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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 (124)
February 26, 2015
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.
I agree. Outer modesty isn't about covering yourself to hide yourself, it's about guarding the spark of G-dliness in our hearts. And to those of you bashing women who do cover their hair, you need to stop it right now. I know a woman who uses headscarves and let me tell you, that lady can rock it. Modesty isn't about making yourself look frumpy or unattractive. These women choose to dress modestly as per Jewish law, and they have every right to do so without fear of insult. Modesty shows the world that we're people, not bits of meat. The way I see it, modesty doesn't cover, it reveals us. It tells the world, "I'm Jewish, I always will be and you know what? I'm proud to be."
Sam Leon
February 14, 2015
Absolute rubbish
If the wig cannot be distinguished from the hair , how is that a message.
You have fallen into the trap if talking more rubbish to excuse other rubbish.
Sydney Kaye
Cape Town
February 9, 2015
don't agree
making yourself attractive while married increases the transgressors among men...the contradictions of your statements come through as you read your analysis...you don't speak for all Jews as you say you do... i agree that it is to make you unattractive and therefor to help onlookers, especially Jewish ones, control their desires...
Anonymous
los angeles
February 6, 2015
What's with the Wig?
I don't like wigs myself, and there's a group in the Mea Shearim District of Jerusalem that doesn't "allow" wigs.

Also, wigs can be as attractive as a woman's real hair, and I don't see any modesty in that!
Lisa
Providence, RI
January 10, 2015
modesty in marriage
What do men do to create privacy and modesty so he is only attractive to his wife and not others?
cathy G
new jersey
January 1, 2015
This sounds reasonable until you think - why don't the men have to shave their heads and wear wigs? Clearly it's not about privacy, it's about possession - it's about women making it know that they belong to their husbands. A horrible tradition that simply perpetuates the patriarchy.
Anonymous
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
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