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Cutting Corners

Question #1: Idolatrous shavers

What does my style of haircut have to do with idolatry?

Question #2: Women shaving

Are women included in the prohibition of shaving?

Question #3: Tweezing my beard

May I tweeze out my facial hairs?

Question #4: Am I square-headed?

Where are my head’s corners? My head is round!

Introduction

In two places in the Torah, the mitzvos not to shave the “corners” or “edges” of one’s head and beard are discussed. In parshas Kedoshim, the Torah states, “Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem velo sashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, “Do not round the corners of your head, and do not destroy the corners of your beard” (Vayikra 19:27). We should note that the first part of the posuk states sakifu and roshechem, both plural, whereas the latter part of the posuk states tashchis and zekanecha, which are both singular and masculine. This observation will be significant in our forthcoming discussion.

The other place where the Torah discusses the prohibition not to shave is in parshas Emor,where the Torah states, “They should not shave the corners of their beard” (Vayikra 21:5). Just reading these two pesukim already raises questions: What does the Torah mean in referring to the “corners” of your head and beard. I, like most people, have an oval-shaped head that has no straight lines or corners! My barber tells me that my beard is roundish also, so, pray tell, where are the corners of my beard?

Even should we explain the posuk to mean “edges” rather than “corners,” it is still unclear. Where are the “edges” of my head, or those of my beard? We will return to these questions shortly.

Shaving and avodah zarah

The Rambam discusses these laws in a place that we might find somewhat unusual — at the end of Hilchos Avodah Zarah, the laws of idol worship. As he explains himself: “It is prohibited to shave the edges of the head, as the idol worshippers and their priests used to do.” Clearly, he understands that this prohibition is linked to the general laws prohibiting idol worship, notwithstanding that these laws apply only to Jews and not to non-Jews, whose responsibility not to worship idols is the same as that of a Jew.

Similarly, when the Rambam introduces the lo saaseh not to shave, he states as follows: “The approach of the priests of idolatry was to shave their beards. Therefore, the Torah forbade shaving the beard.” It is also interesting to note that, although I translated the Rambam as “shaving,” he actually here uses the word hashchasah, which, as in the translation of the posuk in parshas Kedoshim above, means “destroying” the beard.

Both of these statements of the Rambam are unusual. Although he often quotes reasons for mitzvos before concluding the laws of that mitzvah, he rarely introduces a mitzvah with an explanation of the reason for the mitzvah. Here, he obviously felt that there was a reason to do so, which provoked other rishonim to take issue with him, as we will soon see. It is fascinating to note that today there are idolatrous practices that involve shaving the sides of the head in a way somewhat reminiscent of the Rambam’s description. It is also interesting to note that the Yiddish word for a priest, “galach,” is derived from the word giluach, shaving.

Women and hair corners

The two mitzvos, “rounding” the head and “destroying” the edges of the beard, apply only to men and not to women, but where does the Torah teach this? The question is even stronger, since neither of these mitzvos is timebound, and they are both mitzvos lo saaseh, prohibitions of the Torah. The general rule is that women are exempt only from time-bound positive mitzvos (mitzvos aseih) and not from mitzvos lo saaseh, nor from mitzvos that are not time-bound!

To answer this last question, let us quote the Mishnah, which states, “Men are obligated and women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvos (mitzvas aseih shehazeman grama). Men and women are equally obligated to observe positive mitzvos that are not timebound (mitzvas aseih shelo hazeman grama). Men and women are equally obligated to observe all prohibitions (lo saaseh), except for “Don’t round (bal takif),” “Don’t destroy (bal tashchis),” and “Don’t become tamei to the dead (bal tetamei lameisim)” (Kiddushin 29a).

Thus, we are taught that there are three mitzvos lo saaseh that are discriminatory – they apply only to men, but not to women. In other words, male kohanim may not become tamei to a human corpse, but women who are wives or daughters of a kohein (called kohanos in numerous places) may become tamei. Male Jews are prohibited from “rounding out” the “edges” of their heads, but women are exempt from any prohibition of “rounding out” the “edges” of their heads. And male Jews are prohibited from “destroying” the “edges” of their beards, whereas women are exempt from any prohibition of “destroying” the “edges” of their unwanted facial hairs.

