Friday, August 25, 2006

Bewigged: Bothered and Bewildered

Many Orthodox Jews believe that a married Jewish woman must cover at least part of her hair. Many Orthodox married women fulfill that "requirement" (some accept this as a requirement, some don't) by wearing wigs. On the other hand, here are four reasons why some choose not to wear a wig:
(a) The Sefardi rabbinate, if I understand correctly, has forbidden the use of wigs as head-coverings for married women;
(b) Wigs are often uncomfortable;
(c) They cost a fortune!;
(d) They get so much negative press among many of us non-Orthodox Jews.
So why do so many (mostly Ashkenazi) Orthodox married women wear wigs/sheitlach, rather than other forms of kisuyei rosh (head-coverings)?
Being some semblance of a good Jew, I'll answer a question with a question. :)
What do all of these have in common?
(a) An Orthodox Jewish man's kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap
(b) A religious Muslim woman's headscarf
(c) A religious Muslim man's head-covering (keffiyah, Bukharian-style head-covering, kippah-style head-covering, etc.)
(d) The turban wore by men of the Sikh religion
The answer to the second question holds the key to the first question: All of these head-coverings are identifiable as religious and/or ethnic garments even by persons of other religions and/or ethnic groups.
That's why you're not allowed to wear a hat in court, but you are allowed to wear a kippah (to the best of my knowledge).
A hat is not always identifiable to persons of other religions or ethnic groups as a religious symbol. Perhaps one could have gotten away with wearing a hat to work fifty years ago, when the wearing of hats by women was common, but now, it often seems out of place in a secular setting. In fact, in one office in which I worked many years ago, the wearing of any head-covering was forbidden, unless it was for religious reasons. So how does a woman prove to her boss that she wears a head-covering for religious reasons when the head-covering that she wears is not identiably a religious garment?
A scarf or snood is even worse--not only is it not always identifiable to persons of other religions or ethnic groups as a religious symbol, but, in addition, it's considered too informal to be worn in many professional settings.
Ironically enough, some reasons why women wear sheitlach come from opposite ends of the spectrum:
(a) In some circles, a sheitel is considered the most modest hair covering because (aside from a "fall," a partial wig that can expose the front of the real hair), a sheitel generally covers every last strand of hair.
(b) On the other hand, sheitlach are sometimes considered halachic (Jewish law) "cheats," in that they allow a woman to maintain a certain level of vanity while still being officially modest. Some rabbis have actually encouraged the wearing of sheitlach on precisely these grounds: Women who would normally not consent to hide their hair will do so if they can wear someone else's hair instead.
I've always considered the wearing of a sheitel to be hypocritical: I've never seen any point in covering one's own hair with other hair--either a woman covers her hair or she doesn't. It's not so much that I've changed my mind on that score--it's just that, reality being what it is in the Galut/Diaspora, I've developed a certain amount of sympathy for women who either don't wish to be conspicuous for a reason that's incomprehensible to 99% of the population or who, professionally-speaking, literally can't afford to be that conspicuous.



Blogger The back of the hill said...

Being a shameless panderer of my own blog at times, I post here the link to my own sheitel posting:

Grisn, y'all, and a gitte, gebentshte shabbes.

Fri Aug 25, 04:45:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not all sheitlach cost a fortune. You can get an excellent quality synthetic wig for under $200, and no one will be any the wiser, and you can get a human hair wig for a few hundred as well, though the hair won't be as high-quality as the expensive ones.

I wear a sheitel because I like to look and feel like myself, period. It has nothing to do with what other people think or will think when they see me, and I don't care who knows or doesn't know that my hair is covered. G-d knows it's covered, and I know, and that's all that matters in the grand scheme. I also would cover my hair anyway if sheitlach weren't an option, but I'm very glad to have them as an option. I just don't like the way I look in hats or scarves. Sometimes people's reasoning is as simple as that.

Fri Aug 25, 06:08:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I've taken Back of the Hill's URL and created a link to his post: This is pretty much the problem I have with sheitlach, as stated by:
Back of the Hill's post.

"Yet a good wig can mislead other women (who cannot see that it is fake, and may therefore assume that if a woman who is known to be respectable and frum is showing hair, it is acceptable to do so), and may in fact be as immodest in its effects as flaunting a luxurious head of hair for men to see, to smell, nay even to brush their faces against on the bus, inhaling deeply of its delicate aroma of perfumed shampoo."

