Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Religious Ruling - Wigs Are Out

There has been much ado over a Psak - a Halachic ruling by HaRav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv. This is a ruling not just mentioned in his name. I would suspect its validity in that case. This ruling can be heard in a recorded Shiur he gave. It is about the modern era Shaitel -wigs used for covering the hair of married women. He has forcefully declared them comparable to Erva. This is what actual hair of a married woman is declared to be in Halacha. According to most Halachic opinions the hair of married woman has the Halachic status of nakedness.

The Gemarah tells us that this is is derived from the words in the Torah with respect to Sotah. A Sotah is woman who is suspected by her husband of adultery with another man – and was warned not to seclude herself with him. If she is caught in seclusion, she is taken to the Beis HaMikdash and is asked to go through the Sotah ordeal. The procedure includes the requirement that she ‘untie her hair’. Our sages learn from these words that a married woman otherwise has a religious obligation to cover her hair.

The Gemarah also discusses something called a Peah Nachris. This is essentially a wig that may be used for the Halachic purpose of covering hair. If I remember correctly the Gemarah does not clearly settle the issue of whether a Peah Nachris is a permissible form of hair covering for a married woman.

Some Poskim in fact do not permit wigs. Primary among them are Sefardi and Religious Zionist Poskim. My own Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, was opposed to wigs. His Rebbetzin never used a Shaitel to cover her hair. But his daughters in laws do, as do most of the wives of his Talmidim. In our day most Poskim allow it.

The Satmar Rebbe and a few other Chasidic Rebbes have argued that a wig is insufficient covering. Many Chasidic sects do not allow wigs at all. Satmar allows wigs but only if they are covered with a hat or cap.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe had the following approach. He fully approved of wigs no matter how real they look. He actually preferred them, I’m told, because unlike scarves and snoods that inevitably expose some hair around the edges a wig covers all the hair.

Recently one Posek by the name of Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk of Gateshead, England, has argued that today’s human hair wigs are of such high quality – especially custom wigs – they defeat the purpose of hair covering making it seem as though there is no hair covering at all!

Rabbi Falk only permits a wig if it is obvious that it is a wig. If they are too realistic he forbids them. Of course most people whose wives wear wigs can usually still tell if they look hard enough that one is wearing a wig. But in some cases, I admit that it is virtually impossible to tell. That’s how good they are today. In fact I know woman who are greatful to wear these wigs as their own hair never looked so good! Nonetheless his ruling was mostly scorned - even by Charedim.

There are some sincere and knowledgeable Modern Orthodox Rabbis who have been Melamed Zechus – judged favorably - the vast majority of Modern Orthodox who in western culture do not cover their hair at all - and have cited sources for leniency in this respect.

But in the Charedi world as well as in Centrist Orthodox circles, married woman cover their hair. Most of them with a Shaitel.

One of the reasons for the vast compliance with this Halacha today is the quality of today’s Shaitel. Less than 100 years ago, one would see that most Orthodox woman did not cover their hair. That included even wives of Lithuanian Gedolim in some cases. This was in fact the case in pre-war Europe.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of the monumental Halachic work the Aruch HaShulchan actully references that fact as he Paskins on whether one is allowed to make a Bracha in front of a married woman whose hair is uncovered since we clearly may not make Brachos when there is an Erva present. (He Paskins that we may.)

But now we have a Psak from a Posek whom many consider to be the Gadol HaDor. He has paskin’d the following from Yeshiva World News:

The Rav (Rav Elyashiv) is quoted as saying there are permitted sheitels and those that are asur, but today’s are strictly forbidden. He called “today’s” sheitels “erva”, stating they are absolutely forbidden.

A participant in the shiur asked Rav Elyashiv how they wore human hair wigs in the time of the Gemara, to which he responded the wigs of those days were different, with the best at that time being comparable perhaps to today’s worst, adding today’s human hair wigs represent “erva” and are absolutely forbidden.

The Rav repeated over and over again the severity of the isur of wearing such sheitels...

I predict that this Psak will be almost totally ignored. And I also believe that most American Poskim will part company with Rav Elyashiv here. I will go out on a limb and say that if this were to become Psak Halacha in the Torah world - we may end up reverting to the days of the Aruch HaShulchan where most religious women abandoned hair coverings wholesale.

And that brings me to ask whether some of the other Teshuvos - Halachic rulings stated by Rav Elayshiv are worthy of the same treatment. If not why not?

I am referring to is the Psak against Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s works. When Rav Elyashiv banned his books almost all rabbinic leaders here and in Israel jumped on his bandwagon. Charedi Rabbinic leaders and lesser Charedi rabbis were practically tripping all over themselves in condemning Rabbi Slifkin’s works – even though before that ban his works were being used by some of the very same rabbis for Kiruv purposes among the college educated. One such rabbi said that if he were rabbi Slifkin, he would be on his hands and knees begging Rav Elayshiv for Mechila!

Is this Rav now going to tell his wife to destroy her wigs and get on his hands and knees to Rav Elyashiv begging for Mechila? Are any rabbinic leaders prepared to do that? Or are they going to ignore this one?