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1-Hijab in Islam
Many Westerners think that hijab (veil) is the symbol of oppression of the Muslim woman. Several western caricaturists depict the Muslim woman typically as one wearing a black «aba›a» : a dress that covers all her body except for her eyes. She is usually fat and sad! The aim behind this is usually to criticize such costume and confirm the image of the oppressed Muslim woman in the western minds! We refuted that image in a previous article «Arabs and Women Slavery» in which we mentioned the reaction of Saudi female students to the comments of Karen Hughes, the Middle East emissary of the American Administration, and how they proved their love of their Islamic costume and hijab. They were proud and had no intention to give this up. However, is hijab an Islamic innovation?
2-Hijab was an Old Jewish Custom
Although Muslim women are the ones that mostly observe the hijab, it is not correct that Islam is the only religion that orders its followers to wear hijab! Laila Lia Bruner, professor of Jewish history at the Jewish University and the visiting professor at Shiva University Institute for Adult Studies indicates that, «the early divine classic literature, Talmud and Midrash, had completely different viewpoints regarding covering woman’s hair. At that time, covering hair was not just a costume or a habit as in the Bible. Rather, it was the rule and regulation for pious women. The later divine literature of the middle ages asserted that issue as a complementary part of Jewish religious rituals.» (1) Hijab, then, was a habit and then a religious obligation on the Jewish woman. The Talmud Encyclopedia asserts this through comparing the opinion of the «mishna», the main source of rabbinic Judaism, and that of the Talmud regarding hijab:
«It seems that the mishna considered covering the hair as a Jewish habit despite that Talmud had already set a Torah rule for that and stated it as an obligation. Moreover, it is interesting that the term ‹dat yahudit› is used only for the behavior of women so that many defined the term as related to women›s modesty in particular.» (2)
Whether covering hair was a Jewish habit or a religious obligation, it is an established fact that was known and widespread in old Jewish societies.
In his book The Jewish Woman in Rabbinic Literature, Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer, Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University, indicates that it was the habit of Jewish women to go in public with the head cover which covered at time the whole face except for one eye. (3) He quotes the words of some old famous Rabbis as saying, «it is not the habit of the girls of Israel to go with bare head», «damned be the man who let his wife›s hair to be seen … The woman who keeps her hair bare brings poverty.» The divine law prohibits the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a married woman whose hair is not covered. This is considered as «nakedness»(4). Professor Brier adds that, «during the period of Tanitic the failure of woman to cover her hair was considered as a humiliation of her modesty. She was fined four hundred «zeuzem» for that (zeuzem was about a quarter of a shekel)». He indicates as well that the hijab of the Jewish woman was not always a sign of modesty; at times it was an indication of distinction and luxury for noble women. It also symbolized the non-attainment of the married woman as being a sacred ownership of her husband. (5) Hijab also symbolized self-respect of the woman and he social status. Women of the lower classes used to wear hijab to give the impression that they were of a higher class. Hijab, in fact, was an indication of the noble class and this was the reason prostitutes were prevented from covering their hair in old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special scarf to look respectable. (6) Continue reading