My First Sheitle

The tireless search for the perfect sheitle is a daunting one. Nabbing the perfect, and affordable, wig, first time out of the gate, is akin to finding a designer gown on sale for less than 100 dollars, in just the color you need for your next simcha. With a bracha from Hashem, it happens, and it feels like winning the lottery when it does.

When I called up the Partners in Torah organization eight years ago, looking for a mentor, I was clear with them about my goals. “Please find me a frum woman who can help me learn the laws of Shabbos and Pesach, but please don’t match me up with anyone who is going to pressure me to cover my hair. It’s not something I plan to do.”

And so, they assigned me to dear, Adina Henderson, of Saint Louis, Missouri, the most patient, non-judgmental teacher, and I gave her my speech: “I’m willing to keep Shabbos, kosher, mikvah. But I’m never going to wear a sheitle, so please don’t expect that of me.” I could hear her smiling across the phone waves. “No problem,” she said, and we proceeded with our first lesson.

A year later, I was progressing nicely in yiddishkeit, taking on new mitzvot by the week. Except for. . . covering up my gorgeous, back-length thick, wavy, hair, other than wearing a hat on Shabbos to shul to be respectful. Where I was living at the time, Yardley, PA, only a few women covered their hair. I wasn’t “frum enough” to be a card-carrying, sheitle-wearing, Jewish mama, or so I thought.

And then, Hashem intervened. As a public speaker for one of the books I had just published, I was stranded for a day in the airport, and to compensate me for my troubles, I received a free airline ticket to be used anywhere in the country in the next year. I put it in a desk drawer and completely forgot about it. . . until two weeks before it was due to expire, and I found it. “Where to go in two weeks by airplane?” I wondered. I had been learning with Adina every week for a year, and a thought popped into my mind. I picked up the phone and called her.

“Adina, I have an airline ticket due to expire in two weeks. What do you think about me coming to visit you? You’ve been teaching me the laws of Shabbos over the phone. How about doing so in person?”

Two weeks later, on a sweltering hot July day, I was standing in Adina’s kitchen, helping her make Shabbos. Unbeknownst to me, my – kind, non-judgmental, never going to push me into a sheitle- teacher, had a plan. She asked her sheitle macher to supply her with a box of sheitles to be just “sitting around her house”, in case she had the opportunity to introduce the idea to her completely sheitle-reluctant student.

Two hours before candle lighting, I was complaining to her about how hot my snood was in the Saint Louis summer heat. Adina casually responded, “I know what you mean. I find that a sheitle is much more comfortable than a snood in this heat. You know, I happen to have a box of sheitles in the house. Have you ever been curious? You could take a look.”

What fun. I never had the nerve to stick my hands into the Yardley rebbetzin’s hair. I’d always wondered what a sheitle felt like. Adult dress-up, why not.

Adina brought out this box full of sheitles and showed me where the bathroom was. “Have fun,” she called out.

I opened the box and pulled out the first sheitle. A shiver ran up and down my spine. I was holding my hair – the exact coloring, curl, and length. Below it in the box were short blond sheitles, red sheitles, a wide variety, but this first one. . . this was me. I placed it on my head and looked in the mirror. And the tears came. I looked like me. Only prettier.

I left the bathroom to show Adina. She tried to appear nonchalant. “Looks nice, why don’t you keep it on for tonight’s dinner, for fun?”

I did, and I wore it the next day, too. Motzei Shabbos, I knew I would be purchasing it. Her Sheitle machor couldn’t believe it. It needed no adjusting. It was perfect, right out of the box.

I was sure I was never going to wear a sheitle. Hashem had other plans when He stranded me in the airport for a day, one year earlier.

First Seen in Mishpacha, Family First, January ’08.

25 comments on “My First Sheitle

  1. Orthodox Jews tend to want to live in Orthodox Jewish communities. A community’s practices include halachos, chumros related to halachos, and minhagim. Regardless of what her personal take on halachos is, Deborah Shaya and others like her will need to be sensitive to practices and expectations in their communities.

    Various traditional practices that feminists object to are now under scholarly review in various quarters to see if an argument can be made that they are optional. I hope the scholars in question are not marshaling evidence to support predetermined conclusions.

  2. There is No codified Halacha that a married woman must cover her hair totally and constantly whenever she steps out of her house.

