The Explosive Topic of Lace Front Sheitels

104

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

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The topic of “Lace Front” sheitels is an explosive one – where some Rabbonim are forbidding their use, while others claim that there is no problem whatsoever. Slightly over a month ago, there was an asifa at BMG in Lakewood where the issue was discussed. Two months ago, a Kol Koreh was signed by numerous Chassidish Poskim forbidding it, and a campaign was started called “Erase the Lace.”

This is a topic that has so many aspects to it, that it is difficult to know where to start.  There is (a) the bottom line halacha, (b) the explanation of what it is that we are talking about, (c) who permits and who forbids and (d) the general history of the sheitel.  So here we go.

THE BOTTOM LINE HALACHA

It seems that there are three distinct categories of Poskim:

  • There are those who forbid lace front sheitels entirely  – because they look like a woman’s real hair.
  • There are those who permit the lace front sheitel entirely.
  • There are those who permit the lace front sheitel in communities where everyone knows that it is a sheitel, but forbid the wearing of such sheitels in non-sheitel communities.  Ask your own Rav as to which of these authorities you should follow.  Keep in mind that each of the Poskim that we spoke had slightly different nuances in their views.  We present them a few paragraphs below under “Contemporary Poskim.”

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WHAT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT

It seems that there are two types of materials, or fabrics in which the hairs of a sheitel are actually sewn – this would translate into how the scalp part of the sheitel looks.  We will call this the base.  There is silk and there is lace.  And to add to the confusion, there are combinations of the two fabrics as well.

The essential point that has cause the issue to explode is the fact that the hairs on the front of the lace can be “plucked” downward, and appear to almost everyone as if it is the natural hairline. The illustration above demonstrates this exactly, but the lace that is used in most lace-front sheitels is even less discernable than the one used in this illustration.

SOME OTHER DIFFERENCES

Lace has holes that allow for more air circulation and also allow for a more naturally sparse looking hairline which can gradually get thicker.  Also, lace can provide more volume to the hair than silk can. On the other hand, the scalp of a silk base looks more realistic and is much more durable than that of lace.  However, a silk top has an extra layer, so it is bulkier at the hairline.

THE COMBINATIONS

Lace front wigs with a silk top can combine the advantages of both. They have lace in the front allowing for the sheitel to lay flat and to create that halachically-controversial sparse and natural looking hairline, while at the same time have that realistic looking scalp on account of the silk top.

The downside to the combos is that from the top, one can usually see the demarcation line between the lace ending and the silk beginning.

FULL LACE

A full lace sheitel has complete uniformity throughout the entire piece.  There is no change in density and there is no line of demarcation.  It also has a lighter feel.  The capability for customization is also much greater, since lace can be cut easily.  It also lays flatter, so there are no gaps.  The downside to it is that it may need glue or tape around the hairline.  Also, lace is more prone to warping unless one is very particular about its care. Full lace needs more caution that front lace.

Also, this author was informed by Malky Goldstone, a leading sheitel-macher serving the Five Towns/Far Rockaway community that the lace-top sheitel is actually see-through and on account of this has serious questions about its halachic permissibility.  She further stated that lace sheitels are far far more delicate than other sheitels and get ruined and destroyed much more quickly than other sheitels.

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If this is the case, then a sheitel-macher who sells lace sheitels must convey this information to her clients, or it can become a very serious halachic problem.  It is a fact that Jewish women wear their sheitels much more often than the general populace who wear wigs do.  Some sheitel machers have actually stopped selling the lace sheitel because of the future problems that such a delicate item can bring up.

CONTEMPORARY POSKIM 

There are entire communities, such as Williamsburg and Lakewood, where the Rabbonim forbid the lace front sheitel completely.  Rabbi Yitzchok Felder shlita, one of the leading Poskim in Lakewood, New Jersey, rules that the lace front sheitel is forbidden.  He states that a woman who wears a sheitel where one cannot tell that it is a sheitel is violating what the Torah wanted when it forbade a married woman going out with uncovered hair.  He related a story where a woman went to the beach without her sheitel.  When asked about her non-covering of her hair, she responded, “The truth is that I have a sheitel that looks exactly like my hair.  Here on the beach there is a lot of sand.  Why should I ruin my $2000 sheitel?  I will just uncover my hair, and everyone will assume that it is my sheitel.”

Likewise, Rav Yaakov Forchheimer, shlita, also one of the leading Poskim in Lakewood, New Jersey, is cited by family members as having ruled that it is forbidden as well.

It is this author’s view that when R’ David Lichtenstein, on his Headlines Radio show, presented Rav Felder’s view he, perhaps, oversimplified his view, stating that the Torah said that the reason for the Torah’s prohibition is so that one would not think that a married woman is, in fact, unmarried.  It is this author’s view upon listening to the recording that Rav Felder is forbidding it on other grounds – in particular, on the grounds that it is a maaris ayin issue.

Rabbi Gedaliah Oberlander, of Monsey, stated in a shiur played on “Halacha Headlines” that it could be that there is certainly a prohibition of Maaris Ayin if one cannot tell that it is a sheitel when standing close by.  He also stated in the shiur that it is not a problem of reciting divrei Torah in front of a davar sh’be’ervah as long as one knows that it is a lace-front sheitel.

