Questions and Answers About Sheitels

QUESTION: Are the Rabbis who allow us to wear sheitels or the Rebetzins who themselves wear sheitels mistaken? If my Rebetzin wears a sheitel why can’t I?

RESPONSE: I would humbly answer this question with a story that’s found in the Torah Ha’kedoshah in Sefer Shemot.

Chachamim tell us that the Egyptian bondage was extremely difficult for the Jewish people. Besides the back breaking labor and the menial tasks that were exchanged between males and females – where Paroh forced women to execute the job of a man and vice versa - one of the most difficult decrees was that of the Jewish baby boys who were murdered and thrown into the Nile River.

At the time that this decree was issued, Amram from Shevet Levi, was the Gadol Ha’dor. He was the leading spiritual advisor and mentor of that generation. Amram felt that it would be pointless for women to continue to give birth to babies if they were going to be murdered. What did he do?

He decreed that all Jewish men should divorce their wives and he too divorced his wife, Yocheved. Following his divorce all Jewish men followed suit and they divorced their wives as well. We now had an entire nation of divorced Jews. The entire nation became “celibate.” What happened?

The pasuk in Sefer Shemot states: “Vayelech ish mi’Bet Levi vayikach et bat Levi – and a man went forth from the house of Levi and took a daughter of Levi.”

Rashi Ha’kadosh (a”h) informs us that Amram was originally parush from Yocheved. He separated himself from her. Why? Due to Paroh’s decree. But then, “Vayikach et bat Levi.” We are told that he remarried Yocheved. What prompted him to remarry her? What changed?

Rashi writes that Miriam (only five years old at the time) approached her father and said, “Aba, you might be the Gadol Ha’Dor, but you’re making a grievous error. That error has caused all of Am Yisrael to follow you. Gezeiratcha kashah mi’shel Paroh. Aba, your decree is harsher than the decree of Paroh. Paroh gazar al ha’zcharim, ve’atah gam ken al ha’nekevot – Paroh issued this decree only against the male babies that are born but your decree is against the females also because now you’re preventing not only the male babies from being born but also the female babies from coming down to this world. Such a decree is worse than Paroh’s.”

Rashi tells us that as a result of Miriam’s words the Gadol Ha’Dor, the Rosh Yeshivah of Am Yisrael, the Rebbe of Goshen, remarried Yocheved. And who was born as a result of that union? The redeemer, Moshe Rabeinu (a”h). This story is the answer to the above question.

If Amram who was the Gadol Ha’Hador and the great grandchild of Yaakov Avinu, made a mistake – a mistake which chachamim tell us could have cost the entire nation its redemption; what can we say about the modern day Rabbis? Are they not susceptible to making mistakes?

The difference between Amram and today’s Rabbis is that Amram had the inner strength and the ability to be machniyah himself to the truth when he heard it. He heard the musar of a five year old girl and he took it to heart because he realized she was right. He did not begin to argue with her or throw various counter arguments. He did not say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about Miriam. I know halachah and you don’t. And don’t worry because you have on whom to rely on.”

He listened to the truth when he heard it even when it came from a five year old child and he remarried Yocheved. And because he was open to accepting the truth, things changed, the mistake was corrected, and from this correction the geulah was born. We had a chance of being redeemed.

But sadly, it seems that today’s Rabanim are afraid of their talmidim, afraid of rebuking, afraid of losing their authoritative positions and maybe even their salaries. They know that a big monster was created and they cannot defeat this monster. The Rabanim of this generation are unfortunately not displaying the strength of Amram. They look away from the devastation that was created as a result of the sheitels and the lack of tzniyut. Some Rabanim are even encouraging women to remain with their sheitels on.

There is a video clip of Rav Elyashiv (a”h) and Rav Shalom Schwadron (a”h) speaking concerning this topic. As you know Rav Elyashiv was not a Sefaradi. A few concerned Rabbis approached him about the lack of tzniyut plaguing the Jewish women all over the world and the sheitel situation that has gotten out of hand. They asked him to please elicit some words of musar because the entire world holds from him, including Sefaradim. They told him that if he would tell the women to stop this terrible minhag many women would listen to him including a great number of Litvishe women whose husbands sit and learn all day long in the Kollel.

What was Rav Elyashiv’s response?

