Sheitel: Foundation of a Yiddishe Home, Wellspring of Blessing

On many occasions, the Rebbe underlined the great zechus that a woman has in maintaining tznius and covering her hair, particularly with a sheitel. Read a comprehensive article on the Rebbe’s opinion and the brachos he gave to those who wore a sheitel.

By A Chassidisher Derher

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“Kimchis had seven sons, all of whom merited to serve as kohanim gedolim. The chachamim asked her, ‘What have you done to merit this?’ She answered: ‘The rafters of my house have never seen the braids of my hair.’”

(Masechta Yoma, 47a)

“[Kimchis’s] profound conduct of tznius—to the extent that even when she was alone in the house ‘the rafters of her house never saw the braids of her hair’— affected her sons so much that they all merited to become kohanim gedolim.

“Her behavior thus had an effect many, many years after she conducted herself in this manner—after her children had already become bar mitzvah and after they had reached the age of twenty, when they became fit to become kohanim gedolim.

“Moreover, her conduct also had an influence on her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, for the son of a kohen gadol inherits his father’s position.

“Since this tale is related to us by Torah She’beal Peh, it follows that this is not just a story of something that transpired in the past, for ‘that which has passed is past.’ Rather, it comes to teach every Jewish daughter how much she is to scrupulously observe tznius, even when there is no one else in the house, etc.

“… By behaving in this ultimate manner of tznius, one affects for the good one’schildren and grandchildren, as we glean from the above tale of the Gemara.”

(Chai Elul 5742)

No Compromise

Over the years, the Rebbe underlined the great zechus that a woman has in maintaining tznius and covering her hair, particularly with a sheitel, and pointed to it as a major source of blessing for her and her family.

The tremendous benefit of wearing a sheitel is actually spelled out in the Zohar: “If she does so [= properly covers her hair], her children will be superior to other children of the nation; her husband will be blessed with spiritual and material blessings, with wealth, children and children’s children.”

The Rebbe also spelled out in letters the many brachos that are drawn down through a woman covering her hair properly with a sheitel, mostly based on the above Zohar. At the basis however, as in all matters of life, the Rebbe grounded his stance on the importance of women wearing sheitels on the fact that women covering their hair is mandated by halacha.

In reply to a woman inquiring about the basis of the obligation to wear a sheitel, the Rebbe replied unequivocally: “[Regarding] the issue of covering a woman’s head— on what the custom is based, etc. “This is a full-on law in Torah, Toras Chaim, and not merely a custom (although much importance is attributed to Jewish customs too). All the more so, that there is special emphasis placed on practicing this law—of covering a (married, obviously) woman’s hair, as is understood from the quality of the reward received for adhering to this law.”

The Rebbe’s insistence on the matter actually had precedence in previous generations. The Frierdiker Rebbe wrote about the necessity for a chassidishe woman to cover her hair with a sheitel. In fact, as the Frierdiker Rebbe continued, this special regard for halacha is where the uniqueness of a bochur who studied in Tomchei Temimim is expressed:

“The difference between a student of Tomchei Temimim and a student of other yeshivos, is not only in matters of yiras Shamayim, but is mainly in matters of mesiras nefesh for Torah and behavior [according to Torah]… The behavior must be that the wife of a student in Tomchei Temimim should wear a sheitel, notwithstanding how hard it may be, because doing otherwise is not possible and not permissible.”

Indeed, to many who inquired regarding a shidduch proposal, the Rebbe responded by emphasizing the necessity that the kallah take upon herself to wear a sheitel. In some instances, the Rebbe wrote in strong terms, that “it is obvious and self-understood that a non-negotiable condition [that has to first be made] is that of [the kallah’s taking upon herself to wear] a sheitel.”

Aside for noting the basic halachic reason, the Rebbe would regularly stress that wearing a sheitel “is not merely a private matter, but something of a general matter and brings about merit to many (zechus ha’rabim). ” In reality, the Rebbe wrote, wearing a sheitel is the foundation of a chassidishe home. In a telling letter, the Rebbe writes relatively at length and in clear terms, about the tremendous importance and benefit connected with wearing a sheitel:

“Regarding what you wrote at the end of your pan about your kallah, [a bracha] that you should have a chassidishe home (“a chassidishe hoiz”).

“… Wearing a sheitel is of primary importance to the foundation of the entire home, as it is something seen by all. This is especially pertinent in your area, since I have heard that there is currently some laxity in this matter, regarding wearing a sheitel. Thus there must be unwavering firmness in this [matter], and she should specifically wear a sheitel.

“Surely, your desire will help you find the right words to bring this about practically and successfully.”

Yiddishe Pride

In a fascinating letter, the Rebbe writes to a woman who was worried that she may be laughed at if she starts wearing a sheitel:

“In response to your letter in which you write about a sheitel, and how in your frum community this isn’t the tradition [i.e. they don’t wear sheitels], and you are ashamed, for perhaps they will laugh at you if you wear a sheitel…

“Recently even American youth have begun to especially honor and respect those who stand firm in their faith. They do not feel embarrassed by those who scoff at them and their outlook on the world. To the contrary, they respond with scorn and derision to those who simply follow the majority without having any principles of their own. Surely you know that the entire four-part Shulchan Aruch opens with the statement that one should not be embarrassed by those who scoff at one’s service of Hashem.”

