How are wigs ok?

The other day I received this email from Chaviva.

So, my mom has been emailing me … about you. She had questions about whether you’re observant (the wig confused her) and now she’s asking how it’s okay to wear a wig when you can easily look hotter than you might without it. I’m not sure how to answer her, as I’ve never really looked into the halakos of sheitels because up until recently I’d always been in the camp where I sort of get where she is coming from.

Thus, I thought I’d ask you, my yiddishe mama, for a good response to my mom on the whole being frum and sheitels and it being okay. In the process, it’ll be a learning experience for me, for my mom, and probably blog fodder for you :)

Chavi – I hope you direct your mom over here – I am going to try to explain…although this is an age old discussion….

This is an excellent question and raises an important discussion topic. I have often felt that some of the wigs worn nowadays (yes, mine included) defeat the whole purpose of tzniut (modesty) and kisui rosh (hair covering). I have, in the past, criticized those who wore awesome looking human hair wigs that totally looked unwiglike.

Then I bought myself one of them as I was so sick and tired of wearing synthetics that gave me constant headaches. Suddenly, covering my hair was a pleasure instead of a chore. Suddenly I wanted to cover my hair with my wig because I felt good in it.

In the community where I lived it was more common and accepted for married women to wear wigs. When I first joined that community, upon my first marriage, in order to fit in, I purchased my first wig. No one in my family had ever covered their hair before, let alone wore wigs. I desperately wanted to fit in to my new community. But I hated wearing it. I kept it for special occasions.

Over the years, whenever I got dressed up, I would wear a wig. I never felt, personally, that my outfit was complete if I was wearing just a hat or a headscarf. Now, when I hang out in my denim skirts and tees, I wear a bandanna or a mitpachat, or my braided tichels.

After my divorce, I uncovered my hair. It was something I did for myself. Read more about that here. I had many long talks with my Rebbetzin about hair covering and the whys and wherefores. She explained to me one time, that part of covering our hair when we are married is to remind US that we are married, not just to show everyone else that we are taken. When we have a hair covering on our head it makes us think twice before we do something we shouldn’t do.

The wigs that are worn these days by many of us, yes, they do kind of defeat the purpose. But nowhere does it say that we have to look ugly or less attractive just because we are married. I like to know I look pretty – not just for my husband, but for ME, for my own feelings of self worth. But I don’t know of one husband who wants to run his hands through his wife’s wig because it is so gorgeous. The real hair wins every time on that score. (My KoD says I look hotter without the sheitel, just FYI).

So to answer Mom’s question – is it ok? I don’t know. Is it done? Absolutely. Does that make it right? Hmmm.

If anyone else wants to chime in, go right ahead.

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82 Comments

  1. Josh says:

    משנה מסכת שבת פרק ו משנה ה
    יוצאה אשה בחוטי שער בין משלה בין משל חבירתה בין משל בהמה ובטוטפת ובסנבוטין בזמן שהן תפורין בכבול ובפאה נכרית לחצר

    Ironically wigs are thus assur to wear on Shabbat w/o a kosher eruv. 

    • HSaboMilner says:

      can you translate the Hebrew, Rabbi Josh, for those readers who don’t read it? thanks

      • Josh says:

        From Soncino with emphasis added:
        A WOMAN MAY GO OUT WITH RIBBONS MADE OF HAIR, WHETHER THEY ARE OF HER OWN [HAIR] OR OF HER COMPANIONS, OR OF AN ANIMAL, AND WITH FRONTLETS AND WITH SARBITIN THAT ARE FASTENED TO HER. [SHE MAY GO OUT] WITH A HAIR-NET [KABUL] AND WITH A WIG INTO A COURTYARD”

        Point being that a wig is fine in a courtyard not outside of it bec it comes under the category of adornment/jewelry, much of which is restricted on Shabbat.

        • batya from NJ says:

          in that case, josh, women in areas without an eiruv technically shouldn’t go out wearing hats or anything on their heads but that is totally ludicrous as everyone considers a woman’s head-covering to be like her clothing! & women in non-eruv communities are most certainly allowed to wear jewelery & other adornments (heck, they even wear shabbos keys in the form of pins which are permissable as they are considered to be jewelery.)

          • Josh says:

            Batya –

            1. Hats are considered clothing, the mishna treats wigs not as clothing but Jewlery

            2. What halakha mandates/prohibits and what Jews do in practice are entirely different things.

          • batya from NJ says:

            but josh as i mentioned, women in non-eruv communities wear jewelery on shabbos & that is how the whole issue of shabbos keys are permissable in communities without eruvim, so i am confused.

          • Josh says:

            1. Not all jewelry is prohibited – only what was proscribed by Hazal.
            2. Not all Shabbat key solutions are permissible.
            3. Not all Jews are following halakha, even if they think they are.

