Monday, October 16, 2006

Sexy Sheitls

Frum women frequently cover their hair by wearing a Sheitel (wig). Now days a sheitel, usually looks better than the women’s own hair. Not only do the sheitlach look great, some charedi women are stylish, attractive and sexy looking. I would think these facts are a cause for rejoicing. What can be better than walking down the street and seeing a great looking woman dressed in a modest way, (tzniusdig). Halacha has been satisfied, the woman feels good knowing she looks good and men get to look at a good looking woman. Not so. Puritanism is alive and well in the Orthodox community.

I discount Puritanism from the left. The strategy there is to claim that nothing less than a mop will do, and then turn around and say ‘Look at these women, they are wearing a mop. Is this reasonable?’ There is something particularly galling to the liberal mind that a frum charedi woman looks sexy. I don’t know why. Imagine you are invited to a home that keeps kosher and are served a stylish, trendy wonderful meal. Would any sane person complain that halacha has been circumvented by using culinary tricks, unless you are trying to prove kashruth is impossible to follow. Is there any reason on earth why a kosher home must serve kugel, kishka and gefilte fish 24x7. The laws of kashruth act as a constraint, a handicap as it were. A stylish baalabusta is challenged to present the finest meal she can, the more she can overcome the halachic limitations the better. Same for the requirement to cover the hair.

Puritainism from the right is a more difficult subject. There are many issues.

Charedi men who encounter glamorous women might be unhappy in that their own wives might be frumpier looking. I would imagine frumpy wives can be a problem in secular society as well. I see no reason why all charedi women must look equally frumpy so that some charedi guys not feel frustrated.

It is frequently said wives need to dress up for their husbands and not for the ‘prying eyes of the public’. I disagree. Body narcissism is a very basic, natural and universal feeling in both men and women. A man or woman who exhibits their attractiveness in public, subject to the constraint of tzinius, needs no justification, any more than an athlete or a charismatic, handsome rabbi. Remember the fuss is about a woman who is walking down the street, arms covered, skirt below the knee, and no décolletage. If seeing such a woman is prying, we are into burqa country. Men who are proud to wear their tzitzit outside their pants, and take joy in wearing a gartel are really not in a position to complain about exhibitionism. Modesty prevents me from elaborating on this point.

There is a set of rich to very rich Strict and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. The men are happy to see their wives dressed to kill. No charedi woman walks out of the house regularly looking stylish and uber-farputzed, let alone sexy unless the husband approves. The sheitlach are just a small part of the intense jockeying for relative status. Much of the resentment to these very expensive sheitls is really a jealousy and envy of having to coexist in one community with such a fast, wealthy crowd.

I am not in a position to discuss the halachic intricacies of tznius and chasidic dress. It is clear, whatever the details it does depend a least a little bit on the style of dress in the society at large. If after living in a country that regularly wears shorts and tank tops, charedi men are still aroused and bothered by a woman dressed tzniusdig/ modestly but wearing a sheitl, I say in general it is their problem and they ought to lie down until they calm down.

I don’t mean to minimize those select Jews, who want to live a life of kedushah veteharah, purity and holiness. Such men and women know how to act to maintain their special ascetic life of preishus, separation from society. It is mistake to impose those standards on an Orthodox public that is already acting in a chasidic way, at least relative to the rest of America. If you take every last drop of pleasure out of charedi life, the long term damage will be far greater than the benefits.

For some very different ideas on this topic see here (10/04/06, especially the fascinating comments) and here (8/30/06).


At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Personally, I think frum women (teenages/early 20s) are extremely sexy, particularly seminary girls.

Wendy Shalit has a book called A Return to Modesty. In it, she shows how modesty is extremely sexy.

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous sheitel said...

The problem with sexy sheitls is that they defy the spirit of the law. Because hair is sexy, halacha mandates that it be covered. By covering it with something even more alluring complies with the letter of the law, but something is lacking.

OTOH, a man should not have to look at a frumpy wife, when the other women he encounters are dressed to the nines. That is perhaps why the most rabbis have not attacked the sheitel.

At 4:08 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

I don't believe that attractive sheitals violate the spirit of the law.