    The Halachah has been MISinterpreted. When the Halachah refers to “Covering hair,” it does not mean “Cover your hair with hair!” and “constantly for life.” The Halachah is that:

    A married woman is required to cover her hair when:

    (1) she lights the candles to welcome in Shabbat and Yom Tov – lechavod Shabbat ve Yom Tov, and

    (2) when she goes to the Synagogue, because that is the place of Kedusha.

    The Halacha does not require anything more from married women. This is the true interpretation of the Halacha.

    The misinterpretation of the Torah is completely Assur, and a twisting of the Torah.The Torah must remain straight.

  3. I got my first sheitel about six months ago after much consternation and procrastination. The first one I tried on looked just like my real hair…but better. In fact, I was at a wedding a few months ago and introduced myself to Rebbitzen Feigy Twerski — she asked me if I was looking for a shidduch!!

  4. What a great story! Every women has an issue with sheitel – to wear or not to wear – how short, how long – what to show, what not to show. BH it worked out for you. That happened to me also. My first sheitel was like a mop, then I got some synthetic ones which were alright. Then I bought a Shevy which was ok but too expensive. Finally I found the perfect one that looks like my hair and it was a great price also!

  5. Ron,

    During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was very common for men in Western Europe and America to wear wigs.

  6. Fern, most hairdressers (if there’s no “sheitelmachor” in your area) can wash and style a sheitel. If you’re washing it yourself, just don’t scrub it the way you would wash your own hair, well, actually this isn’t the right place for a washing description… you can email me if you wish.

    I actually consider my sheitels a bit of fun – who else can change their look just as easily as by putting on a different hat (the latter is applicable to Ron & Bob as well). And it still amazes me – who can spot a sheitel a block away – that very few people who are not frum realize I’m wearing a wig. Don’t they notice that my hair never seems to grow?

    For me it was a decision that was made, perhaps because when I was first becoming frum I was spending my time in Boro Park, so I guess I just figured it was a “given” that a married woman covers her hair. I’m the oddity who finds a sheitel more comfortable then a hat (but not a snood -that’s always what I switch over to at home). Since I work in a secular environment, I’m just more comfortable wearing a sheitel, as opposed to any other type of headcovering.

  7. Your partner is my daugher’s “Morah Adina.” She is amazing as a first grade teacher. It is wonderful for me to see this other dimension of her teaching abilities.

    My first sheitel had a similar story – the perfect color, style, size, right out of the box (and it was on clearance so it was a steal ;).

  8. You can use peyos to cover up a bald spot!?

    Yep. It’s called a comb over. :-P On a slightly more serious note, what happens to a man who has peyos if he becomes too bald to grow them anymore?

    Azriella–I’ve long told people that I’ll never cover my hair, doing so was “too crazy.” But lately, for whatever reason, it hasn’t seemed as crazy to me and I could see myself covering my hair with a scarf or sheitel. How did you learn how to wash and style your sheitel? I think a lot of time the biggest hurdle for me with new mitzvot is my fear of not knowing the mechanics of how to actually do the mitzvah day in and day out.

  9. Beautiful story! It reminds me of the sukkos story where the poor melamed (teacher) -who also was a hidden tyzaddik – would put his hand in the bag and blindly pull out the most beautiful esrog in the bag!

    much hatzlacha on your journey

  10. Azriela, since you had reservations about covering your hair, and it wasn’t Shabbos yet when you would wear a hat, what led you to wear the snood in St Louis?

  11. I am inspired to see that my article brought about such a meaningful discussion, Ron and Bob . . . .


    Chaya, you are right, my teacher was very patient and it might not have happened, certainly not through her influence, if she hadn’t have been. And speaking of perfect timing, who knew when I was stranded in the airport a year earlier what would come out of it!

  12. Why does wearing a wig make a person “frum”? Isn’t it the act of covering the hair? Why is a wig any better than a hat, scarf, or snood? I don’t understand why wearing a wig is the ultimate in observance.

  13. Great story. What stands out to me is that your teacher had the emuna and patience to wait for the right opportunity, and Hashem provided it.

  14. A relative (famous actually) saw us for the first time since our non-frum wedding this weekend and commented how much she liked what my wife has done with her hair ;) We did not confess.

  15. >>I find that a sheitle is much more comfortable than a snood in this heat.

    Funny. My wife always tells me the snood is more comfortable in the heat than her sheitle.

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