Isn’t Wearing a Wig Over Hair (Especially if the Wig is Nicer Than the Hair) Pointless?

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Dear Jew in the City,

For the Orthodox ladies who wear a wig and claim part of the reason is for modesty, isn’t wearing a wig over hair kind of like wearing a t-shirt with a naked body printed on it? (Sorry for the crude example.) Wouldn’t it be better to cover the hair with a cloth? I know some Orthodox ladies do, and this seems to make more sense to me.

Thanks,

D.V.

Dear D.V.,

Your question is an excellent one, and I was asked a similar question by a friend who upon hearing that I wore a wig over my hair told me that it was like wearing a prosthetic nose over my nose! His question bothered me for a while. I do NOT like having philosophical quandaries floating around in my head that I don’t know how to answer, so after a bit of thought, I came up with something, and I think it applies to your question as well.

Let’s first define what Jewish modesty is about. Contrary to popular belief,  tznius (or tzniut, depending on how you pronounce it) is not about looking ugly or unattractive. It’s about keeping certain parts of oneself private and off limits for public consumption. The parts that are considered “eyr-vah” (or require covering) in Jewish law have some innate sexuality or sensuality to them.

As far as I can tell, there are three different categories of body parts in regards to sexuality: the obviously sexual kind, the obviously not sexual kind, and the ones in the middle. A nose is about as asexual as it gets. Covering up a nose with a nose seems so preposterous since there’s no modesty involved with a body part that has nothing sexual (or sensual) about it. A woman’s chest is about as sexual as it gets. Covering up a woman’s chest with a picture of a chest is, as you put it, “crude” because we consider a woman’s chest to be a very sexual, private area.

Now we come to hair. According to Jewish law, a woman leaves her hair uncovered before she’s married, so it must not be overtly sexual, since if it was it would never be shown. Although it’s not overtly sexual, I think most people would agree that a woman’s hair does have some innate sensuality to it. The expression “letting down your hair” implies a loosening up and relaxing that occurs once a person lets her hair flow freely. “Running fingers through someone’s hair” conveys a similar sentiment about this hard to define sensuality of hair.

In terms of covering hair with a wig, the hair in the wig is not explicitly sexual as we already said, but at the same time it does create a barrier so that the actual, free-flowing hair of the woman is not available for public consumption. It’s somewhat similar to wearing a t-shirt with flesh covered sleeves. As long as the material is opaque, wearing such a shirt is totally fine. According to Jewish law, the upper arms must be covered, but because upper arms are not overtly sexual, covering them up with a skin-like tone does not seem shocking or inappropriate.

But what if the wig is even more attractive than the woman’s natural hair? Well, what if a skirt makes a woman’s bottom half look more attractive than her bare legs would? What if her legs are full of cellulite and varicose veins? Would it suddenly be more modest to walk around skirtless? Obviously not, because the purpose of the skirt is not to look less attractive, but rather to create a barrier between the women’s naked body and the rest of the world. So too a wig, even if it’s more attractive than the woman’s hair, creates that same barrier and keeps the private parts of the woman private.

And if you still disagree with wearing a wig over hair after all that, you can simply join the many Orthodox Jews out there (men and women alike) who are also against wigs and believe that hats and scarves are the only appropriate hair covering out there! (Though, as you can see, I am not one of them!)

Sincerely yours,

Allison

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  1. I’ve heard many people complain that married women’s wigs are too beautiful and much more luscious than their own hair, and ask how can this be modest?
    I think many people forget what makes a woman’s hair attractive is her real hairline, how the hair grows out of her head and how the hair flows natural with her movements.

  2. Sandra Greene says:

    I think its more about being in uniform. Like wearing skirts, you are saying im apart of this group..im like minded in this area. I dont really think wearing a wig..or just wearing some type of headcover..whichever you choose..one or the other is not wrong. Just picking a uniform…lol

  3. I can understand this argument towards wigs fulfilling the intended purpose. My understanding is that the wife’s real hair is to be enjoyed by the husband, as if it is a special gift just for him. Yet, some jewish women shave their heads and then wear wigs? How is this okay? I feel sorry for the husbands. Are they really okay with the shaved heads? If the head is shaved why wear the wig? There is nothing sensual to cover. It seems to really be defeating the purpose. I would love to hear your thoughts on this Allison.

