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5 Iyar 5762 - April 17, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Importance of Sheitels in our Troubled Times

by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk
Author of Oz Vehodor Levushoh

Part I

Returning our Crown to its Original Glory

The Jewish people are at present united in feelings of concern and anxiety, due to the daily distressing happenings in Eretz Yisroel. For many months there have been numerous shootings and mass bombings. These have claimed hundreds of Jewish lives and maimed many hundreds of people for life, Hashem yeracheim. Since no one knows what severe danger lurks around the corner, everyone is affected in a most immediate manner. Instead of these troubles abating after so many months, the situation is becoming progressively worse, with the future clouded with worrying uncertainty. At a time like this, apart from davening and begging Hashem Yisborach for mercy, it is our duty to investigate the spiritual causes of the present state of affairs, so that we can improve our ways and thereby arouse heavenly compassion upon ourselves and acheinu bnei Yisroel (See Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:17).

In a public letter written in the year 1924 (5684) (published at the end of the Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah, page 322) the Chofetz Chaim wrote that he was convinced that the severe troubles that befell Klal Yisroel at that time were due to a lack of tznius. He mentions in particular the fact that married women did not cover their hair indoors nor even outdoors.

He bases his causal analysis on the fact that the troubles of those times gave rise to a feeling that Hashem had chas vesholom forsaken and abandoned His people to the wicked devices of their enemies. The only place where the Torah writes the frightening words "Hashem will forsake you" is in conjunction with pritzus, as the Torah writes: "Velo yeiro'eh becho ervas dovor veshov mei'acharecho - - Hashem shall not see nakedness on you, [for if He does] He will forsake you" (Devorim 23:15). The Chofetz Chaim therefore pointed an accusing finger at pritzus as the cause for the severe troubles that befell Klal Yisroel in those times.

We are at present in the throes of a seemingly endless string of tzoros that threaten to engulf the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. The nature of these troubles is such that we once again feel totally abandoned and helpless. In line with the Chofetz Chaim's words just quoted, we must assume that a serious lack of tznius is at least one of the main underlying causes for the present condition.

Nowadays, Orthodox women certainly do not leave their hair uncovered. However, many wear hair-coverings that are totally inappropriate and, according to a wide range of poskim, constitute an issur min haTorah.

The Torah requires a married woman to conceal her hair from the eyes of the public in order to lessen the attraction to her. Amongst the many revealed and hidden reasons for this mitzvah, the following two are relevant and are of paramount importance. Whilst an unmarried maiden may attract attention to herself (within the boundaries of tznius) so that she is sought after and eventually marries (Taanis 13a and Kesuvos 52b), a married woman is not to attract attention to herself (Kesuvos 72a Rashi s.v. Azhara and Ritvo). For this reason the hair of a married woman, which is naturally a major source of attraction, must be covered and hidden from the eye of the public.

A similar but further reason for this mitzvah is as follows. The posuk states, "Stolen waters are sweet" (Mishlei 9:17). Due to this there is a special yetzer hora for a married woman as she is an eishes ish (see Sanhedrin 75a and Avoda Zorah 20a). The mitzvah of kisuy sa'aros was given to lessen a potential source of attraction to such a person (See sefer Oz Vehodor Levushoh, pages 243-244). It follows that to wear a head covering that can easily pass as her own hair defeats the function of this mitzvah completely, as a man seeing her can think that he is seeing her own hair and be attracted by it, especially when he does not know who she is or whether she is married or not.

Responsa Chesed Le'Avrohom (Even Hoezer 87) writes as follows: "Sheitels that are made to such perfection that the woman wearing them appears to be showing her maiden hair are, in my opinion, forbidden min haTorah. A married woman's hair must be covered to prevent attraction. It therefore makes no difference whether her own hair or other hair causes this attraction. They are one and the same and forbidden min HaTorah." The same is written in the Yeshuos Yaakov (by the great Gaon HaRav Yaakov Orenstein zt'l) Orach Chaim 75:3.

A further reason to forbid natural-looking sheitels is the issur of maris ho'ayin, as many observers will not be able to discern whether this woman has covered her hair or not (See Responsa Mahril Diskin, Kuntrus Acharon 203). Even nowadays, when the non- recognizable sheitel has become so widespread, it still happens every now and then that women (and all the more so men) are under the impression that a woman has not covered her hair, due to the exceptionally deceptive appearance of her sheitel. This is especially so when shortly after her chasunah a young woman appears in public looking exactly as she looked before her chasunah when she was a girl.

