Emor 2022 – The Stubble and the Beard: A Close Shave & Hefsid Miruba

by devadmin | May 12, 2022 9:41 pm

Raboyseyee & Ladies, 

Mazel tov to Ashley and Judah Charnoff upon the wedding last Sunday of their amazing and beautiful daughter Atara: Details on page 2.


The Stubble and the Beard: A Close Shave and Hefsid Miruba 

Hefsid what? We shall address this concept below; it’s a winner! Many people mistakenly give credit to Leonardo da Vinci for inventing scissors. Ober, the household tool predates his lifetime by many centuries. Nowadays, everyone has at least one pair. Ancient Egyptians used a version of scissors as long ago as 1500 BCE, whenever that was, ver veyst. Historians, a few, believe scissors were invented in the Middle East as long as 3,000-4,000 years ago. So happens that scissors and other implements -specifically the razor- used for cutting, shaving and carving are of interest to the RBSO in this week’s parsha.

And we begin with this question: may we or not use a razor to shave our heads and beards? And to answer that question, let’s go back for a moment to last week’s parsha where we were singularly focused on all the close relations, and others we may not bed -meaning have sex with. Once again, we skipped right over a critical posik as if it were nonexistent.  Let us begin by reading posik 27 in Perek 19 where the RBSO gave these instructions:

“Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” Our sages of the heylige Mishneh ran with this and decided that what the words meant then and still mean today is that it’s prohibited to use a razor on one’s beard. Much more on this topic below, but first the bottom line: Judaism prohibits shaving with a razor on the basis of a rabbinic interpretation of the posik above. Ober, what about scissors? And what about shavers? We shall address these questions below but let us begin here with this:

Pesach is in our collective rear-view mirrors -though Pesach Sheynee (a second Pesach) with fewer trimmings will be celebrated by some next week- it’s back this week -in the parsha- and gets another mention with specific start and end. The RBSO shouts out all the major Jewish holidays and when each begins and ends. Unless of course one happens to reside outside of Israel and then all hell breaks loose. And if one does live abroad, the rabbis decided to add an extra day to Pesach, Sukkis and Shovuis. Yearly we debate this move and yearn for the day it changes back to the RBSO’s original instructions. As well, we yearn for the rabbi who might be bold enough to so declare. Will this ever happen? Not! Not until Eliyahu and or the Moshiach arrive to clarify the myriad open issues our sages of yore and rabbis of today grapple with. The bottom line: we should be grateful to them for sparing us a second day of Yom Kippur. Shoin!

Parshas Emor is chock full of mitzvis of every variety. Once again, the observance of the heylige shabbis is mentioned, and kimat all of our Jewish holidays can be found in our parsha. In fact, the exact words many use to make day-kiddish on Yom Tov are from our parsha. What’s missing? Purim, the greatest holiday of all, and the only one – according to some- that we will observe after the Moshiach arrives, was added later. Chanukah too!  Yet another shabbis shout-out? Indeed! Why so many reminders? Seemingly, the RBSO is very serious about shabbis; its strict observance garners numerous Toirah shout-outs beginning with Parshas Bereishis, again when presented as one of the Aseres Hadibrois (Ten Commandments), and at least five other mentions, all before we get to our parsha. The RBSO loves the heylige Shabbis.

Ober Emor is more than about shabbis and Yom tov. In fact, it contains a boatload of mitzvis -63 of them; a nice variety of ah-says and loi-sah-says. Only one other parsha contains more, a whopping 73; that one still a few months away. This week we shall focus on but one. As well, this is the heylige Ois’s 12th review of Emor; you should know it cold. Feel free to check out the archives for some mamish gishmake stories about rape, blasphemy, Moishe’s arrest and detention of a crime suspect until sentencing, and way more. These and many more can be found at www.oisvorfer.com

Over Pesach the heylige Ois was klerring azoy: Let’s get real: we no longer observe Pesach the way our parents did: Fartig! Did your parents spend Pesach in a hotel or a luxury house rental with as many as 11 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms? Mistama not! Are we bad? On the other hand, efsher we’re still good Jews because we continue to observe Sefiras Ho-Oimer (counting of the Omer), the old-fashioned way. Grada the shvigermeister (mother-in-law) took on this -rather easy to observe- mitzvah several years ago and has completed more counts with a brocho than most friends and acquaintances the Ois has. Yikes! Amazing for her, shameful for most!