    • Thanks for your question, Misty. The women who shave their heads (it’s a small percentage of Chasidic women) do so because the kaballah (the book of Jewish mysticism, which is not a book we derive law from) talks about it. They also are afraid of their hair being knotted when they immerse in the mikvah. I personally don’t find either of these reasons compelling AND, in the Torah, when discussing the “aishes yaffas to’ar” – the “beautiful captive woman of war” – when the Torah is trying to help a man in battle who’s taken a woman captive feel less attracted to her it says that she should shave her head. So it seems that even the Torah agrees that shaved heads are less attractive. However – because there are many paths within the Torah, although I disagree with this community in terms of what I’d want to do, I respect that they’re within the boundaries of Torah Judaism and leave their decisions up to them.

      • Chana Oshira Block says:

        Allison, sorry for the late reply, but I saw this and wanted to note that I’ve read some seforim that advocate shaving a woman’s head, but the ones I’ve read always state that if shaving your head would make you unattractive to your husband, you shouldn’t do it, because shalom bayis and being attractive to your husband is just more important than this chumra. :)

  4. Hi, I have been asking this same question all my life. Growing up as an orthodox Jew, now married with kids…I have worn a wig once or twice. I do not see the point. I completely agree. I believe, and most of the people I grew up here with in Israel also agree, that Jewish women who wear wigs are embarrased with their religion. A married woman must cover her hair (if she is an orthodox Jew) So many women out there are so afraid of what a scarf might look like that they must buy the most expensive, sexy wig. Then they take their time styling it etc…all just to look good. However, you want to look good? Look like a Jew, don’t be embarrased. It started with all the North American Jews, it seems like the biggest struggle they have is to look sexy and still apear modest. G-D made you beautiful, you do not need sexy cloths, wigs, makeup etc to show off his creatation. Stop being to afraid of not looking like everybody else. It’s funny, I actually appreciate the orthodox Muslims (dont agree with them, but appreciate them) They dress to their religion, no wigs…proud of who they are and dont want to look like the rest of the world.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. But you’re being a bit presumptuous and a tad judgmental. As a multi-faceted hair coverer (i.e. I wear many different things on my hair, including sheitels), my choice of sheitels at times has NOTHING to do with being embarrassed about my religion. In fact, I like to mention to pple that I’m wearing a wig just so they know that I am. Why do I do it? So I can have choices in my hair style covering. Sometimes a hat or a scarf just doesn’t go (IMO) with something I’m wearing and I love being able to throw on some hair instead. It helps me do the mitzvah b’simcha (with joy) which is a big part of service of God. It’s perfectly fine for you to disagree with wig wearing for yourself, but I think you should reserve your judgments about other women, many of whom are wearing them for very good reasons.

  6. Do Jews know where these wigs come from?

    There is talk that they are not always donated … willingly. Young, very poor girls overseas, are forced to cut their hair. For money that doesn’t necessarily wind up in their pockets.

    I don’t know. This is something I would never do. Scarfs or tubans look more natural.

    • Marcee, I can’t speak for all wig companies, but Freeda, the brand that I wear (and that now sponsors JITC videos) had this to say: This is an unfounded myth. As a matter of fact, when we buy our hair, there are lines around the corner of ppl begging us to choose their hair . They cant believe their good fortune, that someone will actually pay them for their hair. Furthermore, sometimes we buy hair that is short knotty and useless, just to not have to turn ppl away.

      You can wear whatever hair covering you’re most comfortable in, but there is nothing unethical about wearing a wig.

  7. I appreciate what you are doing and your honesty with each of the subjects that you’ve addressed on the website. I just have some questions regarding the wig issue.

