≡ Menu

Why Charedi women shave their heads

There is a gemara about the man who captures a woman in war and wants to take her as his own. He must shave her head and if at the end of a certain amount of time he still wants to get with her, he could. The whole concept of shaving her head was to dispel any wrongful ideas he may get in his head, and to make sure he had good reasons for wishing to marry her.

I could never figure this thing out, because he obviously took her because lobbing boulders and spears at folks trying to kill you can stress you out real bad and there is nothing like some war encampment sex to relieve the stress. This brings me to my next question, why is it the custom of some Chassidic ladies to shave their heads? If anyone knows the real answer, by all means send it over.

I understand that the generic answer is that they do not want any hair to show, God forbid a bang fall out, and so they shave. But I dont like this answer, why do they then proceed to add to the ugliness of the shaved head thing by wearing turbans, plastic looking hair and those dorky little nurses hats instead of a nice sheitle or hat? It seems to me as if it is their rebellion against their scruffy unclean shaven husbands. It is almost the opposite, women shave and the men just grow it out, but then again do the women shave everything or just their heads, and use their so called bullet proof stockings to cover up the fields growing on their legs and other unmentionable body parts.

There are some advantages to having a shaved head, it is cooler in the summer and you know that shabbos robes combined with bullet proof olive colored stockings must be a nightmare, so they figured shaved heads which cannot be seen can provide a much needed respite from the Catskills heat waves. We must also not forget that much money on shampoo and hair care products was saved by making this the minhag. Think about all the room on the sides of bathtubs and medicine cabinets that was saved from sticky bottles of hair spray, gel and shampoo. Water is also saved, becaue most of the time a women spends in the shower is devoted to hair, and no hair means more time for important things like making cholent and babies.

Another very important aspect of the frum community being wind resistance and speed which have been discussed many times on this blog also comes into play. Although the ladies who have shaved heads cover them all the time, there is one aspect in which the shaved head may actually help speed them along. This is when the women go swimming, someone even suggested that the minhag may have started when women needed to escape the pogroms of Europe quite quickly and the best way to do this was by swimming far distances. Like the sleek shell of a submarine a shaved headed women can escape undetected by having no hair to produce a wake and by being able to move more stealthy under water. There have been other theories made about an Olympic swim team bid or making a Chasidic Synchronized swimming team, but these just sound foolish since the robes they swim in would certainly weigh them down.

We can all agree that its a minhag, since the Maxwell house hagadas display women with hair, so it must be a newer custom, and since minhagim always come from weird places, like shuckeling during davening appeared because an influential Rabbi had terretz syndrome. Shaved heads may have come from the early Chassidic feminists, which have all but vanished, but custom holds strong and the minhag of shaved heads to prove that women are equal to men prevails. I hear that Sinead OConnor was really named Bracha Leah Freidlandovitz.

Any ideas?

{ 529 comments… add one }
  • Marli February 5, 2008, 9:40 PM

    They probably spend more money on shaving their heads than they would on shampoo. I mean, a razor costs about as much as a whole bottle of shampoo, and I only use maybe 2 bottles a year (and I have long hair and wash it every day). How many razors do you think she uses?

  • Sandy February 5, 2008, 10:28 PM

    They shave it because of the Mikva.

  • Sandy February 5, 2008, 10:57 PM

    “Terretz syndrome” is when you think you have all the answers. Tourette syndrome is what cause tics similar to shuckeling.

  • Anonymous February 5, 2008, 11:04 PM

    This is more of a historical analysis- during the pogroms in Europe- woman would shave their heads- so when the men would come- rape, pillage and kill- with a shaved head- they would be “revolting” to the cossacks etc.. and then it just stuck and other reasons attached and all together, it is a ‘selling’ package.

  • utubefan February 6, 2008, 1:09 AM

    OK. This is the straight dope. They shave it so there is no Chatzitza when they are Tovail in the Mikvah. Their Mikvah rules are different than other frum Jews. At our Mikvah, they have their own prep rooms specific to Chasidish women. I’m not sure why, but I was told that their rules are different than mine. Also to clarify: not all Chasidish women shave their heads. It is a Minhag among some sects, not all. I know Chasidish women who do not. Also, the wartime sex is the weirdest explanation I’ve heard. And–man–what else do you guys need to do to pressure us more. We get stressed in war time too and you’re adding the shaving and the sex. Damn.

