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13 Sivan 5764 - June 2, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Importance of Sheitels in our Troubled Times

by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk
Author of Oz Vehodor Levushoh

Part II

A world-renowned expert on tsnius and halochoh in general, HaRav Falk argues that in our times there should be particular emphasis on these matters. Recalling the words of the Chofetz Chaim almost 80 years ago, he points out that the only instance in which we are threatened with abandonment is in the case of pritzus. Thus in our times, when the awful events give this impression, there is a special importance to strengthening the bounds of tsnius.

In this final part, HaRav Falk concludes with some more technical details and then returns to the general themes of tznius and our worrisome situation.

We published both parts about two years ago, but we are publishing them again because of the recent interest in this topic, and the fact that many women may be buying new sheitlach in the near future.

D. High-Quality Sheitels with Ultra-Flat Fronts

The hair-style of girls is mostly very flat at the front over the forehead. Sheitels, even when made of good quality human hair are largely recognizable (unless subject to one of the methods of deception described in the other numbers in this article) by the way that the hair is not flat and low over the forehead. The fringe of baby hair that commonly hangs beyond the true front of many sheitels does not detract from the distinct height of the true front of the sheitel.

Lately, however, many sheitels are being made with silk or nylon nets which have much finer holes than a standard net made of gauze and therefore require much less hair than those with a traditional net. With a usual sheitel, five to seven hairs are fixed into each hole giving the sheitel quite some body, whereas with the ultra-flat sheitel one to three hairs are fixed into the holes as they are very tiny indeed. As a result, the sheitel lies exceptionally low and flat on the head. Also, having very small holes, the hairs are often attached to the net by just one knot, whilst with other sheitels every hair is attached by a double knot which adds to the thickness of the sheitel. When a woman wears such an ultraflat sheitel, it is difficult to discern whether it is in fact a sheitel or the young woman's maiden hair.

This problem is compounded and completed when the sheitel is a "true custom sheitel" made from high-quality human hair known as European hair. Such a sheitel has four qualities. (A) the human hair has not been bleached. This in turn ensures that the original luster of the hair has been maintained. (B) The hair has not been dyed and consequently looks far more natural than dyed hair. (C) The hair has been attached to the net in the direction in which it grew i.e. the end nearest to the scalp is likewise nearest to the net. (D) The hair is very well matched and originates from as few people as possible, which assists greatly in preserving the hair's natural look.

A sheitel with these qualities, known as a "true custom sheitel," looks close to natural but can still be detected by the raised front in which it is different to the flat hair style of girls. However, when the front is also very flat and shallow it has the present-day style of girls, and cannot be detected at all, not even from the front. When this is the case, the camouflage is virtually complete (except to a highly professional eye). Since, when wearing such a sheitel a young woman looks like an unmarried girl, the sheitel is forbidden.

In fact, some authorities do not allow true custom sheitels even when they do not have an ultra-flat front and are recognizable from the front. Apparently, this is because they are not recognizable from the rear. Furthermore, should the hair style of girls change, they would not be recognizable even from the front.

The exorbitant prices of the more expensive custom sheitels is a further reason for much concern. Under the excuse that custom sheitels last much longer than the other ones (which is true to a degree -- the custom sheitel might last three or four times longer than other ones) unjustified prices of thousands of dollars are being charged, which are many, many times the price of the more basic sheitels. These costly sheitels have become a status symbol, with all the unhealthy and unpleasant consequences and ramifications that follow from such status symbols.

E. Long Sheitels

When a sheitel is longer than shoulder-length, it sways freely with the movement of the head and with the general movement of the body. This swaying is similar to that of living hair, which is particularly bouncy and sways easily. Such a sheitel therefore gives the wearer a distinct girl- like look.

In contrast, a short-haired sheitel lies flat on the head even when not tied down and does not sway. This is very different from the loose, short hair of a girl which, although not swayed by the body, is alive and wavy. (There are, however, other features that can trick the onlooker into believing that even a short sheitel is real hair, as explained). This point has been confirmed by two long- established professionals. It is therefore wrong to wear a sheitel that is longer than shoulder-length.

Although a long sheitel that lies on the back is not totally camouflaged and can still be recognized as a sheitel because of the front which stands high (in contrast with a girl's hair) nevertheless, such a sheitel is unfit and fully incorrect to wear. This is because this style is naturally girl-like and at first sight this sheitel gives a very wrong impression.

A long-open sheitel has a further shortcoming. This style (long and open) is unrefined and the open flowing hair often gives an impression of begging for attention even on a girl (and according to some poskim is therefore halachically forbidden -- see Mishnah Berurah 75:12 in the name of Mogen Avrohom). Such a style is all the more unfitting for a married woman of whom the Torah expects extra tznius concerning her hair.

