Thursday, May 13, 2004

Hairy Krishnas

Anybody who has ever spent any time socialising with the Chassidic shgatzim in mixed company will know that when the schmooze turns to sheitels (wigs) it is time to head home. Not that I have anything against sheitels, on the contrary I find most sheitels far more attractive than what lurks underneath. I cannot however find it in me to be honestly interested in if the ends turn inward or out, or whether it was ordered from the new Russian star in Antwerp or that ‘cute’ gay hairdresser in Golders Green.

When the women started off about sheitels last night I automatically headed off for a heart-to-heart with an old friend from the Glenmorangie distillery. This was a miscalculation on my part because for a change this was no fluff; apparently the Rabbanim have discovered that the human hair that all wigmakers use comes from a Hindu temple in India where the people offer up their hair to an idol. This makes the hair Takroives Avoide zore (an offering to an idol) and it is forbidden to derive any use from it.

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh there is town called Tirupati. Central to this town of about 100,000 residents, is the Sri Venkateswara Temple. With an average of 50.000 visitors each day this is certainly India’s most visited shrine. Indeed it records more visitors than either Mecca or St. Peter’s Basilica. It is dedicated to the four-armed Hindu God Venkateswara, who is supposed to be a reincarnation of the similarly quadribrac Lord Vishnu, the consort of Goddess Lakshmi. It reigns undisputed as the richest temple in India due to its export of one commodity: human hair. Every day a percentage of the pilgrims who visit the site offer what the people there call “the most beautiful part of the human body” as a sacrifice to God. The temples leader calls it “a surrendering of ego to God”.

Most of the hair that is shorn is gathered up and sold by the temple to companies who will do all manner of things with it including extracting amino acids that could end up in our food or shampoos. The very long hair, shorn from a woman who has never cut it before - as is often the custom there, will be carefully tied together before removal and will eventually be sold as human hair. Tirupati hair is highly valued by African-American women, who use it to make hair extensions, because the Hindu women who donate it have often never washed it with shampoo nor worn it loose. It is most often worn braided at all times and lovingly massaged with coconut oil to keep it shiny.

The Temple is said to earn between $2 and $4 million a year from the proceeds of the 25.000 heads that are shaved every day and the 450 tons of hair sold each year.

I am no less Shaigetz for Hinduism than I am for Judaism so I am not really qualified to judge whether the Rabbi’s take on this whole affair is correct. Fortunately the problem does not affect me as my wife has hers custom made with European hair. Many women are not so lucky and unless the Rabbis will take action to ensure that the wig makers do not take advantage of the situation and go up with the prices of the out-of-the-box wigs it will be hard to suppress the feeling that this is just another scam to fill the synagogues coffers at expense of that Temple. In the meantime euphoria and self-satisfied gloating from those sticks-in-the-mud who have been trying to ban sheitels since they first appeared.

I personally am a bit sceptical as to what percentage of hair used in Jewish sheitels actually is from there. Those in the business had always told me that it is bought from Sikhs, not allowed to cut their hair as long as they live. I am furthermore not entirely convinced that Hindus do actually worship Idols. Take this statement “Hindus with a proper understanding of their religion do not think that the idol alone is God. The idol is meant for the worshipper to offer one-pointed devotion and he adores it with the conviction that the Lord who is present everywhere is present in it also.” ( )

I am most certainly highly suspicious of a trip that the illustrious Dayan Dunner made to Tirupati to ascertain that it is indeed idolatry. I hear that on his return he huddled up with a leading Israeli Rabbi behind closed doors and emerged beamingly to announce that henceforth all sheitels of Indian origin have to be burned.

I had to suppress a grin when I learned that none other than our very own Posh Spice brought the whole story to light. Apparently on some TV interview Victoria Beckham was asked if she felt no guilt wearing a wig that was probably shorn off some prisoner in a Russian jail. She replied that she did not care, but her publicists later revealed that in fact the hair might have come from Tirupati starting this whole furore.

In one respect the Rabbis did get it right. No good comes from watching TV

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