later on, the Torah relates that it took Rivka, whose understanding and judgment were superior to Yitzchak’s, to discern that Yaakov was the righteous son and that he, not Eisav, should receive the special blessing from their father.
The Talmud(2) asserts plainly that it was through the superior moral standing of the Jewish women in Egypt, that the nation merited redemption from slavery. The exodus from Egypt was the watershed upon which is based the entire history and development of the Jewish nation. And it is the women, the Talmud tells us, who were responsible for this triumph.
Not only did the women take center stage in the inauguration of the nation of Israel, but the Torah consistently credits them with responsibility for the preservation of the nation’s spiritual balance. It was the women who adamantly refused to participate in the episode of the Golden Calf. It was the women whose steadfast trust in G-d prevented them from accepting the damaging report that the Spies brought back about the Land of Israel. Therefore, they merited entry into the Land of Israel and were spared the death sentence that fell upon the men of the generation.
Women Can Attain Levels of Scholarship Equal to Men
The Torah tells us about the wisdom of Torah scholarship of the daughters of Tzelophchad, and relates that they understood inheritance laws that had not yet been revealed to the Jewish people. “The daughters of Tzelophchad speak rightly; thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren,” said G-d to Moshe (Bamidbar 27:7).
In the Book of Judges, we read about the prophetess Devorah, who guided the Jewish people during the era of the Judges.(3) It was through Devorah’s outstanding scholarship and spiritual guidance that the Jews overcame Yabin, the King of Canaan, who had oppressed them for many years.(4)
In the Talmudic era we have Bruria, wife of the famous Rabbi Meir. The Talmud describes her extraordinary Torah scholarship by saying that Bruria studied 300 legal decisions a day.
|Women were leaders, prophetesses and scholars in Jewish society, at a time when every other culture sacrificed women, raped them with impunity, and viewed them, at best, as chattel.|
If you understand the historical context in which these phenomena occurred, you will recognize that this is more than anecdotal lip service to the role of women in Judaism. Women were leaders, prophetesses and scholars in Jewish society, at a time when every other culture sacrificed women, raped them with impunity, and viewed them, at best, as chattel.
Beyond the many records of great achievement made by women, the Torah teaches us some interesting things about the essence of a woman’s nature.
Rabbi Hisda explains that the word “and he built” in the verse “And the Lord G-d built the rib” (Bereishis 2:22) comes from the same root as the word “binah,” “understanding.”
This teaches us that when G-d created woman from Adam’s side, He gave her an added dimension of understanding, often referred to as “binah yesaira” or “women’s intuition.”
Women’s greater natural willingness to serve G-d is also borne out in the structure of Torah law, which obligates a woman in mitzvos at the age of twelve, while a man is only obligated at thirteen. The Torah affirms that women mature more rapidly than men and are able to undertake the yoke of mitzvos at an earlier age.
Furthermore, men must perform the mitzvah of circumcision in order to enter into a covenant of G-d, while women become part of this covenant at birth.
Finally, a woman’s natural inclination toward appreciation, understanding and trust in G-d made the imposition of formal catalysts toward recognition of G-d’s existence, such as tzitzis and tefillin, entirely unnecessary and even superfluous.
APPRECIATING OUR DIFFERENCES
What is the Woman’s Unique Role in Judaism?
The Torah tells us, in the story of the creation of Adam (Bereishis 1:27), “G-d created the man in His own image…male and female He created them.”
Rashi explains that Adam was originally created as an androgynous being – with both male and female characteristics. But G-d taught us that it is not good for the human being to be completely whole, alone and devoted totally to himself. He therefore divided Adam into two separate beings, one male and one female, making each “half” dependent upon the other for completeness.
Just as G-d divided man and woman physically, so did He give each one separate roles to play, which, combined, produce spiritual completion.
|The woman is entrusted to create, shape and build the ethical, moral and spiritual backbone of her family and community.|
Man’s sphere is the external world, while woman is the instiller and protector of the vital, internal values of the Jew. The woman is entrusted to create, shape and build the ethical, moral and spiritual backbone of her family and community.
This reality is reflected within Jewish law itself. Perhaps the most obvious example is the dictum that the Jewish identity of a child is determined by the mother, while the tribe is determined by the father.
Being Jewish is a reflection of the essence of the soul, and this is transmitted through the mother, who is the “caretaker” of the soul. It is the mother who determines the spiritual destiny of the child, and it is the mother who is entrusted with safeguarding the spiritual balance of the future generation. The father, on the other hand, determines the tribe to which the child belongs, which affects the physical destiny of the child. Membership in the various tribes of Israel determines which parts of the land one owns and which occupations one holds.
