Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why The Beard?


Moishe's dad had just passed away. After sitting "shiv'as yamei aveilus" (the seven days of mourning), he returned to his regular paying desk job with his face clearly marked by the signs of a growing beard. Surprised at seeing him, the "shiktze" secretary and a few of his Jewish compatriots who knew not that his father had passed away, said to him: "Hey, Moishe! You're growing a beard!" His sad but benign answer to them was, "Yes. I just lost my father." With that said, they all knew and understood that in Jewish law, when a man's closest relatives die, he must grow a beard as a sign of mourning.

Here, our story ends, although – sad to say – their perceptions of Moishe and of Jewish law are grossly mistaken! It is not that a Jew must grow a beard at the death of a close relative, but rather, he is not permitted to shave his beard! (Shulhan Arukh, YD 390:1). Moishe, who had no beard, could do no more than to grow out his own beard.

Seeing that there is widespread ignorance in the laws governing beard growing, I am, therefore, resolved to lay down the sources for the first time, so that our readers might see for themselves the issues at hand. The sources speak for themselves and require very little in the form of additional commentary. Hopefully, these sources will allay all doubts as to the "mitzvah" of growing out a beard.

Lev. 19:27 ~ In Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra's Commentary on the Pentateuch, he notes "the reason for mentioning, 'do not round the corner of your head' like the manner of the gentiles is that we might be distinguished from them, and seeing that the hair of the head and the beard were created for [adding] majesty (Heb. תפארת), it is not fitting to destroy it."
...וטעם להזכיר לא תקפו פאת ראשכם כמעשה הגוים להיות מובדלים מהם ואחר ששער הראש והזקן לתפארת נברא, אין ראוי להשחיתו.

The Seforno (ibid.), said: "The splendour of a man's face is his beard." - הדרת פנים זקן

(Let it be observed that in nature, too, it is the male species that usually possess an added splendour that is lacking in the female gender. In birds, for example, the male is usually the most colourful in its array of feathers. In the lion family, the male lion has a mane, a thing not found on the lioness. In the deer family, the stag usually grows a rack of antlers, not seen on a doe; In man, it is his beard which gives him that added splendour.)

II Sam. 10: 4-5 ~ "Now Hanun had taken the servants of David and shaved the one half of their beards, and had cut their garments in half, unto their buttocks, and sent them away. And they told David, whereas he sent [other raiment] in advance of their return, for the men were greatly ashamed, and the king said [to them]: 'Remain in Jericho until your beards can be grown out again, after which, return [home].' "

The RADAK (Rabbi David Kimchi), ibid., wrote: "Until your beards can be grown out again. However, he did not say [to them] to shave the other half, for it was not their custom to shave the beard, and even with scissors, except only the moustache, unless it were because of sorrow or mourning, just as it was said [concerning] 'those with shaven beards and rent clothing' (Jeremiah 41:5). Now it is a shameful thing to shave off one's beard, only that in these lands wherein we are stationed they have practised doing so."
עד יצמח זקנכם. ולא אמר לגלח החצי האחר כי לא היה מנהגם לגלח הזקן ואפילו במספרים אלא השפה לבד אלא אם כן משום צער ואבל כמו שאמר מגולחי זקן וקרועי בגדים, וחרפה הוא גלוח הזקן אלא שנהגו כן באלה הארצות אשר אנחנו שם.

Note that by his saying, "in these lands," meaning, in the region of France, "they have practised doing so" (meaning, to shave off their beards), the RADAK seems to imply that the people had long since broken away (not wantonly, but naively) from the custom once prevalent in Israel to grow out their beards. And although he calls their current practice of being clean-shaven "a practice" or "custom," he only means in relation to the former custom of old amongst the people of Israel, namely, the Jews in Western Europe had started this practice anew, and was not something which necessarily had to be emulated. (Perhaps, too, it was implied here that it was an "ill-practice").
In the same passage, Don Isaac Abarbanel, the king's courtier and one of the most profound religious scholar's at the time of the Expulsion of Jews from Spain, wrote about the incident with David's servants on this wise:

"When David knew what Hanun had done to his ambassadors, he sent to them [saying] that they are to remain in Jericho until their beards could be grown out again – for it was considered a shameful thing to them to shave off the hair of their beard."
כאשר ידע דוד מה עשה חנון למלאכיו שלח להם שישבו ביריחו עד יצמח זקנם – כי היה חרפה להם לגלח שער זקנם.

