Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bald Jewish women.

The topic of certain kinds of Ashkenazic Jewish women who shave their head never ceases to fascinate and horrify. The origin of this seems lost in the mists of time. The custom makes its appearance in Jewish literature of the 19th century in defenses of the practice, as well as in a decree of forcible Russification forbidding it in the mid-19th century. Speculations about its origin range from it being caused by external forces (some sort of attempt at warding off marauding lords or Cossacks who raped Jewish women) to internal ones (some sort of extra stringent approach to mikva, perhaps decreed by the early modern Council of the Four Lands). No evidence, as far as I can tell, exists for either theory. My own provisional theory is that it may have evolved from some sanitary need, perhaps occasioned by the practice of married Jewish women to always keep their head covered, and whatever might have bred underneath such perpetual coverings in those less sanitary times; see below. But who knows?

In any case, I came across something interesting:

Although this excerpt is from a later reprinting, this is part of a poem which appeared in the October 1783 issue of the London Magazine.

Secondly, in 1790 the medical researcher Mastallir published a book called "Praktiche Abhandlung uber den Wichtelzopf," or "A practical Treatise on the Plica Polonica," which is a nasty dermatological condition (I think that anyone who ever wondered about Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman's beard should have a look at that Wikipedia link). Mastallir reviewed four case studies, including one Jewish woman who had no hair on her head, but "was attacked in another part."

Also, the following appeared in an 1853 issue of the British humor mag Punch:

More forthcoming, if there's any relevant info to uncover, so to speak.


  1. not only ashkenazi woman-see tzror hamor on metzorah

  2. Thanks, but this is about the European practice.


  4. Ah, yes. The short story was by Leonard Michaels. Funny how things stay in your head...

    says its from a miss reading of the zohar

  6. What page?

    Does he mean it's continuance is justified on the basis of a "misreading" of the Zohar? Or does he claim that he can show evidence that this is how the practice arose?

  7. Gil has a post on this topic:

  8. Wow, my short term memory is bad. I forgot that post, and it's only a month old.

    I still like my suggestion that perhaps it was intended for better hygiene.

  9. Deborah Shaya:

    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.

  10. Deborah Shaya:-

    In ancient times, a woman would only cover her hair upon entering the Beit HaMikdash. Similarly for the Sotah-otherwise she would not be required to cover her hair ordinarily, day to day.

    It is very important for people to know and realise that when a married woman covers her hair with 'Real Hair' the woman is covering herself with 100% Tumah. This is totally against the Torah.

    Nothing could be more nonsensical than for a Jewish woman to cover her hair with someone else's hair -who was not Jewish as well! She can never fully be sure that this 'hair' has not come from meitim-despite any guarantee by the seller.This 'real hair' is doubly and in some circumstances, triply Tumah.

    1.It will contain the leftover dead hair cells from another person - however much it has been treated, the tumah is still there.

    2.This other person (likely to be a non-Jew who most likely was involved in some kind of Avodah Zarah) may have eaten bacon, ham, lobster etc, all of which are totally forbidden as unclean and non-kosher foods in Halacha.

    3.If the woman happens to be the wife of a COHEN, then she is bringing her husband into close contact and proximity with meitim and Tumah Every day, and throughout their married life. This is clearly strictly against the Torah.

    There is nothing more degrading and demeaning to a woman than to make her cover her hair FOR LIFE upon marriage.It is an abhorrent practice.

    Any man who makes such a ridiculous demand on his wife, or wife-to-be, should similarly also be required by his wife to wear: long white stockings, even in the summer; a fur streimel; grow a long beard; wear a black hat and coat constantly, and cover his face when he speaks to his wife.Wigs -"la perruque"- were merely a fashion item in the time of Louis XIV-they are not for the Jewish woman!

    Rabbi Menachem Schneeerson tz”l, gave the directive that a married woman must cover her head with a “sheitel.” This needs to be corrected. Rabbi Schneersohn a"h, was a Tzaddik, – but on this – he was, unfortunately not correct.

    It is extremely unhealthy and unhygienic for a woman to cover her hair constantly.The hair needs oxygen to breathe.A woman's hair will lose its natural beauty and shine, she may have scalp problems, some of her hair may fall out, she may get headaches, and she may end up cutting it short like a man, when she always wore it long, in order not to have too much discomfort from her hair covering.

