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August 29, 2016 6:19 am

What’s With the Wig?

avatar by Lieba Rudolph

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An Orthodox woman wearing a sheitel, covered by a snood. Photo: Wiki Commons.

An Orthodox woman wearing a sheitel, covered by a snood. Photo: Wiki Commons.

A friend once asked me whether a certain activity was permitted on Shabbat. She’d heard that it wasn’t — because she enjoyed it. How did Torah observance become synonymous with self-affliction? In fact, God commands the opposite. We should be happy just knowing that we’re Jews, knowing that we can delight our Creator by keeping His Torah.

So when the Shulchan Aruch — the Code of Jewish Law — says that a married woman should cover her hair, I cover my hair. I do it for God. Finished. But this mitzvah that I do for God also brings me so many secondary benefits.

When my husband and I entered the world of Chabad, I couldn’t wait to wear a sheitel. I wanted to join the club, to look like my new friends. Each one was a Jewish Wonder Woman, beautiful in her holy power. Once my husband and I had committed to the essential mitzvos — keeping kosher, observing Shabbat, and following the laws of family purity — I was in.

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My sheitel would be a reminder, not a prize. So what was I waiting for? I bought my first sheitel knowing that it was a question of when, not if. She even had a name — Spikey. By the time I picked “her” up after the adjustments were made, I had already started covering my hair with a kerchief.

The transition from kerchief to sheitel was easy. Too easy. Friends and family had trouble with my sheitel, too. People who didn’t care what the Torah says about anything had taken a sudden interest in “where was it written” that Jewish women cover their hair. I had asked the same question myself, so I knew the story of the wife of Ohn ben Peles during Korach’s rebellion (she saved her husband’s life by sitting outside her tent with her head uncovered, which led the the rebels to stay away).

But the wig still bothered them.

What was the point of covering my hair with … hair? Especially hair that looked as good or better than what grows on your head. It didn’t add up.

Meanwhile, all I wanted to do was be in my new club, and not have my old friends resent me for it.

When I read an article about the mystical reason why married women cover their hair, I tried familiarizing myself with the spiritual explanation: After a woman’s initiation into married life, her own, living hair is a vulnerable “host” to the spiritual world’s free flowing sparks of impurity. She needs spiritual protection.

I’m not sure my friends understood. I’m not sure I understood. But once we were talking about protection, I didn’t care if anyone understood.

That a wig looks as good or better than hair attached to the scalp is, well, a benefit. A kosher, well-deserved benefit of being an observant Jewish woman. And the fact that so many of these women wear sheitels today is largely due to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who promoted wig-wearing among Jewish women in the 1950s, when it was not so fashionable to “stand out” as Jews. The Rebbe’s foresight has enabled many a Jewish woman to go out into the world both beautiful and protected.

There are times when it is hard wearing a sheitel, but I’m used to them by now. In the beginning, when it was 95 degrees in the summer, it wasn’t all that fun. But I always minimized the discomfort (which is worsened by knowing that the sun is also rapidly ruining the wig), and reminded my friends of the flip side: my sheitel keeps me that much warmer in the winter.

You can be sure that buying a sheitel is sometimes stressful, too. It’s an important purchase and sometimes, no matter what, it just doesn’t work. The good news for Jewish women today is that increased sheitel demand has resulted in several new, attractive lines coming on the market, many at lower prices.

The Zohar, Judaism’s ancient mystical text, states that covering one’s hair causes Jewish women to be “blessed with all blessings, blessings of above and blessings of below, with wealth, with children and grandchildren.”

I don’t know exactly what that means, but I know I need all the blessings I can get. Wearing a sheitel sounds like the best way to make sure God has me covered.

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