I heard an anthropologist talking about
shaitels (wigs). He said how ironic it is that observant Jewish women
wear wigs. In biblical Judaism, the rule was that married women should cover
their hair in order to be modest and unattractive. In more recent times, women
wear wigs, which are sometimes more attractive than natural hair. So wearing a
wig actually defeats the whole purpose of covering the hair! He was giving this
as an example of how cultures forget the reasons behind their ancient
traditions, and customs can evolve in a way that contradicts their original
intent. Do you have any comments?
That anthropologist has not only mistaken a wig for
real hair, but has also confused true modesty for his own version. He equates
modesty with unattractiveness, but that is his definition, not Judaism's. From
the Jewish perspective, modesty has nothing to do with being unattractive.
Rather, modesty is a means to create privacy. And that is what a wig
Modesty has nothing to do with being unattractive. The hair-covering was
never intended to make a married woman look ugly. Beauty is a divine gift, and
Jewish tradition encourages both men and women to care for their appearance and
always look presentable. Jewish tradition also encourages modesty; not in order
to detract from our beauty, but rather to channel our beauty and attractiveness
so it is saved for where it belongs -- within marriage.
By covering her hair, the married woman makes a statement: "I am not
available. You can see me but I am not open to the public. Even my hair, the
most obvious and visible part of me, is not for your eyes."
The hair-covering has a profound effect on the wearer. It creates a
psychological barrier, a cognitive distance between her and strangers. Her
beauty becomes visible but inconspicuous; she is attractive but
The wig achieves the desired effect exactly, because a wig
allows a woman to cover all her hair, while maintaining her attractive
appearance. She can be proud of the way she looks without compromising her
privacy. And even if her wig looks so real as to be mistaken for natural hair,
she knows that no one is looking at the real her. She has created a private
space, and only she decides who to let into that space.
Perhaps in other religions modesty and beauty don't mix. This is not the
Jewish view. True beauty, inner beauty, needs modesty to protect it and allow it