Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Must A Woman Cover Her Hair on Skype? Part II
If we assume that a technologically reproduced image has the same status as an actual person (vis-a-vis modesty), it is somewhat hard to imagine that a woman who normally covers her hair when hosting in her home should be exempt when video-conferencing.
The latter view is in keeping with the decision of R. Moshe Feinstein who rules that a woman must cover her hair when hosting others who are not part of her immediate family. (Igroth Moshe EH 1:58) His argument is based on the premise that the uncovered hair of a married woman should only be seen by her husband or immediate family. Thus it makes no difference whether the video-meeting is said to take place in the employer's office or in one's dining room or in some virtual space in-between. The woman is being "seen"...one could even say she is being seen "outside-the-house," therefore a covering is required.
To take a slight tangent, it's worth mentioning that there are other views when it comes to covering inside the house. There is the stringent view that a married woman ought to cover her hair at all times even in her own home among family. (Chatam Sofer OH #36 based on the Zohar, Naso 125b) On the other end of the spectrum, there are women who do not cover their heads whatsoever, neither in-home nor away. (See Aruch HaShulchan OH 75.6,7; Sefer Yehoshua #89) There is a fascinating view that the requirement to cover one's head is based on physical location--outside the home, yes--within the home, no. (Discussed at length in B'nei Banim III.24) While I shall return to the latter in a later post, for now we shall retain Rav Moshe Feinstein's p'sak.
This brings us to the heart of the matter: Ought a digital image of a person be given the same halachic significance as the physical presence of a person?
There is a fascinating responsum of HaRav Ovadiah Yosef that begins with the following question: "May a man recite Kriat Shema if he sees the reflection of an unattired (or somewhat unattired) woman in a mirror? What of a similar image in a photograph?" (Yabia Omer I. O.H. #7)
Rav Ovadiah Yosef begins by making a distinction between actual images (seen through an interfering medium) and reflected images. For example, let us say one wished to bless the new moon. If one were to look directly at the moon through a glass lantern or a window, this would constitute proper "seeing" despite the barrier of glass. In contrast, if one could only see the reflected moon shining upon the surface of a lake, it is rather debatable if this constitutes actual "seeing." It follows from here that photographs, reflections, and videos would fall into this "surface of the lake" category.
At first, Rav Ovadiah seems to prefer the opinion that viewing something seen in a mirror constitutes actual seeing--at least as far as women's hair and exposed limbs are concerned. However, he brings the Nachalat Binyamin (#26) who makes a fascinating counter-argument based on the Rama's p'sak regarding wigs. (OH 75.2) The Rema rules that a man may recite Kriat Shema in front of a woman wearing a wig because detached hair does not have the same (provocative) status as hair that is still rooted to the scalp. This is so even when the hair of the wig was cut from the very scalp it rests upon! Moreover, a comparison can be drawn from wig hair, which is detached from the scalp, and natural growing hair seen in a mirror, as the reflected image is also "detached" from the actual person. Thus the Nachalat Binyamin permits the reciting of Kriat Shema in front of a reflection of uncovered hair that (under normal circumstances) should be covered. Likewise, the same argument may be applied to photographs and reproduced images.
For whatever reason, Rav Ovadiah Yosef seems rather uncomfortable with this notion...Perhaps because he just doesn't like Sheitels... he goes onto to list the many poskim who frankly don't like wigs either. (Cf. his son's work, Yalkut Yosef "Otzer Dinim L'Ishah u'l'Bath" #775) [Also, I found a video clip of R. Ovadiah Yosef discouraging brides from marrying grooms who insist that their betrothed wear wigs.]
Nevertheless, R. Ovadiah concedes that even if one does not wish to call an image in a mirror or photograph actual "seeing," one would still have the problem that the image itself may be enticing and distracting to a man trying to recite Shema. Therefore, he rules stringently in any event. His decision is echoed in another responsum this time dealing with the question of whether a man can recite Kriat Shema in front of a television showing images of less than fully-appareled women. (Yechaveh Da'ath 4:7)
Once more and a bit more firmly, R. Ovadiah rules that images on television are considered reflections or shadows of the real. Likewise, his basis for prohibiting the recitation of Kriat Shema is grounded on the idea that the images are distracting to a male trying to pray and may well lead the fellow to think indecent thoughts.
The upshot of this is the following. A woman who web-conferences is not really in the presence of man, she is in the presence of a digitally reconstituted image. Similarly, the man who converses with her...does not see actual hair, but merely the digital representation of that hair on a computer screen. To wax poetic, no matter how beautiful the moon's reflection on a dark placid lake, it should not be mistaken with actually seeing the moon.
By this argument alone, it would be difficult to articulate a basis for obligating a woman to cover her hair while Skyping in her own home. The concern that her uncovered hair may produce an immodest image is mitigated by the Nachalat Binyamin's argument (above) as well as by the fact that in our day, men are accustomed to seeing married (and unmarried woman) with their heads uncovered. (Aruch HaShulchan OH 75.6,7; Sefer Yehoshua #89) The extent of the latter is such that men, in many communities and synagogues, may even be permitted to pray in the presence of exposed hair of married women. (Aruch HaShulchan ibid; Cf. Biur Halacha 75.2 'M'chutz L'tzmatan')
To be continued...