    First of all – isn’t hair covering supposed to be a siman? And if some wigs are so realistic that some men and women cannot tell that a wig is being worn- doesn’t that defeat the purpose? I’m not referring to the fact that it looks like hair, I’m referring to a situation as to when you just can’t tell altogether).

    Also, you wrote that a wig creates “a barrier so that the actual, free-flowing hair of the woman is not available for public consumption.” That may be true in a case of a shorter wig which “flowiness” is limited; however, many women walk around with these long, flowing wigs that are extremely seductive and attracting. Why do women want to wear these wigs so badly in the first place? I’d say probably because they’re made from real hair and flow just like real hair– which in turn makes them look more like how they looked before they began covering their hair. So if they look like exactly how they looked before they covered their hair – then the issue of sensuality is not being dealt with by wearing a sensuous wig on top of their sensuous hair.

    • About what Allison said about it taking more to shock people these days, I think what’s going to shock a person has a lot to do with what that person is used to seeing. For example, every once in a while when I’m out shopping with my mom, I see muslim womem,(at least I’m assuming they’re muslim) wearing loose fitting cloaks and scarves that cover their heads and necks. Whenever I see this, it always makes me do a double take, simply because I don’t expect to see it.

  8. Thanks for your kind words and comment, Malka. One of the reasons given for covering hair is a siman (sign), though even the best wigs have giveaways that they’re wigs. The hairline, the scalp. As le7 (the commenter above) mentioned – the hair on even the nicest wigs does’t fall the same way God attached it to our heads!

    In terms of the flowiness of wigs – especially long wigs – now that I have one myself, I can speak from personal experience. Even one of the nicest brands of wigs doesn’t have hair that mimics real hair. I’m not saying it doesn’t look pretty, but hair coming out of a wig simply doesn’t have the same movement. It stay much more matted down than real hair does.

    When I got my new long wig, I have to tell you, I was a bit nervous to wear it outside. I always hear about people talking of the “too sexy long wigs” and I was worried that maybe this new one qualified as one of those.

    I imagined that I would walk outside and people would stop and stare as I passed them by on the street or in a store. But when I finally went outside in the long wig, I noticed something interesting – no one seemed to notice or care!

    A few friends have complimented me, but I haven’t seen ANY change in how people notice me. If I HAD, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable wearing something that brought such attention.

    Perhaps it’s b/c it takes more and more to get people’s attention nowadays. Lady Gaga has to wear a dress made out of *meat* to an awards show to really shock people.

    Long, pretty hair doesn’t seem to interest people much. But this newer wig is making ME notice the mitzvah more. It’s making me cover my hair more happily than ever and I find that I’m keeping my wig on at home, when normally I’d leave my hair uncovered around my family.

    If you’re not into wigs personally, you shouldn’t wear them. There are different approaches, but I think it’s important to recognize that different forms of hair covering have pluses and minuses and we should support all the different halachic approaches even if it’s not what we personally believe in.

  9. Wigs have been banned by gedolim of our generation, both Ashkenazi and Sepharadim.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sarah, but it is a bit misleading. Wigs have been banned by *some* gadolim of our generation. Others are perfectly fine with them. Others even prefer wigs over other hair coverings. Everyone should follow what their own rabbi says and everyone should be careful to not judge those who follow different opinions from their own.

      • I feel I must respond to Eva’s comment about shaving hair due to lice infestation… I wonder what source proves this point? I am a Chasidish woman, I shave my hair and contrary to the post’s statement, I also wear a very modern, pretty wig…( not synthetic or a hat etc..) As far as I know the custom stems from the Zohar as Allison previously stated.. It is hard for me to believe that this theory about the removal of lice has any truth to it..

  10. @misty. certain sects of chassidic women shave their heads. this was because for many many years, the small shtetles where chassidic life developed were prone to infestations of lice. removing these lice was essential in order for a woman to go to mikvah and be with her husband. eventually it became clear that the only way to remove the lice was to remove the hair completely and so for many generations married women shaved their heads in order to come to their husbands pure after their cycle. it went on for so long that it became law. however most sects that practice this custom do not wear the long pretty wigs. they wear either short synthetic ones covered by a hat, or a kercheif or shpitzel as its called. most women who wear the more modern wigs are not the ones shaving their heads.