One legitmate reading of the law (see Aruch Hashulchan) is that the reason for hair covering is no longer a function of tznius, since uncovered hair in Western society does not denote a women's interest in sexual promiscuity as it may have in earlier times (or currently in the Islamic world).

We're left instead with more technical reasons for requiring hair covering (Das Yehudis, etc.), and such reasons are limited. E.g., I've heard it argued that hair in a bun, completly uncovered, is halachically permitted.

The point is that apart from the spelled-out halachik technical requirements, Halacha additionaly requires a woman to not dress in a "sexually provocative" way, and that varies from society to society. But there's no prohibition against looking "attractive".

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous sheitel said...


Would you argue that a skin-tight covering on a woman is within the spirit of the law?

Would a man be allowed to attend a gym where such women are exercising being that such practice is lauded by the current society we live in?

At 5:18 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:21 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...


1) Yes.

2) Potentially. It depends on whether the man is aroused by it or not. Adam yodeah b'nafsho.

But if I am turned on by an etzba ketana of a woman that does not mean she has to cover it. Same with an attractive sheital.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

Meant to say "No" on question #1.

At 5:26 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

But in addition, context matters.

A woman wearing a Jennifer Lopez style dress is violating Halacha. A woman wearing a sweatsuit is not (IMO), especially in the context of excercsing. If there's nothing that society would deem untoward, then it does not violate the spirit of the law.

[Sorry for the multiple posts. How to edit comments?]

At 8:07 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Your remark about letter and spirit have a Pauline ring to them that might be foreign to halacha.. Exactly how is the spirit of the law satisfied in a heter iska, eruvim in city neighborhoods, selling the chametz and dishes for pesach, farming during shmetah, heter meah rabbanim in gitin, and so much more. Why is that when it comes to women and their bodies, men are not satified with the letter, even when in many other contexts these same men are in favor of a more liberal enlightened Orthodoxy? Isn’t this talk a wee bit sexist?

Your pt. about skin tight clothes in a gym is interesting. I would think skin tight clothes for a frum women is against the letter of the law. One of my points, though halacha might not be this way, is that a man who receives some pleasure from seeing an attractive woman, not staring or obsessively looking, while going about his daily routine is not doing anything wrong. The same for a woman who was the cause of the pleasure. And I would add the same for a woman who has some enjoyment in seeing a a handsome man.

At 8:02 AM, Anonymous sheitel said...

To EJ and BAB:

Would a sheitel bedecked naked woman walking down the street be complying with halacha? There is no pasuk in the Torah saying that a woman has to cover her hair. The Torah requests modesty. So while a sexy sheitel may be problematic, there is no issue with a regular sheitel. As for your question regarding other loopholes, I don't think that they are comparable. The Torah asks that I get rid of my chametz. If I sell it, I do not have any chametz in my possesion. If I wear a sexy sheitel I have not complied with the law.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger hubscubs said...

would a woman wearing a t-shirt with an image of naked breasts be in compliance with halacha? on one hand, the "real thing" is covered. on the other hand, you are responsbile for arrousing men.

secondly, a very common understanding of da'at yehudit would be that the hair covering is a siman nisuin, or a symbol that she is married - i.e. off the market. from my own experience, i have seen many men hit on married woman who were wearing sheitels that were unidentifiable. if the men themselves can't tell that it's a wig, it sort of misses the point, doesn't it?

At 10:44 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

hubscubs…I am not arguing for the thesis that a woman can act in a sexually provocative way provided she is covered up. I and most people disapprove of such behavior in all circles including secular. I am saying a good looking woman covered up should not be responsible for men’s fanatsies about her, provided she does not act provocatively. Marilyn Monroe in a sheitl acting like a chasidish, baalabatish women should be allowed to walk around.
As for a sheitl being a signal a woman is married, I agree that is one function , but it need not be a full proof signal. Most sheitls, even very expensive ones look like sheitls, certainly to a trained eye. When an error occurs it should be too difficult for a woman to explain her status.

At 10:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no pasuk in the Torah saying that a woman has to cover her hair.

You should carefully read what that Torah says about a סוטה.