          • mrsmelissasg says:

            R. Josh – #3 is fabulously true.

          • Chaviva says:

            So … technically, then, when in doubt the wig is a BAD choice? Interesting. I’d get one to wear on Shabbat, but from what chazal say, it appears that would be a big, fat waste of money :)

          • batya from NJ says:

            Chaviva, you should feel free to cover your hair in any manner in which you are comfortable & see fit. Regarding Josh’s comment about sheitels being not halachically permissable, well, let me just say as one who has been orthodox my entire life (41 years to be exact) & is the daughter of an orthodox rabbi (who happens to have his own personal biases against sheitels), this is the first i have ever heard of someone alleging that sheitels are not permissable to wear on shabbos in communities where there is no Eruv. Besides, I have no doubt that the horse-hair sheitels that were worn back in the time of the Mishna are very different than the sheitels worn today (which of course is how this whole conversation just started in the first place ;))but in the mainstream ashkenazi communities, sheitels are permitted to be worn even in communities that do not have an Eruv to allow for carrying on shabbos.

            And besides, I happen to know that the community in which you live has an Eruv so there should be no worries ;)! Bottom line, cover your hair in the way that feels right to YOU. I have had many different hair covering looks over the past 20 years of marriage & currently i favor the fall & head-band “look” which works for me even if others in other Orthodox communities may find fault with that method of hair-covering. Bottom line, “eilu v’eilu divrei elokim chayim” which translates as “these & these are the live written words of G-d”-which can be interpreted differently among different Torah observant communities.

          • batya from NJ says:

            Josh, isn’t it remarkable how we in the Orthodox/frum communities are so quick to judge our fellow Torah observant Jew & other Torah observant communities (be they modern orthodox, chassidic, or yeshivish) as being hypocrital or not frum enough or not halachic enough, yet when it comes to our own behaviors & misdeeds we are all so machmir (stringent) to be dan l’chaf zchus (to give the benefit of the doubt ;)! just something to ponder…

    • scazon says:

      Fairly loose translation, with some explanations of things implied in the Hebrew but not explicit: A woman may go out with braids of detatched hair [i.e. a wig], whether of her own hair or of her friends’ or of an animal’s, and with an ornament and bangles if they are attached to her hairpiece; she may go out with only a cloth and a wig into a courtyard. (Mishnah Shabbat 6:5)

  2. shorty says:

    the ways that it was explained to me that makes sense
    1) its ok to look attractive – not attracting.
    2) sure the wig might look good, but hubby would want to run his fingers through hair not the wig.
    3) person wearing wig (hopefully) remembers they are covering their hair for a reason and will behave as required.

  3. lady lock and load says:

    Chaviva, simply explain to your mother that there are various customs for methods of hair covering for Jewish Orthodox women. Short and sweet.

    • batya from NJ says:

      good answer LLL b/c that really IS the case & it’s irrelevant whether wigs look better than one’s hair or whatever b/c as long as a woman’s hair is covered, she is following the law which is overlooked by many (as hadassah was saying, the women in her family, although observant, did not cover their hair). i should add that in the early to mid 1900s, hair covering in america even among the most observant families was not common, interestingly enough but that doesn’t mean that they were right & nowadays we are incorrect by covering our hair-it’s just that the times were different.

      • lady lock and load says:

        Very frum women used to not cover their hair because the wigs were really ugly (horse hair). One of the good things that has come out of the manufacturing of nice human hair wigs is that more and more women do cover their hair now that they have a wig they like.
        I know a few women who have been married a long time who didn’t cover their hair but bought wigs to cover their hair (for halachic, not medical reasons B”H)

    • Chaviva says:

      Ha ha ha … you don’t know my mother :) Hadassah’s answer has created a million other questions.

  4. mrsmelissasg says:

    The flip side is, don’t those of us who chose not to wear wigs often still want our coverings to look good? Don’t we buy nice scarves and color coordinate them and tie them so they look nice? (I know Chaviva and I are both guilty on this charge)
    So maybe on that part, it is irrelevant as to how nice it looks. Covered is covered.
    There is also the minutiae of detail that an image of something is not the same as the real thing. Just as a woman’s recorded voice is not kol isha, and a wig is not her real hair. (Rabbi Josh/Rabbi Scher – Feel free to supplement the details of this one!)

  5. Chavi and Evan BOTH were shocked to find that I wore my sheitel to their wedding. I like to wear it but in my community, it’s a little weird. So I don’t as much as I’d like to. I generally wear a hat or a scarf.

    • lady lock and load says:

      I wore a shaitel to my OWN wedding. First marriage.

      • batya from NJ says:

        & LLL I didn’t cover my hair until the next morning after the wedding. As I was saying earlier in this thread, “Eilu V’eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim”-both opinions (covering hair at the wedding or the next morning) are both considered acceptable within the boundaries of Halacha!!

  6. This is so interesting, something I’ve always wondered, too. Thanks for writing about it! And hey, did Chavi’s mom just call you “hot”? ;)

  7. mekubal says:

    A great many Rabbis(and Sephardim in general) do not believe that wigs are OK.

    A common refrain found in Sephardi responsa on the subject is A woman who wears a wig, is herself a non-Jew
    מי שלובשת פאה היא עצמה נוכרית. הפאה שייכת לגויות.

    • mokumalef says:

      Could you supply a source for this statement? Incidentally, many Sephardi women in my neighborhood do wear wigs. It may have something to do with the notion of “fitting in” here as well, since it concerns a mainly Ashkenazi yeshivishe area.

    • vous says:

      Oh, so that’s any easy way of opting out of judaism.