Maimonides, in his Prohibitive Command # 44, wrote:

"He has warned us against shaving off the beard. (Meaning, the beard itself is a "mitzvah." Wherefore, to completely remove it is out of the question. Trimming the beard with scissors, however, is permitted). Now it (i.e. the beard) is comprised of five parts: the upper jaw on the right-side, the lower jaw on the right-side, the upper jaw on the left-side, and the lower jaw on the left-side, and the beard [itself attached to one's chin]. Now the warning about them has found expression in this one word, 'thou shalt not mar the corner of thy beard.' Moreover, what is called here, 'a beard,' [literally means] everything. Now he did not say, 'thou shalt not mar thy beard,' but rather, he has said 'thou shalt not mar the corner,' meaning to say that you are not [permitted] to shave even one corner of any [part] of the beard. The explanation given is that there are five corners, just as we have divided them, and [that] he would be liable to five [separate] punishments by the scourge had he shaved it all off, even if he had shaven it all in a single act. Now the language employed by the Mishnah (Makkos 3:5) [is this], 'and for [cutting off the hair of] the beard, [he is liable on] five counts [by punishment of the scourge]: Two counts for the one side, and two counts for the other side, and [once] for below. R. Eliezer says: If he had taken it off entirely at once, he is not liable save on one count.' Wherefore, by his saying so, R. Eliezer thinks that there is only one prohibitive command. Behold! Herein is explicit proof that the first Tanna [of our Mishnah] thought that there were five prohibitive commands, and so is the Halacha. Now this was also once [a way of] adornment [for them to do so], just as it is well-known today, when those that shave adorn [themselves thereby] when they shave their beards. (e.g. a Vandyke beard). Yet, what has obligated [us] not to count [in the overall 613 commandments of the Torah] these five [prohibitive] commandments, is that the warning about them comes down to us in a single word (i.e. corner), just as we have explained in the commandment preceding this one. The guidelines of this commandment have already been explained at the end of [Tractate] Makkos. Now this [prohibition], women are not obligated in it."

(מ"ד) שהזהירנו מלגלח הזקן. והוא חמשה חלקים – הלחי העליון מצד ימין, והלחי התחתון מצד ימין, הלחי העליון מצד שמאל, והלחי התחתון מצד שמאל, והזקן. ובא האזהרה בהם בזאת המלה לא תשחית את פאת זקנך וזה שזקן יקרא הכל. ולא אמר לא תשחית זקנך אבל אמרו לא תשחית פאת, רוצה לומר שלא תגלח אפילו פאה אחת מכלל הזקן. ובא הפירוש שהוא חמש פאות כמו שחלקנו אותם, והוא חייב חמש מלקיות כשיגלח הכל אפילו גלחו בבת אחת. ולשון משנה: ועל הזקן חמש, שתים מכאן ושתים מכאן ואחת למטה. רבי אליעזר אומר אם נטלו כולן כאחת אינו חייב אלא אחת. ואמר אלמא קסבר רבי אליעזר לאו אחד הוא, הנה זה ראיה מבוארת דסבר תנא קמא שהן חמשה לאוין וכן היא ההלכה. וזה גם כן היה קשוט כמו שהוא היום מפורסם בקשוט הגלחים שהם יגלחו זקנם. ואשר חייב שלא ימנו חמש מצות בהיות האזהרה מהן במלה אחת כמו שבארנו במצוה שלפני זאת וכבר התבארו משפטי מצוה זו בסוף מכות. וזו אין הנשים חייבות בה.

The Bahag (Ba'al Halachos Gedolos), Prohibitive Command # 261, also says concerning the priests: "Let them not shave the corner of their beard." (Lev. 21:5) (רסא) ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו

Note that this prohibitive command pertains only to the priests, as written in Lev. 21:5. As far as priests are concerned, the Torah does not say that it is prohibited to "mar" the corner of their beard, but rather, it is even prohibited to "shave" the corner of their beard. Here, too, the understanding was to let their beards grow out. Maimonides, in his list of the 613 commandments, makes no separate mention of the priests' beards. Rather, he understood that this teaching regarding the priests and their beards (in Lev. 21:5) and the other teaching about "marring" the beard of any Israelite (in Lev. 19:27) were meant to be understood when taken together. (See: Maimonides' Prohibitive Command # 171, where his decision to join these two prohibitive commands into one single prohibitive command is based upon a teaching in Makkos 21a, for there we learn that פאה פאה used in both verses were meant to apply one to another, or what is called "gezeirah shovah." That is, what is said concerning the priests in Lev. 21:5 applies also to Israelites, and what is said concerning the Israelites in Lev. 19:27 applies also to the priests. Not only are the priests prohibited to shave off their beards, but the Israelites are, likewise, prohibited to shave off their beards. Not only are the Israelites prohibited to mar their beard with a razor, but the priests are, likewise, prohibited to mar their beards with a razor.).

So far, the introduction. Now brace yourself for the good stuff – the diacritical aspects of this wonderful teaching!

The source used here is actually Sifra (P. Keddoshim), on Lev. 19:27, which same source was quoted by the Talmud in four places! –
Makkos 21a (בד"ה ת"ר), Kiddushin 35b (בד"ה לכדתניא), Nazir 40b (דתניא) and Nazir 58b. From this source, everything that we can or cannot do with our beards is learned.

