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The Rov

Divrei Torah by HaRav Pesach Eliyahu Falk Shlita:

Returning our Crown to its Original Glory

The Jewish people are at present united in feelings of concern and anxiety, due to the daily distressing happenings in Eretz Yisroel. For many months there have been numerous shootings and mass bombings. These have claimed hundreds of Jewish lives and maimed many hundreds of people for life, Hashem yeracheim. Since no one knows what severe danger lurks around the corner, everyone is affected in a most immediate manner. Instead of these troubles abating after so many months, the situation is becoming progressively worse, with the future clouded with worrying uncertainty. At a time like this, apart from davening and begging Hashem Yisborach for mercy, it is our duty to investigate the spiritual causes of the present state of affairs, so that we can improve our ways and thereby arouse Heavenly compassion upon ourselves and acheinu bnei Yisroel (See Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 1:17).

In a public letter written in the year 1924 (5684) (published at the end of the Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah, page 322) the Chofetz Chaim wrote that he was convinced that the severe troubles that befell Klal Yisroel at that time were due to a lack of tznius. He mentions in particular the fact that married women did not cover their hair indoors nor even outdoors.

He bases his causal analysis on the fact that the troubles of those times gave rise to a feeling that Hashem had chas vesholom forsaken and abandoned His people to the wicked devices of their enemies. The only place where the Torah writes the frightening words “Hashem will forsake you” is in conjunction with pritzus, as the Torah writes: “Velo yeiro’eh becho ervas dovor veshov mei’acharecho – – Hashem shall not see nakedness on you, [for if He does] He will forsake you” (Devorim 23:15). The Chofetz Chaim therefore pointed an accusing finger at pritzus as the cause for the severe troubles that befell Klal Yisroel in those times.

We are at present in the throes of a seemingly endless string of tzoros that threaten to engulf the yishuv in Eretz Yisroel. The nature of these troubles is such that we once again feel totally abandoned and helpless. In line with the Chofetz Chaim’s words just quoted, we must assume that a serious lack of tznius is at least one of the main underlying causes for the present condition.

Nowadays, Orthodox women certainly do not leave their hair uncovered. However, many wear hair-coverings that are totally inappropriate and, according to a wide range of poskim, constitute an issur min haTorah.

The Torah requires a married woman to conceal her hair from the eyes of the public in order to lessen the attraction to her. Amongst the many revealed and hidden reasons for this mitzvah, the following two are relevant and are of paramount importance.

An unmarried maiden may attract attention to herself (within the boundaries of tznius) so that she is sought after and eventually marries (Taanis 13a and Kesuvos 52b). Similarly, a man may look at a girl and take an interest in her appearance, chein, mannerisms etc. if he is considering her for marriage for himself or someone else. A married woman may, however, not attract attention to herself (Kesuvos 72a Rashi s.v. Azhara and Ritvo) nor may a man take an interest in the appearance of an eishes ish, as she is unavailable to everyone but her husband.

For this reason the hair of a girl may be seen, whilst the hair of a married woman, which is naturally a major source of attraction, must be covered and hidden from the eye of the public. Accordingly, for a married woman to wear a head covering that easily passes as her own hair defeats the very function of this mitzvah, since a man seeing her can think that he is seeing her own hair and be attracted by it, especially when he does not know who she is and whether she is married or not.

A similar but different reason why just a married woman must cover her hair is based on the verse, “Stolen waters are sweet” (Mishlei 9:17). Due to this, there is a special yetzer hora for a married woman as she is an eishes ish (see Sanhedrin 75a and Avoda Zorah 20a). The mitzvah of kisuy sa’aros was given to lessen a potential source of attraction to such a person and to safeguard kedushas Yisroel. See Oz Vehadar Levusha, page 265, that in numerous places in the Torah hair is highlighted as a major source of attraction.

Accordingly, by commanding the married woman to withhold from the public how she looks in her true hair, there is far less danger of a person being drawn to her and kedushas Yisroel is guaranteed. Hence, it is well understood why it is considered a major departure from tznius when a married woman wants to look like an unmarried girl and attract attention to herself.

A natural-looking sheitel is furthermore forbidden because of maris ho’ayin, (it appears that the person is sinning), as some observers will not be able to discern whether this woman has covered her hair or not. See Responsa Maharil Diskin, Kuntrus Acharon 203 who writes: “See Shiltei Gibborim (perek Bameh Ishoh) that a human hair sheitel is permitted. In my opinion, this ruling applies only when it is recognizable to all that the sheitel is not her own hair. If this is not the case, it is certainly forbidden, just as the blood of fish is forbidden when an observer might think the person is consuming that which the Torah forbade. This is especially so as we are dealing with matters of ervoh which have the potential of leading to immoral thoughts (and every precaution must be taken to prevent even the slightest mishap from occurring) etc.”