We do not yet know why these mitzvos should be exceptions and not apply to women. The Gemara asks (Kiddushin 35b), “What is the hermeneutic basis for these rulings?” In other words, how do we see in the Written Torah that this is true, based on the thirteen midos of Rabbi Yishmael.

I will note that the Gemara is not questioning why these three mitzvos are exceptions. This we know via our mesorah, the Torah she’be’al peh. The Gemara’s question is how are these laws derived from the Torah shebiksav (see Rambam, Introduction to Commentary on the Mishnah).

The relevant passage of Gemara explains that the law that a kohein may not become tamei through contact with the dead applies only to men and not to women is clearly implied in the posuk (in parshas Emor), where it states: “Speak to the kohanim who are the sons of Aharon,” implying that the prohibition applies only to the male descendants of Aharon, but not to his female progeny. However, from where in the verse would we know that the two prohibitions of rounding the head and destroying the beard apply only to men? The Gemara first explains how we know that the prohibition against destroying the beard applies only to men. The proof for this returns us to the observation we made above: When the Torah states, Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem velo tashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, “Do not round the corners of your head, and do not destroy the corners of your beard,” the beginning of the posuk is plural, whereas the latter part is masculine singular. This change and emphasis implies that lo tashchis eis pe’as zekanecha, which translates, “You (male, singular) are not to destroy the corners of your beard” applies only to men. (This is not the only approach mentioned in the Gemara, but it is the clearest.) The Gemara also demonstrates the hermeneutic source why the lo saaseh of Lo sakifu pe’as roshechem,“Do not round the corners of your head,” also applies only to men, but not to women.

Tweezing my beard

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions: “May I tweeze out my facial hairs?” We have already learned that a woman is permitted to do this, but we do not know what the halacha is regarding a man. In this context, we should study the Mishnah in Makkos (20a), in which the tanna kamma rules that the prohibition is violated min haTorah only by shaving with a razor, whereas Rabbi Eliezer prohibits min haTorah using either a malkeit or a rehitni. What are these two instruments? According to many rishonim, a malkeit is a pair of tweezers, and the word’s root lelakeit indeed can be translated as “to tweeze” (Bartenura, Makkos 3:5; however, cf. Rashi, Shabbos 97a). Rehitni is understood by most rishonim to mean a plane or similar implement, which has a single blade as sharp as a razor, but is meant for purposes other than shaving (Rashi, Shabbos 48b, 58b, 97a; Rambam Commentary and Bartenura, Makkos 3:5). Notwithstanding that the rishonim differ regarding the correct identification of malkeit and rehitni, they appear to agree regarding the halachic issues that result.

At the beginning of this article, we noted that there are two pesukim banning shaving, one in parshas Kedoshim, which prohibits “destroying” your beard, and the other in parshas Emor, which prohibits shaving. The Gemara (Makkos 21a) explains the tanna kamma to mean that the two pesukim, together, mean that the lo saaseh applies only when someone uses an implement that is both a normal way of shaving and destroys. Although both tweezers and planes will “destroy” the beard, the Gemara explains that neither is commonly used to shave, and, therefore, they are excluded from this prohibition, at least min haTorah. Rabbi Eliezer contends that although they are not the most common shaving instruments, it is still called shaving when they are used and, therefore, it is forbidden min haTorah to shave with them (Rivan ad loc.). Although Rabbi Eliezer disagrees with the tanna kamma, since the majority opinion rules that these two instruments are permitted, this is the halachic conclusion.

The Gemara then makes a distinction between scissors, on the one hand, and tweezers and planes on the other, explaining that even Rabbi Eliezer rules that this prohibition of the Torah does not include cutting the beard with scissors, since this does not “destroy” your beard. Since Rabbi Eliezer rules that scissors do not violate the prohibition of shaving the beard, certainly the tanna kamma agrees. Therefore, this lo saaseh is not violated when cutting beard hairs with tweezers, planes or scissors. We should note that many authorities, nevertheless, prohibit shaving using these items, for a variety of different reasons, which we will explain in a future article.=

One blade

Even when using scissors or a beard trimmer, one must be extremely careful not to shave the beard only with the lower blade of the scissors, since this is halachically the same as cutting with a razor and prohibited min haTorah (Rema, Yoreh Deah 181:10). In other words, scissors’ action is not a razor only because the cutting uses both blades. Should one blade of the scissors be used by itself, it is functioning as a razor – the upper blade may be hanging on for the ride, but the lower blade is shaving as a razor does.