Aside from counting nightly, during sefira we don’t shave, get haircuts, listen to live music, make or attend weddings, engagement parties, sheva brochois and are otherwise in some state of semi-mourning. Is this emes? It was decades back, ober in our times, a nechtiger tug and fuhgeddaboudit. Sefira observance is dead and kaput, maybe deader than the 24,000 students of Rebbe Akiva who, some say, because of petty jealousies, idle gossip, and a lack of respect for one another, perished during the 49-day period between Pesach and Shovuis. Sefira is 49 days long? Does anyone observe the full 49 days of semi-mourning? Not! Maybe once upon a time, ober not in our times. Which days are observed and which not? In our times, most of the 49 days of sefira, look no different than other days of the year. Is it the Ois’s imagination or has sefira observance been chopped down to a more tolerable 18 days? It’s not, and 18 days is about it for most.  And taka just last week, on Rosh Choidesh Iyar mamish, the Ois attended a very spirited wedding (Ashley and Judah Charnoff married off their beautiful daughter Atara to Ariel Ancer, he the lucky young man from South Africa. The Ois takes this this opportunity to again wish the entire Charnoff family (and the Ancers) a belated mazel tov. The wedding was magnificent and may the new couple be blessed with many decades of true happiness. Mazel tov to both extended families. The bottom line: we loved attending this weeding during the technical sefira. Another bottom line: business and specifically weddings or other simchas, seemingly override all previously established sifira minhogim. Great! In the case of sefira, it does epes appear that many -if not most customs- have been updated for modern times. How that happened, ver veyst, but it’s truly one of the observances -perhaps the only one- that has become more manageable over the past decades. Givaldig!

Nu, efsher we can kler (posit) that it would be a hefsid-miruba (big money loss) for the caterers, the musicians, the photographers, the flower people, even the parking valets, and many others were they to be shut down for the full 49 days. Of course, you all know that the RBSO put so much thought into each of His 613 mitzvis. Each was mamish designed so that Jewish entrepreneurs could make a living. Be they positive or negative commandments, unzerer Yiddin have it all figured out. Somewhere in each commandment, lies a givaldige business opportunity; sefira observance should not ever get in the way of the ability for the Yiddin to make a living. Of late, our rabbis chapped and shoin! The RBSO is great. The bottom line: hefsid mirubah is a great concept!  These two words create magic. Seemingly they also affected modern responsa to the question of shaving during sefira (as we will read below).

Ober here we are on this 26th day of the sefira, in the throes of sefira mamish. We’re in the heart of sefira, sandwiched between Choidesh Iyar and Lag B’oimer, meaning that no matter which minhag (custom of sefira and its state of semi-mourning) you observe (there are two, maybe even three to pick from), these days are sefira mamish for all. These are the days many don’t shave and mamish try observing some semblance of the sifira minhogim which took hold some 1500 years back. And the question is azoy: is there a sanctioned loophole for shaving during these semi-mourning days? If someone is meeting with a new prospective client, what are the conditions that would allow him to shave his beard to look more presentable, make a better first impression, and perhaps assist in closing the deal? The good news: In a situation when one will lose money, or possibly his job, Reb Moishe Feinstein writes (O.C. 4:102) that it is permissible to shave. Hefsid mirubah magic! Givaldig!

