I think it’s time to revisit another story frequently quoted to Bais Yaakov students — but missing one line that changes it all.
The story is the story of Kimchis. It comes from Talmud Bavli, Yoma 47a and goes like this:
Kimchis had seven sons and all served as Kohanim Gedolim. The sages asked her: What did you do to deserve this? She said, in all my days, the pillars of my house never saw the braid of my hair.
And this is where the story ends, according to Bais Yaakov.
Skeptical students point out that there’s little blessing in having all seven of your children serve in a life-position in your lifetime, as it means they all died in your lifetime as well. This story, if anything, illustrates that the “my son, the doctor — at all costs” kind of Jewish-mother pride runs deep, and old, and no less perversely than we roll our eyes at today.
But for the less cynical, this story is held up as an example that there is definite reward for taking tznius in general — and hair-covering in particular — to every possible extreme.
The skeptics will again point out that this is hardly a foolproof way to get worthy children, as anyone can see. But one’s own life experience can never be used to argue a Gemara, so this line of thought never gets very far.
I am now including the excerpt from Yoma here, for your examination.
If you actually examine it, you may be surprised. “Wait!” you’ll say. “There’s another line! You highlighted it, but you left it out of the translated quote!”
Yep. There is another line. And it goes like this:
[The sages] said to her: Many have done this and it didn’t work for them.
Yes, the sages were skeptics too. They didn’t think obsessive hair-covering “worked.”
There’s another version in the Yerushalmi, Megillah. In this one, Kimchis says the hair thing, and then she adds another item, about how the walls of her house never saw “imras cheluki.” Which I’ve seen translated as a part of her under-dress (petticoat? Bra strap?). I don’t have a great translation for it, but the nice thing about the internet is that if you put something out there, someone is going to come along and tell you that you’re wrong, so I’m putting this out here and waiting for results.
Anyway, the response of the rabbis in the Yerushalmi is that “the flour of Kimchis is the finest quality flour” (it’s a pun on Kimchis = kemach, get it… groan), so in this case, they agreed that what she did was worthy.
So, the rabbis disagree with Kimchis when it’s just her hair. And they agree with her when she adds something about flashing a garment. Which suggests that if there’s any magic formula, it’s probably the garment one. (So let’s hope someone comes along to translate it.) Either way, it’s not the hair.
Yep. You’ve been lied to.