First, he called the subject of the wigs, a “tzarah.” A tzarah is a troubling matter. His words were the following: “The tzarah of the pe’ot – eich efshar letaken et zeh? How can we correct this problem? Zeh kvar mushrash im gedolim ve’tovim – it is already ingrained in the great rabbis and those who are good.”

And then he said, “Zeh mamash pritzut she’ein kamohu – it is truly a pritzut that is unparalleled. How can I help? How can anyone uproot this terrible tzarah? After all, it started with the gedolim – the Rosh Yeshivot and the tzadikim. Kulam nichshalim be’zeh. They are all failing in this area. The Rabbis know the halachah and they know it has gotten out of hand. Az lamah lo metaplim be’zeh? Why are they not taking care of the situation? Zeh parutz meod. Even tzadikim gemurim are failing in this matter. And the same holds true for the righteous women. You could be righteous and fail in this matter.”

This is what the Gadol Ha’dor stated when he was approached with the topic of sheitels and the lack of modesty. He pointed a finger at the gedolim and the tzadikim who have not done much to resolve the matter. Rav Elyashiv’s response is the answer to the question about the chashuveh Rabbis and Rebetzins that permit the sheitels. This is the answer to all those avreichim who are sitting and learning all day and being supported by their righteous wives. These are the avreichim whom Rav Ovadyah Yosef said are behaving in shameful ways because they tell their wives that it is perfectly all right to continue in this way.

This is what we call an olam hafuch, an upside down world. Rav Ovadyah said that the woman is working all day like a horse to support the avrech’s learning and with all his learning and all the words of the Rishonim and Acharonim – somehow this avrech cannot seem to find all the sources that forbid his wife from wearing a sheitel? He even encourages his wife to continue down this path of destruction?

Rav Elyashiv clearly says that even a tzadik, even a Gadol, can make a mistake. He says the mistake began with the gedolim and tovim. And if that mistake is not corrected it will continue to create much spiritual damage. There is a reason why Rav Elyashiv referred to the problem of the sheitels as a tzarah gedolah. Indeed, so many challenges have plagued our communities because of this breach in modesty.

Therefore, it is with great humility that I urge all the Rebetzins out there to look into this subject and to do the research and to correct this matter so that their talmidot can follow in their ways and correct this matter. The Rebetzins have to do whatever is in their power to elevate their communities to a place of kedushah. If Rav Elyashiv said that it is already rooted in the gedolim, then the chashuveh Rebetzins should uproot this terrible tzarah and do what Amram did. In this way, they can help bring about the redemption sooner in our days and help the tzarot rabot from penetrating our communities. If the Rebetzins would lead the way many women would follow.

That being said, there are Rabbis who allow the wearing of a wig. All of them base their permission on the Sefer, Shiltei Giborim or on the commentary of the holy Rama who also quotes in his sefer the opinion of the Shiltei Giborim. However, in the Rabbis understanding of the Shiltei Giborim there is a mistake. The Shiltei Giborim allows one to wear a Peach Nochrit (Peah Nochrit as defined in the previous section) only in the house and in the courtyard, but in no way on the street, in the public domain.

QUESTION: Is covering my hair with a head covering a chumrah (stringency)?

RESPONSE: Several years ago religious communities all over the world were shocked concerning the episode of the sheitel hairs being used for Avodah Zarah in India. When this situation arose many Rabanim were happy. They assumed that this would be a wakeup call to women of all backgrounds, all over the world, to remove their sheitels.

Sadly, when the Rabbis came back from India stating that if you have Indian hair from one particular city it’s permitted but if the hairs are from the other city it’s not permitted – that created a big problem that certainly did not prompt more women to change direction. As a result of this, Rav Ovadyah Yosef (a”h) researched the matter and found out the following:

He realized that a large number of the hairs sold in India were also being cut off of the heads of dead people. Rav Ovadyah made a statement saying the following: “It’s one thing if you want to try and get away with some pseudo heter and claim you have whom to rely on even though you don’t. But how do you get away from the halachah that says it’s forbidden to wear anything on your body that originated on the body of a dead person? Every posek halachah knows that the hairs that were on a dead person and then used to make a wig cannot be used not for enjoyment or any other reason.”

