The craziness of the Orthodox Jewish “hijab”

Pious Muslims and hyper-Orthodox Jews share one tendency: various sects of each faith see men as hand grenades of of lust, ready to undergo a seminal explosion should they see an uncovered ankle, rosy mouth, or stray wisp of hair. Women are to be covered to retain their “modesty,” which means to avoid inciting the ubiquitous and uncontrollable concupiscence of the male.

Devout Muslim men can’t shake hands with women; neither can hyper-Orthodox Jews. In neither group can men dance with women, for that could incite lust. Many Muslim women can’t go out without a guardian, while hyper-orthodox Jews won’t sit next to women on planes. (There are of course exceptions.)

But in one way the Muslims are savvier than the hyper-Orthodox Jews. As we see in this video in which Oprah Winfrey experiences a Sabbath in a Hasidic Jewish home, the Jewish women, like hijabi Muslims, cover their hair. And they do it for the same reasons—for modesty!

But what do the Jews do? They cut their hair short and then cover their hair with—more hair! Wigs! Wigs undoubtedly made from the hair of other women! Not only that, but many of them, like this one, are attractive wigs! Even Oprah notices that.

Now tell me, if you’re covering your hair for modesty, and to avoid attracting men who aren’t your husband, why on earth would you cover your hair with an attractive wig that could attract even more men?

Such is the silliness of faith, and its tendency, since the days of Eve, to cast women as temptresses. In the case of Hasidic Jews, it’s a big FAIL.


  1. Robin
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    About 10 years ago in NYC, Rabbis burned wigs in large numbers because they found out that it was possible some of the hair had come from hair left as offerings among Hindu women. So now, in buying a wig, you can check to see if it is Kosher. What a silly little god.

    • rickflick
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      What a silly little schmuck of a god.

    • Larry Smith
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      I know it’s a slightly different thing, but I think that human hair was deemed kosher at one point because it turns up sooner or later in foodstuffs (yuck, but think hot dogs). Otherwise, certain foods might have to be considered unkosherable because of this contamination risk.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:08 am | Permalink

        One supposes then that rodent hair, insect parts, etc., must also be kosher.

        • darrelle
          Posted August 14, 2016 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Not to mention rodent and insect shit.

        • Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink


        • Posted August 15, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

          I was told that some people buy the vegetables as certified to be even lower than usual (legal) amount of insect part for kosher reasons … dunno about the rest.

  2. Grania Spingies
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    I can answer this one. Catholicism also has a variant of this, some Orders also required nuns to shear their hair off when they joined their convent. This practise has all but completely died out these days.

    Anyway, it’s not all about making the woman unattractive to other men. It is also intended to prevent vanity in the woman. If you humiliate her by shaving her head, even if she covers her bald head with something she still knows that her hair is gone and will be less inclined to hold her head up in public or flirt.

    The Abrahamic traditions hold women in utter contempt.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that long since Catholic women were required to cover their hair in church either, even if it’s just a bit of lace. I’ve heard of women feeling naked without that nominal scrap of fabric on their head.

      This is all a lot of what the Abrahamic religions are about for me: misogyny and hypocrisy.

      We talk about things like the glass ceiling, equal pay etc. but not so much about what caused them: societal attitudes to women that are perpetuated by religion.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:40 am | Permalink

        Amongst other causes, I’d say.

      • Posted August 14, 2016 at 4:14 am | Permalink

        Depends on who you mean by “we”. The smaller we, Jerry’s Commentariat does.

        The larger “we” — the atheist corner on the internet — doesn’t talk about it as much anymore since the so-called “social justice” faction emerged, which led many atheists to do the Patriarchy Switch.

        Teh Patriarchy (not to be confused with a patriarchy) replaced religion as the big evil to be fought. Only that their new conception is ahistorical, more of a fighting word, and postmodern obscurantist.

        It is not even clear what is meant exactly, and what can be done about it. Worse, it also normalizes religious oppression, since its “spikes” get flattened, while awkward coffee invites and other such “microagressions” are boosted up. The signal is then send through a confirmation bias filter, removing inconvenience and hardships of allegedly “privileged groups” like the homeless “white male” so that after all this narrative twisting well-off western middle-class women, or Yale students are suddenly uniquely oppressed in the world.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          I agree. By “we” I meant society in general.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      The Catholics also used to have a rule that required women to keep their heads covered inside a church building. I remember there being a table in the church lobby that had veils for women to use in the event they forgot to wear a hat. There’s also a joke about it.

      A woman who worked as a topless waitress finished work very late one Saturday and stopped off to attend the early morning mass. She was in her work clothes, and the priest told her she couldn’t enter the building.

