By R’ Yair Hoffman

What constitutes an “exploding controversy?” Well, any topic that makes it as a headline on Rabbi Lichtenstein’s Headlines show. This topic has so many aspects to it—the bottom-line halachah, the explanation of what it is that we are talking about, the history of sheitels, the in-depth halachah, and the parameters of ma’aris ayin.

The Halachah

It seems that there are three distinct categories of poskim. (1) There are those who forbid lace-front sheitels entirely because they look like a woman’s real hair. (2) There are those who permit the lace-front sheitel entirely. (3) There are those who permit the lace-front sheitel in communities where everyone knows that it is a sheitel, but forbid the wearing of such sheitels in non-sheitel communities. Ask your own rav as to which of these authorities you should follow.

Explanation

There are two types of materials, or fabrics, into which the hairs of a sheitel are actually sewn—this would translate into how the scalp part of the sheitel looks. We will call this the base. There is silk and there is lace, and to add to the confusion, there are combinations of the two fabrics as well.

The scalp of a silk base looks more realistic and is much more durable than that of lace. However, a silk top has an extra layer, so it is bulkier at the hairline. Lace has holes that allow for more air circulation and also allow for a more naturally sparse-looking hairline which can get thicker further back. Also, lace can provide more volume to the hair than silk can.

Lace-front wigs with a silk top combine the advantages of both. They have lace in the front, allowing for the sheitel to lie flat and to creating that halachically controversial sparse and natural-looking hairline, while at the same time it has that realistic-looking scalp on account of the silk top.

The downside to the combos is that from the top, one can usually see the demarcation line between the lace ending and the silk beginning.

A full-lace sheitel has complete uniformity throughout the entire piece. There is no change in density and there is no line of demarcation. It also has a lighter feel. The capability for customization is also much greater, since lace can be cut easily. It lays flatter, so there are no gaps. The downside to it is that it may need glue or tape around the hairline. Also, lace is more prone to warping unless one is very particular about its care. Full lace needs more caution than front lace.

History

The human-hair wig as we know it first appeared in ancient times but virtually disappeared after the fall of Rome in 476 CE. It then reappeared in the last five centuries because of King Louis XIII of France, who, on account of his concern about his own personal male pattern baldness, advanced the technology of modern sheitel manufacture. [Thus far no sheitel company has expressed hakaras ha’tov by naming a sheitel after him, but we digress.]

We find that the Egyptians wore wigs to protect against the hot sun. They attached the wigs to their head using beeswax and resin. The Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans also used wigs. The term wig, by the way, is short for periwig.

The Mishnah in Shabbos (6:5) also attests to the use of wigs, and the Gemara later on clearly shows that it was worn for beauty. Both Rashi and the Meiri explain that it was worn so that “she would appear to be a ba’alas s’ar—having [much] hair.”

Rashi in Bechoros (7b) seems to add more information. He writes (D’H nehenim b’sa’arah), “The women who had little hair used to attach (or tie) the hair of other women to their hair and this is called pe’ah nachris.”

A Halachic History

The Rema (75:3) discusses the halachah of reciting the Shema in front of a woman who is wearing a wig, and permits it. The Mishnah Berurah explains that it is because he holds that the wig is not considered “s’ar b’ishah ervah—the hair of a woman is forbidden.” There is a view that all wigs are forbidden because they are still considered “the hair of a woman, which is ervah.”

Most Ashkenazic poskim (see Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Vol. II #12) and families, however, followed the lenient opinion regarding wigs. Some Sefardic poskim permitted it as well. Indeed, the Kaf HaChaim (O.C. 75:19), Mishpetai Uziel (E.H. Mahadurah Tanina #74), and Yaskil Avdi (Vol. VII E.H. #16), all prominent Sefardi poskim, also permit the wig.

On the other hand, Rav Chaim Palaji (Ruach Chaim EH 21) and Rav Ovadia Yosef, zt’l (Yabia Omer V E.H. 5:4), however, follow the stringent view forbidding wigs for Sefardic women.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, stated that the Chazon Ish’s wife wore a wig (cited in Meir Oz Vol. III page 829), as did his mother. He also ruled that if a Sefardi studied in an Ashkenazic yeshiva he may allow his wife to wear a wig; otherwise, she should cover her hair with a kerchief.

There is a proof that the Chofetz Chaim permitted the sheitel in general. In his Mishnah Berurah (75:15), he cites two views in regard to a sheitel from one’s own hair. The first view he cites is that of Rav Yosef Ben Meir Teumim (1727–1793), author of the Pri Megadim.

The Pri Megadim is of the opinion that use of a peah nachris, a sheitel, is permitted. The Mishnah Berurah then states that it is indicative in the language of the Pri Megadim that he permits the use of one’s own hair in the manufacture of it as well. After quoting the Pri Megadim, the Chofetz Chaim then cites the view of the Magen Giborim, written by the two brothers-in-law Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson (1808–1875) and Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger (1804–1863) and published in two parts, who were stringent in regard to using one’s own hair in a sheitel and forbade it. But we see that he held that the sheitel itself with other hair is permitted.