  11. Thank you for this post, Allison, but I’m taken aback by some of these comments. I’m constantly surprised by the ability of observant Jews to judge each other on their minhagim, especially considering the Torah forbids one to judge others but does not forbid a woman from covering her hair with a wig. Technically, the Torah doesn’t require a woman to cover her hair at all (it refers to hair-covering in women twice, I believe, but it’s never given as law). So I respect any woman’s decision as to how much hair she covers and how she does it, though I might personally have a different opinion.

    I did want to add another thought that no one addressed. I’ve heard it said that the reason for a married woman to cover her hair (and also the reason this doesn’t apply to single women) is because once a woman is married, her hair acquires a certain “spiritual sensuality” to it that it didn’t have when she was unmarried and that it doesn’t have once it’s cut off. This is why a wig is permitted, and this is also why divorced women should continue to cover their hair. Have you heard this? Unfortunately I don’t remember where I heard it from.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jackie. Hopefully the people commenting here weren’t judging, but were simply trying to understand the perspective of someone who wears a wig. The Torah forbids us to embarrass people and commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but I’m not actually familiar with a Torah source against judging others. I know our sages, in Pikei Avos, say “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place” but as far as I know, it’s not one of the 613 Torah commandments. Covering hair is sourced in the Torah – the eishes sotah has her hair uncovered when she’s suspected of being adulterous and from this part of the Torah we learn that a married woman’s hair is covered. The Talmud then expounds on this and explains that a married woman’s hair is considered “ervah” which means naked, or that which is not meant for public consumption. Sources and laws aside – I agree with you – we shouldn’t judge another person for what they don’t do.

      In terms of the “spiritual sensuality” idea – I’ve also heard something like this too. When a woman gets married, she taps into a sexuality that was dormant before and therefore a new part of her is no longer open for public consumption. (I don’t know where I heard this from either!)

      • I too found the wig issue confusing. They are so attractive what is the point?
        Presumably a married woman is experienced and open to sexual pleasures and energies. Like a lot of laws, this mitzvah benefits the person who is doing it more than anyone else. It makes sense that a woman would be reminded of her need to remain faithful to her husband when she leaves the house by doing some action, like covering her hair. Not so much because how it makes her look to other people but to what it does to her own conscience. I don’t think you can have any control over anyone else’s feelings or attractions no matter what you are wearing, but you can control your own actions.
        So putting on a wig or covering the hair is a little bit like men doing the ritual of wearing teffilin to remind themselves to bind themselves to Hashem and wearing the fringes.
        But if you really don’t need to be reminded about chastity or faithfulness then these devices are superfluous. But of course they may also serve a social function if you live in a tight knit community were conformity is important.

  12. Hi Alison! Great post! I was just wondering, I work for a Chasidic family, and the mother keeps her tichel on all the time while she’s in the house (she wears a sheitel when she goes out.) You mentioned you used to keep your head uncovered when at home–so do you wear your natural hair around your children at home, or is it only something you show your husband?

    • I show my hair to people who wouldn’t look at me in a sexual way – so that includes my children, sisters, parents, other women. There are different opinions as to when you have to cover your hair, but the one that I follow is that it must be covered in front of men who are not in your immediate family.

  13. spookiewon says:

    “Mod·es·ty/ˈmädəstē/
    Noun:
    1) The quality or state of being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities.
    2)The quality of being relatively moderate, limited, or small in amount, rate, or level.”

    Covering your hair with prettier hair that is not yours is in no way “modest.” In fact, it’s the opposite of modest. It is conceit and it is pride. Wigs as hair covering for modesty reasons defeat the original purpose of the admonition, but then, most religious people are hypocrites anyway.

