Tel Aviv (dpa) - A hairstyle like Victoria Beckham's and if possible, made from Romanian hair: this wish may sound unusual, but it is not a rarity in Israel.
More and more orthodox Jewish women wear wigs. They are observing the religious decree of covering their hair, but at the same time following a style trend. For the traditional "scheitel" - as wigs are called in Yiddish - are an object of prestige.
Women with shiny, silky hair are as much of the daily scene in Israel as are the men with their black hats and traditional kippas. Only at second glance does one notice that the women are wearing a scheitel.
For centuries now, religious Jewish women have worn hats, headscarves and wigs in following the decree that they should cover their heads once they are married.
"In the meantime, one-third of women choose a wig," says Vittorio Sasson, who has run a large wig business for the past 15 years. There is a new generation of religious Jews who attach great importance to their religion "but who at the same time wish to be stylish," he says.
Just what kind of wig a woman chooses depends on the branch of Judaism that she follows. Wigs are, as a rule, above all worn by Ashkenazi Jews - those whose origins are from Central and Eastern Europe.
"While some of the women wear a hat over parts of their hair, others prefer to wear a shoulder-length wig of a bland brown colour," hair salon owner Sasson notes.
But the same rule applies to everyone: they must be kosher.
"This means that the hair may not be from India," explains Rabbi Schlesinger, a specialist for wigs. Up until 2004 the hair of many wigs came from temples where religious Hindus had their heads shaved.
"Religious law forbids any profit to be taken from an act which is dedicated to another god," the rabbi says. At the time, the rabbis ruled that wigs made from Indian hair did not conform to Jewish religious law.
"Since then, I have been travelling to China to control the factories so that I can certify that their wigs are kosher."
Just how valuable a wig is depends on various factors, says Amir Zahavi. The 43-year-old has carried on with the wig salon started by his mother in the Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan. "Is the hair artificial or real? And where does it come from?"
Above all, hair from Eastern Europe is very popular because it is fine and light-coloured.
"The women there scarcely use any treatments which attack the hair," Zahavi says.
And the processing also plays a role, he points out. If a wig is produced with a parting, it is costly. Beyond that, longer hair is expensive. Then comes the monthly cleansing of the hair in a salon.
"It is more complicated to wash a wig than normal hair," Zahavi explains, which is why his beauty salon also offers wig washing services. The average wig lasts up to four years. A more expensive wig, costing around 1,000 euros (1,350 dollars) can last up to 10 years.
"Because a wig plays a role in presentation, families will cut back on other expenses," notes wig merchant Sasson, one of the major wholesalers who are increasingly controlling the market. These usually have their wigs manufactured in Chinese factories.
Scheitel-makers who work in small shops are becoming fewer and fewer. Salons such as that of Zahavi's mother Rivka are the exception. She founded the business 25 years ago.
"The complete production cycle is performed here. First the hair is sorted according to length, colour and density, then individually woven into the net and finally, given a raw cut," Zahavi says, describing the production process in which 100 hours of labour go into a wig. Once a woman has decided on a wig is it then fitted to the shape of her head.
The purchase of a wig is a weighty step.
"Now, ahead of the Pessach festival I just might buy a new one," says Patricia Davidovitch. The 54-year-old has been wearing a scheitel for over 30 years now. Like many customers, she will bring her daughter along for making the purchase.
"Women often come and look sad," says wig salon founder Rivka Zahavi, 64. "But with a new wig, they walk more upright and radiant like a queen. This is what I like best about my work."