The Rebbe concludes with a most powerful message: “Moreover, and this too is quite simple and very understandable: ‘Hashem fills heaven and earth,’ and finds Himself with man in all places and at all times. This is not so with regard to people; even those who live extremely close are not always close at hand. Thus, how can it possibly be that one is not embarrassed, chas veshalom, before Hashem, and rather is embarrassed by people who are flesh and blood?!”

Sheitel Specifically

Much of the Rebbe’s correspondence on the topic discusses the necessity for a woman to wear a sheitel specifically, and more precisely, a sheitel that entirely covers her hair.

An advantage of wearing a sheitel rather than a tichel, the Rebbe explained, is that a tichel can easily slide down, unlike a sheitel. Thus, wearing a sheitel is very much needed in times when frum Yidden can be subject to intimidation.

In the Rebbe’s words, “The difference between a sheitel and a tichel is the following: It is easy to take off a tichel; this is not the case with a sheitel. Also, when one is at a gathering and wears a sheitel, then even if President Eisenhower were to enter the room she would not take off the sheitel. This is not so with a tichel, which can be easily removed.

“… It is possible that she will say that she will wear a tichel properly. If she does so, then surely all is well. But experience has shown that this is not the case. “Why place yourself in the path of temptation? We ask every day prior to davening, ‘V’al tevi’einu lo ledai nisayon— do not bring us to a [challenging] test.’ So how can we take upon ourselves such a test? Who is greater than Dovid Hamelech, concerning whom the Gemara says that he completely vanquished his yetzer hara, and nevertheless he did not withstand the test.”

An interesting episode is recounted by Rabbi Zev Litenatsky:

Upon his engagement with his wife, Devorah, in 5719, he merited to have a yechidus with the Rebbe. Present at this yechidus were the chosson, the kallah, and their fathers.

During the yechidus, the question came up how Devorah would cover her hair after their marriage. Her sisters lived in Israel at the time, and they all covered their hair with tichels, which is what she wanted to do, even though it is the custom for Lubavitcher women to cover their hair with a sheitel.

The Rebbe asked Devorah if there was something on her mind, and she brought this up. It led to a long discussion between the Rebbe and Devorah—lasting about 45 minutes—in which she explained her position, and the Rebbe explained to her why tichels are problematic. The Rebbe said, “Imagine yourself coming to a wedding, where everybody is all dressed up in their nicest clothes and all the women are wearing sheitels, but you are wearing a tichel. You will feel uncomfortable, because you won’t look as nice as them.”

The Rebbe added that when something feels uncomfortable, then people tend to discard it after a time, which is why it is better to prevent any such problem ever coming up.

After the yechidus, Devorah agreed to cover her hair with a sheitel, and immediately went to purchase one.

Constant Demand

The Rebbe’s great push for women to wear a sheitel expressed itself in many ways throughout the early years of the Rebbe’s neisus. From letters to individuals, personal conversations in yechidus, or just a remark during a sicha, the Rebbe demanded this very much.

As Reb Moshe Levertov wrote in his diary: “In general, everything that the Rebbe speaks about with a passion, the Rebbe demands very much. For example, the Rebbe expressed regarding women covering their hair with a sheitel that he will carry through with mesiras nefesh (‘er vet durchfiren mit mesiras nefesh’).”

In the earlier years of the Rebbe’s nesius (and even earlier, during the Frierdiker Rebbe’s nesius) the Rebbe would participate in the weddings of Chassidim as the mesader kiddushin. In the years following Yud Shevat 5711, the Rebbe laid down several conditions to his participation at weddings, including that the chosson should grow a beard and that the kallah should wear a sheitel.

Similarly, before the wedding of Reb Shmuel and Mirel Spalter, the chosson had a yechidus with the Rebbe. During the yechidus the Rebbe told him that if he cannot afford a sheitel, he should go to the mazkirus office to receive funds to purchase a nice sheitel (“a sheine sheitel”) for his kallah.

By 5723, the Rebbe had stopped physically participating in Chassidim’s weddings. Before the wedding of Rabbi Shmuel Lew, the father of the kallah, Mr. Zalmon Jaffe, requested that the Rebbe participate in the wedding as mesader kiddushin. A few days before the wedding Rabbi Hodakov asked the chosson, Rabbi Lew, if the kallah had two sheitels, so that when one is being washed the other one can be worn. 

Ultimately, as a rare exception, the Rebbe was mesader kiddushin at their wedding, the last time he did so.

Head Held High

Shortly after her engagement, Mrs. Chana Sharfstein had a yechidus with the Rebbe. To her surprise, the Rebbe asked if she was planning on wearing a sheitel. She answered honestly: “No, I’m not planning on wearing a sheitel.”

