Hasidic Jews are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes long black coats, fedoras, and long sidecurls. But one aspect of Hasidic women’s attire that is less well-known is their use of wigs, or sheitels, as head coverings. In this article, we will explore the reasons why Hasidic women wear wigs and the significance of this practice in their religious and cultural traditions.
Background on Hasidic Judaism
Before delving into the specific practice of wearing wigs among Hasidic women, it’s important to provide some context on the broader religious and cultural tradition of Hasidic Judaism.
Hasidic Judaism is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that originated in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Hasidic Jews follow a strict interpretation of Jewish law, and place great emphasis on spirituality, community, and devotion to God. They are known for their distinctive dress, which is intended to emphasize their separation from the secular world and their commitment to their faith.
The Role of Head Coverings in Hasidic Culture
One of the key aspects of Hasidic dress is the use of head coverings by both men and women. Hasidic men traditionally wear black fedoras, which serve as a symbol of their religious devotion and also help to differentiate them from non-Hasidic Jews and secular society.
For women, head coverings are also an important aspect of Hasidic dress. According to Jewish law, women are required to cover their hair after they are married, as a sign of modesty and to differentiate married women from unmarried women. There are several different ways that Hasidic women can cover their hair, including scarves, hats, and wigs.
The Origins of the Sheitel
The use of wigs, or sheitels, as a form of head covering for married Jewish women has a long history. According to Jewish law, women are required to cover their hair after they are married, as a sign of modesty and to differentiate married women from unmarried women.
However, covering one’s hair with a traditional scarf or hat can be uncomfortable, especially during hot weather or when engaging in physical activity. In addition, many Hasidic women prefer to maintain a certain level of modesty by covering all of their hair, including their sidecurls, which are often left exposed when wearing a hat or scarf.
The solution to this problem came in the form of the sheitel, a wig that covers all of a woman’s natural hair. The use of wigs as a form of head covering for married Jewish women has been documented as far back as the 16th century, and became particularly popular among Eastern European Jewish communities in the 19th century.
The Significance of the Sheitel
For Hasidic women, wearing a sheitel serves several important purposes. First and foremost, it is a way of fulfilling the religious requirement to cover one’s hair after marriage. By wearing a sheitel, Hasidic women are able to maintain their modesty and their status as married women in the eyes of Jewish law.
In addition, the sheitel serves as a symbol of the woman’s commitment to her faith and her community. Hasidic women who wear wigs are often seen as particularly devout, as they are going above and beyond the minimum requirements of Jewish law in order to maintain their modesty.
Finally, the sheitel is also an important fashion accessory in the world of Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic women take great pride in their appearance, and wearing a stylish and well-made wig is seen as a way of enhancing their beauty while still maintaining their modesty.
Challenges and Controversies
While the use of wigs as a form of head covering is an accepted practice in the Hasidic community, it is not without its challenges and controversies. One issue that has arisen in recent years is the use of synthetic wigs, which are often cheaper and easier to maintain than traditional human hair wigs. Some members of the Hasidic community argue that synthetic wigs are not in keeping with the spirit of modesty, as they can look too flashy or glamorous. Others point out that synthetic wigs may not be as durable or comfortable as human hair wigs, and may not provide the same level of coverage.
Another controversy surrounding the use of wigs in the Hasidic community relates to their origins. Some Hasidic women refuse to wear wigs made from hair that has been obtained from non-Jewish sources, as they believe that it may be associated with idolatry or other non-Jewish religious practices. As a result, some Hasidic women will only wear wigs made from hair that has been donated by other Jewish women.
Despite these challenges, the practice of wearing wigs as a form of head covering remains an important aspect of Hasidic culture and religious practice. For many Hasidic women, wearing a sheitel is a way of maintaining their commitment to their faith and community, while also expressing their individuality and sense of style.