Friday, November 25, 2011

The Imahos Didn't Cover Their Hair?!

Two thoughts that occurred to me during Shnaim Mikra v'Echad Targum this week:

Why do we need to say when Rivkah "inquired of HaShem" as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabba says: that she went and talked to Shem to hear from HaShem? Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, all say this. Even the Ba'al HaTurim, with his renowned penchant for gematria adds "Lidrosh - it's gematria = min Shem ben Noach (from Shem the son of Noach)."

Upon reading the psukim, the pshat would seem to me that Rivkah simply went and asked HaShem herself. Sarah was a prophetess, and was even greater in this are than Avraham. HaShem had conversations with the Avos, so why not the Imahos also? We can certainly extrapolate that if Sarah was a greater prophetess than Avraham was, she must have had some "off-screen" dialogue with G-d.

To substantiate this point: Later on in the parsha, Rivkah is told about Esav's declaration to take revenge on Yaakov, which the meforshim say means she was told this information prophetically - from HaShem Himself, I presume. Shem certainly isn't there in this instance, and there are no other people around who could have served as an intermediary to deliver the message - it certainly wasn't Yitzchak or Yaakov.

While looking into the commentaries on this verse to see if anyone far more reputable than I also had thought similarly about this issue, I discovered - Baruch Shekivanti - that the Ramban says the same thing, in direct contrast with Rashi. "I only found the language of 'drisha' regarding praying to HaShem" and he cites Tehillim 34:5"Derashti es HaShem va'aneni" - "I inquired of the L-rd, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears," Amos 5:4 "For thus saith the L-rd unto the house of Israel: inquire of Me, and live;" and Yechezkel 20:3 "'Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them: Thus saith the L-rd G-d: Are ye come to inquire of Me? As I live, saith the L-rd G-d, I will not be inquired of by you."

So there you have it, a less midrashically-inclined understanding that Rivkah did have conservation with HaShem herself.

Now, onto the title of this blog post.

We see in this week's parsha, along with two separate incidences with Avraham and Sarah, that where our forefather disguises his relationship with his wife by claiming that they are brother and sister, in the hopes that he will not be killed so that a foreign ruler can marry her.

Upon reading the psukim describing this incident, a question struck me.

How did the whole she's my sister thing work?

Somehow, both Sarah and Rivkah had to be visibly similar to an unmarried woman, otherwise the whole ruse wouldn't work. I considered a few different possibilities:

1) Women at that time, married or not, did not wear hair coverings at all. Hence, looking at Rivkah's hair for a cover wouldn't confirm anything about their relationship.

2) All women wore hair coverings, but married women's hair coverings were not distinguishable from those of single women.

In either case, there must have been no specific garment/item of dress that indicated she was married, otherwise it'd be pretty silly to tell Avimelech that Rivkah was Yitzchak's sister when she wore their equivalent of a wedding band and diamond ring.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps married women back then wore nose rings! Eliezer gives Rivkah one in anticipation of her forthcoming marriage to Yitzchak. Perhaps she simply took it off, and then you'd have the modern equivalent of removing a wedding ring, which is by no means immodest.

Has anyone out there heard/learned anything to shed more light on these topics?


  1. Just a conjecture: there was no Jewish community, there was only the Abrahamic line. So perhaps they did cover their hair (as the gemara states that the avos and imahos kept all the mitzvos) and perhaps the rest of the world sometimes did and sometimes didn't, but it wasn't connected to marriage. Similar to today: some women wear hats or large hairbands as an accessory, unrelated to marriage. Therefore if Sarah or Rivka showed up with covered hair, an Egyptian would have no way of knowing that it was symbolic of anything.

  2. Another possibility: Women did dress in a way that marked them as married, but not doing so was not considered indecent or excessively immodest. My wife doesn't always wear her wedding and engagement rings because they complicate her work as a preschool teacher. Sara and Rivka might have disguised themselves as single women.

  3. > that she went and talked to Shem to hear from HaShem?

    A prophet cannot inquire for himself, only for others. The choice of Shem probably had to with him being the oldest person in the room and one of the three ancestors of all mankind. Don't rely on the pshat. In other places we are told that even though it says God spoke to Aharon it was really through Moshe Rabeinu. And even the Avos didn't receive direct communication from above but through an angel intermediary. Moshe Rabeinu was unique in having direct communication and he was the only one.

    > she was told this information prophetically - from HaShem Himself,

    Or again, she went to inquire what to do next once her plan played out.

    > How did the whole she's my sister thing work?

    Badly, all three times it was tried. The better question is: why did they keep trying the same trick when it kept failing?

    > Somehow, both Sarah and Rivkah had to be visibly similar to an unmarried woman,

    Not necessarily. First of all, Philistine culture of the time may have not distinguished between married and unmarried dress as opposed to the Mesopotamian culture of the Avos. Secondly, Rashi gives a clue when he comments: Who asks a guy going around with a woman "Hey buddy, is that your wife or what?" Which means outfit or not, they might not have cared?
    Finally, as regards head covering, they probably all did it. It was sunny and hot most days! But it is possible that married women covered their faces as well as their hair (note Rivkah Imeinu's first action on seeing Yitzchak Avinu) and Rivkah make have gone amongst the Philistines with her face uncovered as a ruse.

  4. Thanks for the insightful comments, especially regarding the hair covering possibilities. I really enjoy hearing perspectives that help me think beyond my own particular thought processes.

    Mighty Garnel Ironheart - What's the source for prophets only being able to inquire/speak to HaShem on behalf of others?


Comments are welcome, and greatly encouraged! I certainly want to foster open discussion, so if you have something to say about anything I've written, don't hesitate! I also greatly enjoy comments/critiques of my stories. But please, no spam.