(Also refer to section on Reports On Sheitel Hairs From India And Other Countries)

QUESTION: A few years ago the entire chareidi community was up in arms about the sheitel hairs from India being Avodah Zara. Why didn’t that episode prompt more women to change direction?

RESPONSE: Several years ago religious communities all over the world were shocked concerning the episode of the sheitel hairs being used for Avodah Zarah in India. When this situation arose many Rabanim were happy. They all thought that this would be a wakeup call to women of all backgrounds, all over the world to remove their sheitels.

Sadly, when the Rabbis came back from India stating that if you have Indian hair from this city it’s permitted but if the hairs are from the other city it’s not permitted – that created a big problem and certainly did not prompt more women to change their direction. As a result of this tragedy, Rav Ovadyah Yosef researched the matter and what did he find out?

He realized that a large number of the hairs sold in India to be used for sheitels were cut off of the heads of dead people. Rav Ovadyah made a statement saying the following: “It’s one thing if you want to try and get away with some pseudo heter and claim you have whom to rely on even though you don’t. But how do you get away from the halachah that says it’s asur to wear anything on your body that originated on the body of a dead person? Every posek halachah knows that the hairs that were on a dead person and then used to make a wig cannot be used not for enjoyment or any other reason.”

How then could a Jewish woman feel good to beautify herself with such an aveirah?

QUESTION: What should I do if my husband wants me to wear a sheitel? If I wear a head covering it will affect my Shalom Bayit.

RESPONSE: The women who are having a problem with their husbands because they wish to cover their hair properly but the husband is giving them a hard time – please email me your email address and I will bli neder, B’ezrat Hashem email you a copy of all the sources so your husband can spend time looking over them.

I will tell you that Rav Ovadyah Yosef as well as Ha’Rav Wosner (a”h) have said that a husband who prevents his wife from covering her hair appropriately should be ashamed at his chilul shem shamayim. There are young men who are sitting and learning in the Batei Midrashot and when they start dating, they specifically ask the shadchan for a girl who’s going to cover her hair with a sheitel.

When Rav Ovadyah Yosef heard that this is going on in the Ashkenazik as well as Sefardik circles, he was extremely upset and commented saying: “What kind of avrechim are these Bachurei Yeshivot?  They’re behaving like an Am Ha’aretz. How can they force or insist that a Bat Yisrael put on a sheitel when they’re sitting and learning all day and they know what chachamim have to say on this matter? If they think they’re not going to give a din ve’cheshbon on this they’re sorely mistaken. What kind of Torah are these boys learning? Their Torah is like the Torah of Doeg Ha’adomi.”

But does the woman have to wear a wig on the street in order to please her husband so that he does not look at other women – while other men are looking at her? It could very well be that she’s “saving” her family, but at the same time destroying another – is this acceptable? You want Shalom Bayit, but you may be harming the Shalom Bayit of the woman next door.

Rabeinu Yonah (a”h) in his Sefer titled, Igeret Teshuvah wrote the following: “A woman must be modest and cautious so as no men look at her other than her husband… [in her home].”

The Sefer Orchot Tzadikim states: “A woman, who beautifies herself before men, ignites fire in their hearts and initiates forbidden thoughts in the heart; and therefore her punishment is very great.”

The Gemara recounts stories about how women adorned themselves in the house for their husbands, but when walking out on the street they dressed modestly (like the wife of Aba Chilkiyah and others).

Rav Chaim Kanievsky writes about this matter in his Sefer titled, “Orchot Yosher” (page77). Any person can read his words and understand how stringent and careful a woman has to be when going out to the public domain; how cautious she has to be not to entice or attract the attention of any other man other than her husband [at home].

Sometimes women say, “My intentions are pure. I want to be beautiful for my husband on the street as well. The fact that other men are looking at me is their problem. Let them not look.”

Chachamim explain that this argument is not an argument. After all, a woman can walk with her head uncovered as well and also say: “The fact that others are looking at me is their problem. Let them not look.” But the Torah does not accept this way of thinking.

Interestingly, the Chafetz Chaim (a”h) in the fourth chapter of his Sefer, “Geder Olam” writes that in certain parts of Russia and Europe women walked into the public domain, bare-headed. Concerning this he said: “Let her not deceive herself that she will be saved from punishment because she was supposed to beautify herself in the eyes of her husband - this is a mistake because that needs to be done at home and not on the street.”

