Sisterhood Blog

Modesty and the Sexy Sheitel

By Marilyn Henry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Walk down Cedar Lane in the heavily Orthodox enclave of Teaneck, N.J. and she beckons you to come hither — with her long, luxurious locks and feathery bangs coquettishly hiding her eyes. This is seduction on the street or, rather, in the shop window. The mannequins in the wig shop have some of the sexiest hair in Bergen County, N.J.

Made with the finest European hair, these wigs can create the alluring new you for a few thousand dollars. According to its brochure, the shop promises to “make you feel beautiful and confident, whether your needs are medical, religious or fashion.”

Say again? Beautiful and confident are important considerations for women enduring chemo and other medical treatments. But do they belong in the same sentence as “religious”?

If women are supposed to cover their heads, and if this has something to do with modesty, these wigs defeat the purpose. After all, isn’t a wig like this akin to showing your own hair — only better, because chances are that the wig is at least as lovely as the hair God gave you?

Wigs used to be conspicuous because they were obviously wigs: oddly fitting, poorly cut and apparently artificial. These days, what often is conspicuous is that modern Orthodox women are stunning head-turners.

Of course, the observant community is not monolithic. Many Orthodox women do not cover their hair, except for a hat worn in shul. For those who routinely cover their hair, there is no agreement on the proper head covering: a scarf, snood, hat or wig. In Sephardi communities, wigs generally aren’t worn. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe instructed his followers to wear sheitels. (A few years ago, Chabad had a fundraiser and the raffle prize was a “fabulous sheitel.”)

A few Orthodox rabbis I know throw up their hands at the mention of wigs. Yes, women should cover their hair, they say. Technically, the wig covers their hair. But many of the manes fall into a loophole so they are, as one rabbi said, “improper with the Torah’s permission” — fulfilling the letter of the law while defeating its spirit.

If there is a backlash against sensuous wigs, it apparently hasn’t hit the modern Orthodox communities. These wigs may even be good business for hat makers. Rabbis who are uncomfortable with these tresses can always tell women to wear a hat over their wigs — even though the point is to cover your hair, not your wig. (This may be the reason there is a hat store adjacent to the wig shop in Teaneck.)

While some women in certain Haredi communities may wear straw-like sheitels, they are as likely to wear a tichel (scarf), leaving the wig debate for others.

One of the great authorities I have found is Barbara Bensoussan, an observant Jewish mother and one-time English instructor who lives in Brooklyn. A few years ago, she wrote “Flipped Over the Wig, or How I Came to Shun the Sheitel” for an Orthodox Union publication. She manages to be dignified and funny in writing about why she doesn’t wear a wig, and in asking the essential questions that skewer some sheitel lore.

A woman, in order to be modest and to reserve the full measure of her beauty for her husband, had to cover her hair… with more hair? With fake hair, or somebody else’s hair? With hair that looked just like one’s own hair or, as is frequently the case, quite a bit better? So what was the difference?

When a man has to cover his head, he doesn’t produce a toupee, says Bensoussan, who has written a novel “A New Song” (Targum Press).

She is a wise woman who can discuss the kashrut of wigs (meaning the appropriate cut, length and style — not the controversial prohibition against hair from India).

We wouldn’t suggest that Jewish women should strive to look frumpy to demonstrate frumkeit. But it seems hypocritical to spend thousands of dollars to buy beauty in order to display modesty.

And yet, as we finish our conversation on one of the most humid days of summer, and I am struggling to control my graying frizzy hair, Bensoussan makes a very good point: “You never have a bad hair day if you have a gorgeous wig.”

Leah Berkenwald Wed. Sep 9, 2009

This is a very interesting point. I often wonder about modest clothing claims (e.g. that a modestly dressed woman is sexier than one dressed in revealing clothes. There is something hypocritical in using sex appeal to promote modest dress, but on the other hand, a commitment to modesty shouldn't doom a person to frumpiness either.

In regards to the wigs, I'm left wondering what defines "sexy hair." Is it the cut, the color, the volume? I would love to see a picture of these sexy wigs!

