Monday, November 1, 2010

A Zone of Privacy in the Sheitel

Chani Wuensch makes wigs for married Orthodox Jewish women to wear in public. (Katie Falkenberg, For The Times / August 31, 2010)

By Elisabeth Greenbaum Kasson/ Los Angeles Times

Shternie Lipskier's is a stylish, deep red bob with short bangs. Elana Kornfeld's is a long, dark, glossy brunette that she parts on the side. Chani Wuensch's is a lighter brunette, with auburn lowlights and graduated bangs that fall softly across her brow. Chicly dressed and ranging in age from 29 to 36, the three are discussing their hair, or more specifically their sheitels.

Sheitels are the wigs that married Orthodox Jewish women of the most devout, or Hasidic, communities wear in public. It would be a surprise to the other patrons of the Studio City coffee shop where we've met that the women's hair is not their own and that not so much as a strand of their real hair is visible.

Wuensch is a sheitel macher, or wig expert. Kornfeld, who is Wuensch's sister, and Lipskier are both married to Chabad Lubovitch rabbis.

Covering their hair is part of tzniut, a spiritual path of modesty and humility. The word also is a general term for the group of Jewish laws that pertain to personal conduct, which includes dress. The application of tzniut to women's hair is so important that some Hasidic communities offer low-cost loans for sheitel purchases and collect used sheitels to donate as charity.

When asked about the belief among some Hasidic Jews that a sheitel should be ugly, Lipskier is quick to explain.

"Judaism doesn't equate modesty with unattractiveness," she says. "A sheitel allows a woman the ability to look good without compromising her privacy. Even if someone else doesn't know it's a wig, wearing a sheitel has a profound psychological affect on the woman wearing it. She is saying, 'I am not available to you. You can see me but you may not see my most obvious feature, which is my hair.' By wearing the sheitel, a woman invests her true appearance and real self in the most important place in her life, her marriage."

Another mistaken belief is that Hasidic women shave off their hair when they marry. An infinitesimal number of women shave, and they usually belong to insular communities.

Kornfeld smiles and pulls up a length of her sheitel hair to reveal a bump under the edge of the wig's cap. "I keep my hair long," she says, dropping the strands and rendering the bump invisible.

"I keep my hair short," Wuensch says, "because I don't like the weight of it under the sheitel, but it's really a matter of individual comfort and preference."

As a sheitel macher, Wuensch is skilled in the craft of fitting, customizing, cutting, styling, cleaning and reviving sheitels. She spent six months training with a wig company that caters to the Orthodox Jewish market.

Kornfeld and Lipskier are good ambassadors for her wares, which she sells from fitting rooms in Los Angeles and Burbank. Her wigs are made of real, untreated hair from companies that are considered the gold standard for wearers. They range in price from $1,300 to nearly $3,000. For a new sheitel, clients seek out Wuensch just prior to marriage and often before major Jewish holidays.

Cost is determined by length and whether the hair is machine-sewn in wefts directly onto a cap, or hand-sewn, hair by hair, onto a double cap. With careful upkeep, a sheitel will last two to three years.

Later, Wuensch suggests fitting me. She assesses my features and takes out an auburn, shoulder-length wig. She pulls my own long hair back and makes a flat knot at the base of my skull, then, gently shifting the piece from front to back; she aligns combs, clips, hooks and tabs. With a final pat and a light tug, it sits comfortably on my head.

The sheitel is beautiful, thicker and shinier than my own hair. The fit is seamless. I move my head back and forth and run my hands though the sides. The cap stays put and the hair moves naturally around my face. If I left wearing it, no one would know and what's underneath would be wholly private. For anyone who wears a sheitel, that's knowledge worth having.
Source: L.A.Times


nanaloshen said...

I know these sisters. They are beautiful women inside and out. And it comes from their mother, a true role model. As a Los Angeleano who doesn't read LA Times, thank you. I would have missed this otherwise.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I've had my sheitel for 10 years now, it was expensive, and is real hair, and if you take care of it, it lasts much longer than two-three years.
Most women wear them only when they leave the house, inside the home they wear a scarf [tichel] and no we don't shave our heads!!!!

Anonymous said...

Many of today's Poskim like the late Harav Eliyashev z"l the Posek HaDoor say that a wig that looks like real hair is prohibited from wearing, for the simple reason of not being able to tell if it's a wig or real hair and a married women should not be dressed like a single girl showing off her hair.

In other words, a married women should net be attractive out side of her home, she should only be attracted to her husband and not make heads turn when she walks the street.

A wig from 50-60 years ago looked like steel-wool, and believe me it was not very attractive, but today's wigs look and same time are real hair therefor many Poskim hold that one should refrain from wearing it.

That's why many people in Israel (some Chasidim world wide too) do not wear any type of wigs just a Teichel a scarf around their head to cover their head shaven or not.

They really try to make a point of showing that they are married in order do discouraging a relationship with a married man.

It should be obvious that she is already married and she has her man already.

Please for give me for being so to the point but I felt it's important to explain why many don't wear a wig after they get married.

Sharon said...

I am not Jewish but to me true modesty would be to wear a scarf out of the house, not a beautiful wig.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you a thousand percent, as a women I know that when my hair is made up many men look at me, so if one would wear a scarf it would be much better.