Due to both these reasons sheitels should be no longer than shoulder-length, whether manufactured from human hair, blended or made completely from synthetic hair. Even if the husband very much wishes that his wife wear a long sheitel, this is no justification for her to wear such a sheitel in public.

The following is a quote from Teshuvos Vehanhogos by HaRav Moshe Sternbuch (Segan Ra'vad Eida Chareidis, Yerushalayim) Vol. 4 (5762) No. 294: "Approximately forty years ago, the Holy Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisroel Alter ztvk'l requested me to transmit to the public in his name the severe issur and considerable immodesty that is involved in wearing a long sheitel. Now there are sheitels on the market that have a very natural or very striking look and similar features. The common denominator is that these sheitels add considerable attraction to the woman. This is diametrically opposed to the character and function of the mitzvah of kisuy sa'aros."

In Eretz Yisroel, gedolei Yisroel insist that sheitels should be short enough that they do not actually reach the shoulders. In this way the hairs remain dormant and are not affected by the movement of the shoulders and the like. Although this is not the accepted ruling in all communities, it underscores the need for sheitels to be short, not long, thereby maintaining the grace and majesty of neshei Yisroel.

F. Hat at Front -- With a "Half-Sheitel"

Whilst the hat on top of the sheitel (as worn in many Chassidishe circles) is additional tznius, instituted to emphasize that the sheitel is in fact a sheitel (as girls do not wear such hats over their hair), the large hat at the front of the head with just half a sheitel in the rear has the exact opposite effect. The hair simply does not appear to be "hair from a half-wig" but rather to be the young woman's own hair.

As has already been stated, a sheitel is predominantly recognized from its front, as it can be seen that the hair has not grown out of the front of the head. With the complete front of the sheitel missing and that area replaced by a modern ladies' hat or peak cap, the telltale signs of the sheitel have been obscured. Due to this, the hair that shows at the back half of the head appears to be her own hair.

Apart from the shortcoming mentioned, there are further faults with these types of headwear. The hat in front of the sheitel easily gives the woman a showy, sophisticated and even student-like look, which is not desirable. The peak-cap, or more accurately the baseball cap, has a very sporty look to it and also imparts a distinct masculine type of appearance -- both of which are negative features which detract from the refinement of the woman, although she may not realize it. In addition, with the baseball cap, hair from the area around the ears often peeks out and remains uncovered.

A further particularly unpleasant form of attracting attention must be aired. This is a single `strip' of hair (approx 2 cm. wide) that dangles down the face from the front of the hat or band and sways slightly to and fro across the face. This is not an ornament and has no purpose other than to attract attention. It is therefore totally unacceptable.

G. Band at Front -- With a Three-Quarter Sheitel (Fall- Sheitel)

The "broad band and three-quarter sheitel" known as the "fall- sheitel" presents the same problem and shortcoming as the "hat and half-sheitel" described in the previous piece. As explained, the "identity tag" of a sheitel is at the front, where it is obvious to the observer that these hairs do not grow from the scalp, as the hairs of the sheitel stand too high above the forehead to be the person's natural hair. By obscuring and masking that area, the all-important signs are blurred and the three-quarter sheitel that can be seen behind the broad band also passes as her own hair. Although this sheitel has become widespread in some areas, it still remains a forbidden type of sheitel.

It is incorrect to claim that this style sheitel is recognized as a sheitel because it is worn exclusively by married woman who are wearing a sheitel. This is incorrect, because it is gradually becoming fashionable also for unmarried girls to sport these head bands and to wear them in a way that no frontal hair shows.

An additional problem with this type of headwear is the fact that the band, which sits just above the true hairline, easily moves backwards, thereby revealing part of the real hair. This is such a common occurrence that they even supply ear pieces (for those who request them) to ensure that the band does not slip back.

It could even happen that this woman eventually wants to have hair showing above her forehead. Since the sheitel only starts towards the back end of the band, the only way this can be done is by pushing the sheitel backwards, thereby revealing some of her own hair. As no hair of a married woman may be seen (as stated in Mishna Berurah 75:10), this type of sheitel is a stumbling-block and obstruction to the upkeep of the Torah.

H. Summary

Two types of faults must be avoided (some sheitels might incorporate both these faults). First, a sheitel that has a feature that has obviously been incorporated so that it looks like the wearer's own hair, and will be taken as such at first sight. Such a sheitel must not be worn even though it is, in fact, not totally camouflaged and the average person will be able to tell that it is a sheitel and not the person's natural hair. Sheitels mentioned in sections A, B, C, D and E are forbidden because they belong to this category. (A sheitel with a white parting; that has a white net; the front is back-brushed; the sheitel has long, flowing hair or it is a true custom sheitel with a flat, low front.)