In fact, one cannot know what the outcome of this type of wrongdoing can be. The great posek the Beis Yitzchok writes that in his time some women no longer covered their hair at all, knowing they could "get away with it," as people would think they had covered their hair with a super-perfect sheitel (See last few lines of Responsa Beis Yitzchok Orach Chaim 15).

The present-day gedolei haposkim have similarly stated that it is ossur and wholly incorrect for a sheitel to be made to simulate the maiden appearance of a woman. In a proclamation from year 5750 a central paragraph reads as follows:

"The sheitel is intended as a covering for the woman's hair. It can be considered as such only when it can be recognized as a sheitel. If it looks exactly as natural hair, it cannot be considered to screen off what is supposed to be hidden. By wearing such a sheitel the wearer ensnares those who see her in very serious issurim."

The proclamation was made in the name of the geonim, HaGaon HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner and HaGaon HaRav Nissim Karelitz.

An Emergency

This article is an S.O.S. call (Save Our Sheitels) before things become even worse and this mitzvah becomes chas vesholom a mockery in the eyes of our daughters. It is addressed to Orthodox women in their many countries of residence as it is an international problem that needs to be addressed universally. It is hoped that by offering an analysis of the motivations behind the many styles that abound nowadays, and stating what actual effect these styles have, people who earnestly want to do what is right will find guidance for both the hashkofoh and practical fulfillment of this mitzvah.

Much has already been explained about the background and halachic requirements of this mitzvah in the sefer Oz Vehodor Levushoh, pages 227-253, However, an up-to-date analysis of styles that may seem acceptable as they cover all the woman's true hair, but are in fact totally unsuitable, was not incorporated into the sefer. This article has been written to fill this urgent need.

* * *

On careful analysis it is apparent that there are a number of purposeful ploys that are used by manufacturers to cause a sheitel to look as if it were the woman's own hair. These must be avoided, as explained. They are as follows:

A. Sheitels with a White Parting

The net onto which the hairs of a sheitel are attached is usually dark colored in contrast to the human scalp which is white. Nowadays there are those who dye the net white in the immediate area of the parting, so that the parting is a distinct white line and very much like the scalp.

Although many who wear such a sheitel have no bad intentions and many are not even aware that it is wrong to camouflage a sheitel, it still remains a very wrong practice and a devastation to the content of this mitzvah.

If a sheitel has a white parting, it can be made kosher by darkening the net in the area of the parting, so that it is uniform with the rest of the net. This can be done with the aid of a permanent marker or similar implement.

B. Skin-Top Sheitels

Just as it is wrong for a sheitel to have a white parting, as explained in the previous point, so it is wrong for a sheitel to be a skin-top. This is a sheitel where the complete net at the base of the hairs is white (not just the area of the parting). This looks exactly like a girl's hair since there too when a girl's hair moves sideways or lifts up, part of the light colored scalp can be seen -- hence these sheitels are called "skin-top sheitels."

These sheitels are manufactured by inserting the hairs into the holes of the net and gluing them into position from the inside, in contrast to the usual way in which the hairs are knotted onto the net. Since the hairs come straight out of the net, the sheitel has a very natural look, as the hair comes out of the net very much as hair comes out of the head.

C. Laced Sheitels

One of the worst wrongdoings that are perpetrated concerning sheitels is the laced sheitel. This is a sheitel in which the frontal hair that is over the forehead is back-brushed. It is done in a way that the observer imagines is only possible with maiden hair which grows out of the scalp and can easily be back- brushed.

This "trick" is accomplished in two different ways. Some actually allow some of their own hair to show and then back- brush these hairs over the front of the sheitel. The extreme wrongdoing of this type of conduct speaks for itself -- see Mishna Berurah 75:10 that all the hair must be covered. See also Oz Vehodor Levushoh 5:C.

A second method uses a net with a transparent plastic with a mat finish. This plastic extends slightly beyond the front of the sheitel and blends into the surface on which it lies. Hence, the frontal hairs can be brushed back giving a very natural finish to the complete sheitel.