QUESTION: Is there such a thing as a modest sheitel? Everyone agrees that immodest, long wigs are prohibited, but is a short wig considered modest?

RESPONSE: Let’s ask ourselves the following question: Is it possible to go out with an uncovered head, if one’s own hair is modest?

In the issur/prohibition on ‘pritzut degavrey’ – the issur for a married woman to attract attention of strange men – there is no difference between her own hair and a wig; and even the most modest, unattractive hair is prohibited. Today’s “modest” wigs are prettier than the hair of many women whose own hair is not very becoming. Because the technology of the wig production is constantly improving, people think that an older model wig must be modest. This is a mistake.

Today’s “modest” wig (short, neat and even synthetic) certainly attracts attention. In addition, after extensive research concerning the production of wigs, it was discovered that every synthetic wig that is made today does have a number of natural/real hairs that is woven into the wig in order to make the synthetic wig appear more natural. (See section titled: Reports On Sheitel Hairs From India And Other Countries)

That being said, one of the proofs that synthetic wigs in this law act as one’s hair is the following: if a woman wore a wig which has a mixture of real and synthetic hair can someone distinguish which hairs are real and which are synthetic? And even if the “experts” can tell the difference, does that change anything for the majority of the people (more specifically, the men)?

The Rambam in the halachot of Issurei Biya (21:2 – Even HaEzer 21:1) asks: How will he [a man] determine what is on her head?

Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a”h), one of the great rabbis of the Lithuanian world of whom the Chazon Ish greatly admired, wrote the following approximately forty years ago: “In my opinion, even if in the past all the Rabbis allowed the wearing of a wig, today they would all ban it.” He wrote this during a time when wigs were much simpler than today’s “modest” ones.

If the whole point of the ban is, “pritzut degavrey – not to attract the attention of strange men – then, how can a wig be allowed if one’s hair is prohibited? Everyone can see that a wig, even the “modest” one, is at least as attractive as one’s own hair, and often, more so.

Rav Don Segal in one of his speeches said,“…People come to me and say that for them the Charedi/Orthodox women are more attractive than the non-religious women … today’s wigs create more problems than real hair …”

There are those who say, “But the men have become accustomed to this already. Many women wear wigs and nowadays a person does not pay attention to that which he sees often and hence he is used to it.”

If this is true, why do the Rabbis not prohibit women from walking around with their head uncovered? Think about it. Before the wedding women walk around bareheaded. So, let them continue walking around like this until the end of their life. After all, everyone is accustomed to their hair. Why is it that specifically after the wedding the Torah requires a head covering despite the fact that all have already seen this woman with her hair exposed and are accustomed to her hair?

Perhaps the answer is the following: The Torah forbids a married woman to expose her hair so as not to attract the attention of strange man, even if everyone is “accustomed” to seeing the hair of the woman. Why? So that the woman should feel that she is married; that she should be liked by her husband, and not by the strange men.

QUESTION: The purpose of the obligation to cover one’s head is for others not to think that a married woman is not married - but today they know she’s married. So why the need for a head covering?

RESPONSE: This idea is incorrect because this is not the only purpose of the kisuy rosh (the requirement of a head covering) regulation. Imagine a school for girls where teachers wear wigs. If these girls will put on these same wigs and appear as if they are married – will anyone say that it is against the law for the reason that now one cannot tell who is married and who is not?

If, on the other hand at a school for girls where teachers wear head coverings, the students will put on the similar headscarf – obviously, none of the Rabbis will say, “Oy! How will we now know who is married and who is not?” On the contrary, they will say, “Very good. This is more modest.”

Moreover, in many religious communities, the young girls as well as married women walked in the public domain with headscarves for reasons of modesty. But in answer to your question, this should be forbidden.

In addition, if this would be the point of the hair covering, the Torah could require of the married women to make a special mark on their clothes, as do police officers, as did Canaanite slaves (as we learn from the Gemara of Shabat 57:2). Why the necessity to take away from a woman all her beauty? And even if the Torah wanted to make this special sign to be clearly visible – that it should be principally on the head – it would be enough to put on a little hat or a scarf in the middle of the head (like some women do when they come to shul) – and already she would be clearly seen as married. Why cover the hair completely?