At 6:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

full head covering is a drabonon and its function was not to prevent men looking at attractive women. married women covered their hair and those who uncovered them were doing the equivalent of taking off a wedding ring in a bar. Gentile women did the same, and were considered divorced when they went with hair uncovered.
Women may have begun covering their hair out of general modesty, if hair was considered alluring, but this should not be confused with the reason for the requirement to cover hair.
The spirit of the law is not recoverable in a society in which uncovered hair is not a sign of marital status. It doesn't matter what a woman covers her hair with - whether its a scarf or a snood or a modest short sheitl or a sexy long one - it doesn't function as a signal of marital status in our society. The function of the hair covering was not to prevent men LOOKING at women it was rather to prevent a woman passing herself off as single. The sheitl, given that it is hard to explain and remove (no matter what it looks like) probably fills that function better than anything else - the Lubavitcher Rebbe who was in favor of sheitls and attractive ones at that argued something along these lines, pointing out that a scarf is easily removed and can be taken for a fashion accessory.

At 1:59 AM, Anonymous meme said...

."And I would add the same for a woman who has some enjoyment in seeing a a handsome man."

there's no issur histaklus for women no matter the form of pleasure. This is an example of nonexistant spirit of a nonexistant law

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Ben Bayit said...

There is no doubt the increased trend to "sexiness" in the frum community has played a role in the high divorce rate. As the first anonymous commenter pointed out "frum women in their teenage/early 20's are extremely sexy". This is when most of these girls are dating for marriage. They have absolutely no idea how to go about choosing a mate for life. Neither do the men aged 19-25. They want T&A. Very bad matchups - based soley on external appearances - ensue; leaving the frum world with a litany of single moms with one kid, as well as countless more "bad" or "weak" marraiges where a guy stays in it for the sake of the kids but really has no common value system or intelligent conversations with his wife. The wife meanwhile wears sexy sheitels to keep that initial "spark" of the marriage. But it eventually wears thin - most normal men will tire of the "barbie doll" look - or move onto updated models if they are financially successful. Sometimes the empty, no-personality women in these types of situations will have just sucked the spirit out of the man in the event that they somehow become the more dominant partner. to the point where the man couldn't really give a damn how she looks, as long as he can find a good shiur or conversation in order to get away from the shallowness.

That's what "sexy sheitels" mean in the frum community today. Girls raised to graduate good Orthodox high schools whose only goal in life is to look like a barbie doll and somehow hook a "good boy". So I don't believe that it's "resentment". There are deeper factors at work.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

ben bayit- I do not understand how the issue of sheitels relates to the question of bad match-ups based only on external appearances. I would think that you are in fact wrong. Both young men and women have a variety of good qualities from intelligence to character to looks. Some people emphasize looks and, in fact, in time, they may find that looks without any intelligence is boring. Many men find a way to continue to enjoy their attractive but airhead wives. Some women find a way to enjoy their handsome but airhead husbands. Some don’t. So what else is new? I would think to have a telling complaint, you would have to argue that there’s something about Orthodox high schools that leads a girl to treat herself as a Barbie doll that would not be true of a different kind of high school. Is there anything about Orthodox high schools that leads a girl to treat herself as a sex object?

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Ben Bayit said...

EvanstonJew - You are probably correct. It was on further reflection and a long discussion of this topic that I realized that a couple can still create a "Truman Show" like reality for themselves - even under the conditions I described. And while I would find no satisfaction in such a match, many can find it - even if they don't reach their full potential as a human being.

In fact I came to the same conclusion as you - it's a problem with the chinuch. And because it's a problem with the chinuch, young adults lack to skills to progress in a relationship. So while perhaps going out dressed to kill might be a good thing in certain relationships and/or certain communities, it's a problem when this becomes the raison d'etre for nearly every single graduate of an Orthodox girls HS. Look have become over-emphasized to the detriment of other qualities - to the point at which most young adults (and unfortunately quite often their parents as well - especuially in the American Yeshivish/Litvish crowd) do not know how to ascertain the other qualities that are so important to match-making. I think that young religious HS girls have been picking up the wrong "signals" in the community. That's the connection.

At 9:13 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

ben bayit..I am not trying to be a nudge, but since you seem to understand this issue will you explain to me what exactly in the yeshivish world causes girls to objectify themselves that is not true of the chasidish world or the secular world? I am very interested if you care to comment.

At 11:34 PM, Blogger Ben Bayit said...