      “But Father, I have a divine right!” she said.

      “And your left isn’t bad, either,” said the priest, “but you can’t enter the church without covering your head.”

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Now that’s funny; I don’t give a hoot who you are.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:05 am | Permalink

        Love it!


    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      The weird thing is the occasional praise for strong women warriors like Judith, but the general fear of autonomous women.

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Hasidic hijab?

    What’s next, Islamic kippah? Muslim Mah-jongg? (I know, I know, it was originally a Chinese game, but still …)

    As Yogi might say, only in America.

    • tubby
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      I know you mean it as a joke, but there are in fact burqa Jews. They’re the even crazier than crazy haredi.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      What’s the deal with Jews and Mah-jongg?

  4. joyandorla
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    The mitzvah (rule in Jewish law) is to cover your hair. There’s no injunction to be frumpy.

  5. Jiten
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Haha. There’s no end to the silliness brought about by religion.

    People write the rules that they say come from God. Then they find ingenious ways to work around them while not keeping to the spirit of the rules. The rich however have always just bought their way round the rules.

  6. Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m assuming it’s the second definition of the adjective preceding the word explosion. lolz.

  7. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Women must wear wigs so men will not wig out.


    A Google search on “seminal explosion” returns approximately 5 hits on the rock group by that name, and then nearly 10 hits on a famous quote describing the Big Bang theory of astrophysics.


    A quasi-rational defense of the wig is here
    but until the final paragraph appears to make the presupposition that when wearing a wig, folks can TELL that it is a wig! Then at the end, when confronted with THAT objection, this defense veers off into dodgy territory.

  8. Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The orthodox are masters of creative workarounds for religious strictures. The Shabbos Goy is one of my favorites. Also writing G-d. They must think god is stupid.

    • Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes, who can forget the hasid who put himself in a plastic baggie in case his plane flew over a cemetery.

    • Posted August 13, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

      My favorite is having the elevator automatically stop at every floor in a high-rise building because they can’t push a button on the Sabbath. What a bunch of schmucks.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      It wasn’t that long ago that Catholics were forbidden to have their remains cremated, apparently because while their deity could reanimate a bunch of bones, it is powerless when confronted with a pile of ashes. Now cremation is possible, but anyone wishing to do so must, while still alive, sign a paper affirming their belief in the final resurrection. Now that’s weird. It’s also the reason that heretics were executed by burning alive and witches were cremated after being hanged – to prevent their rising again on the last day.

    • Geoffrey Howe
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      Actually, the Jewish logic behind sabbath circumvention makes sense.

      God is perfect. A perfect God would give perfect laws. If the laws have something that we might perceive as a ‘loophole’ then God intended it to be there. Otherwise God would have written the law differently to prevent that loophole.

      God still comes off as assigning random arbitrary rules for no reason, but that logic for ‘cheating’ the sabbath seems fairly sound to me.

      • Posted August 13, 2016 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm, that is an interesting theory. It could explain our crazy tax code.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        It seems to me that some observant Jews are very good at finding ingenious legal loopholes in God’s commandments. An eminently sensible approach IMO. (Hence the preponderance of Jewish lawyers, maybe – I’m not knocking them, many work for the ACLU or suchlike).

        It does follow that the ones who insist on obeying the dafter requirements (like not pushing lift buttons or wearing plastic bags on planes) are just being bloody-minded or ‘virtue twerking’.

        Or so it seems to me.


      • Posted August 15, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        A Conservative Jew I knew (friend’s father) I think was said the fact that the rules are arbitrary is the point; makes it harder to follow them, understand them, etc. and so you can be more righteous or “separate” (from non-Jews) or something when you succeed.

  9. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    What’s never clear to me is how religious dress is supposed to stay within that religion- that is, how wearing a hijab for example is supposed to say nothing about non-hijab wearers, or individuals who make no hijab rules. I think it clearly does say something.

  10. Vaal
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “Women are to be covered to retain their “modesty,” which means to avoid inciting the ubiquitous and uncontrollable concupiscence of the male.”

    I remember seeing some of the woman, Muslim and otherwise, in these traditions have defended the idea that they aren’t donning their garb for the benefit of lust-crazed men, but that their modesty is a direct worship of God.

    In other words: apparently God demands modesty because He doesn’t trust Himself at the sight of a woman either.

    There has to be an Onion article in there somewhere.

    • Alpha Neil
      Posted August 13, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      He did knock up that Jewish teenager. She always seems to be depicted with her hair covered so no defense is perfect.

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:52 am | Permalink


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:30 am | Permalink

      “In other words: apparently God demands modesty because He doesn’t trust Himself at the sight of a woman either.”