Ober before you run out for a shave, let’s read this: elsewhere (Choishen Mishpot 1:93), R’ Moishe had this to say:  this leniency only applies if an actual loss would be incurred. If appearing unshaven merely causes ridicule or embarrassment, the leniency does not apply. Clearly, this will also be true of the discomfort a person suffers from not shaving for a number of days. And says R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in his writings (Maadanei Shlomo) concerning the Omer period: It is permitted to shave for one’s livelihood, but it is otherwise forbidden. Let’s yell it out loud: hefsid mirubah! One day soon, our rabbis might allow portable credit card readers on the shabbis for those making pledges. Unredeemed pledges (people might forget during the week) could cause the shul to suffer from a “hefsid miruba,” and that my friends is the basis for many leniencies. Hey, even collectors carry them. On the other hand, Kuntress Liknos Chochmah cites R’ Yoisef Shalom Elyashiv who says that in our times when there are no established norms for beards and also hairstyles, it is forbidden to shave during the Omer even for purposes of one’s livelihood. Being unshaven today does not cause a person to look odd. Stubble is in!

Bottom line: it depends on a person’s environment. If a person’s livelihood might be at stake the consensus is to be lenient. More good news: Says Rav Ahron Lichtenstein that it is osur (prohibited) to shave during the week, but permissible on erev shabbis in order to give honor to the upcoming holy day. Remember, the RBSO loves the shabbis and observing it while clean shaven enhances the shabbis experience. Givaldig! Got to love shabbis!

And says R ‘Yoisef Ber Soloveitchik (Nefesh Harav p. 1910) that shaving was permissible during sefira. Why? Because the heylige Gemora (Moied Koton 22b) tells us azoy: mourners may not shave the during their entire period of aveilus. And here comes the loophole: However, should that person become disheveled -and who wouldn’t be after months without a haircut and shave- should one get to the point of ‘ad sheyig’ar bo chaveirav’ (until his friends scold him), he may cut his hair and shave. And? Therefore, one who normally shaves every day, and refrains from doing so for a few days would be considered to have reached this point. Thus, it is permissible for him to shave during this period. Ober did the Rav himself observe what he wrote? Not! He did not trim his beard during sefira, because he did not consider that to be sufficiently unkempt to apply this din. Was his opinion accepted as mainstream? Not! It has however been accepted by some of his followers. The bottom line: if one needs a loophole to shave, one can find one. Gishmak!

And speaking of shaving, guess what? Shaving is also on the RBSO’s mind this week and in our parsha (as mentioned, He gave us a taste last week) and let us find out what the heylige Toirah had to tell us about shaving and what our rabbis have declared in more modern times. Shoin, when a parsha gives us 63 mitzvis, you can only imagine that many debated their exact meaning and this week we shall explore shaving -as in one’s head and beard. We’re back with another head scratcher as we try chapping what the RBSO had in mind with the very specific instructions found in our parsha and the posik we quoted earlier from last week’s. Shoin to fully chap what the big fuss and fuzz are all about, let us review what the RBSO told us. In two separate pisukim, the heylige Toirah prohibits men from shaving their beards. Last week (19:27): “You shall not destroy (tashchis) the corners of your beards.”  Let’s read the posik:

כז) לֹ֣א תַקִּ֔פוּ פְּאַ֖ת רֹאשְׁכֶ֑ם וְלֹ֣א תַשְׁחִ֔ית אֵ֖ת פְּאַ֥ת זְקָנֶֽךָ27 You shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard.

