Let’s Talk about Sheitels: A Rejoinder to Alexandra Fleksher

The distinct impression one gets from Alexandra Fleksher’s Times of Israel recent blogpost reacting to the digital flyer condemning long sheitels, is that she is circling the wagons to protect all sheitel wearers from any type of criticism — regardless of their level of modestly or lack thereof.

Of course Mrs. Fleksher doesn’t want to be judgmental towards the many Orthodox women who chose to wear long, glamorous, even provocative hairpieces outright. That would certainly be counter-productive. Instead, she evokes sympathy for the difficult struggle many women experience in balancing the need to look current and fashionable with Orthodox codes of modesty in general, and hair covering in particular.

But she goes even further.

She finds myriad ways to provide cover for the most provocative-looking sheitel and sheitel-wearer: sociological, emotional, and religious arguments are carefully constructed (presented more as facts on the ground instead of actual reasons why these types of sheitels should be given a pass).

What I find puzzling is not that she rails against the crude attempts of a digital flyer to “frum-shame” purveyors and wearers of long and glamorous sheitels. I didn’t find it surprising that she would want the hard-liners to appreciate the challenge of being an Orthodox woman in a world culture of little restraint and to show a little understanding. What I find puzzling, and even quite troubling, is the great lengths she goes to in order defend and justify what she herself begrudgingly admits to being a clearly immodest trend.

As conservative pundit and proud kippa wearer Ben Shapiro often says, you can hold two opinions at the same time.

You can easily make a strong case on the one hand, against pressure tactics that are designed to incur shame and guilt upon a large swath of people with no sensitivity and no nuance. There is no question that such attempts to coerce women into compliance will have negative consequences.

But you can also call a spade a spade and unequivocally call out this particular sheitel trend for what it is: an immodest fashion that should never be adopted by those for whom the highest standards of modesty are their highest priority.

So why run in the other direction? Why insist that THERE CAN BE NO standards of modesty imposed on frum sheitel styles without Hollywood’s consent? Why make the flimsy argument that if really frum women are wearing them, they must be kosher? Why make the desperate, “we’ve now hit rock-bottom” argument that any hair-covering is better than no hair-covering? (That’s like saying the frum community should be tolerant of skin-tight leggings because if we insist on skirts, the very Modern Orthodox might wear shorts instead.)

The truth is that, as is the case with every other article of women’s clothing, an Orthodox woman’s own community is quite capable of setting standards for what sheitel styles are acceptable. And here’s another uncomfortable truth: some communities’ standards of modesty adhere more to the spirit of the law (and in most cases, that means they’re better) than others. Those communities should be encouraged to hold the line and tailor the current hair fashions to their higher standards –like they do for every other fashion item they wear–instead of being told that it’s only a matter of time before they will all be adopting “the look” of People magazine wholesale.

So while it may very well be unproductive to issue a broad, cross-community condemnation of provocative sheitels, it is probably wise for a tznius-conscious community to find some sensitive way to draw some red lines for their own.

By using gentle social pressure (preferably by other women) to maintain higher standards of modesty for our own community and forgo the cutting edge of hair fashion, perhaps we can still be role-models for the many “spirit-not-just-letter”-minded women in other communities to emulate.

But by taking the hyper-non-judgmental, defeatist route of Alexandra Fleksher, we condemn our own community — and those whose look up to us from the outside– to follow the ever-eroding standards of Hollywood.

What a tragedy that would be.

About the Author
Dovid Kornreich grew up in the U.S. and made aliya when he married in 1996. He has been studying and teaching talmud and Jewish thought in two Jewish institutions in Jerusalem for over 15 years. He has an enduring interest in the conflicts between Torah and contemporary thought, specifically Science & Feminism
Related Topics
Related Posts