Second, a sheitel that is not detectable to the average person. Such a sheitel must not be worn even if the features were incorporated just to beautify it, not in order to camouflage it. Sheitels mentioned in Sections F and G are forbidden because of this second category. (A sheitel where the front is missing and is replaced by a large hat, baseball cap or by a broad band.)

I. Snoods

Whilst writing about sheitels, which is the purpose of this article, it was also felt the some of the present problems concerning snoods should be mentioned. The basic points concerning snoods are covered in sefer Oz Vehodor Levushoh (pages 239 (2), 257 (2)). There are, however, a number of recent trends that are categorically wrong and against the halachic requirements of kisuy sa'aros.

First, snoods that are not just made to fit snugly on the head but rather are strongly elasticated to hold them firmly in position, present an obvious problem. Such snoods are put on in a way that the lowest part of the snood (through which the elastic band runs) sits on top of the ears. Due to this, hair that should be covered next to the upper part of the ear and in the vicinity of the ears is left uncovered. (See Shabbos 59b Rashi s.w. Nizmei).

Second, some snoods are made of a silky material which is see- through, at least when the sun or an artificial light shines through it. One can then see all the hair and this is categorically wrong. Hair is classified as ervah (see Brochos 24a) and the hair is forbidden to anyone other than the most immediate family. Accordingly, a snood must be either lined or be made of a non- see-through material. It should be noted that some snoods become see-through as a result of washing them, as the Lycra stretches and becomes translucent. One must watch out for this.

How to Buy

When buying a sheitel, one should ensure that:

- if it has a part, the parting is dark-colored as is the rest of the net. (Section A)

- it has a dark-colored net. Skin-tops are therefore forbidden. (B)

- the front is not back-brushed, as the hairs appear to grow from the scalp. (C)

- it is not ultra-flat at the front, especially when of high quality hair. (D)

- the sheitel does not hang down at the front or back past the shoulders. In Eretz Yisroel many rabbonim are particular that the hair does not even reach the shoulders. (E)

- the front of the sheitel is not replaced by a hat or broad band. (F & G)

Snoods should only be moderately elasticized, so that they are not pushed above the ears, causing hair near the top of the ear to be revealed. Snoods should be made of a material that is not see-through even in a well lit-up area. (I)

These points are apart from the general refinement of the sheitel. This requires that it not have a wild, open look, a wet-look, a lopsided look or anything unusual. See sefer Oz Vehodor Levushoh, 5:D:3 for further elaborations.

J. Girls Should be Taught about this Mitzvah

It seems strange that many young ladies who are careful with general aspects of tznius, and conduct themselves to a high standard in these matters, nevertheless stumble badly with marriage and, when faced with the mitzva of kisuy sa'aros for the first time, don unacceptable types of headwear. Quite incredibly, these fine girls who are careful to keep halacha properly and are refined in their everyday conduct, wear sheitels that are unacceptable both from kashrus and from refinement points of view.

It is strongly felt that the high number of problems in this matter has a definite cause. In seminary, students will have heard and been taught about tznius of dress and about public conduct, and this leaves a deep mark on the girls and set them for life on the right track.

However, concerning kisuy sa'aros nothing will have been said to them for it seems premature and somewhat inappropriate to talk to them about matters that concern only married women. We now see that this policy is wrong and that many a deplorable type of headwear would not have been worn had girls been introduced to the correct hashkofos and halachic requirements of this highly emotive subject.

There is, in fact, a great advantage in teaching this subject to girls. Since hair-covering does not apply to them before they become engaged, they are likely to be far more receptive to guidance than they will be once they are married. After marriage they are torn by peer pressure, family pressure, and unfortunately sometimes by "spouse pressure" from husbands who do not know what is right and what is wrong and set demands on their wives -- who may instinctively feel it is incorrect but are defenseless, as they have not actually learned any true facts or hashkofos on the subject.

Closing Comment

Chazal teach us: "The evil inclination of man finds new tactics every day (with which to cause a person to stumble and do wrong)" (Kiddushin 30b). It appears that the yetzer hora has found himself no better target than the holy mitzva of kisuy sa'aros -- hair-covering, which he continuously undermines with new ploys and tactics.

There were times when he managed to entice women to forsake this mitzva altogether, and women who kept Shabbos, kashrus, taharas hamishpochoh and other areas of mitzvos would walk around in public with no hair covering whatsoever, imagining (for no good reason) that the mitzvah does not apply nowadays. He is, however, far too sly and wily to attempt to cause the present day Bais Yaakov-educated young lady to totally abandon this mitzvah. He is nevertheless busy nonstop, destroying the character and significance of this mitzvah and, to our great distress, with much success.

