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Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

Last week, Rav Yitzhak Yosef, the chief Sephardi rabbi of Israel, sent a letter to a colleague strongly attacking the practice of women covering their hair with a wig, arguing that wig hairs are used in idol worship in India.

Kikar HaShabbat, an Israeli charedi news site, reported that in his weekly Motzei Shabbat lecture a month ago, Rav Yosef said, “I carefully researched the matter, via several channels, and the overwhelming majority of hair – if not all of it – is part of idol worship. I am 100 percent certain of this. A man who buys a peya nachri (a gentile wig) shouldn’t then wonder why he has troubles – behold he has brought idol worship into his home.”

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In decrying the prevalent practice, the chief rabbi chastised Rav Modechai Gross of Bnei Brak, a leading Ashkenazic authority, who said the popular wigs sold in Orthodox stores are not tinted by idolatry. The chief rabbi stated:

“When the matter was made known in the past that the hair of these wigs came from practices of idol worship, many women stopped wearing them. This was very admirable. Suddenly, Rav Gross comes along and grants permission, and once again the fashion was publicly reinstated. The wig from idol worship was transformed into a wig of ‘hashkafa.’ A woman who wore a kerchief to fully cover her head became a ‘Mizrachnikit,’ while a charedi wore a wig of the gentiles. What nonsense!”

He also argued that wearing wigs is immodest. “Women who wear a regular hair covering are the true modest daughters of Israel. What did the Torah mean by ‘and loosen the hair of the woman’s head’? (Bamidbar 5:18). We learn from this that a woman must cover her hair – for reasons of modesty. Did the Torah intend the modesty of a gentile wig? I am not speaking now of halacha. I am speaking about common sense. This is modesty? This is rather the foolishness of the women who wear them.”

Last week, Rav Yosef addressed Rav Gross directly, sending him a 40-page halachic letter explaining his stance (which was strongly advanced by his late father, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, as well).

Rav Yosef writes: “Seventeen years ago, it became known that most of the hair of peyot nachriot comes from temples in India. There, the heads of tens and tens of millions of idol worshippers (Hindus) are shaven in the rites of idol worship (Buddhism). That year, the ruling was made to forbid them and to burn all the wigs.

“However, after that there arose a kashrut organization that professed to assume authority over the matter, and since then, the issue was forgotten, and word went out that it was possible to obtain kosher certification on wigs that have no suspicion of being connected with idol worship.

“Nonetheless, the gaon HaRav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv stipulated that any such kashrut only be awarded on the condition that the kashrut supervision begin at the time of the haircutting throughout all the stages leading to the finished product. Without this, no permission could be granted.”

He argued that “hair which is called Russian, or Brazilian, European, Argentinian, and the like, also come from India by the way of merchants in India who distribute the hair to these countries, where it is sold as a product of the place.”

In a recent interview, Rav Avraham Schlesinger, kashrut mashgiach for Rav Mordechai Gross and Chanichei HaYeshivot, said the wigs certified by them come from China, Thailand, Spain, South America, and other locations, which he visits periodically to make certain no hair from India is intermixed in them.

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.