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The Meaning of Hair Covering

The Meaning of Hair Covering

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Question

I heard an anthropologist talking about shaitels (wigs). He said how ironic it is that observant Jewish women wear wigs. In biblical Judaism, the rule was that married women should cover their hair in order to be modest and unattractive. In more recent times, women wear wigs, which are sometimes more attractive than natural hair. So wearing a wig actually defeats the whole purpose of covering the hair! He was giving this as an example of how cultures forget the reasons behind their ancient traditions, and customs can evolve in a way that contradicts their original intent. Do you have any comments?

Answer:

That anthropologist has not only mistaken a wig for real hair, but has also confused true modesty for his own version. He equates modesty with unattractiveness, but that is his definition, not Judaism's. From the Jewish perspective, modesty has nothing to do with being unattractive. Rather, modesty is a means to create privacy. And that is what a wig achieves.

Modesty has nothing to do with being unattractive The hair-covering was never intended to make a married woman look ugly. Beauty is a divine gift, and Jewish tradition encourages both men and women to care for their appearance and always look presentable. Jewish tradition also encourages modesty; not in order to detract from our beauty, but rather to channel our beauty and attractiveness so it be saved for where it belongs -- within marriage.

By covering her hair, the married woman makes a statement: "I am not available. You can see me but I am not open to the public. Even my hair, the most obvious and visible part of me, is not for your eyes."

The hair-covering has a profound effect on the wearer. It creates a psychological barrier, a cognitive distance between her and strangers. Her beauty becomes visible but inconspicuous; she is attractive but unavailable.

The wig achieves the desired effect exactly, because a wig allows a woman to cover all her hair, while maintaining her attractive appearance. She can be proud of the way she looks without compromising her privacy. And even if her wig looks so real as to be mistaken for natural hair, she knows that no one is looking at the real her. She has created a private space, and only she decides who to let into that space.

Perhaps in other religions modesty and beauty don't mix. This is not the Jewish view. True beauty, inner beauty, needs modesty to protect it and allow it to thrive.

Aron Moss is rabbi of the Nefesh Community in Sydney, Australia, and is a frequent contributor to Chabad.org.
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Discussion (118)
November 29, 2014
Orthodox women's hair coverings often look goofy and unattractive - wigs, scarves, snoods, et alia. I have seen Muslim women wearing gorgeous silk scarves covering their hair and framing their face. If a Jewish woman desires to conceal her hair, this would be a more attractive and less frumpy-looking alternative. Of course that could cause them to be mistaken for Muslim. Horrors!
Caldog
California
October 28, 2014
Thank you for clarifying. However, from what I know about Judaism, this explanation only covers the Chabad version of it. Other orthodox views (Sephardic, for example, who never used to wear wigs, because wigs came from the European tradition) would not agree with Chabad approach. A few years ago I read the Rebbe's article about wigs (God bless his soul) and I remember thinking that wigs is a good options for women in AMERICA. He never suggested that women in Israel should wear wigs. He was the one advocating wigs and at the beginning women would not want to wear them, even his wife (God bless her soul) was resisting this idea. With the cultural pressure, in America it is understandable, however, for wigs to be a better option than head scarves. A head scarf gives a certain ethnic look to a woman, which not everyone can pull off, and does not always match every style of clothing. Wigs are much easier to wear and match.
Esther
Miami, Fl
September 1, 2014
Hair covering question - girls
I have noticed that Haredi and Orthodox girls who are clearly much too young to be married often wear wide hairbands and alice bands. Is that to get them in the habit, so that when they get married it's not such a shock, or is it just a fashion choice? I thought that halakhically-speaking unmarried girls should NOT cover their hair, so does that mean a wide hairband doesn't count as "covering"?
Lucy
London
November 21, 2013
Hair covering
I have been researching and studying this recently, and, being Native American in part heritage I have learned that the hair is an antenna to the brain and receives energy.
For the woman she receives masculine influence, so when she agrees to marry, covering her hair is a sign of submission and protects her from the influence of males other than her husband or father. So, women approach the wedding altar with a veil, which is then lifted by her husband and her hair is from then on only exposed to his influence, meaning she covers it even in her home when in the presence of other males, except her father and husband.
I believe this is the best explanation I have come across that does not focus on 'beauty' or privacy, although it does make a statement to the world that you have chosen to submit to one man and are not open to the influence of others. Hmmm, what a different world it would be if our married women followed this rule!
Lisa
NB, TX
October 21, 2013
Head coverings
I have found since I started wearing a head covering, that I get more respect from those that I come into contact with. Even though I think that I look less attractive, the respect is more important to me. I also have a great head of hair and seldom ever have a bad hair day, that was before. Now there is no such thing as a bad hair day. My non-Jewish friends have seen me transform my look and they don't know what to think, so I just tell them that with the way the morality of our country has declined, I choose to become more modest, hoping to be a light in the darkness.
To those who have a sensitive head, gluten intolerance may be a cause due to the heightened inflammation that gluten causes our nerves.
Shalom.
Shoshanah Brenner
September 17, 2013
Mrs Shapiro
I began keeping kosher 15 years ago; that was the extent of my keeping the mitzvot. Since then, I've done little else. I only began keeping the Shabbat two weeks ago! From watching football on the Sabbath to reading everything on covering one's hair, all in two weeks! B"H.