Even nowadays, when the non-recognizable sheitel has become so widespread, it still happens that women (and all the more so men) are under the impression that a woman has not covered her hair, due to the exceptionally deceptive appearance of her sheitel. This is especially so when shortly after her chasunah a young woman appears in public looking exactly as she looked before her chasunah when she was a girl.

In fact, one cannot know what the outcome of this type of wrongdoing can be. The great posek the Beis Yitzchok writes that in his time some women no longer covered their hair at all, knowing they could “get away with it,” as people would think they had covered their hair with a super-perfect sheitel See last few lines of Responsa Beis Yitzchok Orach Chaim 15: “Also, experience has shown that after wearing a sheitel some take the liberty not to cover their hair at all, knowing that it will not be noticed, and transgress an issur min HaTorah.” If the Beis Yitzchok wrote this at a time when sheitels were barely similar to real hair, how much greater the danger is of this misconduct occurring in our day and age.

Rulings by the Greatest Poskim

Responsa Chesed Le’Avrohom (Even Hoezer 87) writes as follows: “Sheitels that are made to such perfection that the woman wearing them appears to be showing her maiden hair are, in my opinion, forbidden min haTorah. A married woman’s hair must be covered to prevent attraction. It therefore makes no difference whether her own hair or other hair causes this attraction. They are one and the same and forbidden min HaTorah.” The same is written in the Yeshuos Yaakov (by the great Gaon HaRav Yaakov Orenstein zt’l) Orach Chaim 75:3.

The present-day gedolei haposkim have similarly stated that it is osur and wholly incorrect for a sheitel to be made to simulate the maiden appearance of a woman. In a proclamation from year 5750 a central paragraph reads as follows:

“The sheitel is intended as a covering for the woman’s hair. It can be considered as such only when it can be recognized as a sheitel. If it looks exactly as natural hair, it cannot be considered to screen off what is supposed to be hidden. By wearing such a sheitel the wearer ensnares those who see her in very serious issurim.”

The proclamation was made in the name of the geonim, HaGaon HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, HaGaon HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner and HaGaon HaRav Nissim Karelitz.

It should be noted that a number of present day gedolei haChassidus, including the Rebbe of Gur, the Beis Yisroel zt’l, the Biale Rebbe zt’l, and ylct’a the Rebbe of Vishnitz signed a powerful proclamation concerning tznius (the original can be found in the sefer Hatznei’a Leches page 94).

A Mitzvah Fallen into Disdain

Apart from all that has been said, it is reprehensible and even shameful if a person is embarrassed by a mitzvah or harbors feelings of intolerance to the mitzvah due to the slight restrictions it causes. The following potent comparison to our case has already been mentioned in the sefer Oz Vehadar Levusha (page 250).

How would a woman feel if her son had a yarmulke made for himself that was like a miniature sheitel: gauze on the inside and short man-like hair covering it from on top? When he wears it, his head is of course covered. However, to everyone who sees him, he has nothing on his head!

We can well imagine what his distraught mother would say to her son when trying to convince him that it is wrong of him to brush his religion under the carpet in such a manner. The answer he gives her, that when out on the street he is ashamed to show that he is a Yid and therefore hides it, will of course meet with very little sympathy from his mother.

Yet, little does his mother realize that she is doing exactly the same as her perplexed son. She, with many of her friends, are ashamed or hurt by the fact that Yiddishkeit requires them to cover their hair and that they cannot look “as natural” as an unmarried girl. They therefore have a sheitel made which looks exactly as their own hair. With it, they successfully hide a major part of their Yiddishkeit, much to the chagrin of all ehrlicher Yidden.

An Emergency

This article is an S.O.S. call (Save Our Sheitels) before things become even worse and this mitzvah becomes chas vesholom a mockery in the eyes of our daughters. It is addressed to Orthodox women in their many countries of residence as it is an international problem that needs to be addressed universally. It is hoped that by offering an analysis of the motivations behind the many styles that abound nowadays, and stating what actual effect these styles have, people who earnestly want to do what is right will find guidance for both the hashkofoh and practical fulfillment of this mitzvah.

Much has already been explained about the background and halachic requirements of this mitzvah in the sefer Oz Vehadar Levusha, pages 227-253, However, an up-to-date analysis of styles that may seem acceptable as they cover all the woman’s true hair, but are in fact totally unsuitable, was not incorporated into the sefer. This article has been written to fill this urgent need.

* * *

On careful analysis, it is apparent that there are a number of purposeful ploys that are used by manufacturers to cause a sheitel to look as if it were the woman’s own hair. In some cases, a single strikingly girl-like feature is incorporated into the manufacture of the sheitel. In other cases the sheitel in general is made to such perfection that it passes as the person’s own hair. These must be avoided, as explained. They are as follows:

A. Sheitels with a White Parting

The net onto which the hairs of a sheitel are attached is usually dark colored in contrast to the human scalp which is white. Due to this, when a sheitel with a dark net has a parting down the center or to the side, it is obvious that it is a sheitel and not a person’s real hair because the parting is dark-colored whilst the parting of a girl is light- colored.

