The viability of a wig as a sufficient hair covering for a married woman is a centuries-old debate that continues to this day. The Mishnah (Shabbos 64b) states that a woman may wear a wig into a courtyard (without an eruv) on Shabbos. The Shiltei Ha-Giborim sensibly deduces from this Mishnah that a married woman may cover her hair with a wig. The Be’er Sheva (Responsa, no. 18) quotes R. Yechezkel Katzenellebogen as disagreeing, explaining that this Mishnah and other related texts refer exclusively to a wig under a scarf or hat. However, a married woman may not wear only a wig.
The Rema (Darkhei Moshe, Orach Chaim 303:6; Shulchan Arukh 75:2) seems to follow the lenient view of the Shiltei Ha-Giborim. Other standard authorities do as well, most clearly the Magen Avraham (75:5) who summarily dismisses the Be’er Sheva but also the Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham ad loc.) and Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (75:4). Even the Sephardic Kaf Ha-Chaim (75:19) follows suit, saying it is the majority view of later authorities.
However, R. Ya’akov Emden (She’eilas Ya’avetz 1:9, 2:7-8) and the Chasam Sofer (Glosses to Magen Avraham 75:5) argue forcefully against the lenient position. The Divrei Chaim (Yoreh De’ah 59) states that the majority of authorities forbid the wearing of wigs alone.
This debate is adequately summarized by the Mishnah Berurah (75:15) — some permit wigs and some forbid them. More recently, R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yabi’a Omer, vol. 5 Even Ha-Ezer no. 5) argued at length to forbid while R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 2:12) permitted.
Those who forbid wigs offer a number of different reasons, which include:
- Wigs cause the same sexual thoughts as regular hair (kisuy mi-ta’am hirhur)
- Women who wear wigs look like they are sinning (maris ayin)
- This is the first step toward uncovering her hair entirely
Those who permit counter that the obligation is for married women to cover their hair and they are doing so. If a wig causes illicit thoughts then it is forbidden for a different reason, just like anything that causes forbidden thoughts. You can compare this to a person wearing an anatomically correct body suit. The person is covered from head to toe so there is no issue of revealing his body. However, if the suit looks so lifelike that it causes improper thoughts then it is forbidden. Nowadays, it is hard to say that wigs cause improper thoughts.
R. Moshe Feinstein responds to the maris ayin argument in multiple ways:
- A woman covering her hair is an obligation, not a prohibition (it is an issur aseh)
- Someone, even if not everyone, can almost always tell when a woman is wearing a wig
- People in our community know that women often cover their hair with wigs
The third issue is a matter of communal direction which was time-bound. Today, a woman wearing a wig is not on the path toward irreligiosity.