The Boraitta in Sifra (P. Keddoshim) says:

"Nor shalt thou mar the corner of thy beard. (Lev. 19:27) What, then, does it come to teach you, since it is said [elsewhere], 'Let them not shave the corner of their beard'? (Lev. 21:5) It may have been thought here, 'Even if he had shaved it with scissors as they do with a razor that he would still be culpable.' It comes to teach you, 'nor shalt thou mar the corner of thy beard' (Meaning, it is permissible to use scissors on one's beard, since there is no marring of the beard, that is, the stump of the hairs are not removed). Or, [had it only said], 'Nor shalt thou mar the corner of thy beard,' it may have been thought here, 'Even if he had removed them with tweezers, or with a [carpenter's] plane that he would still be culpable.' It comes to teach you, 'let them not shave the corner of their beard' (Meaning, the word 'shave' implies the use of any implement which is ordinarily used in shaving. This would, therefore, exclude tools used in woodwork, such as a plane, or pair of tweezers, from falling under the same category, meaning such tools are permitted even though they cut the stump of the hair, for such instruments were never designed for cutting hair). Lo! How is shaving done in such a way that there is marring [of the beard]? Say that this [can be done had he used] a razor."

ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך. מה ת"ל לפי שנאמר ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו. יכול אפלו גילחו במספרים כבתער יהא חייב. ת"ל ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך. או ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך, יכול אפלו ליקטן במלקטת או ברהטני יהא חייב. ת"ל ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו. הא כיצד גילוח שיש בו השחתה? הוי אומר זה תער.

Note that the Boraitta permits the use of scissors, an implement designed for cutting objects – including the hairs of one's head &ca. – seeing that scissors are designed in such a way that when the two pivoted blades rest against a man's face, the thickness of the one blade prevents the other blade from reaching down to the stump of the hairs. So long as the intent is to trim one's beard, leaving the root and stump of the beard in tact, it is permissible (cf. Nazir 40b, Tosfos s.v., דתניא). The general rule arising from all this is: Any thing which is ordinarily used for removing hair cannot be used to remove all the hair on one's beard.
While the Boraitta permits using implements not ordinarily designed or used in cutting hairs to be used for cutting one's beard (e.g. a carpenter's plane), still, any shaving instrument which would normally be used in cutting hairs (e.g. scissors) cannot be used to cut one's beard unless, in doing so, it kept the stump of the hairs in tact. This would rule out the use of most electric razors since they were not only designed for shaving the beard, but they actually cut off the very stump of the hair, whereas the Torah enjoins us: "Let them not shave, etc." (Meaning, they are not allowed to remove the entire beard by using any instrument designed for such purposes). So, too, it would rule out the use of depilatory creams used in removing hair, since the use of such creams were used in ancient times to remove the hair on women's legs. (According to the book "Alpha-Beta deBen-Sira," King Solomon had devised a depilatory cream which he called "neskasir," consisting of lime, water and orpiment, for removing the hairs on the legs of the Queen of Sheba. Despite the fact that this cream has existed for many centuries, the Sages shunned away from its use on their beards.) Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, in his Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, section 170, permits the use of such creams.

The "gezeirah shovah" mentioned above teaches us that the principal object of the Torah is for us to grow out a beard. However, if for whatever reason a man cannot do so, he must shave it with the intent of leaving at least the stumps of his hair-growth in tact, or else cut it away by using an implement not ordinarily designed or used in cutting off hair, which, in this case, is not considered an act of shaving. In conclusion, it is not only a custom to grow a beard, but it is a "mitzvah" to do so. "Shaving the beard off" (גילוח), completely, is prohibited by the Torah. However, removing it by way of some unconventional method does not incur liability. Therefore, all those new "halachic websites," describing what types of electric razors are kosher and which ones are not, are simply irrelevant, since they were designed for shaving and, in most cases, will remove the stump of the hair. Even if electric razors were made in such a way that their rotary blades were like, in design, to scissors that crop, but were very fine in that they reached down unto the very stump of the hair, they would no longer have the classification of being like scissors spoken of by the Sages. You may have seen the Kosher add that describes Windermere, Panasonic Rotary Triple Head, Norelco Double Head Rotary -WITHOUT lift and cut, the old Norelco and Philips triple head rotary without lift and cut as being kosher. As for whether or not these or other electric razors should be used, the question doesn't even begin. Unless you were ill, there is practically no excuse for cutting off your beard!

Maran wrote in his Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 181:10, that a man is not liable over marring the corner (Heb. pe’ah) of his beard, except if he had done so with a razor. However, with scissors it is permitted [to shave the beard], even [if they were made] like unto a razor."

אינו חייב על השחתת פאת הזקן אלא בתער. אבל במספרים מותר אפילו כעין תער.

