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Author:  rachel
E-mail:  not available
Date:  5/14/2004 3:08:00 PM
Subject:  wigs- the truth(correction please post this one)
Message:  Almost 40 years ago, Rav Moshe Sterenbuch put out a kuntres called “Das V’halachah”, wherein he prohibited deriving any benefit from human hair products out of India, because of the Isser of takrovos avodah zorah.

His writes that the Indian hair is purchased from Hindu Temples which get the hair from women who cut it off in an avodah zorah ceremony, which goes something like this:

The woman cuts her hair off as a sacrifice to the Hindu god, Vishnu. The cutting of the hair is done at or in the temple and is a religious procedure itself, like shechting a korbon, and then it is supposed to be burned on an alter in a sacrifice to Vishnu.

The Hindu priests, however, after placing the hair on the alter and perhaps burning some of them, proceed to steal most of the sacrifice hairs and sell them to exporters. From those hairs come the Indian human hair shaitlach. There were also other possible scenarios that he entertained, but at the end of the day, he prohibited all of them.

The rabbonim weren’t doing much about this then, because first of all, shaitel manufacturers started covering it up, claiming that the hair doesn’t really come from Temples, or that it doesn’t really come from India, or that only some of the Indian hair comes form the Temples but the majority does not, or they promise not to get hair form India but they did anyway; and secondly, it was hard to confirm Rabbi Shterenbuch’s story, so and due to the contradictions, confusion, lack of confirmation, and the fact that in those days Rav Shterebuch was a young man with much less clout than he has today, nothing much happened.

Then, about 20 years later, in 1979, a rabbi in Flatbush receieved a call from one of his congregants who read in a business journal that the Indian hair that ends up in wigs comes from Buddhist temples. The rabbi announced in Shul that the shaitlach are prohibited.

Upon hearing this, many rabbonim did some research into the matter and found out that indeed about 70% of the Indian human hair comes from Hindu Temples, mostly in the Madras region, the by-product of a Hindu practice called “tonsure.”

Rav Schwab ZTL was ready to prohibit the shaitlach, as were most other rabbonim in America. The more research was done, the scarier the situation looked.

That is, up to a point. What happened was that when the inquiries got really thorough a totally different picture emerged. There turned up many contradictory stories about the practice and procedure and meaning of the tonsure among the Hindus that were interviewed Some said that the hair cutting is a sacrifice; some said it wasn’t; some said that sometimes it is and sometimes its not; some said that different Hindu sects and even different individuals do it for different reasons; some said that the Hindu hair is holy and therefore used in the religious practice and others said the opposite – that hair is unclean and therefore it is cut off before the woman enters the Temple; others said that really the process is not avodah zorah but the women who get their hair cut think it is, and that itself would prohibit.

I suppose it’s kind of like, l’havdil, if a non-Jew would take it upon himself to find out about let’s say the Jewish rite of circumcision. Who would he ask? An orthodox Jew? Conservative? Reform? A kabbalist? Metzitzah bepeh? Not b’peh? I mean, how many times do we see articles about Judaism in secular sources? And how many times do we laugh at them and say they haven’t got a clue? The same thing seemed to be happening here.

So they contacted swamis, which are like Hindu rabbis, or teachers, or yogis, who referred them to a man who was supposedly the biggest scholar in Hinduism in this country, a Dr. Anand Mohan, professor of religion and philosophy at City College in Queens, NY, and a Hindu priest.

According to Dr. Mohan, the hair cutting practice is not a sacrifice to any god. What happens is, women sometimes make a vow that if either a simcha and/or a tzara happens to them, they will “give away a prized possession” of theirs. Since they are not allowed to cut their hair at all except under certain circumstances, their long, silky hair is their most beautiful and prized possession. So they make a vow to cut it off.

They do not have to do this in a temple, and they can throw the hair in the garbage of they want – it doesn’t matter what happens to it. The point is that they do away with a prized possession. That possession could also theoretically be a gold bangle, or any object of value.

There are other times that they would perform a hair cutting as well, such the first haircut of a baby.

Cutting the hair is kind of a purification process, like taking a shower, except instead of getting rid of dirt, they get rid of hair. In fact, after they cut the hair they take a bath before they enter the temples. And just as dirt would not be considered “holy” even if your bath was a religious practice, so too the hair is nothing but the garbage by-product of this purification process, and is in no way takrovos avodah zorah.

In the olden days, Dr. Mohan said, women indeed used to cut their hair and throw it away. Or they went to the temple to cut their hair, and the temple people threw it away. But then, some the temple people got an idea to make wigs out of the hair anddecided to make a business out of it.

So they stationed barbers outside of the temples where women would come and get their hair cut before they took their baths and entered the temple. The temple trustees – not the priests – take the hair and sell it. Theoretically, the women could sell it themselves, but if they would do that, it wouldn’t be much of a self-sacrifice, since they are making profit on it, and the whole idea is that they have to “give away” something valuable.

Ad kan divrei Dr. Mohan.

His version of the story was confirmed independently by a Diana Eck, professor of Comparitive Religion and Indian Studies in Harvard University. Without hearing what Dr. Mohan said, she provided the exact same report.

The tonsure practice is a preparatory act for worship. It is not a act of worship itself. The primary shrine where this takes place is in Tirupati, in Southern Andhra Pradesh. It is a hilltop shrine. On festival days, 20,000-30,000 pilgrims come to Tirupati.

Rav Moshe Shterenbuch was then contacted, and he said that he really isn’t sure of the information that he received, and that even if it is true, it “quite possibly” – not “for sure” - would create a prohibition of takrovos avodah zorah

All the information – every contradiction, version, and opinion, with the documantation - was collected, and set to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ZTL and Rav Elyashev.

