Busted, now take off your wig!After a wild and drunken night of mayhem which included an armed robbery of a liquor store and several instances flashing passer by, an Orthodox Monsey couple was arrested by the Ramapo PD. Oh… wait a minute. They weren’t arrested for that. My bad. They were instead arrested for welfare fraud.

Should have figured that one out.

In any case, when Sarah Cohen of Monsey was brought into the police station, along with her husband, for mug shots and finger printing, a police officer ordered her to take off her wig (or sheitel). This caused a firestorm amongst the Orthodox Jewish community. Rabbi Avremal Kotlarsky of Chabad Lubavitch in New City noted that “For a woman to have her hair uncovered in public is embarrassing, humiliating and considered being naked…” Police Chief Peter Brower said he would review department policy adding that they routinely modified their policies.

The story has generated over 100 comments on LoHud.com and 574 diggs and over 150 comments on digg. Besides the chillul hashem situation we have going on there, the question is to what extent do the police have to take into account a suspect’s religious practices. I think that it shouldn’t be such a big deal to photograph her without her wig if she is being handled by a female cop. For a Police Department that serves a large Orthodox community it shouldn’t be too hard to show a little sensitivity – and in all fairness, since the incident they have. Of course, Orthodox, wig wearing Jews should avoid getting arrested, but sometimes, even when you are innocent, you cannot avoid getting arrested. It happens!

What was interesting was the vehemence with which there people argued for the position that a separation of Church and State demands that no special treatment ought to be accorded to prisoners because of their religion. Are that many of us really that dumb or do people just really dislike Jews? Follow the links and tell me what you think.

About the author

wendy in furs

I live and blog anonymously from New York. If my boss knew this was me, I'd be fired in a nano-second. Ha ha! Screw you boss man!


  • If the responses are as you say, then personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with people HATING Jews, but rather wanting fairness under the law. If asked they just may also say a muslim woman, who wears a niqaab should have to remove it as well. Or a man who wears a tupee should also have to remove it.

  • If those people were as religious as they claim to be, they wouldn’t wear wigs to begin with. 16th century CE European non-Jewish women re-discovered the ancient fashion of wearing wigs; the fashion eventually picked up in Jewish circles in the 18th century, but many a rabbi condemned it as being a non-Jewish fashion. Ultimately, the rabbis proved powerless against the fashionistas, so the wigs became tolerated. Nowadays they have merged into the headcovering, but strictly speaking, if a woman were seriously frum with a good take on tradition, she wouldn’t don a wig.

  • That’s just not true. The article seems to indicate the couple is Lubavitch, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe was very forthright about women wearing Sheitels as opposed to other forms of headcoverings, both to retain the woman’s beauty, as well as Sheitels being the most effective way to cover 100% of the hair.

  • JoJo, where above did I say that all rabbis condemned the fashion? BTW, the idea of headcoverings of married women in various cultures (in addition to practical considerations in times when people would not wash their hair daily) is to make them look recognizably married and less attractive at the same time. Thus, very religious Yidn of the 18th century rejected the wigs.

  • solution:

    as you said froylein, let female cops do the booking. then everyone’s happy. shaving the head and wearing wigs is not a torah commandment or practice of the hebrews. it is an ashkenazi ultra-orthodox idiosyncracy. we aren’t sympathetic when muslims claim their religious rights are being violated whent hey are not allowed to wear hijab or niqab for ID photos, it’s the same issue here.

  • For a woman to remove her haircovering is embarrassing? Guess what? So is being arrested for a crime!

    Anyone arrested in Passaic County has to STRIP COMPLETELY NAKED, sqat and cough in front of a same sex police officer regardless their religion. Women are always handled by female police officers, always.

    Detainees going into a holding cell or to a housing unit must be thoroughly checked for weapons, drugs and other contraband.

    I suppose this couple thought that because they were going to be immediately bailed out by the community they should be spared the embarrassment.

    No…they should not have been. In fact, her uncovered head should have been put on fliers throughout the community that said “Don’t let this happen to you, stop welfare fraud”.

    BTW, the issue regarding ID photos is completely different. Those going for ID photos have not committed a crime.

  • Sorry – the point is to have a clear photo of how the suspect/perp looks, without removable cosmetic appliances. And as others have pointed out, the real concern here is what happens with heavily veiled Muslims.

    Yes, I am orthodox. My wife covers her hair, my sister and mother wear wigs.

    The solution is not to get arrested.

  • Heh, I’m with Chutzpah there; they shouldn’t have committed a welfare fraud to begin with. At airport security checkpoints, you can also be asked to uncover your head, and if you’ve got religious concerns (even though they are just customary ones in this case), you can tell security staff, and you’ll be taken to a place that grants you privacy.

    That said, when you start looking like your passport picture, it’s time to take a break.

  • Some of the comments here are very insensitive. There was no reason to force this woman to remove her religious headcovering for the mug shot, given that there are mug shots of women wearing wigs. Not all wigs are disguises— would police officers make a cancer patient remove her wig, too?

    I hope, at the very least, that a female police officer handled the photos. Police officers are public servants, and need to meet the needs of the community they help. Otherwise, they should not get paid off that community’s tax dollars.