Moshe Thu. Sep 10, 2009

It is important to remember that high quality sheitels fill another important function for Orthodox women. They allow them to pursue careers in environments where wearing a hat snood or obvious sheitl would be simply unacceptable. Go tell some engaged third year law student at columbia to wear a snood to her interviews. Furthermore, asking women to cover their hair constantly is for many women one of the most difficult things the halakha demands of them. I would not judge these women until you have walked a few good miles on Cedar Lane in the summer in their chosen head covering.

Steve Thu. Sep 10, 2009

It is my understanding the wig thing is a Askenazic/Sephardic difference. The Sephardim dont do the wig thing for this very reason.

Miriam Chartier Fri. Sep 11, 2009

G-D will cover our head in the day of battle..... For it is written... Isaiah 41: " Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob. O little Israel, for I Myself will help you", declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel."

No other covering is better. We are to put G-D as a seal upon our hearts and minds, our inward parts. read Ps.51

Avriannah Fri. Sep 11, 2009

How petty this whole subject is, Why,why, why is Marilyn and the others annoyed/offended/ or even give a darn if one woman wears a sheitle or not? I mean, come on! Those of you ladies that don't wear one , go ahead , brush your own locks, step out the door and live and let live. How petty!!! If it bothers you so much that Marilyn has to write an article about it , with all the other issues currently going on in the Jewish world, it is a SAD DAY! Unbelievable !!!

Anthony Fri. Sep 11, 2009

I am with Avriannah. Let's look at the positive side. Ladies are willing to go to a great extent to keep the laws of covering hair. Okay, some are a little fancy- whatever? If you would ask most, if they wanted to be showy it would be easier and cheaper to have a perm and work with your very own hair. Sheitels are infamous as expensive, needing so much upkeep, super hot, etc. Let's admire Jews who are keeping Torah in these very "external" times rather than ridiculing those who actually try to beautiful themselves with this mitzvah of modesty. Any lady who lives in Brooklyn during the summer and wears a wig deserves a medal, not some silly piece of journalism like this.

Charnie Fri. Sep 11, 2009

Good points, Anthony and Moshe! The actual "bottom line" is that a married woman is required to cover HER hair, not what once was some else's. And as Moshe points out, for those of us who work in a secular environment, it would make it all the more uncomfortable to sit around in a hat. We already stand out in the summertime, when everyone else is wearing sleeveless attire, we're there in our longish skirts, high necklines and 3/4 sleeves.

Miriam Chartier Thu. Nov 19, 2009

Why the covering???? It is good for all of us not just woman even have a covering. The personal presence of" G-D with us". The flame, the spiritual fire of the Spiriy of G-D, covering our divine self that is in us when we turn out sin, and are brought forth into the household of G-D.

For it is written...Job 33....The Spirit of G-D made me(flesh, below, death, sin ) but the breath of the Almighty gives me life. (above divine self, our covering, the flame that burns in the heart of G-D'S love for his holy children, that guides us night and day.)

This covering is more like a forcefield of protection around "Tube of Light" decree. In one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Michael is the "mighty ministering angel" through whom G-D promises to send perpetual help to the sons of light. In the book of Daniel it is written.......And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.

Archangel Michael has numberless angels at his command whose job is to protect the holy children that were given the breath of the Almighty that gave them eternal life above, they were brought forth into the household of G-D into the promise land, above the kingdom of G-D. G-D'S holy children live above and below.

When we turn, we put sin out....we offer a free-will offering to do the will of our G-D in all we do and say. We walk with our earth fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who walked in unity with our G-D.

It is written in Psalm 51 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: (heart and mind) ...and in the hidden part (the Rock, the Temple, the true foundation, found in Genesis 28....And this Stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be G-D'S house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. There is a declared decree in Ps. 2 were David is brought forth, into the family of G-D a son of G-D. A decree is to be obeyed by all.

When we turn, the government of G-D above rest upon us. Read Isaiah 9 to see the children that are given, that become sons of the Living G-D.

You can not give decrees to Archangel Michael every morning for the protection of yourself and loved ones, and you can give them three times a day, the government rest upon G-D'S holy children who put sin out and are given the second breath of the Almighty.