I think that part of the problem with sheitlach in particular, and head-covering in general, is that no one really seems to have a definitive reason why married Jewish women cover their heads. If a woman covers her head for the purpose of tzniut (modesty), then why is that custom/law (depending on your haskafash/religious point of view) restricted to married women? If a woman covers her head for the purpose of signaling to men other than her husband that's she's married, then why is a woman not free to remove her head-covering after becoming a widow or divorcee? See here.

In either case, a sheitel only works if it's obvious enough to be identifiable as a sheitel, *unless* Sara G., we follow your *third* approach and posit that the sheitel makes you modest before G-d only, and that that's the only thing that counts.

*Now* do you see why I'm confused?

Sun Aug 27, 12:17:00 PM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Ask Shifra weighed in on this recently. I think her bottom line is (and my wife agreed): If you wear a scarf or a little hat, you're identifying yourself "other". And as much as we like to think we live in an enlightened society, we don't, and if you're one of the "others" then you're not one of "them." And likely to be considered weird, eccentric, and passed up for promotion.

Of course, this doesn't help men, as we still have to wear our kippahs (or not, as many have taken to doing again, sigh).

That being said, I'm willing to wager that most women who wear sheitels are not professionals in the workforce, or work for other frum people, and personally, I still don't get it.

Sun Aug 27, 10:41:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Mark/PT, that's pretty much what I meant when I said that I'd developed a certain amount of sympathy for woman who are uncomfortable with being so conspicuous, and/or can't afford to be so conspicuous.

On the other hand, it's interesting that a number of my female co-workers wear sheitlach despite the fact that we work for an Orthodox Jewish organization. Even being conspicuous where conspicuousness is deemed acceptable can be a difficult thing for many.

Sun Aug 27, 11:45:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Fran In NH said...

Once upon a time, about 25yrs ago (Yikes! Am I THAT old?), I got into what I call "Crazy Orthodoxy" with its "chumrah of the week" and "more machmir" nonsense, so I know exactly how you feel. For me, the sheitel was uncomfortable and hot! My head would sweat profusely and itch like a nest of bedbugs, even in winter. Actually, though, I liked wearing one---because I didn't have to bother with my hair! Mine was a short, synthetic fiber wig that looked good on me---better than my OWN hair, in fact. But there is a problem with sheitlach appearing to be too natural. The "crazies" decided to not only wear a wig but put a hat on TOP of it as well! Frankly, at that point I doffed the sheitel in disgust.
These days, unfortunately, it might not be SAFE to "announce" ourselves as Jews by such means, and our Muslim sisters have the same problem here! I believe that Rambam permits one to dress a bit less "distinctly" in times of peril, but only up to a point. One cannot, for example, specifically DENY that one is Jewish if asked, but it IS allowed to answer in a vague way that neither denies NOR confirms the accusation.(a shrug, perhaps? or an indignant "Do I LOOK Jewish?" riposte? Who knows?)
At any rate, it's a touchy issue. Personally, I feel we should be free to fully express our ethnicity; after all, this IS America. But workplace rules on dress are permitted---especially for safety's sake (picture a flowing burkah getting caught in a fan, or long sleeves catching on something like a printing machine...a bit farfetched, maybe, but possible), and even de Tocqueville commented on our seemingly innate urge to "conform" almost 250 years ago. For myself, I miss my sheitel at times. Sigh. It WAS easier living in NYC, where there were so many Orthodox communities. Here in NH there is barely a Chabad House! Well, I guess my "point" is that we're always "in the middle", being ordered this way and that by Rabbis who rush to poskin so as to be "authoritative", the "last word", so to speak---and it's the old "three Jews, six opinions" dilemma! I'll stop now, before I get incoherent.

Mon Aug 28, 07:42:00 PM 2006  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

"Do I LOOK Jewish?"

If you answer a question with another question, then they will KNOW that you're Jewish!

Mon Aug 28, 08:16:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Reva, I never could understand that "head-covering on top of a head-covering" business.

I hadn't even considered the possibility that conspicuousness might be a safety hazard.

Mark/PT, LOL! :)

Tue Aug 29, 12:03:00 AM 2006  

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