Headcoverings: The Biblical admonition concerning a woman’s hair

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!

6 thoughts on “Headcoverings: The Biblical admonition concerning a woman’s hair”

  1. I appreciate this teaching on head covering. I started covering publicly when singing in congregations last year (2014) and was generally accepted in the Messianic circles. However, the Christian churches were puzzled and I got a plethora of remarks from, “Are you Jewish?”, “Do you have cancer?” and the worst comment was from a pastor who thought he was being funny by calling me a “raghead.” How sad that nothing is said to women who have their cleavage exposed to reveal their bosom in church and NOTHING is said to them! What does that tell us about the condition of today’s churches that welcome such immodest attire?

    1. Devora,

      Thank you for your comment! Yes, it is sad that there is not an emphasis on modest within the majority of the believing community and it is also sad for someone to be treated disrespectfully when they are following their convictions. More on modest to come in future posts. Shalom!

    1. There is no reason for a Messianic woman not to visit a traditional mikveh. I have not had any problems. It would be more comfortable for a woman if she knows how to prepare and what will take place. Modesty and privacy are strictly adhered to. They try to arrange it so that no one will see who else is there. Also important to note: It would not be welcomed there to start sharing your faith. As to whether there will ever be a Messianic mikveh built, women I have encountered who are convicted to go to one use the traditional Jewish ones in their community.

      There are many (rabbinical) rules for building a mikveh. I am not saying that we must adhere to those rules, but agreement on how to build one, etc. might be an issue. It would be a very large undertaking.

  2. Thank you for this blog post. I have wondered if long hair for women is a Biblical based teaching. There are so many different teachings about head coverings … I just want to know what matters to HaShem according to the Word. What do you think?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Nina. We can glean from what Paul writes, that the believers had no tradition as to covering or not, that this is not an obedience to G-d issue.

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