Mark this....Job 33 The Spirit of G-D made me but the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Let the powerful archangels dress you in-- Light that comes from our G-D.

Put on this powerful shining armour and wearing a brilliant covering from head to toe....let G-D dress you for battle.

Is it not written...G-D is dressed for battle? So should the holy children be dressed.

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

There is No codified Halacha that a married woman must cover her hair totally and constantly whenever she steps out of her house.

The Halachah has been MISinterpreted. When the Halachah refers to "Covering hair," it does not mean "Cover your hair with hair!" and "constantly for life." The Halachah is that:

A married woman is required to cover her hair when:

(1) she lights the candles to welcome in Shabbat and Yom Tov – lechavod Shabbat ve Yom Tov, and

(2) when she goes to the Synagogue, because that is the place of Kedusha.

The Halacha does not require anything more from married women. This is the true interpretation of the Halacha.

The misinterpretation of the Torah is completely Assur, and a twisting of the Torah.The Torah must remain straight.

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

In ancient times, a woman would only cover her hair upon entering the Beit Hamikdash.Similarly for the Sotah-otherwise she would not be required to cover her hair ordinarily, day to day.

It is very important for people to know and realise that when a married woman covers her hair with 'Real Hair' the woman is covering herself with 100% Tumah. This is totally against the Torah.

Nothing could be more nonsensical than for a Jewish woman to cover her hair with someone else's hair -who was not Jewish as well!She can never fully be sure that this 'hair' has not come from meitim-despite any guarantee by the seller.This 'real hair' is doubly and in some circumstances, triply Tumah.

1.It will contain the leftover dead hair cells from another person - however much it has been treated, the tumah is still there.

2.This other person (likely to be a non-Jew who most likely was involved in some kind of Avodah Zarah) may have eaten bacon, ham, lobster etc, all of which are totally forbidden as unclean and non-kosher foods in Halacha.

3.If the woman happens to be the wife of a COHEN, then she is bringing her husband into close contact and proximity with meitim and Tumah Every day, and throughout their married life. This is clearly strictly against the Torah.

There is nothing more degrading and demeaning to a woman than to make her cover her hair FOR LIFE upon marriage.It is an abhorrent practice.

Any man who makes such a ridiculous demand on his wife, or wife-to-be, should similarly also be required by his wife to wear: long white stockings, even in the summer; a fur streimel; grow a long beard; wear a black hat and coat constantly, and cover his face when he speaks to his wife.Wigs -"la perruque"- were merely a fashion item in the time of Louis XIV-they are not for the Jewish woman!

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

Rabbi Menachem Schneeersohn tz”l, gave the directive that a married woman must cover her head with a “sheitel.” This needs to be corrected. Rabbi Schneersohn a"h, was a Tzaddik, – but on this – he was, unfortunately not correct.

It is extremely unhealthy and unhygienic for a woman to cover her hair constantly.The hair needs oxygen to breathe.A woman's hair will lose its natural beauty and shine, she may have scalp problems, some of her hair may fall out, she may get headaches, and she may end up cutting it short like a man, when she always wore it long, in order not to have too much discomfort from her hair covering.

Do you think that HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded this of women? I can assure you that He did not.The commmandments are not meant to cause so much repression and oppression in women.Was Chava created with a wig? Of course not! Did she start wearing a wig? Of course not!

Please Wake Up.

Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

1. To all the women who are wondering about the sources:

We have all been created, "Betselem Elokim" - "in the image of Elokim." This means that we have been given something called "intelligence." The source is the very first Parsha, Bereishit - 1:27. It is time that people use the spark of intelligence and Kedusha with which Hashem has blessed them.

If your rabbi will tell you to go and jump into the depths of a glacier, presumably you would do that too – and give me a source for it?

“According to the Zohar”, I should also be covering my hair with a wig when I have a bath. “According to the Zohar and the Gemara” and all the sources that have misinterpreted the Halachah, and MIStranslated the Zohar, I should also have been born with a WIG on my head.