The entire essence of the prohibition specifically for the married women is the following

  • The penalty for violating the prohibition for someone’s wife is much stricter than the prohibition for an unmarried woman.
  • The yetzer hara for that which is forbidden, which is another man’s wife is stronger (because the “forbidden water tastes better” (as we learn from the Gemara of Sanhedrin 75:1, and the Gemara of Avodah Zarah20:1).
  • A woman has no reason to be liked by outsiders/strangers. But an unmarried woman may adorn herself to find a bridegroom (we learn this from the Gemara of Taanit13:2). The girls beautified themselves even in the days they were mourning for their fathers – only to look pleasing to a prospective groom. The fact that some girls wore headscarves in certain parts of the city was a stringency of the law, due to a higher level of modesty.

In the Chafetz Chaim’s preface and in the fourth chapter of his sefer titled, Geder Olam, writes:

“It is obvious and clear to everyone that the meaning of the law of kisuy rosh is tzniut…. One of the reasons why women walk with their heads uncovered is because of the yetzer ha’ra that encourages the woman to adorn herself and attract attention with her hair; and for that she will answer in the future.”

From the words of the Chafetz Chaim we see that the idea of the commandment to cover the hair is modesty and that the hair of the married woman makes her more attractive which is why it must be covered. Today’s wigs are more beautiful than one’s own hair and the fact that people “know” that it is a wig, does not in any way abolish the yetzer ha’ra for another man’s wife. This is unfortunately a human nature found in men.

The Gemara of Ketuvot (72:2) and all the commentators including the Trumat Ha’deshen as well as the Levush (Even Ha’Ezer 21:2) state that a Jewish woman must not walk with her head uncovered on the street because it is considered pritzut (immodest and undignified). In addition, there is a kabalistic connotation in this prohibition. Furthermore, the Chesed Le’Avraham (a”h) writes: “Since the entire point of the prohibition is because of the pritzut degavrey – that it attracts the attention of men, there is no difference between her hair and a wig. It is one and the same Torah prohibition, because it is the external attractive appearance that the Torah forbids.

QUESTION: Our great-grandmothers in Russia and Europe wore wigs! We have a tradition which we rely on – so what happened to minhagim?

RESPONSE: The custom of wearing wigs in the public domain (reshut harabim) appeared in the latest generations, about 175 years ago due to the decree of the Russian Tsar for Jews to change their attire.

The Aruch Ha’Shulchan (Ohr Ha’Chaim - 551:11) states: “In our time, because of the order of the authorities we have changed the dress code.”

Jewish women were forced to walk bare-headed. The idea was thought of and promoted to the Tsar by the renegade Jews (maskilim).

Rav Shlomoh Kluger (a”h) in his sefer, Shnot Chaim (316) states: “There was a gzeirah in Russia (an order decreed by the authorities) to walk around bare-headed. And in our time many walk that way deliberately.”

In other words, first, there was a decree and afterwards this “tradition” spread from city to city and from country to country, from Russia to Europe. Unfortunately, even the wives of Rabbis walked with uncovered heads. Attempts to justify (already after the gzeirah was annulled) that this “tradition” is contrary to the Torah brought no results. We learn this from the Aruch Ha’Shulchan (75:7) and the Kaf Ha’Chaim (75).

Righteous Jewish women could not walk in a head covering during the decree and as expected by Torah law, they did not want to walk around bare-headed – so they chose the lesser of two evils and wore a wig. So, to the royal gendarmeries they looked like women with their heads uncovered. But they intentionally made their wigs in such a way that would not attract attention.

QUESTION: If I want to look beautiful, what’s wrong with that? There’s no prohibition to look beautiful.

RESPONSE: Rav Shalom Schwadron (a”h) once said concerning this matter: “Why do women wear sheitels today? Is it to cover their hair? No. They do it in order to look more beautiful.”

How true this is. Many women will wear a tichel in the house but when they want to leave the house, even if it is just to go to the supermarket – they will put on their long sheitels. Who are we trying to impress and look beautiful for? If you really felt that way, then you would wear a sheitel in your house also. But the fact that you are willing to walk around your home in a tichel but when you leave your home you feel the need to put on a sheitel – this screams out, “darsheini.”