What have I learned? In adding one of the most important mitzvot, Hashem is blessing me with understanding, motivation and willingness to get serious about others. When we give up a bad habit for a good one, we become more disciplined. This applies just as much to observance.

Until now, I never once considered covering my hair. Hashem blessed me with a gorgeous head of hair; it takes me 7 minutes, I've never had a "bad hair," and I'm complimented wherever I go. I also didn't want to be thought of as a Muslim. BUT, I know that ease, convenience, beauty and community perception has nothing to do with Jewish law.

I'll report back when I begin this act of Tzniut!
Anonymous
U.S.A
May 14, 2013
I became a Jew-by-Choice at age 15 and converted Orthodox at 16 . I am 55 now. I raied my kids ( their father was a Jew in title onyl) but I sent them to Day School, kept a Kosher home and continued to cover my hair. After my youngert went to college I moved to take a job in a rural part of Ohio , where if Jews were there they were in secreat. I stopped covering and kept my belifes to myself because to do otherwise was frankly dangerous for me. I moved to Jersey where of course I can do as I please and I cover again, but also like to wear snoods daily ( I am on disability and do not work). I walk my dog, go to the store and except that I am sometimes mistaken for Muslim whick I quicky correct) I love wearing them so much more comfortable then wigs - except when I go to Shul. Is there a problem with this ? Im I suppose to wear wigs instead of snoods- they are pretty not dreary and I get many complements and lots of respect. I also dress modestly but fashionable. Is this wrong?
Angel-Orah
Jersey City,NJ
February 16, 2012
Confirmation bias
The ruling is that women cover their hair not just the head and like many commandments their is a spiritual and worldly reason we do them. Hair is THE symbol of a woman's sexuality. Real or not, it's the symbolism that matters and it's just as important how it represent your image to others as much as it does to your inner self. While I admire the notion of inner privacy, covering alone doesn't fulfil this purpose. If you wore a fully see through jacket, even if it covered up to your neckline and wrist, the purpose is defeated simply by revealing that which speaks "sexuality"
This isn't just an issue of judaism but the psychological implications it does to others just defeats the concept of wearing a wig. If the wig was OBVIOUSLY fake that is another issue, but the wigs today, IN NO WAY, say "I am unavailable" as I have witnessed several instances of confused men.
For the record, I'm married and I prefer my wife wear nothing than wear a wig.
Anonymous
New York, NY
February 2, 2012
the rules of engagement
with respect to hair and all other rules that pertain to relationship with G_d vary within Judaism itself and certainly around the world.

we are free to choose how we are and if there weren't such glorious diveristy of ways of worshipping and being, the world would be too uniform a place. Some would say, we need to celebrate all diveristy and I would so totally endorse this.

I passed a license plate the other day that read: HEIR, and I had to think about HAIR, aurally the same, and also heirlooms, what we all pass down, and that includes all kind of looms and weaves and even today, women put "weaves" into their hair. I see amazement when I look at language and feel we do totally actualize the potentials within the words themselves.

So let's not put on "airs" and let's celebrate each other in diversity!
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
February 1, 2012
Rochel, thank you for explaining.
I cannot conceive of my following every letter of Jewish law so strictly. I think I would automatically be a failure if I adhered to such strict rules. Also, my scalp would itch constantly, since I am allergic to so many things and sensitive to pressure on my head. I can't even use hair clips or a headband.
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA
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