Orthodox Jewish women and wigs

A stupid question probably, BUT…

The only time I’ve seen Hasidic Jews, the women were wearing tight drawn wigs. In FIDDLER ON THE ROOF during the wedding scenes, the women are wearing tight drawn wigs. Is this a part of Hasidic culture, orthodox Jewish culture, or a personal fashion choice? If it’s a part of culture, is it based on scripture and are there regulations to the size/color/etc. of the wigs?
Not a judgment, just curious.

There is a requirement in Orthodox Judaism for a married woman to cover her hair in public.

As long as most of the hair (some showing in front is acceptable) is covered, the style, color, method (wig, hat, snood), etc. do not matter.

Off the top of my head I don’t know the source for this halacha, but I can research it when I get home.

It should be pointed out that not all Orthodox women cover thier hair, but the majority do.

Zev Steinhardt

The head-shaving and wig specifically is cultural (even though headcovering is , like Zev said, halacha somewhere). Eastern Europe was pretty consistantly unfriendly to Jews, and having a shaved head meant you were less likely to be raped when a mob attacked.

Please diagram the logic of this for me. If E.E. was unfirendly to Jews, why would a shaved head prevent rape? Wouldn’t it pretty much firmly ID the woman as a Jew (and therefore extra-worthy of their scumbag assaults)? Or is the argument that rapists don’t prefer to assault shaven-haired women?

I actually did a paper on wigs and female head-covering for a Halacha course one time and found that there was very little Halachic basis for the requirement. I’d be interested if you could find something more comprehensive, as I do not claim to be any sort of an expert.

Yes, the latter. The mob attacks the shetl, and they would rather rape an attractive woman with hair than an unattractive, bald one.

Is the halacha at all related to the purdah in Islamic culture?

So it doesn’t count as the woman’s hair if it’s a wig? I wonder if ancient Jewish women (i.e. Jewish women in ancient times; not the late and ancient Molly Picon [was she ever young?]) wore wigs.

There are specific chasidic groups where the women shave their heads upon marriage. I believe that the Toldos Aharon group in Jerusalem does, among others. Many orthodox women do not shave their heads, but do wear wigs in public.

<< There is a requirement in Orthodox Judaism for a married woman to cover her hair in public. >>

I rarely disagree with Zev, who is far more versed in this sort of thing than I am, but my discussions with “modern Orthodox” indicate that they do NOT follow this tradition… which is not halacha* (required) but simply custom.

I always thought that married women of some Hassidic sects shaved their heads in order to prevent any hair from possibly floating up while they were going to mikva (which requires total immersion in water). Additionally, it’s impossible to have any hair accidentally show if you haven’t got any.

Most Orthodox women who cover their hair don’t shave their heads. (I certainly won’t shave mine when I get married.) Most halachic authorities consider a wig as a hair-covering, but I haven’t got my sources here in school to name names. (IIRC, some Sefardic rabbis don’t find wigs acceptable.)

Actually, I would describe myself as “modern Orthodox”, as would practically all of my female Jewish friends, and we nearly all either will or do (depending on marital status) cover our hair. Among the modern Orthodox, this tends to break along generational lines - my mother (in her mid-fourties) and the majority of her peers don’t cover their hair, while the majority my peers (early and mid twenties) will or do.

I’m sure that Zev will be around with sources shortly (I don’t keep mine here in the dorm). Nearly all Orthodox rabbis consider hair-covering mandatory, and Biblically derived for that matter (a stronger variety of mandatory than a rabbinically mandated practice).

Isn’t the head-shaving thing just a matter of convenience these days, to make it easier to get the wig to fit properly over it?

I don’t understand: if shaving your hair was intended to make you less likely to be raped, why is the dividing line married vs. not-married? It seems to me that pretty young girls (post-puberty but pre-marriage) would be even more at risk than, say, a sixty year old married woman.

Someone once told me (I know, lousy cite) that the reason for covering your hair was to avoid inciting lustful thoughts in the minds of males other than your husband. But this doesn’t make sense, either. I mean, if I covered my rather ordinary medium brown hair with a platinum blonde wig, wouldn’t I be enhancing my appeal to those men vs. reducing it?


The Biblical source for married women covering their hair is the law of the suspected adulteress in Numbers chapter 5. Part of the ritual to determine her guilt or innocence is that during the proceedings, her hair is uncovered. By implication, this means that a married woman’s hair is expected by the Torah to normally be covered (in public).


Enhanced appeal is in the eye of the beholder. The assumption (in the traditional Jewish perspective) is, the more of a woman’s natural self is exposed, the more arousing it is…even if you, personally, think you’d be more attractive with a wig than with your real hair.

No, I don’t think so. The purdah is a separation of the sexes, while the headcovering is a gesture of modesty.

And C K is right, only very Orthodox Jewish women cover their heads. Your average observant modern Orthodox woman would not wear a wig or bother with any other sort of head covering.

Isn’t the wig just another kind of burqa?

I’m not so certain of that, Kyla. It is something that I have noticed is creeping more and more into the more secular homes among Orthodox families. As GilaB pointed out, it is a precept about which observance has been somewhat lax in previous years and is now being observed more and more. This is evident among many families, including my own. My wife and her (only) sister cover their hair, whereas my mother-in-law does not. In fact, I would venture to say that among the Orthodox in totality, you will find more that observe this than those who don’t.

Zev Steinhardt

Like Zev, I would tend to disagree with this. We (my family) are on the border between “modern” and (for better or worse) “black hat.” Many of our friends are the same way; almost all of them (including many of our “modern” friends) cover their hair, at least when leaving their homes. We have a few friends who started covering their hair many years after their marriages.

In cities with large orthodox Jewish communities, are there (I don’t mean any offense, but I’m not sure what other word to use) “kosher” hairdressers and barbers? I know that Chassidic men let their earlocks grow and the women’s traditions have been discussed in this thread, so it would seem to require either a barber versed in Jewish law or be done at home and I was curious which.
On a different note, when very orthodox Jews travel to parts of the country without significant orthodox populations, what do they tend to find hardest to adjust to? Is it easy to find food in regular restaurants, for example? (A friend who is now secular but grew up in upstate NY the child of orthodox immigrants from Rumania claims he never ate anything but fish in restaurants and other people’s homes because there’s generally no rules or laws about its preparation.)

As to your second question: the Orthodox I know won’t eat anywhere where they don’t know 100% that the kitchen is strictly Kosher, which basically means they won’t eat out except in Kosher restaurants. One woman I know drove to Wyoming to attend the wedding of a mutual friend, and she brought her own food with her for the trip. She even brought a portable barbecue grill and some disposable plates, cups, and utensils.