Similarly, it is prohibited min haTorah to shave using a flintstone (which was apparently common at one time in history), since this is equivalent to shaving with a razor (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:81).

Powders and Creams

Several halachic authorities rule that, just as a scissors may be used to shave the beard, so can depilatory powders and creams be used to remove the beard (Shu’t Noda Biyehudah, Yoreh Deah 2:81; Shu’t Shemesh Tzedakah Yoreh Deah #61; Birkei Yosef, to Yoreh Deah 181:10; Tiferes Yisroel, Makkos 3:5 #34). They caution against using a knife or other sharp implement to scrape off the powder or cream, since this may result in using a razor-type instrument to remove the hair, if the powder or cream did not yet separate the hair from the face. Instead, they recommend using an implement made of wood or a smooth piece of bone to wipe off the powder or cream.

We will continue this topic in a future article.




Shaving and Haircuts during the Three Weeks

barber poleQuestion #1: Bushy presenter

“My company sent me out of town to meet a new client, and I forgot to have my hair cut before Shiva Asar BeTamuz. May I have the bushier parts trimmed? Does it make a difference if I use a non-Jewish barber? May I shave?”

Question #2: Mixed shavers

“My son wrote me that in his yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel, the Sefardic bochurim shave during the Three Weeks. Is this permitted?”

Question #3: Celebrating a bris!

“Thank G-d, we will be celebrating the bris of a grandson during the Three Weeks, and I do not want to look disheveled for the bris photos. May I shave in honor of the occasion?”

Question #4: Tichel tattling

“My hair is sticking out beyond my tichel. May I trim it?”

The three-week period between Shiva Asar BeTamuz and Tisha B’Av is observed by klal Yisroel as a time of mourning. These three weeks heralded the beginning of the tragedies that took place prior to the destruction of both Batei Hamikdash. Prior to the destruction of the First Beis Hamikdash, the daily korban tamid ceased on Shiva Asar BeTamuz and did not resume until the Jews began constructing the Second Beis Hamikdash seventy years later (see Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:2). Before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash, the walls of the city of Yerushalayim were breached on Shiva Asar BeTamuz, leading to the complete devastation that followed (Taanis 28b).

To commemorate these tragic events, the custom is to observe some mourning practices (aveilus) from the 17th day of Tamuz until Tisha B’Av (Rama, Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:2; Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devorim #4; Knesses Hagedolah; Sdei Chemed Vol. 5, pg. 279 #14). This three-week season is referred to by the Midrash Rabbah (Eicha 1:3) as the period of Bein Hametzarim. (It is noteworthy that neither the Mishnah nor the Gemara makes any mention of beginning the mourning period any earlier than Rosh Chodesh.)

WHAT ARE THE LAWS ABOUT HAVING HAIRCUTS AND SHAVING DURING THE THREE WEEKS?

The Mishnah (Taanis 26b) rules that it is prohibited to cut one’s hair from the Motza’ei Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av until Tisha B’Av. These days are referred to as shavua shechal bo Tisha B’Av, the week in which Tisha B’Av falls. This year, when Tisha B’Av is observed on Sunday, there is no shavua shechal bo Tisha B’Av. However, the Rama notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is that we do not cut our hair during the entire Three Weeks (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 551:5 and Hagahos 551:4). As a general rule, the halachos of shaving and cutting one’s hair are the same.

There are different customs among Sefardim as to whether they get their hair cut during the Three Weeks. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 551:3) prohibits only that which is recorded in the Gemara, cutting hair from Motza’ei Shabbos until Tisha B’Av, and this is the prevalent practice among Sefardim today in Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36), which means that there is no prohibition this year. Others shave and get haircuts until Rosh Chodesh, but stop after that point.