According to our sages, ‘rounding the side-growth of your head’ refers to removing the hair from the temples, and ‘destroying the side-growth of your beards’ refers to shaving the beard. Efsher you’re klerring azoy:  that’s all sound and good, ober what has this rule to do with the razor? Does the RBSO mention the razor? He does not! What sin did the razor commit to get it banned? Was it too sharp? Tweeting too much? Shoin our sages derive the razor ban from a comparison between the posik of last week and the one found in our parsha (aimed at koihanim). This week, addressing the male Koihanim, the heylige Toirah (21:5) tells us azoy: “The corners of their beards they shall not shave (yigaleychu).” Says the heylige Gemora (Makis 21a) that these two verses are not two separate prohibitions, one for Koihanim and one for all male Jews; rather they constitute one prohibition that applies equally to all Jewish men. Why the RBSO repeated the instructions using different words, ver veyst? Let us now connect the stubble: “…they shall not cut the side-growth of their beards.” That posik references the prohibition of cutting the beard but the term here is not destroy” (שחת) but “cut” (גלח). Why the change in terminology? Our sages suggest azoy: this is in order to teach us a rule discussed in the heylige Gemora ( Makkis 20a; Kiddushin 35b), which goes azoy: ‘They shall not cut the side-growth of their beards’ – I might have thought that it is even forbidden to trim [the beard] with scissors, thus the Toirah teaches us ‘do not destroy [the side-growth of the beard].’ [If I only had this latter verse] I might have thought that even plucking out the hair with tweezers or an epilator [would be forbidden]. Thus, the heylige Toirah teaches us ‘they shall not cut…’ What does cut? What kind of cutting also destroys? This occurs when the cutting is done with a razor. Shoin! Bottom line: between the two pisukim, our sages figured things out.

ת”ר ‘פאת זקנך לא יגלחו’. יכול אפילו גילחו במספריים יהא חייב ת”ל ‘לא תשחית’. יכול ואפילו ליקטו במלקט וברהיטני יהא חייב ת”ל ‘לא יגלחו’. הכיצד? איזוהי’ גילוח שיש בו השחתה? הוי אומר זה תער.

One more time: Although the two pisukim have different contexts -one directed to the koihanim and the other at the rest of the males, the heylige Gemora classifies this midrash as a gezeirah shavah. A what? A homiletical argument based on the use of the same word in two pisukim. The word in question is peah (side-growth or corner- today we refer to them as payis). Since this is the same word used for the removal of hair from the temples, the same deduction—i.e. that the prohibition applies only to shaving with a razor and not to other forms of trimming or depilation -applies there as well. The bottom line: according to our rabbis, the rule is azoy: men are never allowed to use a razor to shave their side-burns or the beards. Erleydikt (settled). Ober is all shaving prohibited? Or do the instructions specifically refer to an implement specifically used for shaving? Avada it’s understood that nothing shaves like the razor and the shaylos – a number of them- are azoy: is it case closed? No loopholes? Why did the RBSO forbade the razor blade? What does the RBSO have against razors? Don’t they provide a close clean shave? And is that a bad thing? Shouldn’t one look presentable when out and about? Are all razors forbidden? Always? Exceptions? What did hundreds of thousands of Yiddin who didn’t feel like sporting beards, or who needed to be clean shaven for job security do over the generations before the electric shaver was born? Is shaving with an electric (these days also battery operated) shaver permitted? Is it not kosher to shave at all? Must we, or should we all be sporting beards? And how taka did the Yiddin –those not feeling the beard- get around the prohibitions? Let’s get to the bottom-line question: is it permissible, are we allowed, to shave our heads and beards without a razor? And the news is good: Says the heylige Gemora that the different verbs found in these two pisukim – destroying and shaving– teach that the only prohibited act is one that has both of these components: an act of shaving that fully destroys the beard. What implement destroys the beard? The razor! Thus, one may use a scissors because it does not cut away the hair fully and leaves stubble behind. The stubble loophole! And listen to this: one may also use tweezers to pluck his beard hairs. He can? Although this fully destroys the hair, it is not shaving (i.e. cutting) but rather plucking. Plucking is permitted, shaving not. The heylige Gemora concludes that one only transgresses if he uses a razor (sa’ar) which cuts the hair and leaves no stubble behind; all other forms of shaving one’s beard are fully permitted.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and avada there are times when a person must be clean- shaven completely. Completely means just that, if you chap: every hair from any part of the body must be removed. The Ois assumes that a razor was permitted in these cases but if not, please write and tell me otherwise. Who may or must shave? Let us harken back a few weeks to the metzoira (a person afflicted with Tzora’as and recall how the beard and hair must be completely shaved as part of the purification process. Check it out in Vayikro 6:9. As well let us shout out the Nozir (the Nasserite) from whom the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 6:9) requires a shaved head seven days after any contact with corpses.