    • Thanks for your comment, spookiewon. You did a GREAT job of explaining the definition of “modesty,” but unfortunately you did not define the word “tznius,” which is NOT the same as “modesty.” Tznius is about privacy. It’s not about looking ugly. It’s about looking refined. I understand that it’s confusing when modesty and tznius are used interchangeably, but they’re not actually the same thing.

      We’re told that the foremothers were world class beauties. Sarah was so breathtaking she was given the nickname “iskah” meaning that people stared at her. Looking beautiful is not at all against the Jewish idea of tznius.

  14. Hello Allison! I would very much love to know how you came to the conclusion that hair covering for a married woman is a Torah law?

    As you have pointed out it’s not one of the 613 commmandments. The origins of this is in the Sotah which requires the priest to uncover or unbraid the hair of the woman (open to interpretation). From this the Talmud concludes that hair covering must be a biblical command. However the Mishnah implies that it is not a biblical commandment but a Jewish custom. Actually many Near East civilizations had this custom at that time.

    I really don’t see how hair can be a sensual part of the woman when men hardly even notice that we got a new haircut! Not to be rude but I believe that hair covering is more at the crossroads or law and custom.

    • While it’s might be true that many men hardly notice the new haircut, they certainly will notice the difference if you added waist-length extensions! Or if you shaved your head! And while the first change would be more attractive, the second one would not! There are many phenomena that show that hair is an attracting aspect of a woman- there’s that telltale sign of the girl twirling her hair flirtatiously, and how models flip their hair or have it wave by a fan, and how long, luxurious hair is shown in pop culture and in our real lives to be physically desirable. When women dress up, they focus on styling their clothing and their hair, while I have yet to hear of people focusing on prettying up their nose, or their chin.
      As hair has always been an attracting aspect of a woman, we are told to keep it sacred so that it is not used wrongly, and not show it off, except to ourselves and to those immediately closest to us. Yes, the Talmud concludes that hair covering must be a biblical commandment, which must be for a reason that is timeless since Torah is binding and relevent for all time. That other civilizations also covered their hair then, for whatever their reasons were, does not impact our reason and obligation for covering hair, which is related to this Tzniut, modesty, aspect. The commentators on the Talmud discuss where and before whom a married woman’s uncovered hair would be considered immodest, as it would be attracting the notice of men other than her husband. It’s indicative that the consequence for a woman going out with her hair uncovered would be that she would lose her marriage contract, since she has taken an aspect of her self that was supposed to be sacred between her and her husband, and made it more mundane and for any man to be attracted by. Finally, the Shulchan Aruch, a book solidifying Talmudic discourse into the practical, applicable law, tells us that women cannot go out with their hair uncovered as a matter of concrete, accepted law, not just mere custom.

  15. Thanks for your comment, Deborah. I came to this conclusion that hair covering for a married Jewish woman is a Torah law because that’s what most Orthodox rabbis hold.

    Rabbi Broyde wrote a controversial piece a little while ago saying that it is not a Torah law, but it was rejected by most people. Here’s a response to his article. http://traditiononline.org/news/_pdfs/0073-0108.pdf

    You are certainly welcome to follow the opinion of whatever rabbi you go to, but the rabbis who I go to believe that it is Torah law.

  16. deborah says:

    hello Tamar, I think I haven’t explained myself very well in the first post.
    First of all, to say that long hair is by default attractive is very subjective and it also varies from region to region and from person to person. I personally have shoulder length hair not because I like long hair but because it’s the length which suits me. The type of hair I love is the short hair. I also think that long hair is considered by most of the people as attractive. However, that’s not really the case in many countries, like France for example.
    Second of all, whether it’s attractive or not has no effect on the law. A woman doesn’t have to hide herself just to make the man comfortable.
    Thirdly, I wanted to point out that there are many opinions out there, many of which are contradictory. As far as I know, the Shulchan Aruch states the Jewish women should not go bareheaded in the marketplace and that it violates das yehudis. There is a discussion among commentators whether this applies to married, unmarried, divorced, etc women. The Mishnah clearly states it is a dat yehudit. There are others who conclude it’s a Mosaic law. That’s why I asked Allison on what she based her opinion because I have never found concrete evidence that it is dat Moshe. If it were, it wouldn’t even be in debate! Have you ever heard of somebody who debates whether pork is permissible or not?
    As for my remark about other cultures having the same custom at that time, it was just to point out that the Jews were not the only ones who were doing it. Whether this has influenced or not Jewish custom we may never know. Just like the wigs which were introduced by French aristocracy and have become now a staple in the practice of the Orthodox woman ;)

