Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wigs Are Permitted - part I

Note: Unlike other posts on this blog, this is intended halacha lemaaseh.

I have written an 18 page article showing that on a Biblical level, and also on a dat yehudit level, wigs are permitted, but I am debating whether post it just yet, or first to look for a more formal venue in which to publish it. I am not publishing it in this post.

Regardless of the fact that I have semicha and have spent more than 100 hours learning through sugyot relevant to this topic, some people will not listen to the possibility, preferring their own appeals to authority. Therefore, in this post I will appeal to an authority myself, though he takes a different approach to permitting wigs. I am referring to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l. Perhaps one can kvetch out of what I am about to derive from Igros Moshe, but I do not believe that this is a valid kvetch.

One of the Rabbanim who forbid wigs, who says that nobody can possibly find that authorities who permitted wigs were talking about modern wigs, is Rav Shmuel Aurbach. His father, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, zt"l, said of Rav Moshe Feinstein ""Who am I to eulogize him? I studied his sefarim; I was his talmid (student).""

Firstly, what these Rabbanim said, or what was said in their respective names. I don't know whether to trust it, because it all depends on who authored the exact words of the statement and what types of facts were presented to them by handlers. Regardless, here is the announcement (hat tip: towncrier, where I believe I saw this a while back):

Excerpted from YNet:
Citing decisions in Jewish law that forbid the wearing of wigs that look like hair, by among others, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, Rabbi Shalom Elyashiv, and Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, three of the most important ultra-Orthodox authorities on Jewish law.

“Modern wigs are forbidden according to the Torah since they are just as much a breach of the law as hair, if not more,” according to the announcement. “Unfortunately, such breaches are rampant among the ultra-Orthodox, and everyone has an obligation to put out the burning flame and to make haste to remove an obstacle, to eradicate this terrible problem of wigs… Every woman well knows in her heart the bitter truth, and how wigs look today, and she is going to be judged for this, and no excuses will avail in the next world.

"Therefore, every woman should make haste to join the thousands of righteous women who have already removed all kinds of wigs and pieces of wig that harm the souls of pure and holy young men and yeshiva students of the Jewish people.”

According to the announcement, while there were a number of authorities in Jewish law who permitted the wearing of wigs for married women, they were referring to the older type of wig. The newer wigs, which look just like real hair, are clearly “forbidden according to the Torah.”

Therefore, “in order to encourage students of Torah to study and to teach the real truth… it has been decided to offer a prize of USD 18,000 to any observant Jew who can show that modern wigs are permitted, and can disprove the aforementioned. And since there are rabbis who still do not know about all this, and who still think that there is permission that can be relied upon, and in order to encourage the students to discuss this with their rabbis, it has been declared that anyone who succeeds in gleaning information from a rabbi who can disprove the aforementioned - as well as the rabbis themselves - will receive a double prize of USD 36,000.

Furthermore, the Institute’s instructions for those who have gone back to wearing an acceptable head covering are to cover the head with a “modest kerchief, and not, Heaven forbid, all kinds of newfangled modern kerchiefs and head coverings that are liable to attract attention because of the evil inclination and to cause the public to sin with accessories that attract the eye.”
This announcement oversteps the usual bounds of halachic pronouncement. Sure, every posek thinks he is correct. And when a Gadol makes a statement like this, many people world-over tend to listen. However, a gadol is not a Sanhedrin, and there is room for different takes by local poskim, and people can listen to their local posek. This seems to not be the case here. The statement effectively says that, in all likelihood, any American pesak that wigs are permitted was referring to old wigs, not modern wigs. Therefore, any modern posek who says that modern wigs are forbidden is saying so in error but furthermore ignorance, such that one should not listen to him but rather encourage him to learn. Thus, they undermine any competing pesak.

They say that modern wigs, since they look like hair and are attractive, are equal to the Biblical prohibition on going out with entirely uncovered hair.

Based on my own research, I believe that a peach nochrit - a wig - is permitted. All this is a side-point, which I will get to if I post a followup with my own thoughts on the matter.

However, looking at the following teshuva in Igros Moshe, Even haEzer II, siman 12, I believe it is clear that Rav Moshe Feinstein did not hold that there was a Biblical prohibition is going out in a modern wig which people think is real hair.

