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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 (147)
February 23, 2017
JAYpea, the purpose is to cover the natural hair. There are few rules, it can be any color or almost any material, but for modesty reasons (good taste/not showing off) many choose something similar to their natural color. (a combination of linen and wool is generally forbidden in any garment). There was a concern regarding some hair from India that originated as a Hindu temple sacrifice which would be inappropriate for a Jewess to wear. Other than that it is in principle no different than any hat or scarf. Same goes for a yarmulke, btw.
Gil
Ny
February 23, 2017
Elle from South Africa is writing that an expensive wig "no doubt is of hair that another woman sold BECAUSE SHE HAD TO " ... That's plain being against Jews, nothing else. Where from does she assume that hair for wigs are forced out of other women ???
A lot of the comments are seen from the man's or outsider's side, while the rabbi clearly writes that the barrier is in the woman's own knowledge of being unavailable, which by the way will show in many many other ways. And if somebody is in a doubt and want to start up with her, cant he just ask ? What is it anybody's business whether a woman in a bus is married visibly acc. to our tradition or not? Does it give a man permission to sit on her lap if she is not? I think the answer was nice. At the same time, I agree that if a woman wants everybody to know that she is married by her head covering may be a very beautiful sheitl isn't the way of showing it. It still doesn'
t take away her own cognitive or physical experience of being cover
Anonymous
February 22, 2017
My two cents is that the Sheitel must be as modest as one would wear their hair in public. Meaning all of our dress should be modest. Attractive, beautiful yes..
Screaming for attention - no. The scarf/ wig debate is not really a debate. Do what you like. But always no matter what have a spirit of modesty- That is truly beautiful!
naomi
ga
February 22, 2017
Wigs worn by Jewish women
What's the wig made from ? Can it be real hair or does it have to be nylon - does it have to be dark or can it be light or say 'red ' to fit in with skin color and freckles . Does it need to be blessed or certified kosher? And what about if it comes from a non Jewish country ? Are there special shops one needs to go to, to buy the right wig? Curious mind here. No malice intended, just curious...
JAYpea
Sydney,Australia
February 22, 2017
This explanation is a little disingenuous, since covering the hair as Muslim women do with a scarf, does create distance and keep an aspect of a woman's beauty private. Simulating her hair with an expensive wig that makes use, no doubt of the hair of another man's wife who has sold it because she has to, makes a travesty of the intention.
Elle
South Africa
February 22, 2017
Tzniut and Hair Covering
Of course the Torah would never ask women to look unattractive, & modesty doesn't mean that at all. However, at thousands of dollars a shot, today's sheitels are far from what the whole principle of hair covering is about. I personally (an orthodox married woman) cannot tell what is a Sheital or what is an amazing head of hair!! I assume that a married orthodox woman is covering her hair, but seriously you can't tell, and the sheitals today look so much better than the woman's hair ever did.
If it is a message to men that this woman is taken, not for him, how can he tell that she's covering her hair if I can't!!??
For this reason I have stopped wearing sheitals (& I was wearing cheapy synthetic ones) because non-religious men I work with had no clue!!! I wear berets & hats to cover my hair, & now that everyone knows that I am an Orthodox married woman, I am more careful to act in a way that is a Kiddush Hashem. B"H I live in Israel where this is accepted & normal & true modesty.
Rene Moskovitz
Israel
February 21, 2017
So after all, how a single man can tell if a woman is available or not? If a wig is the same as natural hair??? What the heck is wrong with this picture??
A wig doesn't cover hair but exposes hair and when you can't difference between them, then what??? Mr Moss you make no SENSE AT ALL
Ary
U.S
February 21, 2017
Should divorced with no kids cover hair ? by that logic the answer is no. as at this point i am available to date.....
Anonymous
February 21, 2017
When I wore scarves to corner my hair, I felt very exposed. My face was just out there, with no hair to hide behind. Or to distract.
Anonymous
Virginia
February 21, 2017
deeper meaning
isnt it true that the wig is more than just modesty?
i thought the wig was similar to why levites in the temple shaved their hair? becuase the impure forces reside on the hair and because levites serving in the temple was so holy, impurity tried to connect with that and hence the shaving off the hair to not allow that.
similar with the Jewish women, she possesses so much holiness (mikvah etc..) so impure forces want to hold onto that holiness and they can damage her life, her husband and children's life (spiritually and physically), so she covers her hair to not allow those forces to reside on her hair and effect her household!
sarah
NY