Shaving in Judaism

Shaving in Judaism

] ; as with many other parts of the Leviticus, the Book of Ezekiel describes similar regulations, stating that the priests should not shave their heads, or let their locks grow long [] . Leviticus additionally requires that Nazarites shave their heads, 7 days after any contact with corpses [] [] .

Textual scholars date the Priestly Source, and the Holiness and Priestly Codes within it, to the late 7th century or later [Richard Elliott Friedman, "Who wrote the Bible"] ; it appears that before this time, the shaving of the head during mourning was permitted, and even encouraged ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] . The Book of Amos, which is dated by textual scholars to the mid 7th century ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] , as well as the Books of Isaiah and of Micah, which textual scholars date to a slightly later period, portray HaShem as instructing the Israelites to shave their head as an act of mourning [] ::"...HaShem... called you to weep and mourn. He told you to shave your heads in sorrow for your sins"- [] in a different way, arguing that it forbade men from removing hair from areas where women were accustomed to remove hair, such as underarm hair ["Shulchan Aruch", 182] .

In the early Middle Ages, Jewish custom, in regard to beards, followed the fashions of each nation ["Jewish Encyclopedia", "beard"] ; in Germany, France, and Italy, Jews removed their beards, but in Islamic nations, Jews grew them long [ibid] . In 1720, a violent confrontation arose between a group of Italian Jews, who had migrated to Salonica in Turkey, and the local Jewish population, because the migrant Italians didn't wear beards, but the local population insisted that beards should be worn ["Jewish Encyclopedia", "beard"] . Among the western Europeans, the Ashkenazi rabbis attempted to oppose the beard cutting behaviour of the Jewish populace, and empatically forbade the cutting of the beard ["Jewish Encyclopedia", "beard"] , but the Sephardim interpretated the Talmudic and Biblical shaving regulations in particularly lax ways [ibid] . It was later remarked by Jacob Emden that the Jewish population in western Europe had objected to these regulations so much that it had been impractical to enforce them ["She'elat Ya'abez", 1:80] ; there had also been prominent opponents of beards, such as Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, to whom is attributed the epigram::"if men are judged wise by their beards and their girth, then goats were the wisest of creatures on earth" ["Jewish Encyclopedia", "beard"]

In Kabbalah

The Zohar, one of the primary sources of Kabbalah (a form of Jewish mysticism), attributes holiness to the beard, and strongly discourages its removal, declaring that even the shortening of a beard by scissors was a great sin ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ; it was even said that Isaac Luria, a significant figure in the history of Kabbalistic mysticism, meticulously avoided touching his beard, lest he should accidentally cause hairs to drop from it [Judah Ashkenazi, "Bakhr Heteb", on "Yoreh De'ah"] . Kabbalistic teachings gradually spread into Slavonic regions, and consequently beard trimming was prohibited in these areas, even if it involved scissors ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ; it was the Hasidic Jews who more closely followed Kabbalistic practices than Jews of a Lithuanian or misnagdim background, and thus it became the Hasidic Jews who are known for the distinctive traditional practice of growing their beards. However, in Italy, shaving the beard was so popular that even the Italian followers of Kabbalah did it; an Italian Kabbalist even went to the extent of arguing that beard shaving was only prohibited in Canaan, and was actually to be encouraged elsewhere [Shabbethai Bekhr "Responsa Bekhr 'Eshek" 670]

In Modern Judaism

Electric razors and Orthodox Judaism

In Leviticus 19:27, Jews are prohibited from "destroying" the corners of the beard. The Talmud (Makkos 20a) explains this to mean the use of a single-bladed razor (as opposed to any scissors-like device which requires two blades to cut). Therefore, Jewish males may not use a razor to cut certain parts of their beards. For practical purposes, those who comply with halacha as defined by rabbinic Judaism refrain from the use of razors altogether.

Some Orthodox Jews, including Hassidim, refrain from cutting their beards altogether, and with the exception of occasionally trimming their moustaches when they interfere with eating, never cut their facial hair. Those Orthodox Jews who do shave their facial hair must utilize electric shavers. Some rabbis have deemed certain electric shavers permissible, because even though they "destroy" the beard, they do this through a permitted scissor-like action. Other rabbis do not permit any electric shavers, presuming that scissors which cut as closely as a razor would are prohibited as well.

The advent of "Lift and Cut technology" by Philips (initially marketed under the Philishave and Norelco brand names) in 1980, with which shavers are said to "first" lift the hair with a primary blade "and then" slice it with a secondary blade, raises the question of whether or not this constitutes use of a single blade. According to the company, the secondary blade no longer works in concert with the comb of the rotary head to produce a scissor action. Many Orthodox rabbis have banned Lift and Cut shavers for this reason. But some permit them on the basis of their research conclusions that, despite company claims, the second blade does not in fact cut on its own, but rather requires the presence of the comb to create a scissors-like cutting action. In any case, a person who wishes to follow the stricter opinion can remove the Lift and Cut primary blades from the rotary blade head assembly. [ [ Koshershaver.Org - Make Your Norelco Lift And Cut Shaver Kosher For Free! ] ]

Some modern Jewish religious legislators in Orthodox Judaism, including Moshe Feinstein and Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, permit the use of electric razors for the purpose of remaining clean shaven, because, in their view, electric razors work like scissors, cutting by trapping hair between the blades and a metal grating [cite web
last = Heinemann
first = Moshe
title = Electric Shavers
url =
accessdate = December 2006
] ["Eidut L'Yisrael", p. 145] . However, other modern Jewish Rabbinical authorities, such as Avraham Yeshayahu Karelitz and Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, consider electric razors, particularly rotary models which use "Lift and Cut" heads made by Philips, to work in the manner of primitive razors, and consequently prohibit their use [cite web|title = Electric Shavers in Halacha| url = | accessdate = December 2006 ] These shavers can be used if the lifters attached to the shaver's cutters are removed first. The rotary electric shaver was invented by a Jewish engineer named Alexandre Horowitz. [ [ Prof. Alexandre Horowitz (1904-1982) ] ] Many Orthodox Jews prefer to grow beards, for a variety of religious, social, and cultural reasons, even if they believe that electric shavers would be permitted; many Orthodox Jews, even non-Haredi Jews, today grow beards to keep the tradition of their ancestors, regardless of the permissibility of their removal.

See also

*Beard in Judaism
*Tiferes Adam
*Facial Hair


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