      Is it really valid?

      I put on a Sheitel, and no need any more to be shomeret shabat, kashrut, etc???

      • mekubal says:

        Who said anything about opting out of Judaism? What the Sephardi sources do say is to treat such a person the same as a non-Jew when it comes to things such as Kashrut. If they handle aino-mevushal wine it becomes assur to drink it. That sort of thing.

        Is it really valid? Well R’ Mordechai Sharabi, the Baba Sali, and R’ Ovadia Yosef all think so. You’d have to pull in a real halakhic heavy weight to overturn them, and considering most of those fall out the same way… I would say yes it is a valid opinion. It may not be the only opinion, but it is a valid one.

        • This was, of course, an issue that Sefardim in Yerushalayim were divided on. Hacham Ben Tzion Abba Shaul defended the use of wigs in his Or L’tzion; and his own wife wore a wig. In the communities in Brooklyn and Deal (mostly Halabim, I think), wearing a wig is probably more common than not.

          For a different personal perspective, this essay on the OU website may interest some: http://www.ou.org/index.php/shabbat_shalom/article/9912/

          • mekubal says:

            . Hacham Ben Tzion Abba Shaul defended the use of wigs in his Or L’tzion; and his own wife wore a wig. Do you have a source in Ohr L’Tzion?

            As far as what his wife did, my Rosh Yeshiva’s wife is the daughter of R’ Ben Tzion Abba Shaul ZTz”L and she says it is a motzei shem ra, that her mother never once wore a wig.

        • vous says:

          But your quote says:
          “(a woman) who wears a sheitel is herself a non-jew”

          So does whoever wrote this not mean what he says?

          If he means what he says, he has determined that she IS a non-jew, this would imply that she is not allowed to be shomeret shabbat.

          Or is this formulation just an exageration? In this case: how reliable is the source (sounds a bit like Amnon Yitzhak).

          • Rabbi's Wife says:

            The source is Rav Mordechai Sharabi ZTz”L, he is quoted by the Yaskil Avdei by Rav Ovadiah Hedayya(Av Beit Din of Jerusalem) and in Rav Ovadah Yosef’s psak in Yabia Omer. Granted R’ Yosef was a Talmid of the other two(so was Ben Tzion Abba Shaul for that matter), all things considered it doesn’t get more authoritative than that.

            The formulation as you see it in English is the best translation of what is written there in Hebrew… though the Hebrew is a bit more nuanced.

          • mekubal says:

            Unintended sock puppetry above. Didn’t realize my wife had signed me out and her in.

          • kisarita says:

            Can’t you tell the difference between halacha and politics? This is totally a political response.

          • mekubal says:

            Yes I can. I can tell when major Gedolei Yisrael write extensive Teshuvot ranging the sources from the gemarra to the aharonnim, that is halakha. What makes it an authoritative(not the authoritative, but an authoritative opinion is the number and magnitude of the Gedolim on that side.

            By authoritative, I mean(for clarity sake) that there is no way you are going to be able to write a teshuva proposing the opposite position without making a serious effort to deal with reasoning laid down in their respective teshuvot.

          • bruno says:

            In fact, you might be right, that there is no essential difference between halacha and politics.

            I suppose halacha is just politics, convoluted over centuries and centuries…

            Take for example the use of electricity on shabbat: it was a political decision to ban switching, halacha was not that clear, but now it became halacha that it is forbidden to switch electricity on or off.

  8. Chanief says:

    I think the question really is how are these wigs considered within the boundaries of tznius? As halachically acceptable as they may be, some of the wigs I see floating around my area would make a porn star jealous. Does the “It makes me feel good about the mitzvah of covering my hair / good about myself” explanation negate the lack of tznius associated with these wigs?

  9. tesyaa says:

    Not jealous here, but pointing out that Hadassah would look hot bald.

  10. I think the points have been covered, but maybe a summation will add some clarity. With your permission…

    1. In sidetracking on Rav Yuter’s (the Son, not the Father; I hope there isn’t a third one in the family!) quote of the mishnah, we lost sight of the simple fact stated there. In the time of the mishnah, some women indeed wore wigs. It is reasonable to think, though not necessarily the case, that they wore them outside their own yards in the public arena on weekdays. If they were adornments rather than clothing, they still might have been worn on Yom Tov, or for celebrations of various sorts. The point being, the mishna may be an indicator that they are considered acceptable in the halacha as a hair covering.

    2. Batya from NJ pointed out that the fundamental issue is the halacha, not the philosophy. This is true in all matters of obligatory practice or prohibitions. What is the halacha? Many, maybe most, though not all halachic authorities have either approved or tolerated wigs as filling the legal requirement for a (married) woman to cover her hair. Mekubal already noted that this is not only not universally the case; but some authorities spoke out strongly against it. The question is whether the grounds were halachic or philosophic? I don’t want to reduce a mitzvah to mere legalities. Rav Soloveitchik famously said that the halacha is a floor, not the ceiling. But it IS the foundation upon which all discussions of obligation must rest. Depending on the individuals, communities, or circumstances – it may also end there.