  17. Sarah Bracha says:

    Do you have a problem with women who do choose to wear tichels instead sheitels? Most of the women who wear sheitels seem to have nasty opinions of women who wear tichels. I’m more of tichel girl myself and will probably wear one when I am married, but I think they are both halakhically acceptable so it comes down to personal preference.

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      God forbid I would have a problem with someone doing something in a halachically acceptable way! I also wear tichels and hats and bandanas. I happen to just like the way sheitels look most of the time. But I’m an equally opportunity coverer! :)

  18. Out of curiosity, why don’t men follow the same rules of modesty? I see men in bathing suits on the beach with their wives sweating in a wig, long skirt, long sleeves and I wonder how that can be? Thanks.

  19. Corey Feldman says:

    Except lips are overtly sexual, there is a reason they look like they do… Should we emulate other cultures and make women cover their faces?

    • Allison Josephs Allison Josephs says:

      Thanks for your comment, Corey. I can’t speak to your personal feelings, but I’ve never heard men talk about lips as being as overtly sexual as *private parts.* There’s certainly a sensuality to lips and eyes and hair, but Judaism has never had a tradition of covering the face. I think because there’s something about the face that is the key to a person expressing herself and though parts of a face may be sensual there is only so far a woman is supposed to go.

      The Talmud says that men could take a women’s pinky and turn it into something sexual and pinky’s aren’t required to be covered. So the way I understand this is that men can make anything disgusting and ultimately it’s a partnership. Women take some steps to present themselves in a dignified way while men take steps to keep their eyes and thoughts out of the gutter!

  20. This was a very interesting article, and below a very interesting discussion – so thank you.
    I'm not a Jew and I don't know much about your laws and customs, but as I was doing a research I stumbled upon this article and I was fascinated. I'm trying to understand as best as I can and since you're very, very kind to all those who commented I thought I could ask some things here to see if I got this right.

    You're saying that the point of covering one's hair, once married, is not to look poorly or less beautiful. It's not about being 'less sexy' according to the common standards of beauty, but to preserve for the husbands a part of us that is naturally beautiful and sexy in its genuine form . Basically other men might see (in the wig) an exterior, pleasing visual but only the husband gets to see the real deal – it's private, therefore intimate because natural hair emanate a sensual aura (sorry if I'm using the wrong terminology – on top of it all English is not my first language) that prescinds from how nice it looks. So whether it's a wig or a scarf, the point is not to look less feminine or less visually attractive, but to save a special part of one's self and to avoid a form of attraction that goes beyond looks.

    Did I get this right? I want to make sure I'm understanding it.
    Thank you again for explaining this.

    • Frum Femme says:

      Serena,

      I think you hit the nail right on the head! Going around with uncovered hair could be compared to walking around in underwear on the street. While there are certain native cultures around the world in which women go topless, nobody would do that in a metropolitan city. In the Orthodox Jewish culture, no hair covering is akin to showing underwear in public. Those things are kept private. It has nothing to do with killing sexual attractiveness. How women cover their hair is largely based on community and Family custom. If you want to know more for research purposes, there is a great book called “Hide and Seek”. There is some discussion about whether it is Daat Moshe, based on the discovery of an adulteress whose hair is uncovered (implying, but not openly stating) that a decent woman covers her hair, from which the practice is derived. Obviously, until the advent of wigs (a pretty recent historical development) they were not used for head covering.

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