Controversy Over Wigs Made of Hair Shorn in Hindu Rituals Has Little Impact on Business

July 14, 2004

Source: The New York Times

On July 14, 2004 the The New York Times reported, "A majority of Hindus, who make up 85 percent of India's billion-plus population, have their heads shaved at least once in a lifetime as prescribed by Hindu scriptures, and much of India's hair exports, which totaled $62.5 million last year, come out of the customary Hindu tradition of offering one's hair at temples. But if most Indians who offer their hair in religious devotion are unaware that it is made into wigs that are sold abroad - mainly in Europe and the United States - most of those who buy the wigs are equally unaware of the religious aspect involved in the collecting of human hair for commercial use. Or at least they were until recently, when a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Israel declared that wearing wigs made with even one strand of ritually tonsured hair constituted idolatry, and was thus forbidden. Among Orthodox Jewish women, who observe a code of modesty that prohibits the public display of their hair after marriage, the rabbis' ruling created an uproar. Thousands of these women, who account for significant numbers of wig sales in the United States, have publicly burned wigs costing thousands of dollars and have rushed to find wigs that are guaranteed to be made of European hair or to get synthetic hair replacements. Many have foregone wigs altogether for snoods or hats to cover their heads...The controversy over Indian hair in wigs sold in the United States and Israel appears to have made no dent in the temple's earnings from selling hair. On the contrary, said Surendra Babu, the temple's marketing chief, at a recent hair auction, bidders paid 10 percent more than they had at the last auction."