    3. Since Melissa dragged me into this [hi! ;-)], I’ll address her first point. There is a definite distinction between ‘pretty’ and issues of tzniut. The earliest halachic sources recognize a woman’s desire and even need to look pretty. Much less so for a man. There are even concessions noted in the halacha to allow for a woman’s prettying herself in some circumstances. So the idea that a woman would choose nice head coverings (my wife also combines scarves, and likes a pretty wig) in no way contradicts notions of tzniut – appropriate modesty. Parenthetically, I might even argue that the communities that developed a drab appearance for women as their standard are outside the historic norms of Judaism.

    Personally, I don’t really like wigs. I’m inclined to the opinions that disapprove of them. But I told my wife that it is HER mitzvah, and she needs to do it in the manner that suits her personally, given the breadth of legitimate acceptable possibilities. So her side of the closet, and one wall rack outside it have berets and hats and some expensive wigs and scarves. Not counting the motorcycle helmet in the garage. ;-) Her choices are chosen by mood and the influence of where/what/when. She says that in Israel, she probably wouldn’t bother with wigs much or at all.

    BTW, I recently bought for her at the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim a very cool book on tying scarves for headcoverings. Mitpahot Mitapahot, in Ivrit.

    May Hashem bless us this year with a universal experience of closeness to Him, and commitment and joy in carrying out His commandments!

  11. Rachel says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with those who say “covered is covered”. I have a vast array of color coordinating scarves, hats and berets. However, there is a place for wigs sometimes. I was an ardent non-wigger (not anti, just didn’t wear one) until we received some negative feedback at work (I am in a PR type business). While to each his/her own, when my religious perspective was the 1st impression people had and they didn’t care for it, that affected the bottom line. So I now wear, to public events my very synthetic and simple wig. It allows me to make an impression before my style does. Having the options of how to cover I feel is quite liberating and fun, I can change my “head” to suit my mood!

  12. Chaviva says:

    Such excellent discussion. Dass, I <3 you for your thought-provoking posts, and I'm so glad I could thought-provoke your readers!

  13. Shoshanna says:

    HI all-

    Apologies for the rambling- I wrote this once and lost it- had to try again…

    As a head covering woman who did not grow up frum, I think the issue is really 2 mitzvot intertwined. One is head covering and the other is modesty. And modesty encompasses clothing, speech and behavior.

    You can wear a cute hat combined with a painted on skirt, tight fitted blouse showing the assets and 4 inch platforms and be ‘covered’ while flirting outragously

    and you can wear a natural looking wig with a neatly tailored outfit looking sharp and acting professionally

    I have seen too many women in ridiculous wigs with clothing meant for girls 10 years younger than they are- behaving childishly. It is embarressing and rather incomprehensible to me.

    I would like to give us women enough credit to say that we know when we are attractive and when we are attracting.

    I personally dont wear a wig 99% of the time. I think it looks ‘attracting’ on me. I say that b/c the modest cuts and styles look terrible (on me) and the ones that look good, look too natural and I dont look married.

    I have a wig only b/c my mother begged me to get one and paid for it. It came out of the closet for my sisters’ weddings and recently for biz meetings and a conference (where I saw Chaviva!) in the US. I also wore it to the mall- b/c I didnt want to stand out. I wanted to blend into the crowd and not be looked at. Sound weird? Maybe, but in Israel where I live it is a non issue. In the US scarves stand out and I just didnt have the energy and wanted to be incognito.

    Here’s the thing: At said conference where said wig was worn, I made great biz contacts had very nice conversations. In a follow up conversation one of the men I had met said to me- ‘I looked you up- would never have guessed you were married with four kids…You’re smart, attractive…’ and I felt terrible- almost sick- and extrememly uncomfortable. I questioned my decision.

    Hair covering is a VERY difficult mitzva and I would never dare tell a woman how to do it. I think we know when we are attractive or attracting.
    Many factors come in to play and variables abound.

    And dont get me started on the cost!!

  14. rivkachka says:

    Wow! What an intense comment thread extravaganza! Can’t say I’m surprised, since this is such a hot topic.

    I wear a sheitel, but only because 1) my husband likes it and 2) it’s what is done in our community. Were things different, I would gladly cover my hair with scarves, hats, etc. In fact, sometimes when I’m out grocery shopping in my sheitel (doesn’t always happen, of course), and I see a muslim woman, I get a little jealous. Like, “Hey, I’m covering my hair too, you know!” I’m also a little jealous of women whose mesorah it is to NOT wear sheitels. But, I married an Ashkenazi guy, and we’re pretty yeshivish, so there ya go.

    Personally, I like being out in public with something other than a sheitel on my head. At the same time, there have been occasions when I was very glad to have the option to blend in a little more (as long as it’s not an August heat wave where I’m wearing long sleeves, ha!).

    • mrsmelissasg says:

      in a semi-unrelated tangent, there is a muslim woman who lives across the in my building and we have a sort of kindred smile at each other in sleeves and headscarves ;) its nice to have something to smile to each other about.

  15. le7 says:

    For various reasons I wholeheartedly believe that not only are sheitelach permitted, but they embody the very spirit of hair covering. Of course I’m from the camp that only wears sheitelach outside the home.