    Do you think that HaKadosh Baruch Hu commanded this of women? I can assure you that He did not.The commmandments are not meant to cause so much repression and oppression in women.Was Chava created with a wig? Of course not! Did she start wearing a wig? Of course not!

    Please Wake Up.

    Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

    And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

  11. Deborah Shaya:-

    1. To all the women who are wondering about the sources:

    We have all been created, "Betselem Elokim" - "in the image of Elokim."
    This means that we have been given something called "intelligence." The source is the very first Parsha, Bereishit - 1:27. It is time that people use the spark of intelligence and Kedusha with which Hashem has blessed them.

    If your rabbi will tell you to go and jump into the depths of a glacier, presumably you would do that too – and give me a source for it?

    “According to the Zohar”, I should also be covering my hair with a wig when I have a bath. “According to the Zohar and the Gemara” and all the sources that have misinterpreted the Halachah, and MIStranslated the Zohar, I should also have been born with a WIG on my head.

    These sources and translations are incorrect, as they have deviated very far from the true and correct interpretation, of the Halachah.

  12. Deborah Shaya:

    2.Remember that the Jewish women are very, very holy. They are much more holy than the men. Look at the exemplary behaviour of the women at Har Sinai.

    The women never sinned at the Eigel, and so are greatly elevated. Many of the men, unfortunately, ran after a calf made out of a lump of gold – after they had just been given the Torah, and seen the greatest of all Revelations. The women refused to give their gold for the avodah zarah of the men.

    The women were greatly elevated after such a wonderful display of Emunah, and they are regarded very highly in Shamayim.

    That is why women are not even required to pray. They can pray at home on their own. Nor do women have to make up a minyan. That is how holy the Jewish women are. Men have to pray 3 times a day to remind them of their Creator.

    The men are telling the women to put the hair of a non-Jewish woman who may have eaten things like snakes and sharks and alligators, and has worshipped in churches, Buddist temples or Hindu temples : on their own Heads. They had better wake up.

    If the men don’t want to wake up to the truth, and the true interpretation of the Halacha, the women will wake them up – whether they like it or not.

    3. Many righteous women influenced their husbands for the good at the Chet Haeigel and at the time of Korach.

    It was these righteous women who succeeded in bringing their husbands back to their senses.

    And because of these great women, the lives of their husbands were saved. Those men therefore turned away from the madness of avodah zarah, and the rebellion of Korach against Hashem's choice of Aharon, as Cohen HaGadol.

  13. Deborah Shaya:

    4. Look at the Jewish women in history, and remember how holy they are.

    (a) Yaakov, who was the greatest of the Avot, came to marry the 2 daughters of Lavan, Rachel and Leah. Lavan was not exactly a tzaddik. Yaakov went to Lavan, of all people, to marry his 2 daughters – not 1 daughter, but his 2 daughters. Nothing could be greater than that.

    (b) Rut, who came from Moav, became the ancestor of David Hamelech.

    (c ) Batya, the daughter of Paroh, was given eternal life because she rescued Moshe from the river. No one could have been more evil than Paroh.

    (d) Devorah, was a Neviah, and also a Judge.

    Women who came from such adverse backgrounds, were able to become builders of Am Yisrael. That is how holy the women are, and how much more elevated they are than the men.

    This was never the case with men. It never happened the other way round.

    Don't tell me it is holy for me to wear a WIG! Hair over my own hair? This is ridiculous!

    Similarly, don’t tell me it is holy for me to plonk a permanent head covering on my head for the rest of my life. This is equally vile.

    Please Wake Up.

    Use the spark of intelligence that Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave to you and blessed you with.

    And give your wig back to your husband if you wear one.

    5. Remember: Not a single “dayan” or “rabbi” has the slightest bit of interest in correcting the situation for the women. Therefore, the women will have to correct the situation................for ..................themselves.

    Whether you wish to accept the correction – which is true – is up to you. Are you going to live by the truth? Are you going to use the spark of intelligence that Hashem gave to you and all women? Or are you going to follow rabbis and dayanim who tell you to wear a wig in a Heat Wave – and you thank them for it as well?

  14. Eliyahoo William Dwek.

    The next things the ‘rabbis’ will come up with is to tell the woman to wear a CARPET on her head.
    Not a sheitel AND a hat, but a Carpet. Or you could go for 5 shaitels on your heads and a rug.

    And do you know what the Jewish woman will say to her husband?

    ‘Yes, husband! I am now wearing a carpet on my head!’

    You women must either be extremely thick, or petrified.



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