My commentary continues below. Click on any of these pictures to see a zoomed-in view:

Rav Moshe is considering the issue of maris ayin on wigs. The Biblical prohibition is an issur asei, for the Torah made a positive declaration (likely ufara et rosh haIsha) from which we derive a that she must go out with tzniut, covering her hair. But, if a woman goes out wearing a wig, to some people it may look as if she is not covering her hair. This is perhaps a problem of maris ayin.

I must stress this. Rav Moshe considers the potential problem to be one of maris ayin, that people will think that she is violating the issur asei. He does not say that the problem is Biblical, that since people will think it is her actual hair, she is actually violating the issur asei itself, which is what these three Rabbanim are apparently saying.

Rav Moshe concludes that it is not a problem for various reasons. Firstly, people can actually tell. Secondly, even if men cannot tell, women cannot tell. (Indeed, even with the fanciest modern wigs, my wife says she can tell.) And even if even women cannot tell, we don't have to worry for that small eventually. And furthermore, people will assume it is just a really good wig, and not that she is violating. And even in America, where some women do not cover their hair entirely, we need not think she is one of these women. And we will not innovate this prohibition because of maris ayin which is not mentioned by the Gemara or Geonim.

Furthermore, he writes, who says we worry about maris ayin in cases of an issur asei? And furthermore, a prohibition based on maris ayin is taught in the gemara on a case by case basis, but one does not extrapolate across the board.

From all of this, it seems clear that even where it really looks like her actual hair, that even women would not think it was a wig, the only potential problem is maris ayin, and he rules that even that is not a problem. He certainly does not hold that the Biblical prohibition of roshah parua is at stake. And in the '60's, they did have wigs that looked like real hair. It depends on how much money one paid.

One who wants to object to this might point out that he categorizes the biblical law to be to be tzanua and to go out with covered hair, and these Rabbanim would say that modern wigs are not tzanua. This is a problem of taking a subjective judgment, which is subjective both in terms of the beauty of the particular wig, but also subjective on the sociological background of the rabbi passing judgment, and encoding it as comprehensive, systematic law. Regardless, everything about this teshuva states that modern wigs are permitted, and are certainly not just as much a violation of Biblical law as going out with hair entirely uncovered.

These Gedolim are certainly entitled to their opinion. But I am entitled to mine as well. And we have Rav Moshe's teshuva to rely upon, and he is certainly no lightweight.


Anonymous said...

blog me please Hebrew if possible to add connection site
thank you

Anonymous said...

Josh, go collect your $18000...

TechnoYid said...

I'm no halachic authority, but it appears as though the three Rabbis in question are part of the problem of the Talibanization of Yiddishkeit.

I see it all over. Whether it is worrying about microscopic bugs, inventing new restrictions, being concerned whether the yarmulka has six sections or four, there appears to be a drive to "out frum" the other guy.

It is one thing to personally adopt a restriction, a chumrah, or some other fence to Torah. It is totally different when one attempts to enforce (whether by actual force or peer pressure) some additional restriction, especially when it is a restriction that was never generally accepted as halachah or minhag.

Anonymous said...

josh, is the prize a joke? It sounds it esp from the end with the stuff on attractive kerchiefs and the high prize money.

What happened is that when writing on maras haayin (not on sheitls), RSZA said in a footnote that he doesnt know why people permit wigs, since he cannot distinguish them from hair. He said that it must be, since so many rabbonim are matir, that other men can distinguish.

Lo and behold some agitators against "modern sheitls" went to tell him that in fact, many men cannot tell. They said "There are new modern custom hair sheitls that men cannot tell. They used to be able to distinguish the old ones, but these new ones cannot be distinguished." So RSZA agreed to sign a pashkevil assering these new devilish sheitls towards the end of his life.

However, it is a) not true that other rabbonim were matir on the basis that men could distinguish, as per the Igros moshe that you cite (RSZA may or may not concede to this reasoning - I have no idea - but certainly many other poskim do.)

B)it is highly unlikely that when RSZA wrote his original comment, most men could distinguish a typical sheitl from hair. It's been decades since the average man could distinguish.

You can read this history in R Falk's kuntress.

Note that RSZA was NOT concerned with the issue of tzniut in this comment, but only of maaras haayin.

Note that American poskim would be more likely to be familiar with how sheitls looked in different periods than Yerushalmim.