Nowadays there are those who dye the net white in the immediate area of the parting, so that the parting is a distinct white line and very much like the scalp. This in turn gives the sheitel a marked girl-like look. Since a sheitel must be recognized as a sheitel, to whiten the area of the parting in an attempt to camouflage it, is incorrect practice and is forbidden. Although many who wear such a sheitel have no bad intentions, it is still very wrong practice and devastates the content of this mitzvah.

A century ago, when sheitels only vaguely looked like real hair, it could well have been usual practice to make a white parting so that the sheitel looked somewhat better. Nowadays, however, when sheitels are made to a high degree of perfection, the white parting almost completes the deception and this is certainly osur.

If a sheitel has a white parting, it can be made kosher by darkening the net in the area of the parting, so that it is uniform with the rest of the net. This can be done with the aid of a permanent marker or similar implement.

Some replace the net in the area of the parting by a fine silky translucent (semi see-through) material. The material is dark when dark hair is under it, as is usually the case. Since it does not cause the parting to look light-colored, it does not give the impression that the sheitel is natural hair and is permitted. People replace the net in the area of the parting with this silky material so that the parting looks better and the coarse top net is not seen in the area of the parting. Since the parting remains dark-colored, as explained, there is nothing wrong with it although it improves the appearance of the parting.

B. Skin-Top Sheitels

Just as it is wrong for a sheitel to have a white parting, as explained in the previous point, so it is wrong for a sheitel to be a skin-top. This is a sheitel where the complete net at the base of the hairs is white (not just the area of the parting). Due to the white net (rather than the usual dark one) white peeks out whenever the hair of the sheitel moves sideways or is blown open. This looks exactly like a girl’s hair since there too when a girl’s hair moves sideways or lifts up, part of the light-colored scalp can be seen — hence these sheitels are called “skin-top sheitels.”

These sheitels are manufactured by inserting the hairs into the holes of the net and gluing them into position from the inside, in contrast to the usual way in which the hairs are knotted onto the net. Since the hairs come straight out of the net, the sheitel has a very natural look, as the hair comes out of the net very much as hair comes out of the head.

As stated, camouflaging and disguising a sheitel so that it passes as a girl’s hair is fundamentally wrong and defeats the function of this mitzvah. Therefore, the net of a sheitel must be dark-colored throughout.

It should be noted, that the first and most oft-quoted authority that permits sheitels is Rabbeinu Yehoshua Boaz zt’l known as the Shiltei HaGibborim. His comments on this subject are to be found on the Rif, maseches Shabbos page 29 and are referred to by the Ramo Orach Chaim 75:2. In the midst of his words, the Shiltei Hagibborim writes the following critical passage: “The term `a woman’s hair is ervoh’ refers to hair that is attached to the scalp, in which case the scalp is seen together with the hair. This is to the exclusion of a sheitel that just covers the hair which is not considered ervoh.” The Shiltei Hagibborim repeats this point once again towards the end of the same piece, due to the importance he obviously attaches to it.

With these words, the Shiltei Hagibborim has made two points abundantly clear. First, he only permits a sheitel that looks distinctly different from a woman’s own hair. Second, he establishes that the “real hair look” is when “skin is seen together with the hair,” such as a parting between the hair or the scalp peeking out here and there from between the hair.

Accordingly, it is wholly incorrect and a gross misrepresentation of this mitzvah to allow sheitels that are made to such perfection that they look just like usual hair. Moreover, to manufacture sheitels with a white skin-like parting or that have a white net which peeks out from between the hairs of the sheitel is diametrically opposed to the will of the Torah, as this is the look that the Torah says must be covered from the eye of the observer. The above quote should be valuable information for the seekers of truth.

C. Laced Sheitels

One of the worst wrongdoings that are perpetrated concerning sheitels is the laced sheitel. This is a sheitel in which the frontal hair that is over the forehead is back-brushed. It is done in a way that the observer imagines is only possible with maiden hair which grows out of the scalp and can easily be back- brushed. With a sheitel this appears to be impossible because if the hair were back-brushed the net at the base of the sheitel would inevitably show and it would look unsightly.

This “trick” is accomplished in two different ways. Some actually allow some of their own hair to show and then back- brush these hairs over the front of the sheitel. The extreme wrongdoing of this type of conduct speaks for itself — see Mishna Berurah 75:10 that all the hair must be covered. See also Oz Vehadar Levusha 5:C.

A second method uses a net with a transparent plastic with a mat finish. This plastic extends slightly beyond the front of the sheitel and blends into the surface on which it lies. Hence, the frontal hairs can be brushed back giving a very natural finish to the complete sheitel.

When such unorthodox methods of deception are used to circumvent this mitzvah one naturally feels that, “the crown of our head has fallen” (Eichoh 5:16).