The earliest source who discusses the topic is Rav Yehoshua Boaz ben Shimon Baruch (d. 1557) of Northern Italy, the author of the Shiltei Gibborim. He writes on Tractate Shabbos (64b) that the wig is permitted and it makes no difference whether it is her own hair or that of another woman. He also shows that this is clearly referring to a married woman because the Gemara states that she wears it so that she not be found unappealing in the eyes of her husband.

Contemporary Poskim Regarding Lace Front

Rabbi Yitzchok Felder, shlita, one of the leading poskim in Lakewood, New Jersey, rules that the lace-front sheitel is forbidden. He states that a woman who wears a sheitel that one cannot tell is a sheitel is violating what the Torah wanted when it forbade a married woman going out with uncovered hair. He related a story where a woman went to the beach without her sheitel. When asked about her non-covering of her hair, she responded, “The truth is that I have a sheitel that looks exactly like my hair. Here on the beach there is a lot of sand. Why should I ruin my $2,000 sheitel? I will just uncover my hair, and everyone will assume that it is my sheitel.”

It is this author’s view that when Rabbi Lichtenstein presented Rav Felder’s view, he perhaps oversimplified his view, stating that the Torah said that the reason for the prohibition is so that one would not think that a married woman is, in fact, unmarried. Upon listening to the recording, it is this author’s view that Rav Felder is forbidding it on other grounds—in particular, ma’aris ayin.

Rabbi Gedaliah Oberlander of Monsey stated in a shiur played by Rabbi Lichtenstein that it could be that there is certainly a prohibition of ma’aris ayin if one cannot tell that it is a sheitel when standing close by. He also stated in the shiur that it is not a problem of reciting divrei Torah in front of a davar she’b’ervah as long as one knows that it is a lace-front sheitel.

Rav Yisroel Reisman is cited as holding that while it cannot be prohibited, it is not within the spirit of the law. It is his view that the wives of yeshivaleit should not be wearing the lace-front sheitel, but that it cannot be forbidden to the hamon am.

Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz rules that since there is no ma’aris ayin in sheitels according to the responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Vol. II #12), there would be no problem in lace-front sheitels. Rav Moshe’s letter was written in the summer of 1962 to Rabbi Dovid Lappa, z’l (who lived in Bayswater at the end of his life), and contained a number of rationales as to why there is no ma’aris ayin regarding sheitels. (1) Ma’aris ayin is only for a lav and not an issur aseih; (2) Most of the time it is recognizable that it is a wig; (3) Even if men do not recognize that it is a wig, women do recognize it, and that is enough to prevent a ma’aris ayin, as we can see in regard to shaving with an electric razor; (4) Since she is known as an ishah kesheirah, no one would dare suspect her of not following halachah.

Rav Reuven Feinstein also cited a conversation with his father that in regard to sheitels, it is up to the wife and not the husband since there are Rishonim who rule there is no problem of ma’aris ayin. This is also how Rav Feinstein concludes his letter to Rav Lappa.

How do the poskim who forbid the lace-front sheitel deal with the teshuvah of Rav Moshe? Firstly, they may be of the view that the term “overes al das yehudis” is the language of prohibition rather than a negation of a positive commandment. That being the case, there very well could be a prohibition of ma’aris ayin. Rabbi Hershel Ausch, one of the most prominent poskim in both Borough Park and Williamsburg, said, “1962 is not 2021. When dealing with lace-front sheitels, most of the time it is nearly impossible to tell it’s a wig—indeed, that is the point of it. Thirdly, even women do not recognize it anymore. Also, it is unfortunate, but there is a trend among some to do away with their sheitel. And last, Rav Feinstein’s letter was written to an exceptionally holy woman, a rebbetzin from an illustrious rabbinic family. Does it apply to everyone?”

A number of years ago, Rav Binyomin Forst explained that in an area where there is no sheitel-wearing infrastructure, there would, in fact, be a prohibition of ma’aris ayin.

Conclusion

As stated earlier, there are a number of halachic views in regard to lace-front sheitels and sheitels in general. Many are of the opinion that it was never permitted in the first place. Others have voiced opinions that those sheitels that are extremely long are a violation of tznius. And then, of course, there are those who are of the opinion that Indian hair is rampant and that so many of the women who offer it to their avodah zarah do so as an actual offering and so sheitels are forbidden because of takroves avodah zarah. Each person should, therefore, ask her own rav or posek. 

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

3 COMMENTS

  1. מותר לך, מותר לך, מותר לך is not what the Tzibur needs on a constant basis, we have enough of that from Rabbi Lichtenstein’s interviews and books, time to wake up and smell the coffee.

    BTW- It’s all irrelevant as all of the human hair sheitels are תקרובת ע”ז and are forbidden.

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