    A few points (sorry, I’ve argued with people so many times on this issue so I’m just going to make a few bullet points). Just to note, I totally respect other people’s opinions on this matter and could see how they arrive at their conclusions… but obviously this is what I believe.

    - Why do women cover their hair after marriage on a spiritual level? Just like when Moshe Rabeinu came down from Har Sinai he wore a veil over his face because of the bright light of the shechina rested on his face, so does a bride a bride wear a veil over her face when under the chuppah. It is said that after the chuppah this the shechina retreats off of her face and back to her hair – and thus we cover our hair. (I know I’m not being very clear but there are a wealth of online materials that make these same points – if you want ask for links).
    - If we’re going with that, then you could said the point of kisui rosh is specifically to cover one’s hair. With a sheitel your hair is fully covered – while it is totally possible to completely cover your hair with other coverings, it takes a lot more effort to ensure your hair is fully covered.
    -Also, another thought is that it is much easier to pull back a tichel or a hat just slightly to show a bit of hair if you desire, because hey women look strange when every strand is hidden – but with a wig, this is not a problem..
    - Just as tznius in general is not to make a woman unattractive, same with hair covering. You SHOULD be attractive, just not attracting… if you get my drift.

    Anyways, even though I wholeheartedly believe all this I hate the fact that wigs are uber expensive, and how hot and sweaty you get in the summer…

  16. le7 says:

    And yes I agree, not all wigs are tznius, you have to make that decision for yourself, the same as not all below the knee skirts are either…

    • Frume Sarah says:

      This is so true. I was just mentioning this very thing to my father tonight. I remarked that my pants, while traditionally ‘male garb,’ were much more modest than the skirt I noticed another woman wearing. My pants were of a flowing linen and showed NOTHING. The skirt, plus the fact that I suspect the woman was sans undergarments, left NOTHING to the imagination.

      And I’m not just saying this out of jealousy of her very lovely figure ;)

      • fille says:

        Some moslem girls, indeed, are obliged to wear (not too tight) pants and forbidden to wear skirts because some muslim cultures feel that skirts show more than pants.

  17. robert says:

    I really find it very disturbing that people think there is a difference b/w “attractive” and “attracting” other than they are diffrent parts of speech. They really do mean the same thing. If a wig makes a woman attractive, it is because the woman wearing the wig is attracting, unless she wears it in private where she can be attractive without actually attracting anyone. But if she is in public, and she is attractive, it is only because she is attracting. So everyone, please stop this garbage about there being a practical difference b/w being attractive and attracting. If attracting violates modesty, then by all means being attractive also violates modesty.
    at·trac·tive   –adjective
    1. providing pleasure or delight, esp. in appearance or manner; pleasing; charming; alluring: an attractive personality.
    2. arousing interest or engaging one’s thought, consideration, etc.: an attractive idea; an attractive price.
    3. having the quality of attraction

    at·tract   /əˈtrækt/ Show Spelled[uh-trakt] Show IPA
    –verb (used with object)
    1. to draw by a physical force causing or tending to cause to approach, adhere, or unite; pull ( opposed to repel): The gravitational force of the earth attracts smaller bodies to it.
    2. to draw by appealing to the emotions or senses, by stimulating interest, or by exciting admiration; allure; invite: to attract attention; to attract admirers by one’s charm.

  18. le7 says:

    Wow it feels great when someone refers to something I said as garbage. When I say attractive vs. attracting I guess that’s not the clearest more accurate way to state my point.

    Since when is the point of tznius to encourage women to be ugly? You can dress pleasantly, clean, put together… you know the idea of a bas melech? Well personally, when I see a woman that is put together and completely tznius , to me, that is “attractive.” To me women in a black pleated skirt, and a pretty blouse is “attractive.” I have a hard time believing when they walk down the streets men go crazy, yet at the same time, they look beautiful.

    • rivkachka says:

      I knew exactly what you meant, le7. While perhaps the expression itself “attractive, not attracting” is imperfect, it basically tries to describe the difference between looking put-together/geshicht/dignified and va-va-va-voom/svelte/wowza, etc.

      Sometimes it’s a fine line, but it’s doable if you are able to be honest with yourself. I need to go weed through my closet…

  19. robert says:

    “…Since when is the point of tznius to encourage women to be ugly? You can dress pleasantly, clean, put together… you know the idea of a bas melech?…”

    So then the qustion then is: if its ok to be attractive, what is the point of tznius?

  20. Shoshanna says:

    Hey there Bob-

    The difference is subtle yet real- You are active when you are attracting- you are playing a part- in behavior, movements, gestures and speech.

    Being attractive is passive. It is how you are perceived.

    Tzniut is about behaving in such a way that you arent trying to be noticed for your assets. It doesnt mean crawling in a hole or hiding behind a burka.

  21. robert says:

    While trying not to belabor the point too much, when you make an individual decision to dress as to be attractive, you are actively playing a part. You would/could not be attractive unless you make an attempt to show your assets. And while I am not arguing for a burka, the most definitive way to not be noticed for your assets is to wear clothing that is the antithesis of form fitting i.e. very loose fitting clothing in which the form of the assets can not be delineated.

    It is possible to adhere to the laws of tzniut and yet wear a dress that makes you look “svelte” and “wowza”.