D. High Quality Sheitels with Ultra-Flat Fronts

The hair-style of girls is mostly very flat at the front over the forehead. Sheitels, even when made of good quality human hair are largely recognizable (unless subject to one of the methods of deception described in the other numbers in this article) by the way that the hair is not flat and low over the forehead.

Sheitels are being made with silk or nylon nets which have much finer holes than a standard net made of gauze and therefore require much less hair than those that have a traditional net. With a usual sheitel five to seven hairs are fixed into each hole giving the sheitel quite some body, whereas with the ultra-flat sheitel one to three hairs are fixed into the holes as they are very tiny indeed. As a result, the sheitel lies exceptionally low and flat on the head. Also, having very small holes, the hairs are often attached to the net by just one knot, whilst with other sheitels every hair is attached by a double knot which adds to the thickness of the sheitel. When a woman wears such an ultraflat sheitel it is difficult to discern whether it is in fact a sheitel or the young woman's maiden hair.

This problem is compounded and completed when the sheitel is a "true custom sheitel" made from high quality human hair. Such a sheitel has four qualities. (A) the human hair has not been bleached. This in turn ensures that the original luster of the hair has been maintained. (B) The hair has not been dyed and consequently looks far more natural than dyed hair. (C) The hair has been attached to the net in the direction in which it grew i.e. the end nearest to the scalp is likewise nearest to the net. (D) The hair is very well matched and originates from as few people as possible, which assists greatly in preserving the hair's natural look.

A sheitel with these qualities, known as a "true custom sheitel," looks close to natural but can still be detected from the raised front with which it is different to the flat hair style of girls. However, when the front is also very flat and shallow it has the present-day style of girls, and cannot be detected at all, not even from the front. When this is the case, the camouflage is virtually complete (except to a highly professional eye). Since when wearing such a sheitel a young woman looks like an unmarried girl, the sheitel is forbidden.

In fact, some authorities do not allow true custom sheitels even when they do not have an ultra-flat front and are recognizable from the front. Apparently, this is because they are not recognizable from the rear. Furthermore, should the hair style of girls change, they would not be recognizable even from the front.

The exorbitant prices of the more expensive custom sheitels is a further reason for much concern. Under the excuse that custom sheitels last much longer than the other ones (which is true to a degree -- the custom sheitel might last three or four times longer than other ones) unjustified prices of thousands of dollars are being charged, which are many, many times the price of the more basic sheitels. These costly sheitels have become a status symbol with all the unhealthy and unpleasant consequences and ramifications that follow from such status symbols.

E. Long Sheitels

When a sheitel is longer than shoulder-length, it sways freely with the movement of the head and with the general movement of the body. This swaying is similar to that of living hair, which is particularly bouncy and sways easily. Such a sheitel therefore gives the wearer a distinct girl- like look.

In contrast, a short-haired sheitel lies flat on the head even when not tied down and does not sway. This is very different from the loose, short hair of a girl which, although not swayed by the body, is alive and wavy. (There are, however, other features that can trick the onlooker into believing that even a short sheitel is real hair, as explained). This point has been confirmed by two long- established professionals. It is therefore wrong to wear a sheitel that is longer than shoulder-length.

Although a long sheitel that lies on the back is not totally camouflaged and can still be recognized as a sheitel because of the front which stands high (in contrast with a girl's hair) nevertheless, such a sheitel is unfit and fully incorrect to wear. This is because this style is naturally girl-like and at first sight this sheitel gives a very wrong impression.

A long-open sheitel has a further shortcoming. This style (long and open) is unrefined and the open flowing hair often gives an impression of begging for attention even on a girl (and according to some poskim is therefore halachically forbidden -- see Mishnah Berurah 75:12 in name of Mogen Avrohom). Such a style is all the more unfitting for a married woman of whom the Torah expects extra tznius concerning her hair.

Due to both these reasons sheitels should be no longer than shoulder-length, whether manufactured from human hair, blended or made completely from synthetic hair. Even if the husband very much wishes that his wife wear a long sheitel, this is no justification for her to wear such a sheitel in public.

In Eretz Yisroel, gedolei Yisroel insist that sheitels should be short enough that they do not actually reach the shoulders. In this way the hairs remain totally dormant and are not affected by the movement of the shoulders and the like. Although this is not the accepted ruling in all communities, it underscores the need for sheitels to be short not long, thereby maintaining the grace and majesty of neshei Yisroel.

End of Part I

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