Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

28 Iyar 5764 - May 19, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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The Great Sheitel Kiddush Hashem
By M Plaut and N. Katzin

The Jewish woman makes a great kiddush Hashem whenever she dresses and conducts herself with tsnius, even if it is in the most private places. However, the response to the recent psak of maranan verabonon that human hair from India is tikroves avodoh zora an offering to an idol, was truly impressive.

The suspicion that Indian hair comes from idol worship is not a new one. It was well known that sects in India with followers in the millions shear their hair within compounds that belong to idols. The issue was discussed several times, and Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita wrote a teshuva discussing it fourteen years ago in which he relied on the testimony of an expert. In closing his discussion, Maran wrote, "All our discussion depends on the testimony of the abovementioned expert. It is understood that I have no way to determine to what extent his words reflect reality. According to what you say [i.e. the questioner] there are denials and contradictions about the tonsure itself. Thus, the matter requires clarification."

Now, boruch Hashem, the matter was clarified as HaRav Aharon Dovid Dunner, a dayan from London, was sent by Marav HaRav Eliashiv shlita to thoroughly investigate the matter, and he subsequently determined that the hair is forbidden as it was an offering to avodoh zora (tikroves avodoh zora). See accompanying letter from HaRav Efrati.

Shock waves swept the chareidi world when Maran HaRav Eliashiv, shlita, forbade the use of sheitlen made of human hair from India based on the detailed report HaRav Dunner, who went to Tirupati, India, to gather information last week. Now gedolei Torah are engaged in the complex and difficult task of analyzing the market to determine which wigs contain hair from India and which do not.

In all cases of doubt the public is cautioned to consult only qualified morei horo'oh who are updated on the issue, rather than relying on distributors or importers who have a vested interest and generally lack valid information on the production process. Since India is the world's largest human hair supplier to manufacturers around the world, even if the label indicates that the hair product comes from the US, China or Europe there remains a possibility that the hair itself originally came from India.

Rabbonim note various rumors regarding which type of wigs are kosher should be ignored. For instance, claims that hair used to make light wigs cannot originate in India are false since some hair used in wigs undergoes bleaching. Also, there is no basis for the assertion that expensive wigs do not use Indian hair, as is evident from the accompanying article about the sources of human hair.

Numerous questions from morei horo'oh and rabbonim have come streaming in from all of the kehillos in Eretz Yisroel and abroad.

Morei horo'oh and rabbonim seeking guidance on various questions regarding this matter may obtain information and guidelines written by HaRav Efrati in Bnei Brak at the Shearis Yisroel offices at the Grand Hall Building at Rechov HaRav Kahaneman 111, and in Jerusalem at the Beis Medrash LeHalochoh BeHisyashvus building at Rechov Nachum 9. The written information, based on HaRav Eliashiv's opinions, covers questions regarding wigs sold in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, based on the various types of wig (synthetic, mixed, etc.) and includes halachic instructions on when it is necessary to destroy the wigs.

A sheet claiming to contain information from HaRav Eliashiv -- with a list of which wig brands are supposedly forbidden and which are permitted -- was distributed in educational institutions and public places last week, but it quickly came to light the information was fabricated by parties with a vested interest. Similarly, various phone lines offering information via voice mail and other centers providing "updates" on which wigs are forbidden and which are permitted lack all basis or backing from any authorized body. Consumers are warned not to be lured by any ads and not to rely on any of the information printed on the wig's label or declarations by various interested parties. However there were some suppliers who had letters from responsible rabbonim.

Though many questions still await final answers from the leading poskim, the most salient impression in the entire affair has been the great kiddush shem Shomayim by women everywhere who abided by HaRav Eliashiv's ruling without hesitation. People who passed through chareidi areas starting the morning the psak halochoh was publicized, were astonished by the sight of the women who, based on the precept ve'osiso kechol asher yorucho, exchanged their wigs for other head coverings. At Bais Yaakov schools and seminaries and at various workplaces outside observers were continually amazed to witness the overwhelming compliance with devar Hashem zu halochoh. Many women in various offices showed up with tichels for the first time ever.

Certain figures in the Israeli wig market took advantage of the situation to jack up prices. While a medium-grade synthetic wig costs NIS 45-70 to manufacture, last week some wigs were being sold for NIS 1,000 or even as much as 1,400. Rabbonim issued notices "to remind and warn all those involved in the sale of wigs about the prohibition against defrauding the public by taking advantage of the new situation to drive up prices."

HaRav Nissim Karelitz' beis din distributed notices signed by HaRav Y. Silman and HaRav Sariel Rosenberg saying wig dealers contacted by the beis din agreed not to sell synthetic wigs at exorbitant prices. A later notice said top quality synthetic wigs should not be sold for more than NIS 800 (including styling), while less expensive models should be priced accordingly. Following the notices some saleswomen guilty of overcharging said they would agree to return the excess amounts to the buyers.


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