Reciting Blessings In Front Of Improperly Dressed Women And Uncovered Hair

1. The Gemara in Brachos (24a) states that one is not allowed to pray in the presence of a married woman whose hair is uncovered. This may cause problems for those reciting blessings under the chuppah, since many times there are women present who are not properly covering their hair.

2. Many rely on the well known heter of the Aruch Hashulchan (75:9). The Aruch Hashulchan writes that in a locale where the majority of married women do not cover their hair, the sight of uncovered hair will not cause men to have inappropriate thoughts, and it is therefore permitted to pray and recite blessings in the presence of a woman whose hair is uncovered. A similar view is expressed by the Ben Ish Chai, the Siridei Eish, Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l, and Harav Shlomo Zalman Aauerbach zt”l. Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l writes that, in case of great need, one may rely upon the opinion of the Aruch Hashulchan (for the full list of sources see Sefer Umekareiv Biyamin 1).

3. It is important to stress the fact that there is a biblical obligation for all married women to cover their hair (Kesubos 72). That obligation is in complete effect to this day. The Aruch Hashulchan was not ruling or implying that married women need not cover their hair. He was addressing the rabbinic prohibition of praying in the presence of uncovered hair. That prohibition, feels the Aruch Hashulchan, is only in affect in an area where women cover their hair properly. In those areas, the presence of uncovered hair may lead to inappropriate thoughts and should be treated like an ervah (nakedness), and therefore one may not pray in it’s presence. In an area where, unfortunately, women stopped adhering to the law and began to uncover their hair, the sight of hair is mere commonplace and one may pray in it’s presence.

4. Many authorities, including the Chazon Ish, Mishnah Berurah, the Satmer Rebbe zt”l, and ybc”l Harav Moshe Shternbuch shlit”a, disagree with the ruling of the Aruch Hashulchan and they feel that one may never pray in the presence of a married woman whose hair is uncovered (see Umekareiv Biyamin ibid.).

5. The permissible view of the Aruch Hashulchan would only allow for one to pray in front of a women whose hair is uncovered. It will not permit prayer in the presence of a woman who is not dressed properly.

6. The poskim debate what the proper procedure is for praying or reciting blessings in front of an improperly dressed woman. Some poskim maintain that one may recite the blessings as long as his eyes are closed or he is looking in a siddur and not at the woman. Others maintain that merely closing one’s eyes does not suffice, and one must completely turn away from the woman in question. One should try to adhere to the strict view and turn away from those that are not dressed properly and then recite the blessings. However, in case of necessity one may close one’s eyes and recite the blessings, and he need not turn his body in a different direction (see Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 75, Taz, Bach and Mishnah Berurah on 75. Ishei Yisrael page 665 and Yabia Omer 3:7).

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