What does it mean when a woman says, “I do it for myself”? For yourself that others should look upon you and think you’re beautiful and that will make you feel good? If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s not the sheitel that’s going to change how you feel inside. You have to work on your inner self and ask yourself why you think the outside will make you feel happier? You have to ask yourself why your self-esteem is shot and what you can do to boost your neshamah without having to resort to breaching the walls of modesty.

Women today should consider taking some coaching classes in order to understand and to relearn the history of femininity. Perhaps we should all relearn where we came from and how much strength and beauty we truly possess as Jewish women. We need to remember that Jewish women throughout history were always admired and wanted especially because of their modesty.

When Esther Ha’malkah (a”h) came before Achashverosh for the first time, she did so with barely any make-up and with the simplest gown. No matter what Hagai did to try and convince her to appear before the king in the manner that all the other women did – she refused. Why? Because the glory of a princess and her beauty is penimah – is her essence.

The Me’am Loez teaches us that when Esther came before Achashverosh he saw something in her that he did not see in any other woman and it is for this reason that he chose Esther over all the other candidates. What did he see?

He saw her simplicity and her modesty. He saw that she did not require much to be happy. He realized that when she spoke, her essence was pure and refined. He experienced Esther in a way that he did not experience any other woman. Every other woman wanted to please Achashverosh physically so that he would select her. But Esther, provided Achashverosh with tochen, with content and depth.

The Me’am Loez explains that every young maiden (hundreds of them) who came to Achashverosh - came to him in the early evening and was sent back the next morning to a different place. She was sent to his harem of concubines. This means that the young maidens were engaged in an intimate act with Achashverosh that deemed them “pilagshot” and now they were set aside only for the king if he ever wished to call upon them again.

But the Me’am Loez informs us of something fascinating. Esther was the only young woman whom Achashverosh did not engage in this intimate act with. He respected and admired Esther’s modesty and her character so much that he wished to preserve her dignity for the night of the wedding whereupon she would be crowned his queen.

This is true malchut. Tzniyut is in the realm of malchut. Tzniyut is the realm of Esther Ha’malkah. Esther is from the lashon hester which means hidden and unrevealed. Your beauty; your essence as a bat melech; your kingdom is your modesty. And your crown is the kisuy rosh that you wear upon your head which is the symbol of your ancestry and lineage. It is who you are and where you came from.

There’s no prohibition to look beautiful, true. But there is a prohibition if you are being beautiful for someone else’s husband and not your own. Let’s face it, we are in a world of materialism and the yetzer hara of immorality is seeping in through the cracks of our walls. If you want to look beautiful, do so for your husband – not for the next door neighbor. In your own home you can do whatever you wish in order to attract your mate. But when you leave your home, be careful that the manner in which you dress, your wig, make up etc, doesn’t enter the mind of someone else’s husband.

How sad it is when I hear husbands sharing their feelings with their buddies in shul saying, “So and so’s wife is a knock out!”

Let’s put the implication of that statement being made in a shul during davening aside for a moment. But if a man is speaking in this way, he is disrespecting his own wife and his friend’s wife who he just commented about.

I have a friend who’s husband was unfortunately influenced by friends and yes even other women – and after some weeks of marriage counseling together with chizuk from a Rabbi, Baruch Hashem, he became stronger and made a resolution to guard his eyes from seeing things that effect him. In one of his open discussions at his Shabat table he said the following, “I admit that there other women who entered my mind during my tefilot, during the work day, and I am so sorry to say during intimate moments with my wife. It was then that I understood the meaning of modesty. A woman can tell me, ‘Don’t look!’ But I’m a man. I can’t help but look when a woman blatantly goes out of her way to attract me. The long sheitels, the tight skirts, the tight blouses, those high heels, even the fact that some women actually flirt with me – how can I not fall?”

He said more in order to give chizuk to the women and men gathered at his table. At least this man was honest enough with himself to know that a man is weak in this regard and will fall prey to such situations. So, in answer to your question – sure, there is no prohibition to look beautiful. Our imahot were beautiful women. But their beauty was reserved for their husbands only. Their beauty was exposed only to their husbands. And even to their husbands their beauty was not flaunted but revealed in the most modest of ways.