(Taken from Rabbi David Bar Hayim’s Lecture)
Many women ask me if wearing a sheitel is an acceptable way for a married woman to cover her hair.
The simple answer to that question is, no. It’s not really the most acceptable way for a married woman to cover her hair and the reason for this is as follows:
The basis that’s usually given in defense of this practice is the fact that the Mishnah in Masechet Shabat mentions a Peah Nochrit that a woman may wear, even on Shabat and she can walk to the chatzer of her home – to the courtyard of her home, wearing a Peah Nochrit.
This Mishnah discusses the items that a woman may or may not wear on Shabat because there’s a possibility that if a woman wears certain items on Shabat and then walks into the reshut ha’rabim (public domain), she might remove the item whether it’s to show it to her friends or accidentally – and as a result she would inevitably carry on Shabat – which we know is forbidden.
The Mishnah concludes that a woman may indeed wear a Peah Nochrit in the chatzer (courtyard of her home) – but not on the street and certainly not on Shabat. From this Mishnah there were a few Rabbis who concluded that it is permissible for a married woman to wear a wig because they thought that the Peah Nochrit is what we refer to today as a, “sheitel.” This was the opinion of Rabee Yehoshuah Boaz (a”h) who was a well-known Rabbi who wrote many commentaries on the sefarim of the holy Rif (Rav Yitzchak Alfasi a”h).
In one of Rabee Yehoshuah’s Sefarim titled, “Shiltei Ha’Giborim” he ruled that a married woman can indeed wear a Peah Nochrit and he bases his conclusion on the Mishnah we mentioned above. It is important to note that when Rabee Yehoshuah wrote that it is permissible, he meant only in the courtyard of your home and not in the public domain.
Many poskim came along later and added to Rabee Yehoshuah’s ruling explaining that the terminology “Peah Nochrit” does not at all refer to the wigs that are worn in modern day society and that is why Rabee Yehoshuah allowed such Peot to be worn in the courtyard of the house.
Rabanim also explained that many women adapted the custom of wearing a wig in the public domain because they lived in areas where the gentile women covered their hair with a wig. For example: in Europe, women who came from the social societies of the elite wore wigs as a sign of their aristocratic status and unfortunately many Jewish women were influenced by the Chukat Ha’goyim and adapted this custom for themselves as well.
Therefore, in order to understand what the Mishnah was referring to and what a Peah Nochrit really was during the times of the Mishnah – we need to define the word, “Peah.”
If I asked you, “What’s a Peah?” You would answer, “It’s a wig.”
But interestingly, the word “Peah” appears in the Gemara and the Torah with regards to a person’s field. The word “Peah,” means the “end,” the “corner” or the “border” of something. We are taught that during the times of the Gemera and prior to this time period, the halachah was the following: If a person owned a field he had to designate the Peah, (the corner of his field) for the poor people – so that they could take from the corners and have what to eat.
That being the case, if Peah means a corner and/or an end of something, what would that word mean in reference to a sheitel?
The Gaon of Vilna (a”h) explains the answer to this question in his commentary on these Mishnayot. Let us remember that the Gaon of Vilna was a full-fledged Lithuanian, who was a Gaon Olam
(Talmudic genius). There was not one subject of Torah including Kabalah, that the Gaon did not know or was a master in. This is a Rabbi who at the age of three, knew all of Chamishah Chumshei Torah (5 Books of Moses) and most of Navi (The Prophets) fluently and was able to answer any question on any pasuk (verse). At the age of seven he was already a master in certain Masechtot of Shas and at the age of eight he began to learn Kabalah. By the time he turned ten, he completed the entire Zohar Ha’kadosh with all its analysis.
This is the Rabbi we are speaking of. This is the Gaon of Vilna. Who would argue with the likes of such a tzadik and talmid chacham?
The Gaon of Vilna explains that in “modern day society” a Peah Nochrit would be classified as a “small hair piece.” Imagine a small piece of material where hairs have been glued, sewn or attached in some way. That small hair piece is then placed underneath the woman’s original head covering. The Gaon of Vilna writes that obviously some of that hair from the hair piece, from the Peah, will stick out from underneath the original head covering. He states that this is only natural because even if a woman covers her hair with a scarf, there will be hairs that are visible to the eye. These hairs are natural hairs that stick out from the sides of your face or the back of your neck.
The Gaon of Vilna actually writes that this was the minhag (custom) from ancient times and until present day – where when a woman covered her hair with a scarf it was only natural that some of her hair will be visible. But, the Gaon of Vilna asks a question:
What happens if a woman suffers from a particular disease or she is aging rapidly and begins to shed her hair and has very little hair on her head? This woman is unhappy with the way she looks and she does not feel beautiful enough for her husband. The manner in which her own hair is sticking out from her head covering makes it very obvious that she is losing her hair. As a result she does not feel pretty. What should she do then?