From this teaching and a similar teaching in the "Beis Yosef" (YD 181, s.v. וכתב), some have tried to prove that it is permitted to shave off one's beard by using electric razors whose cutting blades are made like scissors that cut close to the skin just as razors do, removing the very stumps of the hairs. With all due respect, Maran's insistence that it is permissible to use such scissors that cut close to the skin is only dependent upon how we look at the Mishnah in Makkoth 3:5, which says: "A man is not culpable unless he takes it off with a razor." The Boraitta (Sifra on Lev. 19:27) would have us learn: זיל בתר טעמא – "Go after the reasoning behind the statement!" Meaning, it is permissible to use scissors on one's beard, since there is no marring of the beard in this way, that is, the stump of the hairs are not removed. For scissors are designed in such a way that when the two pivoted blades rest against a man's face, the thickness of the one blade prevents the other blade from reaching down to the stump of the hairs. If, therefore, a man wished to remove the very stump of the hairs of his beard, he cannot do so – no matter which implement designed for shaving he had in his hands! However, others (e.g. Maran, the Tur) say: זיל בתר דיוקא – "Go after the exact wording!" Meaning, since the Mishnah only prohibits the use of a razor, taking a pair of scissors – even though they were made like unto a razor – would be permitted. Maimonides does not follow this method applied by Maran, but rather, the former method זיל בתר טעמא is used by him. Wherefore, Maimonides prohibits shaving away the beard altogether, in any form or manner as we have carefully shown, while the use of scissors made like razors is prohibited by gedolim such as Rabbeinu Asher (Makkos, ch. 3), and by the "Noda' Biyehudah" (Responsa, Tinyanna, Section Yoreh De'ah, responsum # 80, 81), as well as by the "Chatam Sofer" and by the "Tzemach Tzedek," of whom all, it can be said, went after the underlying motive.
דכולהו אזלו בתר טעמא
(As for Rabbeinu Asher, he quotes partially from Tosefta Makkos 4:10, saying:
"דתניא בתוספתא גבי פאת הראש ואין חייב עד שיטלנו בתער, במספרים כעין תער קאמר."
Anyone looking there will see that the Tosefta refers to shaving with a razor, both, "pe'at" of the head, and "pe'at" of the beard.)

Even the RAMA (Rabbi Moshe Iserlische), in his "Darkei Moshe" (YD 181, letter ה), while quoting the Terumath Hadeshen, prohibited the use of scissors on one's beard when the pivotal blades were made very sharp, fearing that the lower blade – that is, the blade that rests against the face – would cut the hairs in the manner in which a razor cuts the hairs. Here, too, it would seem that the RAMA prohibits מספרים כעין תער, contrary to the teaching of the Shulhan Arukh! (Although some explain here that the concern of the RAMA is orthogonal to that of cropping the beard with scissors, and that he still holds like the Shulhan Arukh that it is permitted to shave off the entire beard with scissors that act like a razor.)

Let's look, for a moment, at what caused this divergence in opinion. Maran's teaching in the Shulhan Arukh (YD 181:10) is a direct carry-over from a teaching in his "Beis Yosef" (YD 181, s.v. וכתב), whose words (in Hebrew) have already been posted on this thread and where we find a drawn-out explanation of the words of the Tur who said:
אינו חייב עד שישחית בתער ("He is not made liable until he mars [his beard] with a razor.") A translation of the words of the "Beis Yosef" is here provided for the sake of our readers who may not have a good command of the Hebrew language:

R. Yosef Karo (Maran) wrote in his "Beis Yosef" (YD 181, בד"ה וכתב):
"…He is not liable until he mars [his beard] with a razor. [Thus is it written] at the end of [Tractate] Makkos in the Mishnah, where it had been learnt in the Gemara from a biblical verse, its implication being that certainly he is not liable. The oral teaching does not necessarily have to be [in the way in which it was here stated], for even as a first resort it is permitted to shave the beard with scissors, and even [with scissors] that act like a razor, seeing that from this Mishnah, Maimonides has learned to permit the rounding of the corners of the head with scissors, just as it has been explained that he holds that our Mishnah refers to either the corner (פאת) of the beard or the corner (פאת) of the head, even though the Tosfos (Shevu'oth 2b, s.v. חייב) and Rabbeinu Asher disagree with him and are of the opinion that it does not apply to the corners (Heb. peyos) of the head. At any rate, where it applies to the corners of the beard, everyone agrees that it is permitted, certainly [even] as a first resort by using scissors, and even [with scissors that act] like unto a razor…"


אינו חייב עד שישחית בתער. בסוף מכות במשנה, ויליף לה בגמ' מקרא ומשמע ודאי דאינו חייב. דקתני לאו דוקא, דלכתחילה נמי מותר לגלח הזקן במספרים ואפי' כעין תער שהרי ממשנה זו למד הרמב"ם להתיר להקיף פאת הראש במספרים כמו שנתבאר דקא סבר דמתניתין בין אפאת זקן בין אפאת ראש קאי ואע"פ שתוס' והרא"ש חולקים עליו וסוברים דלא קאי לפיאות הראש, מ"מ לפיאות הזקן דקאי לכ"ע שרי ודאי לכתחלה במספרים ואפי' כעין תער