They both permitted. Rav Shlomo Zalman, as reported by Rabbi Portnoy, said you can be lenient because since there are several doubts whether the hair in any given shaitel is really avodah zorah, we have a sfek sfeika.

Rav Elyashev wrote a 3 page teshuva, quoting Dr. Mohan by name (although in the printed version they for some reason omitted it), and explaining, among other things, that since the hair is not cut inside the temple in front of any god, and is not done as a manner of worship, it is permitted. He also writes that it doesn’t matter what the woman has in mind as much as it does what the barber has in mind, and he knows why he is cutting the hair, and it is not for idolatry.

This is because in order to constitute takrovos avodah zorah, the cutting of the hair itself has to be a religious ceremony, comparable to shechitah, and so depends on the “shochet” himself.

Rav Elyashev adds, that of course this halachah depends on the facts, and he is relying on the facts as presented to him, so his psak is contingent on the accuracy of those facts.

Rav Sheinberg then also permitted at that time, based on the facts that he researched, primarily through a sefardic “chacham”.

A lot of confusion happened during the research because when people investigated, there were a lot of Indian clerics talking about how the hair is an “offering” or a “sacrifice”, which sounded scary. But it was later found out that they meant “offering” not as in Korbon but as in something you offer – or give; and “sacrifice” was not meant in the context of Korbon but rather “self sacrifice”. So things were scary when they were investigated but when they were thoroughly investigated, things got better.

Rav Moshe Shterenbuch was sent the material as well, but he did not change his psak – he still prohibited. He disagreed with Rav Elyashev regarding certain halachos, plus he said he is not convinced that the Metzius is accurate, and so he does not have enough evidence to permit the safek d’oraisa.

Things were quiet until recently. The Wall Street Journal, last summer, published one of those articles describing the idolatrous practice of Indian tonsure as the source of the hair in American wigs. Just as 15 years ago, the tumult was triggered by an article in a trade magazine, so too now the tumult was triggered by the Journal article.

Slowly things started getting louder. It was discovered that Rav Shterenbuch prohibited, and about a month ago in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Moshe Shterenbuch’s name came up on tzetlach prohibiting the shaitlach again.

Dayan Dunner of London went to Rav Elyashev and obtained a heter to go into the Hindu Temples to see what the story is – kdei lehoros (in order to pasken a shailah) that would be permitted – and he took a trip to India last week, and came back with information that led many Rabbonim to prohibit the shaitlach again.

However, I am not aware of what information is being used, and how thorough of an inquiry was done. Last time this happened, everyone got scared based on the first level of investigation, but later on, when the investigation got pretty intense, we found out it wasn’t a problem.

So far, as far as I can see, Rav Wosner and Rav Karelitz put out a psak saying that “based on the information that we received”, they consider it a maybe avodah zorah situation so you shouldn’t buy any new Indian shaitlach going forward, and try hard to exchange what you already have. They did not say to throw out your shaitlach. They are paskening that they don’t know, and giving over the halchic guidelines on how to act when you don’t know.

Rav Elyashev did not put anything in writing, but Rabbi Efrati, one of Rav Elyashev’s close people, wrote a couple of letters summarizing what he says Rav Elyashev said. I have heard that there are disagreements among Rav Elyashev’s close people regarding the accuracy of those letters, as well as the accuracy of the information that is being given to Rav Elyashev.

In short, I have not heard a psak from any posek so far except that “until we find out the whole story, we should be careful.” Which is fine, but the issue was apparently investigated thoroughly and closed 15 years ago. And just as 15 years ago, this was the initial reaction, and even upon investigation this was the reaction, until we found out that we needed really thorough investigations, which were done, and resulted in a lenient ruling (i.e. from Rav Elyashev and Rav Shlomo Zalman), the question now arises: Is the information that is being given to the Rabbonim (a) accurate and (b) complete? And (c) is it more so than the extensive information that was collected 15 years ago?

And even if there is a problem, how do you know which shaitlach are avodah zorah and which are not? Believability is an entire halachic issue in itself, especially since we are dealing with vested interests of vendors.

Obvisouly this depends on the metzius more than on the halachah. And thus the question is: What is the real metzius. Many Rabbonim, such as Rav Wosner and Rav Karelitz, and perhaps Rav Elyashev, are saying they don’t know. Yet.

The difficulty I am having with this is, the documentation that was done then seems compelling and conclusive. So it brings into question the accuracy and completeness of whatever information is causing doubts now. Especially since the current research was done is a very short time, and experience shows that until you get to the very bottom of the situation, it really does look like avodah zorah.

To me it seems that the metzius, the facts, as we know them at this point in time, indicate that there is no avodah zorah here, or at least there is enough reason to say there is no avodah zorah so as to permit the shaitlach, as per the psakim of Rav Shlomo Zalman, Rav Elyashev, and others back then. And since there has been no psak thus far issued except that “since we don’t know therefore we should be careful”, and some statements in the name of Rav Elyashev whose reliability has been contested, therefore, I would say that if your Rav is unsure of the facts of the matter, then do not wear the questionable shaitlach until the issue is further researched. If your Rav, on the other hand, is comfortable that the research was already completed years ago, and that the current situation is merely a matter of these Rabbonim independently verifying what your Rav already knows to be true, then you are fully entitled to follow your rav, and it would not be considered going against Rav Elyashev or Rav Wosner, since even the great poskim admit that if someone really knows the facts, the psak would be different.
taken from frumteens.
Reply:  We live in an interesting time. I guess if someone uses the eruv in Flatbush, she shouldn't wear a wig

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