Why am I posting this? Because I can!
Dov parked the car, threw the key to seven of us, and the other six gentlemen seemed to have gone off and gotten drunk, leaving me as the designated driver.
Bad move, boys.
It's time to talk of sheitels!
The best sheitlach are made with real human hair, inferior ones with heavens knows what. Fortunately, you can look like a Soprano widow at either end of the price range.
A while back there was a groise machloikes over sheitels made with hair from India. Women panicked, running through the streets of Boro Park and Lakewood screaming and shedding hair. Or so I've been told.
[And I always believe everything I'm told by ehrliche menthsen - don't you?]
The problem was that the hair (either all, or three symbolic tufts) was shorn from Hindu women at religious ceremonies - don’t ask, I haven’t a clue!
But it had to do with purification for idolatrous rituals, and temple profits from the sale of the hair, and thus shmecked of avoidah zara (strange service, hence idolatry). It is issur to partake of, share in, or in fact have anything to do with idolatry. Especially monetarily.
Why is hair from India used in wigs?
The two main sources of hair used in wigs and hairpieces are Europe and India. The desirability of Indian temple-cut hair lay in the length, strength, and alignment.
Hair that is aligned (that has all its cuticles pointing in the same direction – called Remy hair) can be used for high quality wigs that have a natural look, whereas hair that is not aligned will need to be chemically stripped of the cuticle layer to keep it from becoming tangled.
[Note: to dye hair, it has to be stripped and bleached; this is never done to Remy hair. Keeping hair aligned is done by tying it with ribbons prior to cutting, which was also the custom at the temple. The hair was then sold, and the money benefited the getchkeh served at that temple.]
Such aligned hair is more expensive than stripped hair, and is used for better wigs, whereas stripped hair is often also chemically bleached, dyed, and conditioned.
So the problem is this: if your sheitel is glossy, black and expensive, it probably is made of Indian Remy hair. If it is any other colour but did not cost an arm and a leg, it nevertheless also may be made of Indian hair.
Is all hair from India suspect?
Only ten percent (more or less) of the hair purchased from India comes from the temple in question (Tirumala). Because a much larger percentage of Remy hair from India is temple hair, it might be argued that a wig made from dyed hair (remember, Remy hair is not dyed) should contain far less temple hair. But there is no way of telling – a sheitel of dyed hair could be all temple hair, because not all temple hair is Remy.
In the same way that one can not assume that a piece of meat is kosher without evidence (presumption based on place purchased, trust in the merchant having full knowledge of the derivation, and verifiability based on trusted agents who oversee and examine), one can not blithely assume that because the sheitel is not Remy it is safe.
What about European hair?
Hinduism is not prevalent in Europe, and there are no religious practices in Europe in which a woman cuts off long hair. So, based on currently known data, European Remy hair should be considered Halachically acceptable.
Several ravs have spouted psak and teshuve ad nauseum, most either coming out against Indian hair wigs except under certain circumstances (psak l’issur), or stating l’heter that they were acceptable unless it was definitely known that the hair was tainted by A.Z., or in fact outright takruves (offerings) to the getchkeh (idol).
Some went on for several pages, quoted multiple authorities most marvelously, without actually saying anything. And a few proved nothing more than that an obsession with hair is might be common among poskim, so if you have a fetish, you’re in good company!
That a lenient ruling should be made is in keeping with the decision made by rebbeyim over fifteen years ago (AND thirty years ago) when this issue came up before. But it may be that, at that time, the poskim were not fully aware of the details of the issue, hence their being matir.
There are some very fine sheitlach made from Chinese hair, which is as strong as Indian hair, but has a much softer look.
[But if you must have a luxurious head of Chinese hair, might as well keep the entire Chinese person to whom it belongs. You won’t regret it.]
On the other hand, hair from a harlot, or from a murderess shorn at her imprisonment, would also be perfectly acceptable - as long as she was not involved in idolatry.
Caring for the Sheitel.
Many women use a sheitel liner in between their head and the actual wig, which keeps it cleaner and prevents their own hair from intruding on the elegant, sexy lines of the sheitel. Synthetic hair is easier to clean, but bear in mind that synthetic wigs end up looking ratty and eccentric within a year, whereas a good real hair wig maintains its looks a bit longer.
If you wish to wash the thing yourself, instead of taking it to your local sheitel macher, do so every five or six weeks. It is best to place the thing securely on a Styrofoam head (use pins), wet it with warm water, lather with shampoo, and rinse gently. Conditioner can be applied, but apply AWAY from the root. Rinse after a minute or so. It can be air-dried, but in moist environments it is advisable to speed up the process with a blow dryer on low heat – also good for styling.
Why a wig in the first place?
Rabbinic law states that married women should cover their hair before all save their husbands, for reasons of modesty.
In the eighteenth century, when ultra-orthodoxim first started wearing sheitlach, the deceptively real appearance of certain wigs was manifestly not a problem; wigs were observedly unnatural, and no immodesty could be imputed.
Many orthodox rebbeyim at that time opined that covering one’s hair was more effectively done l’halocho with a sheitel than with a tiechel (headkerchief) or hat, as the sheitel can cover all of the hair, while also being convenient for wearing indoors.
Since then wiggery has become a firm custom, which many do not have the confidence to discard, and yet do not think deeply about. And there are those who, b’hiddur mitzvah, also wear a kerchief or a hat, in addition to their perruque.
A final consideration
A good wig can mislead other women (who cannot see that it is fake, and may therefore assume that if a woman who is known to be respectable and frum is showing hair, it is acceptable to do so), and may in fact be as immodest in its effects as flaunting a luxurious head of hair for men to see, to smell, nay even to brush their faces against on the bus, inhaling deeply of its delicate aroma of perfumed shampoo.
[The fragrance may actually be so intoxicating even during Elul as to cause the poor man to miss his stop, limply unresisting, and consequently loose his job.... do you really want that on your head? Do you?]
If showing hair is tantamount to immodesty, I have to wonder whether it is not best for men to expose their big (!) bushy (!) beards (!) only to their wives, and only in the home.
Note: Some of you may remember that I posted much of this material back in 2006. And so what? I'm not above canabalising my own stuff. I'm both lazy and opportunistic.
Further note: If the six other guest-posters don't sober-up and start posting soon, I will be forced to tell you all about Nidah, Zivah, and Zavah. You don't want that, do you?