RSZA himself wrote that he was uncomfortable with the concept of sheitls and preferred kerchiefs, but that wigs were halachically permissible, until this issue of maras haayin came up.

Anonymous said...

"RSZA himself wrote that he was uncomfortable ..."

Correction: I don't know if he wrote this. I have seen this statement quoted in his name.

Anonymous said...

post your article in the Hakirah journal

Anonymous said...

What's with the cash incentive? Since when is Halacha a game show? Is there any precedent for this sort of thing in Shas, Geonim, Rishonim or Achronim? Where's the money coming from- the Snood Lobby!? Will the wig-makers up the ante and offer their own reward?

I can see it now. Some months from now there will be a full-color glossy pull out from the Yated: a picture of Josh receiving one those giant checks from Rav Elyasiv (or perhaps standing in for him, an ever ebullient Ed McMahon).

Ariella's blog said...

Of related interest:

joshwaxman said...

Thanks for all these comments.

I have a feeling that no matter what I write, I'm not going to collect the $18,000 or $36,000. They have to accept the reasoning that it is a proof. And, for example for the one above, they might say that that was Rav Moshe's take, but (a) it wasn't going on modern wigs with the super-duper modern features (though that shouldn't make a difference and (b) that what they meant is to prove that the sources that Rav Moshe Feinstein refers to do not themselves hold that in such a case it would not be deOrayta. Or something like that. They also are unlikely to accept the methodology of mechkar, which is what I use in the second of the two disjoint proofs I bring in my article.

Hakira is an interesting idea. I'll think about it.

Anonymous and Ephraim:
unfortunately, it is not a joke. it is hype with a purpose, though. The idea was to attract media attention to this position, and given that the prize is in dollars, to attract American attention.

More than this -- and it has been used against me in this way as well -- people use this to claim that obviously there is no valid basis for modern wigs, and if someone thinks so, he is obviously wrong. Otherwise, he would have been able to collect the money already. And furthermore, they say, many hundreds thought they knew a proof but when they learned through the sources, realized that they were wrong. Thus, sociologically speaking, offering this reward establishes this group as *arbiters* of what the truth of the halacha is, where otherwise they would be just an opinion to be contended with. It is a way to try to overcome the limitations of the fact that they are not a Sanhedrin.

As such, I do not think this is a good thing that they are doing by offering this reward. Though perhaps if they would give me the reward, it would be a publicized admission that there is validity to other takes on the matter. The odds of that happening are slim to none, though.

Thanks for the link. It helps clarify some of what they mean by modern sheitels, though the intent is really to forbid all sheitels. Note how they omit Rav Moshe Feinstein's teshuva, and makes use of appeals to tzaros. (how does he know it is not really due to talking in shuls, what the talking-in-shul opponents attribute it to?) And Rabbi Falk is on the forefront of trying to systematize what is ultimately personal opinion as if it were standardized halacha, as we see from his illustrated book on the subject -- which is part of what this focus on claiming it is Biblical is about.

As a side note, regular readers of this blog know that while I hold that there are legitimate opinions to permit copepods, this is an issue where one can certainly find reasons to be concerned. And that it is nothing new, but can be traced back to e.g. Aruch haShulchan and the book of Matthew.

Similarly, here, if I wanted to I could write an article about why ALL wigs are forbidden (though not on a Biblical level). That opinion has a legitimate basis, and many groups hold by this. Ultimately, I disagree with that position and can write why I think all wigs are permitted (and as a tangent, as well, a greater chiddush that a woman going out with entirely uncovered head in America today violates no Biblical commandment and possibly not even dat yehudit). My concern is more with the delegitimization of other positions.

Anonymous said...

I think that whether a married woman has to cover her hair at all is the more interesting and relevant discussion to have. The debate about whether or not wigs are permitted as a form of hair covering is so out of the mainstream. It’s also just part of the larger emphasis on hair covering in general that seems to have taken hold in the orthodox movement.
Why has hair covering recently become such a widespread trend? And what is the force of the prohibition of showing your hair for a woman living in America today?
I think that these questions are worth exploring before we subject our women to such awkward and impractical restrictions.
It seems that, halachically speaking, the issue may be a lot less black and white than many people think, but for some reason I haven't found any really good analysis of the topic. I’d love to hear your insight.


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