We live in a generation in which the descriptive words "it is a beautiful sheitel" no longer means "it is an appealing headwear" or "it is a beautiful piece of clothing." Instead it means "the sheitel looks totally natural and is undetectable." To our shame, looking natural has become the standard of beauty, as far as sheitels are concerned.

When buying a sheitel, instead of putting an effort into buying something that will be attractive to her husband, the young woman is striving to look like "a girl" in the eyes of the general public.

The yetzer hora is furthermore making a farce of this mitzvah, as he ensures that the focus of women is on "how to beat the decree" and overcome the restriction the mitzva presents, rather than on how to ensure that this mitzvah is kept properly and that all hairs are covered.

To make the disease truly contagious, the yetzer hora knows that if he manages to encourage the wife of a talmid chochom to wear an undetectable sheitel this will be a major scoop. Other unsuspecting young ladies will be convinced that the wife of a talmid chochom cannot possibly do wrong and will therefore follow her example.

The writer of this article called up a professional in another country who cuts and sets sheitels and is considered to be an outstanding expert in her field. She indeed spoke about the excellence of her work. She reported that her sheitels are so perfect and natural-looking, that her own daughter, who had been married for years and already had a fourteen-year-old son, was "gerret a shidduch" by a shadchan. He had mistaken her for being still single, because she looked so young in her sheitel and projected the natural image of an unmarried girl.

Although this professional probably knew no better, the truth is that rather than pride herself on such an achievement, she should have been distressed with the result of the styles and settings that she engages in. Her achievements are diametrically opposed to the will of Hashem when He commanded married women to cover their hair. Our sad response to the incident just reported must be, "Woe to us that this special mitzvah has fallen into such disfavor!"

To combat this assault, let us strengthen ourselves and deny the yetzer hora this foothold in our midst. Let us group together and resolve that all who belong to our immediate circle will not wear these wrong types of sheitels. Finally, let us also pray the time-tested tefilloh of Vetaheir libeinu le'ovdecho be'emess -- Purify our hearts to serve You with honesty and integrity.

Our hearts should be truly aware that nothing is more beneficial than to fulfill Hashem's mitzvos properly and perfectly, without compromise or adjustment. When we appreciate that this mitzvah, alongside all other mitzvos, is a privilege and a gift from Heaven, we will fulfill it impeccably and flawlessly with a heart full of joy and satisfaction.

Tznius Counters Yishmoel

Let us return to what was mentioned at the start of this article i.e. the troubles we are experiencing from bnei Yishmoel (the Arabs) and their claim to all or at least part of Eretz Yisroel. The following should be noted.

The Zohar Hakodosh (end of parshas Vo'eiro) states that bnei Yishmoel have a partial claim on Eretz Yisroel because they, too, do bris miloh, and Eretz Yisroel is given as a reward for fulfilling the mitzvah of bris miloh. (See Rashi, Bereishis 17:2)

Bnei Yishmoel, however, only do an inferior and meaningless form of this mitzvah. They do not do peri'oh (the final stage of the miloh process), they do not do the mitzvah on the eighth day after birth. Above all, they do not apply themselves to the outcome of the mitzvah which is to bring about kedusha and extra morality, for they live a distinctly immoral life. (See Ramban on Bereishis 17:2, Beis Halevi, Lech Lecho.) Yishmoel nevertheless has a minor merit, and in our times the Sar (heavenly representative) of Yishmoel seems to be claiming his due.

Klal Yisroel should know that it is within their power to neutralize the claim of bnei Yishmoel to Eretz Yisroel. If they ensure that their bris miloh is complete, both in performance and achievement, it will totally overshadow and make worthless anything performed by bnei Yishmoel.

Hence, if Klal Yisroel do this mitzvah properly and ensure that the outcome of this mitzvah is as Hashem wills it to be, so that kedushas Yisroel is once again a true part of their life, they will see the power of bnei Yishmoel negated and totally annulled.

Tznius, of which kisuy sa'aros is an integral part, is the far- reaching contribution of neshei Yisroel towards kedushas Yisroel. The more they fulfill the requirements of tznius, and the more they strengthen it amongst their family and close associates, the quicker and more effectively will the power of Yishmoel be curtailed.

Calm and tranquility will be'eizer Hashem be granted to our camp, and Moshiach Tzidkeinu will come speedily in our days to herald our long- awaited redemption. (See sefer Kol Dodi Dofek on the subject of Golus Yishmoel, chapter 19).

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