The Centrality of the Woman’s Role
|It is obvious that building a family is a role of extreme importance – a role that determines the wholesomeness or ills of an entire society.|
The well-being of the world is dependent upon the moral, emotional and spiritual fiber of its inhabitants. It is widely recognized that healthy homes produce mature, productive members of society, while broken homes and abusive parents are more likely to produce unhappy and unbalanced people. It is obvious that building a family is a role of extreme importance – a role that determines the wholesomeness or ills of an entire society.
Why then, do so many people underrate the importance of raising a family?
In describing the importance of the woman’s role in building the home, a rabbi was once challenged by a listener.
“Well, Rabbi what does your wife do?”
“She’s the director of a home for needy children,” said the rabbi.
The listener was very impressed.
“She runs our home, and takes care of our children!” he added.
Why are we impressed when someone is paid to take care of other people’s children, but not so impressed when someone takes care of their own?
We live in a society which measures importance by price tag. Money is the primary determinant of worth. It is therefore not surprising that raising children – a non-paying position – is not viewed as worthy of respect by Western criteria.
But measuring the importance of the woman’s role with the yard stick of Western values is like evaluating the worth of a painting by computing the cost of the paint and canvas. All one gets is a one-dimensional view, which does not scratch the surface of its real value.
Because society worships the external and materialistic as the epitome of achievement, it has no receptivity to spirituality, no yardstick to appreciate or measure spiritual success. It’s not that raising children has no value; it’s simply that whoever has been raised in such a society has been deprived of the ability to recognize and appreciate that value.
A man was once asked if he would lend his BMW to his housekeeper. “Of course not!” he sputtered.
“Why then,” asked the friend, “would you entrust your children to her?”
Most people don’t recognize the critical importance of raising children. While we can easily calculate the worth of a car, recognizing the worth of a soul requires an entirely different perspective.
At its most basic level, Judaism sees the woman as the soul and inspiration of her family. In reality, however, the sphere of a woman’s influence goes far beyond.
One explanation of the verse “Thus say to the House of Yaakov and tell to the Children of Israel,”(5) is that G-d first addressed the women and told them about Torah observance, since the future of the nation depends on the woman’s acceptance of Torah. They are the real power of the people. If women set their minds to keeping the Torah, then no matter what level the men are on, the women will keep the nation on course.
Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, founder of the famed Beth Medrash Gevoha in Lakewood, New Jersey, once commented that it is due to the success of the Bais Yaakov women’s movement, that Beth Medrash Gevoha became what it is. It was the righteous women who demanded that their husbands become Torah scholars, and Beth Medrash Gevoha came into being.
Our rabbis tell us, “The final redemption from exile will come about in the merit of the righteous women.”(6) Indeed, in their roles as directors of the private sphere of life, women have the opportunity and ability to determine the very course of Jewish history.
Different but Equal
Men and women have different roles to play in Judaism. Is the role of the woman inherently inferior?
|Modern society recoils at the concept of different, because it immediately sets off alarms of inferior vs. superior.|
Modern society recoils at the concept of different, because it immediately sets off alarms of inferior vs. superior. Small wonder, given the exploitation secular society has made of differences throughout history. From the oppressive treatment of the poor and landless in the caste system, to the enslavement and discrimination of ethnic and racial minorities, to the horrific litany of abuse and torture in the name of “religious differences,” secular society has used differences as a license to exploit those groups whom they deem “inferior.”
The woman’s experience has been equally horrific. Women have had to battle for virtually every basic right – to be treated as human beings of equal worth and dignity in the home, in the workplace, in politics and in their relationships with men. They therefore do not readily understand how they can be “different but equal.” Understandably, their evaluation of Torah, in many cases, begins with the presumption that having a different role than men is categorical proof of the Torah’s negative view of women.
But different does not necessarily mean inferior. Is the first baseman inferior to the pitcher? Is the pilot inferior to the air traffic controller? In both cases each role is absolutely necessary for proper functioning; neither is more or less important than the other. One of the classic examples of “different but equal” in the Torah, is the partnership of the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun. While Yissachar was the tribe that toiled exclusively in Torah study, the tribe of Zevulun was responsible for the material support of Yissachar. The Torah clearly demonstrates that the roles played in this partnership produced equal spiritual merits for both.
The same is true of the partnership of men and women in Judaism.
