Sheitel (Yiddish: שייטל, sheytl m.sg.; שייטלעך, sheytlekh m.pl. or שייטלען, sheytlen m.pl.; Hebrew: פאה נוכרית) is a wig or half-wig worn by some Orthodox Jewish married women in order to conform with the requirement of Jewish law to cover their hair.
This practice is part of the modesty-related dress standard called tzniut. The word is probably derived from the German word Scheitel (“hair parting”) or Schädel (“skull”). The related term in Hebrew is pei’ah (פאה). Traditional sheitels are secured by elastic caps and are often designed with heavy bangs to obscure the hairline of their wearers. However, more modern designed lace-front wigs with realistic hairlines are growing in popularity.
The Shulchan Aruch, the 13th-century compilation of Jewish law, cites the opinion of Rabbi Joshua Boaz ben Simon Baruch (d. 1557), who permitted the wearing of wigs.
In 2004, there was a degree of controversy over natural hair sheitels procured from India. It was discovered that the hair used for the production of these wigs was taken from a Hindu temple. According to Halacha, one cannot derive benefit from anything used in what Judaism considers to be idolatry. The controversy ceased when it became clear that the hair was neither worshiped nor offered as a sacrifice to the deity, thus excluding it from the category of forbidden items.
Today, many wigs used by Jewish women come with kosher certification, indicating that they are not made with hair originating from rituals deemed to be idolatrous.
In many Hasidic groups, sheitels are avoided, as they can give the impression that the wearer’s head is uncovered. In other Hasidic groups, women wear some type of covering over the sheitel to avoid this misconception, for example a scarf or a hat. Married Sephardi and National Religious women do not wear wigs, because their rabbis believe that wigs are insufficiently modest, and that other head coverings, such as a scarf (tichel), a snood, or a hat, are more suitable. In stark contrast, the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged all married Jewish women to wear only sheitels.