Sheitel is the Yiddish word for wig, and in many sectors of Orthodox Judaism a sheitel is the preferred hair covering for married women. Others choose hats, scarves, snoods or can opt for different hair covering for different occasions.There is some discussion as to whether it is a Halachic requirement altogether for married Jewesses to cover their hair.I quote here an online article from Emes Ve-Emunah 8th December 2005:
Covering a Woman’s Hair- is it required by Halacha?
For those of us who live in the world of Orthodox Judaism, there is a practice that divides many in the Modern Orthodox world from those in the Charedi world: the act of a married woman covering her hair. While many women in Modern Orthodoxy do cover their hair, (primarily those who take their observance more seriously, whom I call Centrists), there still exists a great number of married Orthodox Jewish women who do not. And many of these women are indeed serious about their commitment to Judaism. Hair covering for a married Jewish woman is a matter of Halacha. So the question arises, how can an observant Jewish woman claim to be serious about her observance while still refusing to cover her hair? Is there any Halachic basis? Is it a matter of ignorance? Or is it just plain refusal to do so?
Let us first examine the nature of the Erva that is a woman’s hair. The traditional translation of the word Erva is nakedness. Is hair Erva as the Gemarah tells us? The answer is… it depends. Not all women must cover their hair. That is clear Psak Halacha. It is only married women who must do so. Single women who have never been married do not. What that tells me is that there is no intrinsic Erva in hair itself (at least the way we normally understand the term Erva). For if that were so then even unmarried women would be required to do it.
Yet, the fact is that the hair of a married woman …IS… considered Erva. I’m not sure if I understand the difference between married and unmarried women in this regard. Hair is hair. So when the Gemarah uses the term Erva it is obviously not being used in its usual meaning.
Let us now look at how Halacha treats hair covering.
There are two terms identified in Halacha that refer to sexually modest behavior:
Daas Moshe is the term used in Halacha to connote that which is the immutable Halacha transmitted to us via Moshe Rabbeinu. That is inviolable.
Daas Yehudis is the term that refers to a custom of modesty for women that is accepted by a predominance of them in a given society. If a woman transgresses one of these customs, she is liable for the transgression of Daas Yehudis, a Halacha that is relative to community standards.…
It can be understood from Siman 115 Halacha 4 that Daas Yehudis is a modesty issue which has always been relative to one’s environment. It is designed to protect us from violating Issurei Erva, those laws about sexual conduct which are biblically mandated. By definition, Tznius (modesty) in dress is that which is communally perceived as such. Of course Tznius extends the area of Erva which it encompasses. …
I think it is a reasonable proposition to say that the phrasing of the Shulchan Aruch, indicates categorizing uncovered hair as a violation of Daas Yehudis and not Daas Moshe. It is then possible to see Daas Yehudis as a Minhag Tznius. This, therefore, concedes at least the possibility that in another time and another place, uncovering hair would not be a violation of Daas Yehudis….”
This essay relates to the Halachic need to cover hair but does not discuss relative merits of alternative hair coverings. However, some Rabbis, especially Sephardi rabbis, forbid wigs, sometimes arguing that they are more attractive than the woman’s real hair and therefore do not fulfil the requirement of modesty. They favour snoods/ hats/ berets/ scarves, although the great authority Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and also Lubavitcher Rebbe (Chabad), permit sheitels.
A large sheitel market has developed as a result, with an enormous range of options in style, colour, length, hair type, materials and costs. Many women have several sheitels at any one time and it is customary for parents-in-law to buy a good quality wig for their new daughter-in-law before the wedding.
In my video I look at the widespread use of sheitels to conform with the Halachic preference for hair covering for married women- whether from the woman’s own conviction or to please her husband- focusing on the variety, the industry and the personal.