Shoin, just in case you’re wondering if men and or women may shave their pubs during sefira, you won’t be the first to ask this question. Long before deforestation, manscaping, and tree-trimming, if you chap, became popular, this question was of course asked; may the forest be cleared during sefira? Our sages -ready to discuss any topic without blushing tell us azoy: women may, ober for men, it’s at all times -sefira included- verboten. The prohibition against manscaping derives from the assumption of Chazal that shaving pubic hair is the way of women and for a man it is prohibited. And their source? The heylige Toirah (Devorim 22:5) where we read “Lo yilbash gever simlas isha” (A man may not wear female clothes). What gardening has to do with clothing, ver veyst!? And says Rashi -check it out for yourselves- there are two explanations, the second of which is that a man must not remove his pubic or underarm hair. The word he uses is not shave; it is “loi yasir,” do not remove. Is shaving below only a woman thing? The bottom line of the bottom area is azoy: whereas a depilatory is permissible for a man to use to remove his beard (and vastly preferable halachically to using a shaver), seemingly he should not use it to remove underarm or pubic hair. Shoin!

And plaudits to the heylige Gemora which a bit later deals with an implement that is between scissors and a razor: the Gemora refers to this implement as “scissors which are like a razor,” Rishonim (earlier sages) state that a man may cut his beard with this instrument even when it cuts very close to the skin. And the bottom line?  Says the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 181:10) azoy:

י. אינו חייב על השחתת פאת הזקן אלא בתער, אבל במספרים מותר, אפילו כעין תער… יא. פאות הזקן הם ה’, ורבו בהם הדעות, לפיכך ירא שמים יצא את כולם ולא יעביר תער על כל זקנו כלל.

10- A man only violates the prohibition of shaving the corners of his beard if done with a razor, but he is permitted to do so with scissors, even if he uses them like a razor. 11- There are five corners of the beard, but there are many opinions [about which are the five]. Therefore, one who fears heaven will fulfill them all by not using a razor on his face at all.

The final bottom lines: it is forbidden for a man to shave off the hair of his temples or to shave off the corners of his beard. Both rules apply only to shaving with a razor. Depilating creams, the waxing process, or just pulling the hair out by hand, is ok. Trimming with scissors and most forms of electric shavers (where the razor does not touch the face) is also ok. May men rely on these same loopholes when cleaning up other areas? Ver veyst! Shavers are mamish OK? Shoin, that topic requires a few more pages; the Ois will summarize what he knows. On the one hand, they provide a very close shave rivaling that of straight-edge razors. On the other, they operate more like a scissors than a razor: they cut without the blade touching the skin. And the bottom line? It’s a machloikes; what else is new?

Let’s close with applauding certain rabbis for their logic when approving the use of the shaver. When first introduced, many quite observant Yiddin over in Germany, Hungary and Lithuania, as well as yeshiva students, all used the shaver. Because of this, many halachic decisors -big names at the time- jumped on board and said the shaver was kosher; shave away. A few noted that being strict here -telling the masses that the shaver too was forbidden- would be counterproductive. What’s pshat? They knew that the stringency of forbidding the shaver would bring about a leniency. Were the shavers to be outlawed, men would opt for the use a straight-edge razor. The prevent the big razor sin, the shaver became kosher. Final bottom line: there were times when rabbis knew when to say yes -they were a cut above- lest their rulings be ignored resulting in clear violations of Toirah law.

A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman



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