What May Women Wear? - Shabbat 57
How to discover the rationale behind these particular items? First, the Talmud notes an oddity to the Mishnah passage – when talking about not wearing ribbons out on Shabbat, it also says that she cannot perform tevilah [ritual immersion/cleansing] in them. The Talmud interjects (my translation): “who said anything about tevilah?” But this is how they find their answer: because she can’t wear them for tevilah, that means if she had to perform that ritual she would have to take them off. If she had them in her hand and carried them more than 4 cubits, she would violate the Shabbat limitation on carrying. Thus the ribbons are prohibited on Shabbat.
This, of course, begs another question – why are they prohibited for tevilah? The answer, coming from other legal discussions, is that some believe that they are a barrier between water and the skin of the person being immersed and therefore should be forbidden. This explains why later on in the Talmud’s discussion ribbons of hair are permitted, since they allow water through. And now one has a general principle of what women may and may not wear in their hair out of the house on Shabbat.
Today, of course, our concern in what we wear in going out is far less about what we may need to take off for ritual immersion and far more about appearance and comfort (every individual strikes their own balance between the two). Traditional restrictions on dress, for Shabbat or for every day of the year, have been left behind for the freedom of individual expression. We can understand the reasoning and values behind rabbinic prohibitions like ribbons on Shabbat even if we don’t accept the prohibition itself.
Rabbi Adam Chalom