The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Misunderstanding Shaitels

Many of the Jblogs are focusing on the issue of the shaitels and whether ones from India are impermissible because the hair is donated as part of an avodas zarah (idolatry) ritual.

From an halachic standpoint the only thing that is clear is that nothing is yet completely clear. I suspect that over the next few days and weeks the rulings will get more crystallized.

Some of the posters and commentators are mocking the whole issue, the Gedolei Yisrael who are making very difficult halachic rulings, and the chareidim, particularly in Israel, who reacted to the initial ruling by getting rid of their 'tainted' shaitels. Many think this is just another silly 'chumrah' or, worse, part of a conspiracy by the makers of sheitels in order to rip off unsuspecting chareidi consumers.

Another interesting reaction that I have seen in a number of blogs and in many comments goes to the heart of the issue of shaitels. Many have questioned whether wearing a styled shaitel defeats the very purpose of covering one's hair. Interestingly, this issue has been brought up by people from the right as well as the left (but overwhelmingly from the left). The reactions from the right tend to suggest that women should revert the 'purer' form of covering hair, i.e., scarves, tiechels, hats or snoods. From the left some of the comments question the very validity of covering one's hair since it seems so hypocritical to put on a wig whose hair may be nicer than one's own. (This is a straw man that I will discuss below).

I've seen very few posts (but a number of comments) recognizing the amazing mesiras nefesh of women who are willing to get rid of an item of utmost importance and tremendous expense on the word of a gadol. Instead, these women have generally been mocked as mindless losers.

I've only seen one female blogger so far, Cookie, who is 'm'kabeles' of (accepts) the consequences of the ruling and is spending her time trying to figure out what to do.

I think that all the cynics among us should read her post. We should all be touched by her sincerity and yiras Shamayim. The way Cookie reacted is the way my wife and all the other women in my shul reacted over last weekend. The men joked around about it but we joke about everything. Nevertheless, we were prepared to deal with the consequences pending the resolution of the halachic issues and the sources of the sheital hair. As my Rav said, this matter should be a viewed as a huge limud z'chus on Klal Yisrael.

I've been thinking a lot about why this issue has attracted so much blogging attention. I think it's because the issue of a woman covering her hair is so central to the divide between the MO and Chareidi worlds and even within the MO world.

When a woman decides to cover her hair she is deciding much more than that. Assuming she is sincere and consistent, she is also committing to a specific lifestyle, not just for herself but for her whole family. There are many, many other things that come with covering hair. A woman who covers her hair won't wear pants. She won't go mixed swimming. She will dress modestly. She won't go to R rated movies or shows (or, perhaps, any movies other than G rated kids' movies). She won't socially kiss other women's husbands on the cheek. And, so on.

Perhaps there is a feeling of defensiveness on the part of some of the MO blogging world that is partly responsible for the sarcastic comments about chumras and immodest wigs. The halachic requirement is that a woman cover her hair; not that she make herself look shabby or unattractive. Of course she should comport herself in a modest way. Is anyone suggesting that they see many women in shaitels walking around in mini skirts, plunging necklines or with exposed belly buttons? Are there such women who wear skirts that are too figure-flattering? Of course. Is that the rule? I don't think so.

I think the act of consciously covering one's own hair leads to a certain set of behaviors that are modest and that are consistent with the spirit as well as the letter of the halacha. They should be admired rather than ridiculed.