The Torah tells us, in the story of Creation,(7) “G-d created the man in His image…male and female He created them.” G-d Himself makes it clear that male and female were originally created as equal parts of one whole and both those parts are equal reflections of the “Image of G-d.”
After G-d separated woman from man, each “half” was given the ability to become whole again through the unification of marriage, where they become “as one flesh.”
Torah Judaism assigns different roles to men and women, yet considers neither more important that the other. Both are entitled, by the mandates of Torah law, to equal respect and consideration. Both receive equal reward for the performance of their duties. But most important – both are essential to the maintenance of the Jewish home and the Jewish nation. Neither is greater than the other, because neither stands completely alone. Both are only halves of a greater whole. Both are only one part of the totality of what it means to be a human being.
WHY WERE WOMEN GIVEN FEWER MITZVOS THAN MEN?
Does Their Exemption from Positive Mitzvos that are Dependent upon Time Make Them Inferior to Men, in Judaism?
|Both men and women are required to use all their abilities to develop the closest possible relationship with G-d, and the potential reward awaiting each fulfillment of their obligations is the same.|
The fact that women have fewer mitzvos than men does not mean that the spiritual level they can attain is lesser than that of a man. Both men and women are required to use all their abilities to develop the closest possible relationship with G-d, and the potential reward awaiting each fulfillment of their obligations is the same. Prophecy, the most intense manifestation of a relationship with G-d, was achieved by great women as well as by great men in our history.
The difference between men and women lies in the method designed for them to achieve their common goal of “dveykus b’Hashem” and therefore in the different amount of mitzvos that devolve upon them. While women and men are enjoined equally to refrain from all “mitzvos lo saaseh” – negative prohibitions which damage a Jew’s spiritual standing – women are not obligated in all of the positive mitzvos – those which actively bring a person closer to G-d. This is because women have a greater tendency toward spiritual growth than men and therefore do not need those mitzvos to bring that potential to fruition. They can achieve it naturally.
Picture, for example, two overweight people. Both are given exercise regimens by a doctor. One has to do five hours of pushups a day, while the other has to do only two.
Which person is in better shape?
Obviously, needing five hours rather than two does not make the first person more privileged. Quite the contrary. It indicates that he needs more work in order to reach his goal.
However, while being exempt from time-bound mitzvos which are not necessarily needed for their spiritual growth, women were given three mitzvos designated especially for them; and it is primarily and preferably through the performance of these mitzvos by women that men are able to fulfill their obligations in these areas.
The three mitzvos given specifically to women are; kindling the Sabbath lights, the taking of Challah (portion of dough) and niddah (the laws of marital separation).
It is ironic that feminists claim women are disadvantaged by virtue of having less mitzvos, while the Torah clearly recognizes that it is precisely because they have a natural advantage in the area of spirituality that they need less mitzvos!
(Based on the books: The Jewish Woman in Jewish Law, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, and The Pearl, Dr. Y. Ginat)
SHOULD WOMEN STUDY TORAH?
What is a Woman’s Obligation to Study Torah? What is the Meaning of “Teaching One’s Daughter Torah is Like Teaching her Triviality.”
The obligation to study Torah is a dual one. On its most practical level, it is derived from the verse:
“So that you will learn them and you will observe to keep them.”(Devarim 5:1)
You must study so that you will be able to perform Torah law is extremely complex and one can only be truly observant if one is knowledgeable. Women, as well as men, are obligated to this level, as derived from the verse:
“Assemble the people: men, women, and children, and your stranger in your gates, so that they will hear [understand] and so that they will learn and so that they will fear the Lord your G-d and so that they will be cautious to perform all the words of this Torah.”(Devarim 31:12)
The second part of this obligation concerns constant and total intellectual involvement in all areas of Torah study, whether or not they are relevant in practical terms. This obligation in binding only on men, and is derived from the verse, “And you shall teach them to your sons” (Devarim 6:7). Rashi explains that the term “v’shinantam” refers to in-depth, long-term study (as opposed to “essential” education for practical knowledge), and the Talmud(8) understands “levinecha” to mean sons, not daughters.
In other words, while women are obligated to learn a large amount of Torah – everythingnecessary to bring about excellence in observance of Torah Law, love of G-d and fear of G-d – they are not required to dedicate themselves completely to a total involvement in all aspects of the word of G-d. This is because they were given a monumental assignment – the care of their family – which takes up a large part of their time and energy. It is obvious that if women were commanded to dedicate all their abilities, energies and time to every area of Torah study, they would not be in a position to carry out their familial responsibilities.
