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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes)  Shaved heads of married Jewish women

Here an Order of the Russia Empire officials is discussed which concerns the punishment of Jewish women who did shave their heads after marriage in spite of the prohibition by the Tzar. From this text it becomes clear that the shaving of heads was prohibited in March 1851, but the order was difficult to fulfill, because it was not known what to do with the women who did not obey the Order, and it was also not clear who actually should check the obedience of Jewish women.

To tell the truth, I am not well informed why Jewish women should have had their hair shaved. Principally, the Jewish religion requires married women to cover their hair - they could uncover it only before their husbands - and it is not important what is the covering. A wig fit quite well, and may be it was convenient to shave off or cut short the hair to make the use of wig comfortable. In /Belovinskis/ it is asserted that in the Empire the Jewish women wore wigs widely. I do not know, however, how widely this custom was practiced in the region of Latvia. I also wonder what was the price of a wig and could everybody afford it. The Jewish author Sholom Aleichem, who pictured life (end of the 19th century) inside the geographical Pale, mentioned women in wigs in his fiction works, and as far as I understood him, not each married woman wore wigs, the author used wigs to characterize some women as well-situated or/and very religious. By the way, it is known that Estonian (not Latvian) women used to shave their heads about the 17th century but Lutheran Pastors liquidated this pagan custom.

Without doubt the order of the Tzar prohibiting married Jewish women from shaving their hair arouse some technical problems for the Empire officials. The Law stated that the hair is not to shave off - it follows that it was allowed to cut it short. How short it could be cut? Who could determine rules and who was obliged to control how the rules were obeyed? Actually only the husband had the right to uncover the hair of his wife and to measure the length of it. And so on.

The order of the Senat I am presenting below tried to solve some of these problems. The Senat was the highest body of the Empire with control and court functions. The Senat usually cascaded the orders of the Tzar to the province officials. At that time (1851) this type of orders were not distributed separately as circular letters (Patents), but a kind of newspaper with several German translations of orders was printed and distributed to the Pastors of the Baltic provinces.

The proposed solution of the problem obliged Rabbis to control the hair of Jewish women, but it was still unsolved who should control the Rabbis how they fulfill the Order. For more details see the translation below.

Ukas Eines Dirigirenden Senats, folgenden Allerhöchsten Befehl vom 19. August 1852 als Entscheidung auf die aufgeworfene Frage, - welche Beahndung die Ebräerinnen zu unterziehen seyen, welche, dem im März 1851 erlassenen Verbote zuwider, sich die Käpfe werden rasiren lassen, - enthaltend: Da es hauptsächlich von den Rabbinnern abhängt, dem vorzubeugen, daß die Ebräerinnen bei ihrer Verheirathung sich die Köpfe nicht rasiren mögen, so sind sie mittels Reversal zu verpflichten, durchaus nicht zu gestatten, daß die Ebräerinnen sich bei ihrer Verheirathung die Köpfe rasiren lassen, und bei Nichterfüllung dieses dem Gerichte zu übergeben, damit mit solchen Rabbinern auf Grundlage des Straf-Gesetzbuchs, Art. 1338 Pkt.9, verfahren werde; von den Ebräerinnen aber, die dieses Verbot übertreten, eine Pön von 5 Rbl. Silber beizutreiben.

Betreffend: die Maßregeln zur Beahndung der Ebräerinnen für das Rasiren der Köpfe

. Aus dem 1.Departement vom 10.October 1852, No 43,122


The translation of the order:

Order of the governing Senat following the Highest Order of August 19, 1852 as the decision of the raised problem - how should be punished the Jewish women who contrary to the prohibition of March 1851 let their heads to be shaved. The content of the order is the following: As it principally depends on Rabbis to prevent the shaving of heads by Jewish women after their marriage, the Rabbis should be obliged by undersigning of the obligation absolutely not to allow Jewish women to shave heads after marriage, and those Rabbis who do not perform this duty should be taken to court according to the Penal Code, clause 1338, item 9. Upon the Jewish women, who violated the prohibition, a fine of 5 Roubles in silver should be imposed.

Concerning: The regulations of the punishment of Jewish women for shaving heads.

Issued by the 1 department on October 10, 1852; Nr. 43,122


© Comments, translation. Bruno Martuzâns. 1995-2002