Rav Elyashiv zt”l‘s view was not in accordance with the more permissive view of the Mishna Brurah and strongly discouraged sheitels in general. It is also interesting to note that manuscripts of Rav Teumim (the author of the Pri Magadim) have been found in the Bodleian Library at Oxford (1:1500:16419) of his work entitled “Aim LaBina” mentioned by R. Avrohom Meir Livshitz Breizel printed in 2014 which show that days before he passed away, Rav Teumim retracted his whole heter for wigs entirely. [Nonetheless, it should be pointed out that we have a dictum that an author’s more authoritative work will set aside a lesser work that he wrote, even if he wrote it later.]

Rav Yisroel Reisman shlita is cited as holding that – while it cannot be prohibited, it is not within the spirit of the law.  It is his view that yeshivaleit should not be wearing the lace front sheitel, but that it cannot be forbidden to the general populace.

Rav Binyomin Cohen shlita, a Posaik in Flatbush (and the son of Rav Rav Feivel Cohen shlita) was one of the speakers at the event in BMG and, it seems to this author, also is of the opinion that it is forbidden because it is a violation of das yehudis.

Rav Binyomin Cohen is of the opinion that the definition of das yehudis is that one must appear to be covering one’s hair better than the umos haOlam do.  In other words, the Shulchan Aruch in Even HaEzer (115:5) states that there must be a double covering of the hair – the regular cover and a redid.  The  Chasam Sofer in his responsum (OC 36) writes the same idea.  This is also discussed in Rav Moshe Shternbuch shlita’s sefer entitled, “das vehalacha” on page 12 citing the Maharam Chagiz.  How then do we justify the Ashkenazic minhag of just wearing a sheitel without a covering?  The answer is that, nowadays, the umos haOlam do not cover their hair at all.  Since they no longer cover their hair – das yehudis is fulfilled with just one covering.  His view is that since the lace-front sheitel is designed to appear as real hair – it is a violation of das yehudis.

THE PERMISSIVE OPINION

Rabbi Yitzchok Berkowitz shlita, one of the leading Poskim in Yerushalayim for the Anglo communities, rules that since there is no maaris ayin in sheitels according to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l’s responsum (Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Vol. II #12) there would be no problem in lace front sheitels.  Rav Moshe’s letter was written in the summer of 1962 to Rabbi Dovid Lappa z”l (who lived in Bayswater at the end of his life) and contained a number of rationales as to why there is no maaris ayin regarding sheitels.  1] Maaris ayin is only for a lav and not an issur assei 2] Most of the time it is recognizable that it is a wig 3] Even if men do not recognize it, women do recognize it and that is enough to prevent a maaris ayin as we can see in regard to shaving with an electric razor 4] Since she is known as an isha kshairah – no one would dare suspect her of not following halacha.

Rav Reuvain Feinstein shlita, the Roshe HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Staten Island, also cited a conversation with his father that in regard to sheitels, it is up to the wife and not the husband since there are rishonim that rule there is no problem of maaris ayin.  This is also how Rav Feinstein concludes his letter to Rav Lappa.  It is interesting to note that Rav Reuvain’s go-to approach, initially, was to go with the stringent view – and changed his mind when he posed the question to his father zt”l.

Rav Shmuel Fuerst shlita of Chicago, one of the leading Poskim in the United States, in a conversation with this author about the matter, stated that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l ruled conclusively that if any woman can tell that it is indeed a sheitel – it would be permitted because there is no maaris ayin.  He extended Rav Moshe’s rationale to the contemporary lace front sheitel as well.

Rav Fuerst stated, however, that if the sheitel is a breach of tznius, modesty, it would be forbidden.  How this term is to be defined, however, is also a question.  Are there parameters in terms of length, for example, that would render a sheitel immodest?  What other factors might contribute to this?

Since the term seems to be somewhat vague and ill-defined, one is tempted to employ Judge Potter Stewart’s famous test, lehavdil, in Jacobellis v. Ohio, in 1964:

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..”

HOW DO THE POSKIM WHO FORBID DEAL WITH THE IGROS MOSHE?

How do the Poskim who forbid the lace front sheitel deal with the Teshuvah of Rav Moshe?  Firstly, they may be of the view that the term “overes al das yehudis” is the language of prohibition rather than a negation of a positive commandment.  That being the case, there very well could be a prohibition of maaris ayin.  Even Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l only used the language of “efshar” when he presented this idea of there being no prohibition of Maaris Ayin in regard to positive Mitzvos.

Rav Hershel Ausch shlita, one of the leading Poskim in both Boro Park and Williamsburg remarked to this author, “This teshuvah was written in 1962, and 1962 is not 2021.  When dealing with lace front sheitels – most of the time it is nearly impossible to tell – indeed, that is the point of it.  And even women do not recognize it anymore.”

There is yet another point. Rav Feinstein’s letter was written to an exceptionally holy woman, a Rebbitzen from an illustrious Rabbinic family – Rebbitzen Lappa shetichye.  Does it apply to everyone? Also, it is unfortunate, but there is a trend among some people, even those from the most illustrious Torah homes, to do away with their sheitel.