    My argument is that while the concept of tzniut, or modesty is praiseworthy, the details of tzniut ought not be mandated by specific halachot. A woman who walks in public with her hair uncovered is no more attractive or attracting then a woman who wears a wig (or hat or scarf). She is not behaving in a way in which she is trying to be noticed for her assets. She is no less geschict or dignified. She is no more “wowza” than a woman who wears a wig. The same can be said for a woman who does not cover her elbows or her knees, or collarbone. Such a woman can also be put together and clean and pleasantly dressed w/o appearing to be “va-va-voom”. They too, can walk down the streets looking beautiful w/o driving men crazy.

    It should be left up to the individual mature adult what the proper standards of modesty should be for her (or him).

  22. mekubal says:

    While the discussion of tzniut is interesting, I am not sure that it really applies to wigs. The reason being that the delineation between looking nice and attracting is a highly personal, and communal one, that involves more hashkafa than halakha. Wigs transcend that because of the level of actual halakhic makhloket involved.

    On the one side you have gedolim such as R’ Ovadia Yosef, the Hazon Ish, the Hatam Sofer and the Shteipler saying that they are an issur d’oraitta, which no amount of hashkafic dancing is going to get you around.

    On the other side you have gedolim such as the Rema, Moishe Feinsten, Shlomo Messas and the Admur of Lubavitch saying they are completely mutar.

    Then you have the range in between, such as Rav Eliyashiv, who says that wigs themselves are not an issur, but nice looking wigs like we have today are.

    Admittedly this does blend over into the realm of tzniut, and personally I find the reasons for ossuring them to be far more compelling. Most notably is that a woman’s head covering was always meant to be a sign to everyone else in the world that she was married. Granted that may not be the ultimate reason but it is there. Wigs(especially the wigs that we have today) can and do confuse that line of demarcation. This is important because a young man(or an older one) who is in the shidduch market is allowed to look at women to see if he finds them attractive or not. While with a teichel there is never a doubt about a woman’s status, with wigs there is. If a person even for a second takes notice of a married woman’s assets with any kind of desire(even that which would normally be permitted for a person seeking shidduch and looking upon an unattached female) according to the Rambam he has transgressed seven aveirot. Even by the most lenient of opinions he is over karet(or kares for the ashkenazi in the crowd), and that is a rather serious thing.

  23. soso says:

    “While with a teichel there is never a doubt about a woman’s status”

    Well, since divorced women and widows keep their head covering, the “demarcation line” is blurred anyway.

    Men over 20-30 looking for a mate even take the headcovering as a criterion for eligiblity for themselves (Does she cover her head? no, then I don’t want her)

    “If a person even for a second takes notice of a married woman’s assets with any kind of desire(even that which would normally be permitted for a person seeking shidduch and looking upon an unattached female) according to the Rambam he has transgressed seven aveirot. Even by the most lenient of opinions he is over karet(or kares for the ashkenazi in the crowd), and that is a rather serious thing”

    I cannot help but wonder: you yourself say on your blog that there is little you can do against “being attracted” by girls, except staying away from them. So does your strong taavah really abide by the headcovering signal and not find them attractive?

    • mekubal says:

      Shoshi if you want to discuss my blog you can do that on my blog, not someone else’s.

      Well, since divorced women and widows keep their head covering, the “demarcation line” is blurred anyway.
      There is an even bigger makhloket here, and even many of those who typically ossur wigs will allow widows and divorcees to wear them. Yabia Omer 7 Even HaEzer 3.

      • soso says:

        I do not know who you are referring to, but the fact is that you did not answer my question:

        practically speaking, can a tichel really eliminate your taavah?

        • mekubal says:

          I answered your question as fully as I intend to. I have no intention of defending by blog posts, or correcting someone else’s misreadings of them on someone else’s blog.

          This has very little do with ta’avah. It is more about warning labels. A normal person would never drink a bottle of arsenic, the skull and crossbones on the label would warn them away. However if they allowed themselves to get thirsty enough, to the point that they were driven out of their mind by thirst, they would drink the arsenic to slake their thirst.

          A head covering is the same way, it is a warning to a normal person to steer clear of certain thoughts and actions. However a ba’al ta’avah, a person who is totally consumed by his lust, will not care. Fortunately the fences of the Torah were not instituted to protect the ba’al ta’avah, but rather the normal person. A person then needs to sanctify himself against whatever ta’avot he most struggles with, we call this perishut. Some never eat meat(Rav Kaduri ZTz”L for example), other never allow themselves to even glimpse a woman(certain Admurim in Israel I know of), others never allow alcohol in even the slightest fraction to pass their lips(Rabbi M. Goldstein)… each according to his own level and his own personal struggles.

          • soso says:

            I find your reference to poison while you are trying to make a point about the other sex and sexual attraction a bit irritating.

            Neither am I sure that “perishut” is the best way of tackling “taavah”, especially in this realm.

            I think that strict separation of men and women tends to increase sensibility. The same is true for covering body parts: If you are used to see women in bikini, with the time, it will not arouse strong feelings. However, If you are not used even to see a naked foot, the naked foot will arise big erotic associations.