  • heshman February 6, 2008, 1:14 AM

    Hey Marli I bet you they have these underground charedi shaving shops similar to the underground black barbershops where they all go to get the best corn rows.

    Utubefan- I love you- that was a freakin hilarious comment.

  • miriam February 6, 2008, 5:15 AM

    a quick story: when I was just married my husband had a good head of hair and very short beard. I kinda liked it -even though I knew the preferred conformist way was to grow out the beard and shave the hair.

    Our marriage got ‘shakey’ for a bit and he decided to shave his hair and grow out his beard. Was that to ‘get back’ at me? not sure. But things got better and out went the long beard and back came the hair!

    Another short story -can you imagine the mikveh lady being confronted with a fro’ wearing Jewess?! I almost wanted to shave my hair too!

  • miriam February 6, 2008, 5:17 AM

    sorry that didn’t answer the question, I realized. lol


  • heshman February 6, 2008, 5:37 AM

    Don;t worry, good comments. wow a fro’ huh, would the women also have a pick stuck inside.

  • M February 6, 2008, 8:10 AM

    This was funny- a very intelligent bit of humor, if I may say. And I disagree with women having shaved hair. I don’t understand how their husbands manage.

  • heshman February 6, 2008, 12:41 PM

    Hey at least they are more streamlines and can save on gas mileage.

  • Left Brooklyn and never looked back February 6, 2008, 2:44 PM

    utube, their “rules” are different based upon different minhagim. As we know all to well minhagim vary from location (and group) to another. BTW, not just “frum” women go to mikvah every month 😉

  • heshman February 6, 2008, 3:00 PM

    And to add many seemingly “frum” people may not go to the mikvah every month- its one of those things you just never know about. Unless your the mikvah lady.

  • Frayda February 6, 2008, 4:07 PM

    heshman, your comment about seemingly “frum” people is offensive to me. Who cares if someone goes to the mikvah every month? You aren’t their husband. In addition, if someone uses different mikvahs, the mikvah lady would not know if they were going every month. Lastly, there are some birth controls that lessen the amount of periods a woman gets. Therefore, a woman who does not go every month should not EVER be judged. So, thanks for your mocking, ignorant comment.

  • heshman February 6, 2008, 11:45 PM

    First of all I am from a small town and I guess should have referred to the fact that where I live there are maybe 30-40 people that use the mikvah and the mikvah lady is my surrogate Mom, you are absolutely right and I apologize for that ignorant comment.

  • Moishe February 7, 2008, 4:44 AM

    well maybe theyr husbands liek it shaved off? i dunno a friend got married and the first thing his wife did was shave her hear off of her haed. its stange indeed

  • heshman February 7, 2008, 4:23 PM

    Or maybe they all go crazy like Britney Spears? Or maybe they are all planning a secret run at the olympic swim team?

    The world may never know.

  • suitepotato February 8, 2008, 9:52 PM

    I wonder if this custom was in the back of the minds of those working on Star Trek: The Motionless Picture… “hmmmmm… bald, sexy… this could work.”

    Personally I insist my wife grow her hair long as I do not want to have our children’s first image of their mother to be looking like an old lesbian feminist or David Lynch. Either one. They’re interchangeable.

  • M February 11, 2008, 5:36 AM

    I’m growing my hair precisely becasue I want my future husnabd to enjoy it and not planning on stopping till it’s at least waist long. I actually want to see how long it will get. I always liked the look of those women in the 1800s who had hair down to their ankles. Feminine redefined.

  • heshman February 12, 2008, 3:28 AM

    Hey I always wanted for frum families to start sheitle farms, such a market for real hair and so many kids who could just take on an oath of a nuzeer- and then they would have a good excuse not to cut it.

  • Anonymous February 12, 2008, 8:23 AM

    terretz syndrome would be “Tourette’s syndrome”. But, bei all means, the site’ sex cellent.

  • heshman February 12, 2008, 5:11 PM

    Hey if you read the disclaimer you would have realized that I take responsibility for the poor spelling and grammar usage on this site and blame that on my yeshiva high school “education”.

    Back in the day all the critics wold use the spelling as my weak point so I had to write a disclaimer- you must understand.

