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The Meaning of Hair Covering

The Meaning of Hair Covering



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?


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
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Anonymous Fort Worth May 9, 2017

Wigs don't have to be crazy expensive. A local beauty store in my area sells many beautiful and modest synthetic wigs (with no linen and wool mixture) for anywhere between $20-50. On average I pay $30 for a nice, short brown one.
I personally want mine to look like a sheitel when it's on, but always a nice one, so I own a couple that are very similar but just different enough in texture and color for coworkers to realize it isnt my real hair. That has been nice because it's opened up some good opportunities to educate people about different aspects of Judaism. Peoe see a scarf and dont tend to ask questions because they assume it's just a Jewish thing (in my experience anyway), but many peoe dont understand why someone with hair would wear a wig because they've never heard of it having a religious connection. So then I get to explain the deeper meaning of Jewish modesty and marraige which leads to other questions & a better understanding between cultures. It's been very nice actually. Reply

Jay Pea Sydney Australia April 22, 2017

Hair /wigs used as head covering Well, no one has so far been able to answer my original question posted on this quite interesting blog. Jewish I am not, Christian by definition, atheist and transhumanist is more where I would fit these days in my worldview. I am hoping this is not what is stifling this interesting point of where does the wig comes from. Why can't it just be a Bonet or a beautiful scarf ? Reply

Angelynda Orah New Jersey April 24, 2017
in response to Jay Pea:

it can not be a * bonet * and it IS a beautiful scarf, worn by Jewish, Muslim women to show our love and respect for G-d. it goes b another name Tishel, and we Jewish women are proud of it. it is up to the woman if she would rather wear a Tishel or a beautiful wig. bc we Jewish women have choices , just like other women. you may choose not to cover at all, although many do cover. please educate yourself before speaking. thank you. Reply

Jean-Paul Bruneteau April 27, 2017
in response to Angelynda Orah:

'Please educate yourself before speaking' I guessed you meant 'before you ask or write' The reason I am here in the first place , had you read my earlier post, was to find out if the hair could be be made from the hair of any other woman in the world regardless of her faith. Did the hair need to be Kosher? So need to be snappy about it Lady. Reply

Lilith Rachel Red Oak, IA April 18, 2017

I am a Reform woman, and I cover my hair with a Tichel. I feel called to it, as a married Jew, to connect with my community , and it makes me feel powerful and modest at the same time knowing my glory is only for my husband's eyes. I am alone in my small town, as the only Jewish woman, and it also helps me connect to my Jewishness. Reply

Angelynda Orah New Jersey April 24, 2017
in response to Lilith Rachel:

good for you !!! as a Reform woman I do the same 😃 Reply

Andrew Werner Miami December 5, 2017
in response to Lilith Rachel:

I love hearing about the strength you feel in the outward expression of your inner commitment to your beliefs and people. I also grew up in a small town as part of the only Jewish (although non-observant) family. I think that my being disconnected as a child moved me to seek and live a greater connection as an adult. Reply

Lilith Rachel Red Oak September 3, 2017
in response to Angelynda Orah:

Word! Sometimes I wear hijabi. Hijab means "separation," and that is what a Tichel does, so it's another style. I like all the choices we have with tichels & hijabi. Reply

Anonymous U.S March 15, 2017

If Jewish women are supposed to show modesty and maintain their privacy, then why not cover it like Muslims? In fact, I have seen a number of Jewish women who cover their heads instead of just putting on a wig that contradicts with the original purpose of modesty. Putting a wig on, in my opinion, doesn't fall under the category of modesty. In fact, sometimes it fulfills the complete exact opposite purpose! Reply

Gil Ny 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. Reply

Jean-Paul Bruneteau Sydney April 27, 2017
in response to Gil:

Thank you for your kind reply Reply

Anonymous 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 Reply

Elle Cape Town April 24, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Hilarious. This is the same insularity and defensiveness that interprets any criticism of Israel's policies as anti-semitic. I am born Jewish, identify as Jewish and have a deep abiding love for my people, and their traditions. The fact that I find the contemporary interpretation of the Sheitel deeply troublesome, doesn't make me an anti-semite. It is a modern custom that, if the wearer is fortunate enough to be able to afford a quality sheitel ( and I know women who have several in different lengths and styles) usually enhances the wearer, making her more attractive to the male gaze. Just saying. Reply

Jonathan Stebbins Cleveland August 30, 2017
in response to Elle:

So women should comport themselves to avoid whatever possible desires men may have? Women set their boundaries, not passing men Reply

naomi ga 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! Reply

JAYpea Sydney,Australia 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... Reply

Elle South Africa 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. Reply

Rene Moskovitz Israel 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. Reply

Ary U.S 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 Reply

Anonymous 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..... Reply

Anonymous Virginia 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. Reply

sarah NY 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! Reply

Jewel Hubbard Beaufort February 15, 2017

Nice Reply

Sharon Prentice La Quinta, CA January 9, 2017

Wigs, head coverings, and blessings I wonder if I am the only Catholic to visit this site!

I am interested all religions but often have trouble finding sources that do not tout one faith and revile another. Very few facts and explanations are to be found. This is an exception, or maybe that's just Judaism. Thank you.

As someone who knows absolutely nothing about the topic, I am going to give my opinion anyway. If a woman offers up to the Lord a devotion, whether shaving her head and covering it with a wig or a veil, or not shaving and still covering, and she truly believes she is doing this to praise Him, He must know her heart and bless her. If on the other hand she resents the sacrifice, then He knows that this is a grudging gift, and besides, the act is not accomplishing its purpose, to turn her mind toward Him and away from worldly things, so she must either change her heart or it seems to me there's no point going through the motions. Reply

Tamar Chayempour great neck October 10, 2016

so incredibly well put, thank you so much for writing this, it really needs to reach all Jewish women, so many have such a warped idea of what hair covering is all about.

carol July 29, 2016

god gave women hair, what is so wrong with having a head of hair, its natural, i don't get it. what about the men, they show their hair, what about eyebrows. Reply

Anonymous June 18, 2016

Deeply Flawed Explanation No disrespect, but it is intellectually dishonest to equate all alternative head coverings (except gorgeous wigs, of course) as unattractive!
It is also quite hypocritical to claim that covering hair makes any statement when the observer cannot even identify the covering.
The purpose of the head covering is to promote a sense of privacy and self-respect in the Jewish woman, and it therefore follows that any attempt to "outwit" the mitzvah (by wearing natural hair on top of hair) indicates a deeply flawed understanding of its purpose.
With a true understanding of the mitzvah of covering the hair, it is difficult to justify those wigs that are as natural/beautiful or even more so than natural hair.
All that said, I do not judge those who wear them. However, I find it upsetting when it is passed off as kosher. Reply

Anonymous Lakewood,Nj June 3, 2016

dress code in public I think that all women should dress with modesty especially when they go in public places Reply

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