            What you say on your blog about being attracted to Beith Yaakov girls while your wife is sitting at the same table goes into the same direction: I suppose, if you just let it pass, it will pass. If you run away, it is likely to happen over and over again.

          • mekubal says:

            Neither am I sure that “perishut” is the best way of tackling “taavah”, especially in this realm.

            Well our Rabbis were sure. I trust their 3500 yrs of accumulated wisdom.

            I said nothing of B”Y girls on my blog. For the last time if you want to discuss your misperceptions of what I write on my blog, do so on my blog, not someone else’s blog.

          • mekubal says:

            As Perishut and by and large the greater discussion of permissiveness in tzniut is out of the realm of the discussion here, I have posted my response to those assertions here. Now perhaps we can return to the discussion of wigs, and their status within Jewish life and law.

  24. le7 says:

    I would argue in this day an age, wearing a head scarf and a long extremely loose fitting clothes you also draw attention to yourself. How is that tznius? Wearing a burqa is also attention getting, at least in America, how is that tznius?
    “It is possible to adhere to the laws of tzniut and yet wear a dress that makes you look “svelte” and “wowza”.”

    Never disagreed with that. It’s also possible to adhere to the laws of tznius, and wear a sheitel and look dignified and beautiful while keeping with the “spirit” of tznius. I still don’t see the problem. Either I’m dense or correct.

  25. kisarita says:

    There is a mistaken assumption underlying this post; and that is that head-coverings are all about modesty. They are not. Absent the symbolic value, their is nothing more intrinsically modest about a headcovering, in contrast to a long skirt or loose clothes.

    They are symbols of A. Social status and B. sexual unavailability which among women go hand in hand; social class is based on sexuality.

    Actually headcoverings do little to make a woman more modest.Therei is nothing Women of African descent often cover their heads with tichels, for comfort and convenience and to protect their hairdos, or sometimes, as decorative. They do not increase the woman’s modesty in any way. They do not make her any less sexually alluring.

    In the frum community, we acknowledge as such, otherwise we would not differentiate between single and married women.

    Head coverings have a long history in middle eastern cultures, ours included. In ancient mesopotamia, upper class women were required to cover their heads, while lower class women and prostitutes not only were not required but were actually forbidden to cover their heads under some stiff penalties. Thus we see that headcoverings serve as a marker of social status- but more, that social status amongst women is correlated with their sexuality.

    In the modern middle east today, with the islamist resurgence, a related dynamic operates. Women who cover their heads are respectable, those who don’t are not and may sometimes even be sexually harrassed. Once again, we see the link between female respectability and sexuality.

    In the modern frum community, we differentiate between higher status, unavailable, married women, and lower status, available single women. For all of you who have not had the great fortune of being a middle aged single in the frum community, you may think I exxaggerate. Those of you who share my experience know I speak the truth.

    Even women who are not particularly concerned with modesty, who go to shul in very short skirts, will nevertheless put some kind of makeshift covering on their head, while single women no matter how modestly dressed will not. That is because the married woman is not expressing her modesty since in American society, a sexually alluring appearance does not necessarily indicate sexual availability.) Rather she is expressing her status, a status of respectability that a single has no right to claim.

    Thus a glamorous wig, does not violate the spirit of the mitzva but is very much in consonance with it; the wig’s glamour is appropriate to the high status of the married woman. On the other hand, a single woman who would wear a glamorous wig would indeed be guilty of assuming airs that are not rightfully hers.

    • soso says:

      Thank you, kisarita, for making this point. I think this explains it quite well.

      We should also think that judaism was originally polygamous and still is in many traditions outside the ashkenasi one.

      So in fact, there was not really a problem with a man taking up a second, third, etc wife. The problem was only when taking up a married woman (who “belonged” to someone else).

      And I think the issue was not so much about protecting men from their taavah, it was rather that the men in this cultures had quite strong taavot and were quite violent at the same time, so you had to keep the girls inside in order to protect them from being assaulted.

      There is a correlation: the stricter a society separates men and women, the lower the treshold of what is interpreted as a “sexual clue”.

      This evolution can be seen quite strongly in the context of coeducation. Men stemming from “strictly separated” cultures often do not know how to behave appropriately in a mixed, “liberated” context. This is not only true for muslims or repressed christians, but also for frum jews who venture into “general society”.

      I think the concept of the woman being a “possession” is quite important in this concept, since most restrictive societies do not care a lot about the woman’s right to say “no”. They really address the most basic, animal instincts of men and act as if there was not really a secure means to deal with them.

    • batya from NJ says:

      But Kisarita,
      Many divorced & widowed women continue to wear sheitels or other head coverings despite what you would call their “lower status as available single women”…

  26. Dov Kramer says:

    Hadassah,

    I’m sorry I didn’t see this until now, and I apologize for not having enough time to read through the comments to see if these points were covered (parden the pun), but thought you might be interested in an article I wrote 17 years ago on the topic of hair covering. I had originally gotten enough requests for it to make a bunch of copies at a print shop so that I would have them handy, but last year scanned/uploaded to a friend’s site. (It was printed on a dot matrix printer, and written using WordPerfect for DOPS with their Hebrew Language Module!)

    The link is: http://www.aishdas.org/articles/splittingHairs.pdf and the chapter on wigs starts on page 19.