THE MIDDLE VIEW

A number of years ago, Rav Binyomin Forst shlita explained to this author that in an area where there is no sheitel-wearing infrastructure, there would, in fact, be a prohibition of Maaris Ayin.  This is also the view of the Mogain Giborim 75:3 who writes so explicitly.

HISTORY

Now let’s take a brief look at the history of sheitels. The human hair wig as we know it first appeared in ancient times, then virtually disappeared after the fall of Rome in 476 CE. It then reappeared in the last five centuries on account of King Louis XIII of France, who on account of worrying about his own personal male pattern baldness – advanced the technology of modern sheitel manufacture. [Thus far no sheitel company has expressed hakaras hatov by naming a sheitel after him, but we digress].

We find that the Egyptians wore wigs to protect against the hot sun. They attached the wigs to their head using beeswax and resin. The Assyrians, Greeks and Romans also used wigs.

[The term “wig,” by the way, is short for “periwig.”  The term sheitel may derive from the German word Scheitel which means a “parting.”  In Yiddish, it means a cover and is also applied to Tefillin boxes or covers.]

IN THE MISHNA

The Mishna in Shabbos (6:5) also attests to the use of wigs, and the Gemorah later on clearly shows that it was done for beauty. Both Rashi and the Meiri explain that it was worn so that “she would appear to be a baalas s’ar – having [much] hair.”

Rashi in Bechoros (7b) seems to add more information. He writes (D”H nehenim b’saarah), “The women who had little hair used to attach (or tie) the hair of other women to their hair and this is called peah nachris.”

A HALACHIC HISTORY

The Ramah (75:3) discusses the halacha of reciting the Shma in front of a woman who is wearing a wig, and permits it. The Mishna Brurah explains that it is because he holds that this, the wig, is not considered “s’ar b’isha ervah. – the hair of a woman is forbidden.” There is a view that all wigs are forbidden because they are still considered “the hair of a women which is ervah.”

Most Ashkenazic Poskim (See Igros Moshe Even HaEzer Vol. II #12) and families, however, followed the lenient opinion regarding wigs. This is the view of the Mogain Avrohom, the Rav Shulchan Aruch and is indicated in the wording of the Vilna Gaon.  Some Sefardic poskim permitted it as well. Indeed, the Kaf haChaim (OC 75:19), Mishpetai Uziel (EH Mahadurah Tanina #74), and Yaskil Avdi (Vol. VII EH #16), all prominent Sefardi Poskim also permit the wig.

On the other hand, Rav Chaim Palaji (Ruach Chaim EH 21) and Rav Ovadiah Yoseph zatzal (Yabia Omer V EH 5:4), however, follow the stringent view forbidding wigs for Sefardic women.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita stated that the Chazon Ish’s wife wore a wig (cited in Meir Oz Vol. III page 829) as did his mother. He also ruled that if a Sefardi studied in an Ashkenazic Yeshiva he may allow his wife to wear a wig, otherwise, she should cover her hair with a kerchief.

PROOF OF MISHNA BRURAH”S VIEW

There is a proof that the Chofetz Chaim permitted the sheitel in general.  In his Mishna Brurah (75:15), he cites two views in regard to a sheitel from one’s own hair. The first view he cites is that of Rav Yoseph Ben Meir Teumim (1727-1793), author of the Pri Magadim.

The Pri Magadim is of the opinion that use of a Peah Nochris, a sheitel, is permitted. The Mishna Brurah then states that it is indicative in the language of the Pri Magadim that he permits the use of one’s own hair in the manufacture of it as well.  After quoting the Pri Magadim, the Chofetz Chaim then cites the view of the Mogen Giborim (written by the two brothers-in-law, Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson [1808-1875] and Rav Mordechai Zev Ettinger [1804-1863] and published in two parts) who were stringent in regard to one’s own hair in a sheitel and forbade it.  But we see that he held that the sheitel itself with other hair is permitted.

The earliest source who discusses the topic is Rav Yehoshua Boaz Ben Shimon Boruch (d. 1557) of Northern Italy, the author of the Shiltei Giborim. He writes on tractate Shabbos (64b) that the wig is permitted and it makes no difference whether it is her own hair or that of another woman. He also shows that this is clearly referring to a married woman because the Gemorah states that she wears it so that she not be found unappealing in the eyes of her husband.

CONCLUSION

As stated earlier, there are a number of halachic views in regard to lace-front sheitels, and sheitels in general.  Many are of the opinion that it was never permitted in the first place.  Others have voiced opinions that those sheitels that are extremely long are a violation of tznius.  And then, of course, there are those who are of the opinion that Indian hair is so rampant and that so many of the women who offer it to their avodah zarah do so as an actual offering and that sheitels are forbidden because of takroves Avodah Zarah.  Each person should, therefore, ask her own Rav or Posaik.

There is a wonderful young man who could use our assistance.  Please read it and help.  https://thechesedfund.com/zechornilah/ayeshivastudentneedshelp

The author can be reached at [email protected]


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