However, other Sefardic communities follow the Ashkenazic practice not to shave or get haircuts the entire period of Bein Hametzarim (Ben Ish Chai, Parshas Devorim #12). (Incidentally, the Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chayim 551:4] permits having one’s hair cut immediately after Tisha B’Av is over even when Tisha B’Av does not fall on Sunday, and does not require waiting until the next day.)

SEFARDIM LIVING IN AN ASHKENAZI COMMUNITY

May a Sefardi living in an Ashkenazi community be lenient, despite the prevalent custom?

This issue is discussed by contemporary authorities, involving the general halachic rule that a community should follow one established practice. This principle is referred to by the Gemara as “lo sisgodedu,” do not give the appearance that different Torah communities received different versions of the Torah, G-d forbid (Yevamos 14a, as explained by Rashi). This law prohibits a Jewish community from following two conflicting customs. Thus, it would seem that an Ashkenazi living in a Sefardic community or vice versa must observe the prevailing custom.

However, contemporary poskim rule that Ashkenazim living in Sefardic communities may observe Ashkenazic custom, and Sefardim living in Ashenazic communities may continue to follow Sefardic practice. Therefore, Sefardic bochurim studying in an Ashkenazic yeshiva are permitted to shave until Rosh Chodesh or during the entire Three Weeks, depending on their minhag. Even though most of the students in the yeshiva follow the Ashkenazic practice of not shaving during the entire Three Weeks, it does not violate minhag hamakom for the Sefardic bochurim to shave (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 4:36).

WHY DOES THIS NOT VIOLATE LO SISGODEDU?

Even though there is a general rule that a community should follow one halachic practice, this is true when the community has one rav or follows the guidance of one beis din. However, when there are two different batei din in a community, each beis din is free to rule as it sees fit and does not need to change its decision to avoid lo sisgodedu. Thus, the prohibition of lo sisgodedu applies only when there are two different practices in one beis din.

Similarly, when it is well-known that there are different communities, each may observe its own well-established practice, even if they are in the same location. Therefore, Ashkenazim and Sefardim following different minhagim is not a violation of lo sisgodedu. As a result, Sefardic bachurim may shave during the Three Weeks, even if they study in an Ashkenazic Yeshiva, since it is understood that they are following a different psak.

EXTENUATING CIRCUMSTANCES

There are several situations in which Ashkenazim are permitted to shave or take a haircut during the Three Weeks. For example, it is permitted to trim one’s mustache, if it interferes with eating (Ran; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:13). Some poskim rule that a person who usually shaves every day is permitted to shave during the Three Weeks in honor of Shabbos (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #348 s.v. Ve’i golach). Others permit a person to shave if his beard stubble makes him very uncomfortable (see Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah 122:5). However, since these last two psakim are not usually accepted, one should not rely on them without receiving a psak from a rav.

Someone who is in aveilos is not permitted to shave or have his hair cut until the end of the Sheloshim (30 days), and someone in aveilos for a parent, for several months. If the aveilos ended during the Three Weeks, he is permitted to have his hair cut, since he could not cut it before Shiva Asar BeTamuz (Be’er Heiteiv 551:18). Most poskim permit this even during the Nine Days, assuming his aveilos ended then (Bach; Taz; Mishnah Berurah 551:87; cf. however, Elyah Rabbah).

SHAVING BECAUSE OF FINANCIAL LOSS

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one may shave during the Three Weeks if he may lose his job or customers because he does not shave. However, if the only concern is that people will make fun of him, he is not permitted to shave. Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that since the prohibition not to shave the entire Three Weeks began as a minhag, the custom was originally established only when one would not suffer financially as a result. However, if he would suffer only embarrassment or harassment, but no loss of income, he is required to remain unshaven (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:93; Orach Chayim 4:102). Thus, someone who makes a business trip may shave, since making a bad impression on the potential customer could cost him business. Certainly, one is not required to jeopardize his employment by avoiding shaving during the Three Weeks.

