THE ENTIRE SHEITEL GESTALT
For your reference, here it is again.
The best are made with real human hair (low to medium four figures), inferior ones with heavens knows what (as cheap as a few hundred). No matter the expense, the effect is twixt old-country dowdy and New Jersey gangster wife stylish!
There has recently been a groise machloikes over sheitels made with hair from India.
The problem was that the hair (either all, or three symbolic tufts) was shorn from Hindu women at religious ceremonies - don’t ask, I haven’t a clue, I’m a rabbi tatenyu, not a pandit! But it had to do with purification for idolatrous rituals, and temple profits from the sale of the hair, and thus shmecked of avoidah zara (strange service, hence idolatry). It is issur to partake of, share in, or in fact have anything to do with idolatry. Especially monetarily!
Why is hair from India used in wigs?
The two main sources of hair used in wigs and hairpieces are Europe and India. The desirability of Indian temple-cut hair lay in the length, strength, and alignment.
Hair that is aligned (that has all its cuticles pointing in the same direction – called Remy hair) can be used for high quality wigs that have a natural look, whereas hair that is not aligned will need to be chemically stripped of the cuticle layer to keep it becoming tangled.
Note: to dye hair, it has to be stripped and bleached; this is never done to Remy hair.
Keeping hair aligned is done by tying it with ribbons prior to cutting; this was in fact customary at the temple. The hair was then sold, and the money benefited the idol served at that temple.
Aligned hair is more expensive than stripped hair, and is used for better wigs, whereas stripped hair is often also chemically bleached, dyed, and conditioned.
So the problem is this: if your sheitel is glossy, black and expensive, it probably is made of Indian Remy hair. If it is any other colour but did not cost an arm and a leg, it nevertheless also may be made of Indian hair.
Is all hair from India suspect?
Only ten percent (more or less) of the hair purchased from India comes from the temple in question (Tirumala). Because a much larger percentage of Remy hair from India is temple hair, it might be argued that a wig made from dyed hair (remember, Remy hair is not dyed) should contain far less temple hair. But there is no way of telling – a sheitel of dyed hair could be all temple hair, because not all temple hair is Remy.
In the same way that one can not assume that a piece of meat is kosher without evidence (presumption based on place purchased, trust in the merchant having full knowledge of the derivation, and verifiability based on trusted agents who oversee and examine), one can not blithely assume that because the sheitel is not Remy it is safe.
What about European hair?
Hinduism is not prevalent in Europe, and there are no religious practices in Europe in which a woman cuts off long hair. So, based on currently known data, European Remy hair should be considered Halachically acceptable.
Several ravs have spouted psak and teshuve ad nauseum, most either coming out against Indian hair wigs except under certain circumstances (psak l’issur), or stating l’heter that they were acceptable unless it was definitely known that the hair was tainted by A.Z., or in fact outright takruves (offerings) to the getchkeh (idol).
Some went on for several pages, quoted multiple authorities most marvelously, without actually saying anything. And a few proved nothing more than that an obsession with hair is not unusual among poskim, so if you have a fetish, you’re in good company!
Rav X in Antwerp, in his considered opinion of the issue, may have said something to the effect that ‘de milde toepassing van de wet verdient de voorkeur’ (the mild application of the law deserves precedence), but he said it in over twenty pages of densely written Ivrit – this he expects women to read?
This he expects ME to read????
Shroyb es oyf Fleymish oder mameloshn, zeyt azoy git! And be brief; I still have to read next week’s parsha!
That a lenient ruling should be made is in keeping with the decision made by rebbeyim over fifteen years ago (AND thirty years ago) when this issue came up before. But it may be that, at that time, the poskim were not fully aware of the details of the issue, hence their being matir.
In mittn drinnen, most gedolei ha poskim (greats among the orthodox halachic decisors) have aza yechechishe yad that whatever they write cannot be deciphered – there ARE typewriters for Hebrew, frevinseyks, or hire a safir!
There are some very fine sheitlach made from Chinese hair (which is as strong as Indian hair, but has a softer look), but if you must have a head of Chinese hair, best keep the Chinese person attached. Believe me, you won’t regret it. I haven’t.
On the other hand, hair from a harlot, or from a murderess shorn at her imprisonment, would also be perfectly acceptable - as long as she was not intimately involved in idolatry.
Taking care of your sheitel is crucial. Many women use a sheitel liner in between their head and the actual wig, which keeps it cleaner and prevents their own hair from intruding on the elegant, sexy lines of the sheitel. Synthetic hair is easier to clean, but bear in mind that synthetic wigs end up looking ratty and eccentric within a year, whereas a good real hair wig maintains its looks a bit longer.
If you wish to wash your wig yourself, instead of taking it to your local sheitel macher, do so every five or six weeks. It is best to place the thing securely on a Styrofoam head (use pins), wet it with warm water, lather with shampoo, and rinse gently. Conditioner can be applied, but apply AWAY from the root. Rinse after a minute or so. It can be air-dried, but in moist environments it is advisable to speed up the process with a blow dryer on low heat – also good for styling.
Why a wig in the first place?
Rabbinic law states that married women should cover their hair before all save their husbands, for reasons of modesty.
In the eighteenth century, when ultra-orthodoxim first started wearing sheitlach, the deceptively real appearance of certain wigs was manifestly not a problem; wigs were observedly unnatural, and no immodesty could be imputed.
Many orthodox rebbeyim at that time opined that covering one’s hair was more effectively done l’halocho with a sheitel than with a tiechel (headkerchief) or hat, as the sheitel can cover all of the hair, while also being convenient for wearing indoors.
Since then wiggery has become a firm custom, which many do not have the confidence to discard, and yet do not think deeply about. And there are those who, b’hiddur mitzvah, also wear a kerchief or a hat, in addition to their perruque.
Yet a good wig can mislead other women (who cannot see that it is fake, and may therefore assume that if a woman who is known to be respectable and frum is showing hair, it is acceptable to do so), and may in fact be as immodest in its effects as flaunting a luxurious head of hair for men to see, to smell, nay even to brush their faces against on the bus, inhaling deeply of its delicate aroma of perfumed shampoo.
Finally, if showing hair is tantamount to immodesty, I have to wonder whether it is not best for men to expose their big (!) bushy (!) beards (!) only to their wives, and only in the home.