Two weeks ago, the rabbis of Lakewood, N.J. called a gathering of female educators to provide words of encouragement in the area of — what else — tznius, or modesty.
Among the many dire tznius issues discussed, the rabbis suggested that women cut their wigs shorter to make them less provocative to — whom else — men.
“Do you like the blond better? With or without the ponytail?”
Wig-shopping is the new initiation into religious life for women, writes Tali Farkash, a Haredi columnist for Ynet who alternates between defending religious life and kvetching about it. If women used to accompany brides to the mikveh in order to welcome them ritualistically into the club of married women, she says, today a trip to the sheitel macher, or wig-maker, is the thing to do. Farkash, who recently accompanied her friend to get a wig, is still recovering from the experience.
Her friend sat “right there on the seat of honor at the sheitel macher’s,” Farkash writes, “surrounded by relatives whose job it is to say ‘That looks so nice on you!’ and to elegantly avoid the obvious questions about the net in front that presses on the forehead, or the sadistic job of the comber. There is something bittersweet about sitting on the waiting couch as a support, witnessing the metamorphosis… from permitted hair to forbidden hair.”
The sheitel is undoubtedly one of the strangest customs of modern Jewish life. No matter how many perky rebbetzins try to write funny or pedagogical blogs to rationalize this practice, there is no way to make this normal or sane. “Every attempt to take the discussion out of the religious-halachic loop is doomed to failure,” Farkash writes.
The language of human morality has no way to make sense of this. That’s not to say people don’t try.
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?