  • chnyock February 12, 2008, 5:35 PM

    besides for britney spears, have you ever seen a chariedi woman with a shaved head?

    I know britneys chareidi simply because she shaved her head. lol

  • heshman February 12, 2008, 5:41 PM

    Nope, thank God, but how would I if their heads are guarded by bullet proof turbans

  • tovah February 17, 2008, 2:52 PM

    There is a woman mentioned in Gemara or Midrash (I cant remember) by the name of Kimchit. The story talks about how she never let the wall of her house see her hair, and for that she was zoche to see all 7 of her sons as Kohen Gadol.

    • MadMaxInJerusalem December 16, 2009, 1:43 PM

      I guess that means she was also “zoche” to see the first six sons die since a new cohen gadol gets picked after the previous one dies. I think we could all do without that kind of “zichut”.

      • DrumIntellect December 16, 2009, 11:21 PM

        There were actually multiple Cohonim Gedolim around at the same time, but your observation is interesting.

        • MadMaxInJerusalem December 17, 2009, 1:45 AM

          Maybe, but 7 at one time? Seems highly unlikely.

          • DrumIntellect December 17, 2009, 2:01 AM

            I guess it would depend on how many wars were going on simultaneously and how many CG were “impure”.
            More then likely though “7” just means “a lot”.
            That doesn’t take away from your observation, which i think is a keen one.

  • chnyock February 17, 2008, 6:20 PM

    …and that is why the pious women cover their hair even at home when only in the presence of their hubbys

  • evelyn April 28, 2008, 12:18 PM

    dont shave pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

  • Hesh April 28, 2008, 7:59 PM

    I hate shaving!

  • QuiteLiked June 25, 2008, 1:55 PM

    The real reasons are Kabalistic in nature.
    There are general anti-Kabalistic sentiment in more modern circles.
    In addition, there were and are communities who side with the Shulchan Aruch over Kabalistic sources, and have therefore firmly held to their minhag of not shaving.

    The bottom line here is this: It is extremely naive to take a position based on personal preference without at least doing the mandatory research to see what your ancestors practiced – as shocking and misunderstood as the minhag may be, by not following your fore bearers customs, you can be setting the stage for your children not following yours.

    Again: Research your roots. The Net is not the place where I would be looking for positive or informative comments on this much maligned custom, although it is a great resource.

    • MadMaxInJerusalem December 16, 2009, 1:47 PM

      Or, if you’re a BT, don’t take on any minhagim / chumrot at all; just follow halacha. If you’re BT and it’s not halacha don’t touch it with a 10 foot pole. Of course you still have to pick which stream of halacha to follow, but that’s pretty simple too – no rational informed person would pick anything other than Sephardic 😉

  • QuiteLiked June 25, 2008, 1:59 PM

    I might add that the Chabad custom, from what I read, is to cut hair to approximately two finger widths in length.

  • Anonymous September 24, 2008, 9:18 PM

    the first par. of this essay is based on psukim…. although it may be in the gmara as well

  • anony February 9, 2009, 12:20 AM

    a woman shaves her head strictly for chatzitza purposes! once a month after menstruating and counting her 5 + 7 clean days she must toivel herself before having sex with her husband and when she does so no two hairs may be knotted or out of the water while immersing the safest way to assure of a proper tevila is by shaving! besides during her days of impurity he husband is forbidden to see any part of her thats usually covered including her hair being its short its harder to expose!

    • MadMaxInJerusalem December 16, 2009, 2:04 PM

      Regardless of what people tell you, chatzitza is purely out of courtesy to other users of the mikveh to keep it clean – who wants to see hairs and other crap floating in their mikveh? L’chatchila you can go in the mikveh with all your clothes on, no chatzitza and without anyone watching you and the tevilah is d’oryta good. Probably what happened is that at some point the Rabbi’s saw that some people are inconsiderate a-holes and treating the mikveh like their personal bathtub, mucking it up for everyone else. So they made these rules and said if you don’t follow them your tevilah isn’t any good. It’s kind of like Givinat Goyim ( gentile cheese ) l’chatichal it’s kosher, but you’re not allowed to eat it.

  • rabbi May 28, 2010, 4:46 PM

    i like my wife better without the hair – she started with hair and it always got in the way – i think she is hot with the shaved head

Leave a Comment