Note that Maran's understanding of Maimonides' words in Hilchos Avodas Kokhavim 12:6 was exactly like that of the Tur. The Tur had spoken of Maimonides on this wise (YD 181), saying:
"Maimonides wrote [concerning the peyos of the head] that he is not made liable [for cutting them], except had he done so with a razor. However, with scissors made like a razor it is permitted [to do so]…"

וכתב הרמב"ם שאינו חייב אלא בתער אבל במספרים כעין תער מותר (Tur)-

Yet, anyone looking for the source where Maimonides may have said these words, or where it is allegedly permitted for a man to cut off the peyos of his head by using "scissors that act like a razor," he would be hard pressed and much ado to find the source, for there is no such source! Rather, Maimonides wrote simply (Hilchos Avodas Kokhavim 12:6) that "it was not prohibited except, rather, marring (i.e. his peyos) with a razor." - לא נאסר אלא השחתה בתער
No more is added after these words; nothing about scissors, nor anything about scissors made like a razor. Rather, it was the Tur's understanding (as well as that of Maran) that any other implement, besides a razor, would be sanctioned on the peyos of his head and his beard. For they, as stated, went after the exact word – viz., anything is permitted, excluding a "razor." Scissors that act like a razor are still scissors.

Let us look at the Artscroll's definition of "hashchasah" (השחתה) by a razor. In Lev. 19:27, they write that the Sages have interpreted a razor as being something that destroys the beard, "meaning an implement that both shaves (גילוח) and destroys by cutting to the level of the skin." (Yoreh De'ah 181: 3, 10). These are also nearly the same words as RASHI, as well as the commentators on the Shulhan Arukh (e.g. Beis Lechem Yehudah) and "Lehem Mishne" on the Rambam.

This would fit the description of most of our electric razors. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z"l tried in his own days to put in place certain safeguards. Therefore, it has been reported in his name that the rotating blades on electric shavers should not be able to cut by themselves. They say that he would remove the screen and do a test similar (but opposite) to testing a shechita knife. If the rotating blades could cut hair without the screen, then it was not acceptable. If the electric shavers would cut only when used together with the screen, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would hold it was misparayim ke'ein taar (scissors that act like a razor), rather than taar (a razor), and thus would permit its use as a first resort.

However, no one asks the question why Rabbi Moshe Feinstein never applied such a shaver to his own beard? Can there be a slight hint, here, of "Maaseh Rav" that we might want to emulate? Nor did you say anything about whether or not that same electric shaver would remove the hairs down to the skin level. Could Rabbi Moshe Feinstein have actually feared the opinion of one of the greatest poskim (Maimonides) who prohibits? What difference does it make if someone designed an innovative pair of scissors, replete with cropping blades that could not cut except when working in conjunction with a protective screen, yet, the end result was that it removed all hairs down to the skin level! In Jewish Law we cannot have an implement that both shaves and destroys the beard down to the level of the skin! Thus do we find in the Boraitta!

But to prove this more effectively, look closely at the words of Maimonides (Hilchos Avodas Kokhavim 12:7) and draw from it your conclusions, who wrote:

"…Now he is not liable until he shaves it off with a razor, as it is written: 'And neither shall you destroy the corner (Heb. פאת) of your beard,' [that is], shaving that carries with it destruction. Wherefore, if he had shaved off his beard with scissors, he is exempt (Heb. פטור)."

"...ואינו חייב עד שיגלחנו בתער שנאמר ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך, גילוח שיש בו השחתה. לפיכך אם גלח זקנו במספרים פטור."

About which words, the Kesef Mishne (ibid.) wrote:
"…At any rate, one ought to look diacritically at what he wrote, [saying], 'if he had shaved off his beard with scissors he is exempt.' For its implication is that there is a prohibition [to cut off one's beard with scissors], for he had rather used [the words] 'it is permitted,' similar to rounding off the head. It seems reasonable to say that he has taken up the habitual tongue used in our Mishnah, and that it wasn't necessarily intended [to be as he stated], for as a first resort it is also permitted [to shave off the beard with scissors]."
"...ומ"מ איכה למידק במ"ש אם גלח זקנו במספריים פטור דמשמע איסורא איכא דמותר מבעי ליה, דומיא דהקפת הראש. ונראה לומר דסירכא דלישנא דמתניתין נקט ולאו דוקא דלכתחלה נמי שרי."

The Kesef Mishne canceled, as it were, the words of Maimonides, simply by saying "it seems reasonable to say that he has taken up the habitual tongue, etc." דסירכא דלישנא דמתניתין נקט , when, in actuality, this was exactly what Maimonides intended to say – viz., had he shaved off his beard with scissors, he would be "exempt," meaning, exempt from punishment but forbidden to do so as a first resort! For this, after all, was what Rabbi Eleazar (R. Eliezer) said in the Tosefta Makkos 4:10!