SHAVING FOR A SIMCHA

If a bris occurs during the Three Weeks, the father of the baby, the mohel, and the sandek who holds the baby during the bris are permitted to shave or take a haircut in honor of the festive occasion (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #158). According to some poskim, the kvatter, who brings the baby to the bris, and the sandek meumad (also called amida lebrochos), who holds the baby while he is being named, are also permitted to shave or take a haircut (Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah, Kuntrus Acharon 120:8, based on Elyah Rabbah 551:27 and Beis Meir, Orach Chayim 551). Thus, the grandfather who asked whether he may shave or cut his hair in honor of his grandson’s bris during the Three Weeks may do so, if he receives the honor of being sandek. If he receives a different honor, he should ask a shaylah as to whether he may shave in honor of the occasion.

The poskim dispute whether the baalei simcha are permitted to shave even if the bris occurs during the Nine Days or only if it occurs before Rosh Chodesh. (The Chasam Sofer, Shu’t Noda Biyehudah 1:28, Shaarei Teshuvah, and Sdei Chemed 5:278:3 permit, whereas the Be’er Heiteiv 551:3 prohibits.)

CHOSON

Question: May someone who got married before the 17th of Tamuz shave during his Sheva Brachos week? May someone attending a Sheva Brachos shave in honor of the occasion?

The week after a couple gets married is considered a Yom Tov for them, and they should wear Yom Tov clothing and eat festive meals. Similarly, they are not permitted to go to work. Part of the celebration is that they should look like two celebrants. Thus, it would seem that the choson may shave during his Sheva Brachos week.

However, for the participant in the Sheva Brachos it is not a Yom Tov, so he would not be permitted to shave for the occasion.

Some poskim hold that a bar mitzvah bochur who needs a haircut may get one during the Three Weeks, as long as it is not during the week of Tisha B’Av. Others contend that it is better if he gets the haircut the day before he turns bar mitzvah and rely on the opinion that a minor may get a haircut during the Three Weeks, as I will discuss shortly (Shearim Ha’metzuyanim Behalachah, Kuntrus Acharon 120:8).

UPSHEREN

Although some poskim permit scheduling an upsheren (chalakah) during the Three Weeks if the child was born during the Three Weeks, the prevalent practice is to postpone the upsheren until after Tisha B’Av (Piskei Teshuvos 551:44; Chanoch Lana’ar, Chapter 21, ftn. 1).

Adults may not give children haircuts during the week of Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:14). There is a dispute whether a minor may get a haircut during the Three Weeks, some poskim contending that children were not included in the custom not to cut hair (Mishnah Berurah 551:82, quoting Chayei Odom), whereas others rule that one may not cut a child’s hair, just as one may not cut an adult’s (Elyah Rabbah 551:28).

There are different opinions among the poskim whether a woman may have her hair cut during the Three Weeks. The Mishnah Berurah rules that a woman may not have her hair cut during the week of Tisha B’Av, but he suggests that she may be permitted to trim the hair on her temples that sticks out from the tichel (Mishnah Berurah 551:79). Many poskim rule that a woman may tweeze her eyebrows and perform similar cosmetic activities, even during the week of Tisha B’Av (Halichos Beisah, Chapter 25, footnote 70; Piskei Teshuvos 551:43; however, see Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:137, who appears to be more stringent).

MAY I CLIP MY FINGERNAILS DURING THE THREE WEEKS?

It is permitted to clip one’s fingernails during the Three Weeks and the Nine Days according to all opinions. There is a dispute whether one may clip one’s nails during the week of Tisha B’Av (Magen Avraham, 551:11 permits, whereas Taz 551:13 and Elyah Rabbah 551:7 prohibit).

FOCUS OF THE THREE WEEKS

The most important aspect of the Three Weeks is to focus on the tremendous loss we suffer because of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. The minhag among some Sefardic kehillos in Yerushalayim is to sit on the floor each day of the Three Weeks just after midday and to recite part of tikkun chatzos that mourns the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. To further convey this mood, Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah prohibits any laughing and small talk during these weeks, just as a mourner does not engage in laughter or small talk (Shaar 9, Ch. 11-12).

Although we may not be holding at such a madreigah, we certainly should contemplate the tremendous void in our spiritual lives in the absence of the Beis Hamikdash. Let us pray intently for the restoration of the Beis Hamikdash and the return of the Divine Presence to Yerushalayim, speedily in our days!