This does not mean that a woman who is either free of those responsibilities or who feels a strong desire to study additional areas of Torah, not related to observance, is prohibited from doing so. She is certainly permitted to do so, and moreover, receives reward for such study.
However, the rabbis strongly caution that casual Torah study – particularly of the Talmud, which takes a great deal of dedication and long-term commitment – is at best unproductive and at worse misleading.
This is what the rabbis meant when they said that teaching Torah to women is teaching them “tiflus” (triviality). Since many areas of Torah study are theoretical, judicial or not relevant to our daily lives, the possibility of these areas being studied superficially and incompletely is very great. It is therefore preferable that one does not start an endeavor to which one cannot give proper attention. That is why women are exempt (exempt, not excluded) from Torah study. This is in no way a slight to their intelligence. It is, rather, a recognition of the importance of their primary responsibility.
(Based on the books: The Jewish Woman in Jewish Law, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, and The Pearl, Dr. Y. Ginat)
WHY CAN’T A WOMAN BE A WITNESS?
Which position within the Jewish nation requires greater intellectual capacity and integrity; a witness or a leader?
Clearly, a leader needs the keener intellectual faculties. Devorah(9) was a prime example of a woman who merited becoming a leader and judge of the nation. It is obvious, then, that the disqualification of women to serve as witnesses has nothing to do with intellectual stability or personal credibility.
Tanna de bei Eliyahu 9:1 asks: “What was so special about Devorah that she deserved to be a judge and a prophetess in Israel? Was not Pinchas, son of Elazar, still alive [and therefore more deserving to assume such a high position]?
“But I call upon heaven and earth to witness, be it gentile or Jew, man or woman, manservant or maidservant, the spirit of G-d rests upon an individual only according to his deeds.”
It is illuminating to realize that while secular society has only relatively recently awarded women the right to vote, ancient Israel’s highest positions were available to women from the very start!
The Talmud tells us that disqualification as a witness can be based upon one of two different factors: technical disqualification or disqualification due to lack of credibility.
Listed among those who are disqualified based upon technical considerations are relatives of the defendant, someone who would have to give testimony against himself, kings of Israel – and women.
For purposes of accusation, Jewish law requires testimony by two eyewitnesses, free of all technical disqualifications. Therefore, in these cases, women may not give testimony.
However, for purposes of identification, where credible statements are needed, a woman’s statement is fully accepted.
In ritual manners, for example, such as kashrus or family purity, we rely equally upon statements of women and men in determining the facts.
Furthermore, oaths are administered only to persons with credibility. While they are not taken by gamblers, usurers, insane persons and minors, oaths are administered in court to men and women, alike.
So why are women technically disqualified to testify in certain cases? Like many other aspects of Jewish law, this might be understood, simply, as a heavenly decree; or it might be seen as having deeper implications.
A king is disqualified from being a witness(10). The illustrious kings of Israel – even David and Solomon – were not permitted to testify. This is because the adversarial relationship of the court to a witness and the respect and deference due a king are mutually exclusive.
In a similar vein, one explanation of why a woman cannot be a witness is that it would be contradictory to the honor and privacy her role demands, to haul her before the witness stand at any and all times. As has been stated, “The entire glory of the daughter of a king lies within.”
Thus we learn that women retain equal credibility with men; their oath is fully acceptable in court, as is the oath of any credible individual. However, women are disqualified from the obligation to testify, only where witness testimony is required.
(Based on the books: The Jewish Woman in Jewish Law, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, and The Pearl, Dr. Y. Ginat)
WHY DO MEN BLESS G-D FOR THEIR ‘GENDER PRIVILEGE’?
Why Do Men Make the Blessing “…that You Have Not Made Me a Woman” in Their Daily Prayers?
Why Do Women Make the Blessing “…that I Was Made According to His Will”?
There are few prohibitions in the Torah that are of greater severity than speaking ill of another person. Lashon Hara carries with it numerous prohibitions and, according to our rabbis, is in some ways even worse than the three cardinal sins for which a Jew must give up his life rather than transgress.
It becomes quite clear then, that the blessing “Shelo asani isha” can in no way be intended as a “put down.” Men cannot be commanded to get up every morning and slander women. What, then, is its meaning?
One explanation is that it is an expression of man’s gratitude to G-d that he was created spiritually inferior to women and must therefore work harder to gain completion. This extra work required of man accords him greater pleasure and satisfaction – if he successfully attains it – than if he had been born with woman’s natural inclination to serve G-d(11).
Let us return to the earlier example of two overweight people, each requiring a different exercise regimen. The person who has to lose a large amount of weight and does so successfully, will take greater pleasure in his new physique than would someone who only had to expend a slight effort to achieve it.