"R. Eleazar (R. Eliezer) says, 'If he removed them all (i.e. the hairs of his beard) at once, he is not liable save on one count; [however] when he takes up [the implement] and removes [his hair], [and] takes it up [again] and removes [his hair], he is liable thereby for each one, yet, is he not liable until he removed it (i.e. the beard) with a razor. Had he removed it with scissors or with a [carpenter's] plane, he is exempt."

Now no Court can cancel the words of another Court unless it were greater than the first in wisdom and in number. If the Sages were like angels, then we are like men; and if they were like men, we are like donkeys! So how does one dare to compare himself with the Tanna who prohibits shaving off one's beard?! Who puts himself on a pedestal to contradict this teaching? Moreover, would anybody support an erroneous Halacha if he knew that it was based on a misquotation of Maimonides and a "speculative approach" by saying: "It seems reasonable to say that he has taken up the habitual tongue without really meaning it!!??" Give Maimonides more credit than that! If not, there is no Rabbi who should be taken at his word!

Rabbi Yosef Qafih z"l, who sat with Chief Rabbi emeritus (R. Ovadiah Yosef) in the High Court of Appeals in Jerusalem, wrote in his commentary on Maimonides (ibid.) that the Kesef Mishne did not accurately portray the opinion of Maimonides, who made shaving off one's beard with a pair of scissors an act that, while not reprehensible, is forbidden as a first resort. Using his own words: גם זי"מ דחה דברי הכסף משנה, ("Also [in] 'Ziv Mishna,' [by Rabbi Zeev Turbovitch], he has rejected the words of the Kesef Mishne").
He also brought down another commentator, saying: ועיין בשו"ת ח"צ נספחות סי' כ"ו ובפאות [ה]זקן פטור משמע דאסור

This then is the gist of the matter. Yet, calling to mind the very words of the "Beis Yosef," in witness whereof we make the following affirmation that it is a Jewish custom to grow out one's beard, just as it was formerly practised in Israel to do so, there can now be no excuse for abandoning this precious custom:

"If, in a few countries, they practise a prohibition in some things, even though we shall decide contrary [to their practice], let them hold on to their own custom, since they have already taken upon themselves the words of that wise man who forbids its practice, and they are, [therefore], prohibited to act leniently." (Introduction to the "Beis Yosef")


"ואם בקצת ארצות נהגו איסור בקצת דברים, אעפ"י שאנו נכריע בהפך, יחזיקו במנהגם כי כבר קבלו עליהם דברי החכם האוסר ואסור להם לנהוג היתר."

Written this day of the departing of the feast known as Sukkos, in the year 5769 anno mundi, during the week of the biblical lection (the Hallel) which carries in it the words:
שומר פתאים יי' ... ואמת יי' לעולם


We have decided to bring down the words of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Adess, in his book "Pe’at Zekanekha," pp. 80-82, (a translation followed by the Hebrew original) where he summarizes the two schools of thought regarding the use of electric shavers. The first part of this summary lists those who prohibit its use, while the second part lists those who permit its use:

"The Removal of the Beard by an Electric Shaver

40) The finest of the poskim were divided in the past generation and in this generation about whether it is permitted to shave the beard with an electric shaver that was in use in the past generation, or that which is in use in this [generation] on account of the prohibition of 'a razor.' See the book, 'Liqutei Halachos' belonging to our Master, Chofetz Chaim, may the memory of the just be blessed, who wrote concerning the electric shaver on this wise: 'He who shaves with it his beard transgresses that which is written in the Torah, Neither shall they shave the corner of their beard (Lev. 21:5), and whosoever there be that keeps his soul will distance himself from it exceedingly.' Moreover, see the Questions & Responsa 'Minchas Yitzchak,' Part IV, responsum # 113, who brings down [the words of] the renowned Rabbi, R. Moshe Sternbuch (may he live long and happily, Amen), who wrote that he bore testimony before the illustrious Rabbi, R. Noach Berman (may he live long and happily, Amen), who had asked by himself the holy mouth of our Master the Chazon Ish whether the report was true that he had given a halachic decision that the G-d fearing are [henceforth] required to be careful not to shave with an electric shaver, whereby he answered: 'Not so! Rather, it is a prohibition that pertains to every man, and not only to the G-d fearing!' In addition, he asked [the Chazon Ish] that perhaps there is a place to draw a distinction here, and that only the shaver known as 'Shick' should be prohibited, who then answered [him] that he had already tested electric shavers [and] that he had dirtied his hand with [their] black smudge, and shaved with an electric shaver and came out clean-shaven in different areas [on his face], wherefore, it was proven that it touches the flesh and that it acts like a razor, [in which case], all of them ought to be prohibited. So far his words. Likewise was it written in the Questions & Responsa 'Shevet Halevi,' Part IV, responsum # 96, that he had a discussion with our Master, the Chazon Ish, and it was clear to him that he was [inclined] to prohibit the use of the electric shaver. Similarly, see the Questions & Responsa 'Chavalim Bene‘imim,' Yoreh De‘ah, Part IV, responsum # 27, who concluded [there] that it is prohibited to shave [the beard] with an electric shaver, writing that it is exactly like a razor. See also the Questions & Responsa 'Kovetz Teshuvos,' Part I, responsum # 32, the answer given by our Master, the illustrious Rabbi, Rabbi Y. Sholom Elyashiv (may he live long and happily, Amen), where he concluded [there] that it is prohibited to use an electric shaver; In like manner, our Master the illustrious Rabbi, Chaim Kenievsky (may he live long and happily, Amen), in the name of his father, the Steipler, who wrote that he who shaves with an electric shaver transgresses five prohibitive commands concerning the corners (Heb. פאות) of the beard. See also [the book], 'Bechut Hasheni,' Halachos Shabbos, Part I, at the end of which was printed a letter from our Master, the renowned Rabbi, R. Nissim Karlitz (may he live long and happily, Amen), who wrote to forbid [the use of] electric shavers.