    (For the record, I had originally subtitled this chapter “Letting the Sheitel Hit the Fan,” but family/friends convinced me to change it.)

    Hopefully it can provide some useful information.

  27. soso says:

    PS: the “status symbol” aspect also explains why women are ready to accept so much discomfort (hot, scratchy) and effort (buy them, wash them, etc) to carry them.

  28. robert says:

    Kisarita,

    Your analysis does not take into account that the major codifiers of halacha (RAMBAM, Shulchan Aruch) clearly classify head covering as tzniut.

    Also, as Batya has noted, the halacha mandates that even unmarried women (divorced, widowed) must also cover their hair, despite their sexual availibility.

    I am confident in saying that the reason a married woman covers her hair in shul while not covering her hair outside of shul has nothing at all with her expression of her social status. The reason she covers her hair in shul is that’s the minhag-in shul we cover our hair. period. If she were concerned about expressing her social status, she would also be covering her hair outside of shul.

    In modern society hair covering does not serve any function of differentiating the status of a woman. The only reason the frum woman covers her hair is b/c the halacha mandates it, not b/c of the need to differentiate marital status, but rather DESPITE the fact that it no longer serves any real function of differentiation in modern society. Or, the frum woman believes that she has an obligation to cover her hair for reasons of tzniut, as is mentioned by the major codifiers of jewish law.

    The question then begs: If a woman in modern society decides not to cover her hair, is she really in breach of proper standards of modesty?

  29. Frume Sarah says:

    As a Reform woman, and a Reform rabbi, I have found this discussion extremely interesting.

    I have long wondered about whether there is a place for tznius and kissui ha-rosh in my liberal community. And what the reaction of the community would be if their rabbi suddenly started dressing in a way that was outside of the cultural norm.

    Not to mention the fact that my husband might wonder if I have gone off the deep end. His Conservative family is already perplexed by our observance of dietary restrictions, Shabbos observance, etc. If my husband is staunchly uncomfortable, say, with a decision to stop wearing slacks, ought my loyalty be with his feelings or with Halacha?

    • fille says:

      Well, I suppose in orthodox judaism, the husband has to conform to halacha, even if he does not like it.

      i.e. halacha says his wife has to cover her hair, so she has to, even if he doesn’t like it…

  30. sara maimon says:

    Frume, I see no reason why you can not wear an elegant headscarf to shul. Your congregants might even like it. It would certainly be much prettier than the Yamulke which you probably wear, and it would serve the same purpose. My dream is to show up with both headscarf and tefillin- when I get brave enough!
    I’m all for equality of the sexes, but I find it unfortunate the with equality of men and women in ritual, the traditional feminine rituals that sprung up in gender segregated society, tend to fall by the wayside.
    Many people see these practices as demeaning to women, symbols of patriarchy, so they no longer wish to keep them, whether headscarves, niddah, and more. There is something to that, but we instead can honor how our mothers and sisters have reclaimed those rituals for themselves.

    • Frume Sarah says:

      Nope. No yarmulke for me. Tried it periodically throughout my rabbinate, but it just never felt comfortable.

      I can think of a thousand reactions to an “elegant headscarf” and very few of them would be positive.

      Equality does not mean same. It’s one of the struggles I have with some of the feeble attempts at egalitarianism I see in my community.

  31. sara maimon says:

    One more note Frume: A Rabbi is supposed to be a leader. Always view yourself in that role. YOU are the trendsetter, not the follower.

    I strongly feel there is a role for modesty amongst liberal Jews. It need not take the obsessive form that it takes among. We can rely on people to make their own judgement call onto whether their attire and behavior are appropriate or not for a nonsexualized, non-distracting prayer environment.

  32. Frume Sarah says:

    One of the subtleties, however, is knowing how far one can lead a certain group of people before he (or in this case, she) goes beyond their reach. A Rabbi cannot be effective if she stands so far outside her community that they feel as though she really isn’t one of them.

    And given what some of the women wear at shul, I do not think that we can rely on their own judgement! There ought to be a balance between the very stringent….and the obscene.

  33. Yosepha says:

    I found this blog while I was trying to answer a question for a non Jewish friend of mine and if you please humor me these are my thoughts (and I was raised Conservative and went through months of “coming back/converion” into Orthodoxy;
    1.) Law says that no man should ever see a married woman the way her husband sees her-after months of prayers to me a wig is the same thing, especially if she never takes it off. It is giving people the wrong impression.
    2.) Kabbala says that the first thing a person sees on a woman is her hair and since that it is where her energy and light shine out that Hasem gave her just for her family it needs to be honed-I do not believe that a wig will do this for reason #1.
    3.) The Lubavitch Chabad Rebbe Schneerson (of Blessed Memory) was really the one taht made it ok for all women-not all women obeyed outside of his community and he only said it was ok (fromt eh teachings I have read) for the women that were basically Chabad Rebbetzin or out in the modern world with “wordly” people.
    If you could not tell I wear a scarf tied one of 4 ways everyday of my life and take it off at night when it is just me and my family, and I do not believe that wigs are ok (for me that is) But in my eyes if that is the only part of Tzniut you are not following according to law, then its the least of your problems! :)

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