It seems to me that in the chassidish community the effort to spend money on clothes (and they spend a lot - relative to income - men and women) has more to do with "european elegance" (see your holocaust post) but has retained a certain heimihkeit so there is no (or little) pritzus. Most Hungarian women in the chassidshe community dress to kill (by their standards) but don't flaunt it. Their husband might be a fish monger but will come to shul on Friday night in an elegenat, clean pressed bekishe. It's elegant heimishkeit.

The American (and to a ceratin extent Israeli) Yeshivish community has become more "western" and they've adopted western mores. 2 generations of beis yaakov (and the like such as prospect park) went through a fire and brimstone education regarding tznius and family purity - everything is measured by a ruler - so they have adopted a modern sense of fashion (and fashion today is basically purient) and "adapted" it to the "rules" of tznius. Thus the tight red skirt that goes just to the knees, the sheer stockings, the tightish blouse that matches the ever so high pumps (or even 3.5 inch heels) and of course - the sexy sheitel.

I come from a heimishe baalbatish (with chassidic) background and I see how this progressed from my grandmothers to my sisters who went to the "yeshivish" type schools.

At 2:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a real shame that this is even a discussion. Kol K'Vuda Bas Melech P'Nima. Unfortunately in today’s society, that is almost impossible, but why dress or act just the opposite?
It reminds me of the story of this sick man who the doctors only way of curing his life threatening disease, was by eating “Chazir”, but the patient only would eat it if it was “Shected” by a frum Shocet. Yes, we have no choice (or that’s what we think), but let’s limit the damage.

At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Neshama said...

Your conversation is very interesting. Some of the arguments I find 'conformist' in thinking, i.e. conforming to the mores in your social milieu. I say that because I was not raised in either school system, and beside the natural inner feeling for covering my neshoma, I have learned about some of the restrictions/suggestions that are being conveyed to Jewish women and girls.

What I believe the aura of modesty involves is the cultivating or awakening of the inner bas yisrael reflective of the tzenua of Sarah, Rivka & Rochel Imeinu. These were our beautiful ancestors, from which the Bas Yisrael is to learn about modesty.

We read that the modesty of Rivka lead her to pull a veil over her face. We read that Sarah was tzenua in her tent. There are extrapolations from then that applies to now.

I do not see our lives in this era as a 'more tznius' expression of the greater society.

I have just learned something that Rav Auerbach zt"l wrote on this topic:

" is the way of kosher Jewish daughters that they are nauseated by strange men placing a covetous eye upon them."

How many of us can say that we feel this way?

I for one exchanged my sheitel for a SHERNTICHEL [a decorated kerchief], which is the description of what the wife of the Baal Shem Tov wore. I was surprised to learn that. I do not dress and look "frumpy" at home or when I go somewhere. It might be a really good thing, the feeling not to look "frumpy." Women should be concerned about their appearance.

But, to say that today's styles are good for the Jewish woman - as long as they are conformed to the 'ruler', i.e. making it "tznius-style" like "Jewish-style" delis, is a perversion of the whole concept of tznius.

"modesty is extremely sexy" is an oxymoron! Modesty is modest, and sexy is sexy, they are opposing principles and concepts.

I found sheitels to be a falsehood, and they way some of them appear is compared, to me, to the ruse of the yetzer rationalizing with Chava. It was her rationalizing that contributed to a scisim between what Hashem said and what Adam did.

Covering has always meant a "covering of the married woman's hair" so she is seen as belonging (as in wedded) to her husband.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

neshama…Your sincere remarks are indeed moving and a wonderful example of the high ideals involved in the concept of tznius. I take issue with your use of the quote from Rav Auerbach z’l. Most men do not ’place a covetous eye’ upon seeing less than attractive women. Even in the case of attractive women there is a world of difference between having salacious,lascivious thoughts and looking at such women with pleasure without indulging in any additional fantasies. In fact the best antidote to involuntary lechery is the natural, entirely baalabatish interaction between ehrlicher men and tzniusdig women.

I am also puzzled why you feel covering your hair or dressing modestly is necessary in covering your neshama. Wouldn’t your face with all its expressive qualities and your language be the clearest pathway into your neshama?

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the lav of velo sosuru applies to men and women equally.


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