The Rebbe looked at her with a smile and said: “Un farvos nit – and why not?”

“I’m living in Boston,” Mrs. Sharfstein replied. “All my friends are nice observant girls who come from observant homes, and none of my friends are planning on wearing a sheitel. Only old people wear sheitels.”

“Are you going to keep your hair covered?” the Rebbe asked.

“Yes,” Mrs. Sharfstein confirmed. “Everyone in Boston wears hats; I’m planning on wearing a hat as well.”

And that was the end of that.

Over a year passed, and gradually Mrs. Sharfstein began to realize that many of her neighbors and friends were wearing sheitels and they didn’t look too bad in one. Slowly, she began to reconsider, although practically she had no plans to purchase one.

One day, in the beginning of chodesh Elul, a letter from the Rebbe arrived in the mail addressed to “Mrs. Chana Sharfstein.” The letter’s arrival was a bit unexpected; Mrs. Sharfstein hadn’t corresponded with the Rebbe recently.

She opened the envelope to the sight of a typed letter taking up a full page, with the Rebbe’s signature on the bottom.

The letter, which began with discussing the significance of the new year in regards to teshuvah, contained some surprising content.

The Rebbe wrote that he wants to institute amongst the women of Chabad something that hasn’t been instituted before: the idea of wearing a sheitel. And he wants every single woman in the Chabad community to wear a sheitel, “without an exception” – the Rebbe underlined.

The Rebbe continued that Mrs. Sharfstein could be a leader amongst the women to influence people.

But the mind blowing part came at the end: the Rebbe brought up every argument that Chana had posed in her yechidus as to why she would not wear a sheitel and discussed them.

Mrs. Sharfstein recounted the Rebbe’s words: “The fact that your friends are not planning to wear a sheitel, that should not make you feel that you shouldn’t wear one; you can be the one to be the leader, and show them the way.

“As to what you say that you would be uncomfortable with wearing a sheitel – when you wear a sheitel and you walk down the street, carry yourself high and feel proud to let the world know that you’re a proud Jewish woman, and therefore you are wearing a sheitel with happiness…”

Mrs. Sharfstein immediately decided to write a note to the Rebbe informing the Rebbe of her decision to wear a sheitel.

Just a few days after Mrs. Sharfstein sent her note, she received a phone call from Rabbi Krinsky that there was something important waiting for her at the Rebbe’s office.

“Of course, my husband immediately went to 770, and I impatiently awaited his return,” Mrs. Sharfstein related. “My husband returned from 770 and told me ‘you won’t believe what happened.’ He takes out a check and says: ‘Look! This is what I received in 770, this is from the Rebbe.’

“In a small white envelope was a personal check from the Rebbe, written in his personal handwriting, and with it came a special message that I should buy the most beautiful sheitel I could find; he said I should wear it in great happiness and joy.”

Added Benefit

As mentioned, the Rebbe pointed to wearing a sheitel as a source of great blessing.

In response to an individual who asked the Rebbe’s advice “regarding your brother having male children, and healthy children,” the Rebbe responded unequivocally:

“You should also find out from your brother whether his wife is careful to observe kissui harosh. For the Zohar’s statement is known that a woman’s observance of tznius and especially kissui harosh brings about ‘blessings of above and blessings of below, with wealth, with children and grandchildren, etc.’”

In a telling letter to a Chossid in Australia, the Rebbe writes that the financial problems that were prevalent amongst the community were less because of the declining financial state of the country, and more because of the sheitel issue amongst anash women:

“In regards to what you wrote regarding your financial situation, as well as [the financial situation] by several anash: I cannot withhold my opinion on the matter, for it is important to other people, and it is [regarding] very important things. My opinion is, that of the main reasons for the lack of success until now, is not so much the natural reason—the financial situation of the country now, for many have overcome this—rather it is the issue of sheitels by the anash women.

“And although the limmud zechus (not only a limmud zechus, but the truth of the matter is) that [the sheitel issue] is because they became used to this in the old country [i.e. Russia], and there this [i.e. the issue of wearing a sheitel] was fraught with much difficulty, and once one becomes accustomed to something it becomes permitted to him, chas veshalom. It is known, however, that a limmud zechus— although it is of great value—does not change the situation, that ultimately, the issue of sheitel is not okay at all.”

Rabbi Yitzchock Arnold related:

Five years passed after my wife and I were married, but to our dismay, we still had no children. My wife remembered a letter she wrote to the Rebbe long before, when she was a kallah, about covering her hair as a married woman. At that time, the Rebbe had answered her, “If you cover your hair with a sheitel, as a married woman should, you will have children.”

At her next yechidus with the Rebbe, she took that letter with her. And when she asked the Rebbe for a bracha for children, she put the letter on the table and said, “I have a promise.” And then she burst into tears.

The Rebbe recommended a particular fertility clinic, where he suggested she see a doctor whose name he provided. We went there, and fourteen months later our first son, Shlomo, was born.

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    1. Thanks so much Derher for researching this and compiling it so beautifully. I plan to print it for my high school students!

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