These sources and translations are incorrect, as they have deviated very far from the true and correct interpretation, of the Halachah.

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

2.Remember that the Jewish women are very, very holy. They are much more holy than the men. Look at the exemplary behaviour of the women at Har Sinai.

The women never sinned at the Eigel, and so are greatly elevated. Many of the men, unfortunately, ran after a calf made out of a lump of gold – after they had just been given the Torah, and seen the greatest of all Revelations. The women refused to give their gold for the avodah zarah of the men.

The women were greatly elevated after such a wonderful display of Emunah, and they are regarded very highly in Shamayim.

That is why women are not even required to pray. They can pray at home on their own. Nor do women have to make up a minyan. That is how holy the Jewish women are. Men have to pray 3 times a day to remind them of their Creator.

The men are telling the women to put the hair of a non-Jewish woman who may have eaten things like snakes and sharks and alligators, and has worshipped in churches, Buddist temples or Hindu temples : on their own Heads. They had better wake up.

If the men don’t want to wake up to the truth, and the true interpretation of the Halacha, the women will wake them up – whether they like it or not.

3. Many righteous women influenced their husbands for the good at the Chet Haeigel and at the time of Korach.

It was these righteous women who succeeded in bringing their husbands back to their senses.

And because of these great women, the lives of their husbands were saved. Those men therefore turned away from the madness of avodah zarah, and the rebellion of Korach against Hashem's choice of Aharon, as Cohen HaGadol.

Deborah Shaya Thu. Dec 17, 2009

4. Look at the Jewish women in history, and remember how holy they are.

(a) Yaakov, who was the greatest of the Avot, came to marry the 2 daughters of Lavan, Rachel and Leah. Lavan was not exactly a tzaddik. Yaakov went to Lavan, of all people, to marry his 2 daughters – not 1 daughter, but his 2 daughters. Nothing could be greater than that.

(b) Rut, who came from Moav, became the ancestor of David Hamelech.

(c ) Batya, the daughter of Paroh, was given eternal life because she rescued Moshe from the river. No one could have been more evil than Paroh.

(d) Devorah, was a Neviah, and also a Judge.

Women who came from such adverse backgrounds, were able to become builders of Am Yisrael. That is how holy the women are, and how much more elevated they are than the men.

This was never the case with men. It never happened the other way round.

Don't tell me it is holy for me to wear a WIG! Hair over my own hair? This is ridiculous!

Similarly, don’t tell me it is holy for me to plonk a permanent head covering on my head for the rest of my life. This is equally vile.

Please Wake Up.

Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

5. Remember: Not a single “dayan” or “rabbi” has the slightest bit of interest in correcting the situation for the women. Therefore, the women will have to correct the situation................for ..................themselves.

Whether you wish to accept the correction – which is true – is up to you. Are you going to live by the truth? Are you going to use the spark of intelligence that Hashem gave to you and all women? Or are you going to follow rabbis and dayanim who tell you to wear a wig in a Heat Wave – and you thank them for it as well?

Charnie Thu. Dec 31, 2009

Deborah Shaya, while I praise your intellect and obvious study, you did miss one key item. The Gemora in Brachos clearly states that a man cannot say a bracha (blessing) in front of an immodestly dressed woman, ie, one whose neckline is too low, elbows or knees show, and hair is uncovered. This is the source of the halacha, later brought down in the Shulchan Aruach. The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, while truly a tzaddik, did not define halacha for the vast majority of Orthodox women. You will find people such as Rav Soloveitchik who also are proponents of women covering their hair, not only because of the halacha, but to indicate that they are married women.

As others have stated in this thread - if you disagree with the halacha, don't cover your hair. But don't put down those who do chose to adhere to this.

William Dwek Wed. Jan 27, 2010

The next things the ‘rabbis’ will come up with is to tell the woman to wear a CARPET on her head. Not a sheitel AND a hat, but a Carpet. Or you could go for 5 shaitels on your heads and a rug.

And do you know what the Jewish woman will say to her husband? ‘Yes, husband! I am now wearing a carpet on my head!’

You women must either be extremely thick, or petrified.

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.