On the other side, see the Questions & Responsa 'Har Tzvi' by the renowned Rabbi, R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, may the memory of the just be blessed, who wrote that since there is a thin screen [in place] between the blade and the skin of one's face, it is permitted to shave without pressing the shaver to the face. Moreover, even if he had accidentally pressed the shaver [to his face], it is not considered 'pesik reisha,' [therefore] it is still permitted. So, too, was it written in the Questions & Responsa 'Chelkas Ya'akov,' Part III, responsum # 39. See also the Halachos and Hanhagos (Religious Laws and Practices) of the illustrious Rabbi, M. Sternbuch (may he live long and happily, Amen), Part I, responsum # 459, who wrote that during his childhood they said that our Master and our Rabbi, the renowned R. Chaim Ozer would permit shaving with an electric shaver. Similarly, it is well-known that the renowned Rabbi, R. Pinchas Sheinberg (may he live long and happily, Amen), permits its use. Likewise, it is well-known [that] in the name of our Master, the illustrious R. Moshe Feinstein, may the memory of the just be blessed, that he permitted its use. However, look there at 'Minchas Shlomo,' who wrote that we are to reject the words of the renowned Rabbi, R. Tzvi Pesach Frank.

Now their entire dispute herein hinges on the electric shavers that were [in use] in the past generation. However, the electric shavers that are [used] in our own generation, especially the modern ones, certainly all of the poskim would forbid [their use]. See also the pamphlet 'Rosh Kehalacha,' a letter from the illustrious Rabbi Mordechai Gross (may he live long and happily, Amen), the Av Beis Din of those educated in the 'Benei Barak' Yeshivos, who wrote on this wise: 'Concerning the matter of electric shavers that are found [amongst us] these days, many varieties have been tested, those belonging to different [manufacturing] companies, [which tests were] carried out by a small group of talmidei chachomim capable of giving instruction, and by specialists that are experts in all its functions, even [those implements made] without a double blade, and without pressing the shaver [close to the face], and it was found that they shave off the hair entirely and render the skin of the face smooth for cleansing, which, on account of the thinness of the screen, the blade attaches itself to the skin and even cuts it without the combining aid of the screen, and [therefore], it is included in the prohibition: neither shall you destroy the corners of your beard (Lev. 19:27) and [in the prohibition]: neither shall they shave the corner of their beard (Lev. 21:5), which the Sages of blessed memory have explained to mean shaving wherein there is destruction (Heb. השחתה). However, it (i.e. the electric shaver) is not to be included under [the general category of] scissors, but rather, included under [the general category of what constitutes] a razor, whether by its result or by the way it functions.'

Therefore, who is it that wants to bring himself into a biblical prohibition of five counts each time he shaves? [Certainly], he that keeps his soul will distance himself. Therefore, he that wishes to shave [his beard] by using an automatic device, let him shave with barber clippers, etc."

So far the words of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Adess, but even this last statement of permitting one to shave off his beard with barber clippers is subject to dispute. Maimonides would still say here that he is "exempt from punishment, but it is forbidden to do so as a first resort" – similar to his ruling on scissors. Rabbi Adess also shows how that it has been understood from the words of Maimonides (Hil. Nazirus 5:11) that the definition of "scissors that act like a razor" (Heb. מספרים כעין תער) is anything that, by cutting, a man can no longer bend the tip of the hair to the root of the hair. According to R. Elyashiv, certainly any hairs that have a minimal length of half a centimeter will fit this description, for a man is still able thereby to bend the hair so that it appears to be two. RASHI (Nazir 58b), disagreeing with Maimonides, says that "scissors that act like a razor" cuts the hairs to the level of the skin. Rabbi Yehudah, the son of R. Nathan who wrote the commentary on Tractate Makkos after the death of RASHI, agrees with RASHI, saying that (ibid., 21a, s.v. ת"ל תשחית) "scissors do not destroy [the beard], seeing that they do not cut the hair alongside the root as a razor."