On the other hand, it can be said that women, in recognition of their elevated spiritual capacity, make the blessing “sheasani kirzono” — “that He made me according to His will,” acknowledging that they are starting out naturally closer to the “rotzon Hashem,” to fulfilling the will of G-d.
Chazal tell us that the description of man as an “Ish” as opposed to other names, indicates that he is righteous(12)(13).,
Man’s blessing is said in the negative “Shelo Asani” because, unlike woman, he cannot make a blessing on that which may not yet exist. His status as an “Ish” is something he spends his life trying to obtain. But, since it is not a given, chazal cannot phrase his blessing as a positive affirmation of his status.
Women, on the other hand, achieve their status as an “Isha” from birth. They can definitively say “Sh’asani kirzono.”
WHY CAN’T A WOMAN BE PART OF A MINYAN?
As was explained earlier, the man was given the public role in Judaism, while the inner role, the private sector, was assigned to the woman.
A minyan is a public unit, expressing the public functioning of the community. Therefore, only men, as the public figures, can legally form a minyan. While women may participate in public prayer, they cannot be one of the ten that make up a minyan. Ten women will always remain ten private individuals(14).
WHY CAN’T WOMEN LEAD THE PRAYERS?
There is a general rule that only a person who is under obligation to do a particular mitzvah can perform that mitzvah for others who are also under obligation. For example, if one eats bread he is required to make a blessing. Therefore, he can, at the same time, discharge someone else of his duty to make the blessing. But if one does not eat bread and thus is not required to make the blessing himself, he cannot discharge someone who is about to eat bread and is obligated to make a blessing.
Similarly, since women are not required to participate in communal prayer, they cannot act on behalf of the community in prayer. The duty of the chazzan is to be the emissary of the community and act in its behalf. Women, owing to their more private obligation, are not required to participate in communal prayer and therefore cannot act as emissaries of those who are.(15)
WHY CAN’T A WOMAN INHERIT FROM HER HUSBAND?
This is a law cited by many feminists to show that the Torah is biased against women. However, an understanding of the laws of inheritance will demonstrate that this law is actually a protection of the rights of women.
Under Jewish law, the heirs to a man’s estate may not claim their inheritance until all creditors have been satisfied.
The Torah wanted the widow and daughters to be guaranteed continuing support from the estate of the deceased. Therefore, it designated the wife and daughters as creditors, as opposed to heirs.(16) They have a lien on all the property, which has priority over all heirs and, furthermore, precedes all creditors subsequent to the marriage.
The Torah did not want to compel a woman, who may not be prepared to earn a living, to do so upon the death of her spouse. Therefore, it gave her the favored status of creditor. The sons, on the other hand, receive only that which is left after the claims of the widow and daughters have been satisfied. In the event that there is only enough money to support the wife and daughters, the sons must find other ways to support themselves.
A father is fully entitled to give his daughter a gift of any portion of his estate. Since the sons, as inheritors, have no lien on the property, their inheritance rights do not limit the father’s ability to give his daughters a gift.
Thus, in making the wife and daughters creditors instead of heirs, the Torah provided maximum possible support of the women.
WHY DOES JEWISH LAW REQUIRE A MARRIED WOMAN TO COVER HER HAIR?
Central to Jewish marriage is the concept of kedushin. A husband and wife are consecrated solely to each other and their relationship is separate and different from relationships with anyone else.
The physical relationship between a husband and wife is unconditionally private and exclusive. While a married woman should certainly present a neat and attractive image to the world, she must protect the privacy of her relationship with her husband by dressing in a manner that is not alluring or seductive to others. A significant part of a woman’s sexual allure is given off by her hair. In covering it, she reserves this aspect of her beauty solely for her husband and heightens the degree of intimacy and attraction that they alone share.
1) Rashi on Bereishis 21:12.
2) Sotah 11b.
3) Shoftim 4:4.
4) Tanna D’bei Eliyahu 9:3.
5) Shemos 19:3.
6) Sotah 11b.
7) Bereishis 1:27.
8) Kiddushin 29b.
9) Shoftim 4:4.
10) See Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 3:7.
11) The Torah relates a similar concept when it compares angels to human beings. The pleasure that a human being can attain is greater than that of an angel because a human being’s level of spirituality is earned, while an angel is given it as a free gift.
12) Bamidbar 11:16.
13) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Shelach 4.
14) Rosh Hashana 29a.
16) Rambam, Ishus 17:1-8; Bava Basra 175b, 176a.