Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A Wig and a Prayer

Orthodox women have recently been informed by their rabbis that they’ve been committing unwitting acts of idolatry by wearing wigs made from hair cut off as offerings to Hindu gods. In my opinion, it’s a no-win situation—either they commit avodah zarah (idolatry) by using the Hindu hair, or they violate the law of “bal tashchit” (which I think translates roughly as not being wasteful) by not using the Hindu hair.

Personally, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that it’s perfectly permissible for a married Orthodox woman, prohibited from showing her hair in public for reasons of tzniut (modesty), to cover her own hair with someone else’s. What’s the point? Either you cover your hair or you don’t. (Let’s not get into the frummer-than-thou contest concerning how much of one’s hair should be covered, or we’ll be here all day.)

There’s also the identification-mark issue: Orthodox men can’t “pass”—unless you consider wearing a hat instead of a kippah on a 90-degree day a sufficient disguise—so why should Orthodox women insist on having the option?

Speaking as a non-Orthodox Jew, I can’t understand why a woman’s hair should be considered so immodest, in this day and age, that it has to be covered. Sure, it was considered a disgrace for a married woman (unmarried, too?) to uncover her hair in public in biblical times. But that was 2,000 years ago, give or take a few centuries. I’ve been told on good (Rabbinic) authority that a minhag (custom), once established for several generations, becomes halachah (a law). Is there no room for modernization in Orthodox Judaism?


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