Did you know that wigs and hair toppers are a very important part of a Jewish woman’s life?
Hasidic or Orthodox jewish women cover their natural hair after marriage. This makes wigs a huge part of the culture.
For Jewish American Heritage Month we interviewed Bracha Kanar, owner of Sayar Wigs, a Jewish human hair wig brand housed on Silk or Lace about the history and culture wigs hold in the Jewish community.
Interview conducted via email on April, 2020
What is a sheitel?
"A sheitel is the Yiddish term for wig. Observant Jewish women cover their hair after marriage with a wig or other head covering."
Why do Jewish women wear wigs after marriage?
"Modesty is a very foundational value in Jewish life. From a very young age, children are taught to act, speak, and dress modestly, expressing the refinement of Jewish life and connection to G-d.
The outer self is covered in a modest and dignified way, allowing the inner self to shine through. The emphasis in Judaism is on internal qualities, rather than outer appearance.
For example if one would ask me to describe a friend, would I describe her as medium height, blonde and curvy? Or would I describe her kindness, quick wit, generosity, and open home?
Another Jewish value is, that the holier and more special something is, the more it is carefully and lovingly wrapped and concealed. A Sefer Torah, Torah scroll, for example, is covered fully with a beautiful velvet mantle, and is never left open and undraped - out of respect for its inherent holiness; we treat it with great care.
Laws of modesty apply to both men and women, with the different expressions of modesty that reflect their unique natures. When a woman marries, she attains a new holiness in being united with the other half of her soul.
Can Jewish women wear wigs before marriage?
"It’s unusual for Jewish women to wear wigs before marriage, but they certainly can and do if their hair is thinning, if they are experiencing hair loss, or going through medical treatments that cause them to lose their hair."
Does a wig have to be Kosher certified for a Jewish woman to wear it?
"According to Torah law, a Jew cannot benefit from anything that was used in service to idolatry. Some years ago, a large percentage of the hair that was used for wigs was sourced from India. It came to light that sometimes Indian women would cut their hair as part of an idolatrous ritual, and subsequently this hair was sold to wig manufacturers.
At that point, some women stopped wearing human hair wigs altogether, and others made sure that their wigs had certification that ensured that they were not from this source and were indeed permissible by Jewish law.
At this point in time, I believe that this is no longer an issue, maybe because the hair sourcing is monitored more closely or because the majority of human hair used for wigs is no longer sourced primarily from India, and within the Orthodox community, there generally aren't kosher certifications on wigs.
Some manufactures still sew a label in their wigs attesting to the fact that the wig is suitable according to Torah law. If you see Hebrew lettering on the label of your wig, that's probably what it is!"
Do you cover your hair? If so, what methods do you use or prefer? [E.g. Wigs, toppers, scarfs, hats, headbands etc.]
"I have been covering my hair for 12 years, since the morning after my wedding. I cover my hair fully, both at home and outside of the house. I wear wigs and also love wearing scarves around the house or when having a beach day!"
What are some misconceptions regarding Orthodox Jewish women and their relationship with wigs and modesty?
"One misconception is that being modest means trying to look less attractive. People question why we are allowed to wear wigs that look so much like our own hair - or better!
They wonder why we look so beautiful if we are supposed to look modest. In fact, we are encouraged to take pride in our appearance, and to enjoy our observance.
Wigs can look as natural as our own hair, and can be styled in ways that allow the wearer to feel chic, beautiful, and proud to uphold this value."
Has your hair covering practice changed at all since you first got married?
"Covering my hair is something that I've enjoyed doing, although there have definitely been times when I miss the convenience of throwing my hair into a bun! Thankfully we have sport wigs that can give the same effect and convenience.
Through my business as a wig manufacturer and stylist, I’ve come to appreciate this practice even more, as I see the confidence and excitement of women as they enjoy the wigs that have been styled to their liking, from trendy new brides to elegant grandmothers and everyone in between."
What advice would you give to a woman who is beginning to explore wigs for modesty?
"I would encourage them to start slowly.
A woman who is beginning to cover her hair may want to start with a wig that’s very similar to her own hairstyle and color. She may want to experiment with wearing scarves in the house.
Together with her wig stylist she should make sure that her wig fits properly and comfortably. For some women who feel that it’s too big a change to take on all at once, starting by covering partially and covering more as they get more comfortable might be helpful.
Most importantly - I would recommend exploring the concept of modesty and hair covering for women, especially with an experienced teacher or friend.
Understanding the reasons behind this practice will deepen her experience and make it more meaningful."