הורדת הזקן ע"י מכונת גילוח

מ. נחלקו גדולי הפוסקים בדור שעבר ובדור זה, אם מותר לגלח את הזקן עם מכונת גילוח שהיה בדור שעבר, או שיש בזה משום איסור של תער, וראה בספר "ליקוטי הלכות" למרן החפץ חיים זצ"ל שכתב על מכונת גילוח, וז"ל המסתפר בה את זקנו, עובר על מה שכתוב בתורה ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו, ושומר נפשו ירחק מזה מאד, וראה בשו"ת "מנחת יצחק" חלק ד' תשובה קי"ג שמביא את הגאון ר' משה שטרנבוך שליט"א שכתב שהעיד לפני הרה"ג ר' נח ברמן שליט"א ששאל בעצמו את פה קודשו של מרן החזו"א אם זה נכון השמועה שהוא פסק שירא שמים יש לו ליזהר שלא לגלח במכונה אלקטרי, והשיב שלא נכון, רק זהו איסור לכל אחד, ולא לירא שמים לבד. ועוד שאל אולי יש לחלק, ובמכונה "שיק" לבד יש לאסור והשיב שכבר עשה נסיונות במכונות גילוח, שלכלך היד בדיו, וגילח במכונה, ונעשה נקי במקומות שונים, וע"כ מוכח שנוגע בבשר, והוה כתער, ויש לאסור בכלהו עכ"ד, וכ"כ כתב בשו"ת "שבט הלוי" חלק ד' סימן צ"ו שהיה לו משא ומתן עם מרן החזו"א, והיה פשוט לו לאסור את המכונה, וכמו כן ראה בשו"ת "חבלים בנעימים" יור"ד ח"ד סימן כ"ז, שהעלה לאסור להתגלח במכונת גילוח, וכתב שזה כמו תער ממש. וכן ראה בשו"ת קובץ תשובה חלק א' סימן ל"ב תשובת מרן הגרי"ש אלישיב שליט"א והעלה לאסור להשתמש במכונת גילוח, וכן מפרסם מרן הגר"ח קניבסקי שליט"א בשם אביו הסטייפלר שכתב שהמתגלח במכונה עובר בחמשה לאוין של פאות הזקן, וראה "בחוט השני" הלכות שבת חלק א' בסופו שנדפס מכתב ממרן הגאון ר' ניסים קרליץ שליט"א שכתב לאסור את המכונות גילוח.

מאידך ראה בשו"ת "הר צבי" לגאון ר' צבי פסח פרנק זצ"ל שכתב מאחר ויש רשת דקה בין הסכין לעור הפנים, אפשר לגלח מבלי להדק את המכונה לפנים, וגם אם בטעות יהדק, אין זה פסיק רישא, ומותר. וכ"כ בשו"ת חלקת יעקב ח"ג סימן ל"ט, וראה בהלכות והנהגות של הגר"מ שטרנבוך שליט"א ח"א תשובה סימן תנ"ט שכתב שבילדותו אמרו שמרנא ורבנא הגאון ר' חיים עוזר היה מתיר להתגלח במכונה, וכן ידוע שהגאון ר' פנחס שיינברג שליט"א מתיר זאת, וכמו כן מפורסם בשם מרן הגאון ר' משה פיינשטיין זצ"ל שהתיר זאת, וראה שם מנחת שלמה שכתב לדחות את דבריו של הגאון ר' צבי פסח פרנק.

וכל מחלוקתם זה במכונות שהיו בדור שעבר, אבל מכונות שנמצאות בדור שלנו, ובפרט החדישות, בודאי שכל הפוסקים יאסרו, וראה בעלון "ראש כהלכה" מכתב מהגאון ר' מרדכי גרוס שליט"א אב"ד חניכי הישיבות "בני ברק", שכתב בזה"ל בדבר מכונת גילוח המצויים עתה, נבדקו דגמים רבים, מחברות שונות, ע"י צוות ת"ח מורי הוראה, וע"י טכנאים מומחים לכל אופניו, גם ללא סכין כפולה, ובלא הידוק המכונה, ונמצאו כי מגלחים לגמרי השער ומחליקה את עור הפנים למשעי, והוא מחמת דקות הרשת, מתהדק הסכין על העור, ואף קוצצו בלא צירופו של הרשת, והוי בכלל איסורא ד"לא תשחית את פאת זקנך", ופאת זקנם לא יגלחו, שביארו חז"ל דהוא גילוח שיש בו השחתה, ולא הוי בכלל מספרים, אלא בכלל "תער" הן בתוצאותיו והן בפעולתו.

ע"כ מי ירצה להכניס את עצמו לאיסור דאורייתא של חמשה לאוין בכל פעם שמתגלח, ושומר נפשו ירחק.

וע"כ הרוצה להתגלח במכונה, יתגלח במכונת תספורת ...וכו'"