      But I thought God’s omniscience implied X-ray vision. So he can see even more than a TSA perv.


  11. chewy
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Ah, if only the Muslims were as “sensible” as the Hassids and their ilk! We’d get rid of some of this hajib nonsense.

    The height of brilliant/silly conservative Jewish stuff is the eruv, where a string or a utility pole and line serve as the city wall…. Fantastical nonsense!

  12. Posted August 13, 2016 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    A while back I visited Xi’an and as part of my tourism visited the mosque there. The Muslim community of Xi’an spent a long time separated from the rest of Islam. In Xi’an, there is no tradition for women to cover their heads.

    When they found that this was considered mandatory in pretty much the rest of Islam, they concluded that their women were so virtuous that it was unnecessary.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      Very practical and sensible of them, I think.


  13. Posted August 13, 2016 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    I remember when Canadian men wore fedoras and women wore hats and some even little veils.

    However, I can’t remember if my mother wore a veil with her hat only for (Catholic) mass on Sunday.

    Lots of Catholic women carried kerchiefs in their handbags to cover their heads for short visits to church.

    The postwar “New Look” made women’s hats and veils fashionable for a few years.

    One winter when I was around 25, I bought a Homburg hat after reading, but by then it was no longer fashionable for men to wear hats at all. I wore it anyway just for fun.

    • Diane G.
      Posted August 14, 2016 at 2:55 am | Permalink

      Flouting fashion is a tenet of my irreligion.

  14. Bill
    Posted August 13, 2016 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    These rules have the telltale signs of having been written by rich men. The nub of the war between the sexes is that rich males maximize fitness by acquiring wives and concubines. Females maximize their fitness by landing the highest quality male, but to do that she must advertise herself so as to have suitors to choose from. Collecting women and keeping them for himself is in his genetic interest; switching to a higher quality male if the opportunity arises is in her genetic interest. Since the rules are written purely to favor the genetic interests of rich men, they keep wives sequestered, make adultery a capital crime, and claim that god hates all forms of immodesty — especially if it catches the eye of the handsome shepherd boy down the lane (just ask Jesus’ mother Mary). The thing with Orthodox Jews is that some smart lawyers found a way to allow women to do what their genes command them to do, despite the rich man’s rules — i.e. seek to look attractive.

  15. Posted August 14, 2016 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Actually, there’s a good reason why Orthodox women are supposed to shave their heads and then wear wigs. It used to be a jolly custom in Russia and environs for Cossacks, and other playful young men with horses, to come galloping into the Ghetto hunting for women. When they spotted a woman they liked, they’d ride her down and grab her by the hair, and drag her off for a spot of rape. Great fun — for the Cossacks. Since the Czar rather liked the Cossacks and didn’t much care for the Jews, the Jews didn’t dare fight back; instead, they came up with the simple tactic of cutting off the woman’s hair and replacing it with a wig. This meant that the raiding Cossacks who grabbed for a woman’s hair would wind up with a handful of wig while the woman escaped. “Modesty” had less to do with it than escaping rapists.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:14 am | Permalink

      And this applies in modern times, how, exactly?

      However it arose it’s now a completely pointless and therefore stupid custom.


    • Posted August 14, 2016 at 4:46 am | Permalink

      Interesting story, but it seems unlikely. A piece in the Forward notes that there was a time when women wore wigs as a matter of course (I remember as a child in the late 1960s that some women wore wigs for convenience).

      There have been periods when most women wore wigs and periods when few do. The suggestion in the Forward article is that the practice was adopted in the Enlightenment, but then became an enforced religious norm.

      After all, the Hasidim wear clothing that was the height of fashion when their sects adopted them, more than a century ago.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 14, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      Interesting story. And the “reason” they still do it today in Brooklyn?

  16. Posted August 14, 2016 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    Now tell me, if you’re covering your hair for modesty, and to avoid attracting men who aren’t your husband, why on earth would you cover your hair with an attractive wig that could attract even more men?

    There is a muslim student at my U that always wears a hijab but with it very often wears very tight sexy jeans. I’ve always thought this shows she doesn’t really get the point of the hijab. It would be like wearing a burkha that had a little window cut out in the center to show cleavage. But in a way this example and the above make sense. Religious rules can be engrained and seem inviolable. As long as adherents follow those rules they can give in to temptations with transgressions but wont see those as hypocritical. So the muslim student gets to be modest and sexy at the same time. A win-win!

  17. Susan Campbell
    Posted August 14, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    If Orthodox women shave their heads and then wear a wig it means their husbands are denied the pleasure of a wife with a sexy head of hair…

  18. Posted August 14, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Blinders on these last filled men should work

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