DARE TO ASK: These wigs reflect code of modesty
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
I'm wondering why Orthodox Jewish women wear wigs.
Dwanny, 51, pagan, Fort Worth
When Orthodox Jewish women get married, they believe their real hair should
be seen only by their husbands. It also has to do with modesty.
Dana, female, Minneapolis
Jewish women are instructed to "cover their beauty" so only their husbands
may see. This is based on a similar passage that Muslim women interpret by
wearing a head scarf.
Rosie, 16, agnostic, United Kingdom
All Orthodox Jewish women don't wear wigs, only the married ones. Or, they
can wear a hat or scarf. It's because hair is considered a woman's crowning
glory. So after she's married, she will only let her husband see her real hair.
Strangely enough, wigs are now made so attractively that some Orthodox Jewish
women wear gorgeous wigs over their own hair, which sort of defeats the purpose.
But it's considered fine to do, as long as their own hair doesn't show.
Laurie, 55, Jewish, Boston
This one's roots are found in the Torah, and in a code of modesty in Judaism
known as Tzniut.
Numbers 5:11-31 discusses how to find out whether a woman suspected of
adultery (a sotah) has strayed.
This partly involves a priest uncovering or even "ruffling" her hair - the
presumption being that a proper married woman should thus keep her hair covered,
according to Orthodox Rabbi Yaakov Menken, director of Torah.org and author of
The Everything Torah Book (Adams Media 2005).
"It's about not being alluring to other men, and about maintaining the
privacy of herself."
Many traditional Orthodox Jewish women wear a tichel (headscarf), snood
(net-like headgear) or sheitel (wig).
And some of those sheitels, well, they're to die for. They can run into the
thousands of dollars, according to Baruch Shlanger, owner of Sheitel.com, a
worldwide distributor of wigs.
"Even if the wig looks nicer than her hair . . . well, there's no reason not
to look beautiful after you're married. But hair is very personal, and it's
required to conceal it," Shlanger said.
Menken concurs. The wig, no matter how pretty, is still fake and is easily
spotted by Orthodox Jews, sending a clear signal the woman is married.
Because the wigs now look so much better, they are becoming more popular with
Orthodox Jewish women, to the point the sheitel market is worth tens of millions
of dollars a year in the U.S. alone.
"A woman covering her hair doesn't stick out as much today as in the past,"
All in all, it's not about repression of women, but avoiding a "buzz of
distraction and sexual tension," he said.
"They are proud of what they have, but will not broadcast it. And remember,
the men have to wear yarmulkes and dress in much less-varied ways than the
women. We may get to choose our ties, but once we're married we don't even get
to do that . . . and you can quote me on that!"
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
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