To fully understand the significance of this custom/law, we will look at this issue from 3 vantage points: culture, rabbinical law and Biblical truth.
Culture. Throughout the Middle East, there has been a cultural norm for women of morality upon becoming married to conceal their hair from public view.
Rabbinical Law. The rabbinical basis for married women to cover their hair is found in one primary biblical text–Numbers 5:18. “The Kohen (priest) shall have the woman stand before HaShem and uncover the woman’s head, and upon her palms he shall put the meal-offering of remembrance….”
The context for this verse is a woman being accused of adultery. Numbers 5 outlines a process to discern whether a woman is guilty or not. It is interesting to note that one entire volume of the Talmud is dedicated to this issue (Sotah).
Within this process, the Bible states that the accused woman is brought to a priest (Kohen) and during the process it states in Numbers 5:18 that the priest “uncovers the woman’s head.” Since this verse seems to take for granted that this married woman has her head covered, the Sages (ancient rabbinical scholars) derive that all married women would have their heads covered.
The famous 12th century rabbi Rashi states, “It is a disgraceful thing for a woman to be seen bare-headed.” Hence, it has become Jewish law that every G-d fearing married woman covers her hair from public sight.
Biblical Truth. A close look at the Biblical passages from the Torah and the New Covenant reveal that the Biblical emphasis is not on the actual covering of a woman’s head, but the proper “style”. In returning to Numbers 5:18, although most English translations say “uncover the woman’s head”, the Hebrew word “parah” does not mean to uncover but a thorough word study shows this word means “to make something unkept, in disarray or disorder”. Rashi translates it “He (the priest) unlooses the locks of her hair”. Most rabbinical authorities, however, say her hair would be pinned up because it is easier to cover.
However, in looking at the New Covenant, I Cor. 11:3-16, there is a significant emphasis on head coverings. But, what must be point out, is that Paul is not speaking of a head covering as a scarf or hat, but rather wearing one’s hair up on top of her head.
Obviously, if one takes this passage (I Cor. 11:4) to mean some artificial covering, i.e., hat, we would have a conflict with the priest, who always covered their heads when serving in the Temple.
Verse 15 makes it very clear that hair is indeed the covering of which the Bible is speaking.
And finally, verse 16 is very clear. BUT IF ANY MAN SEEM TO BE CONTENTIOUS, WE HAVE NO SUCH CUSTOM, NEITHER THE CHURCHES OF G-D. Therefore, we can conclude that if a woman chooses to cover her head, that is fine. It is also fine if she chooses not to. We must not judge either way. Shavuah Tov!