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Why Don’t Chassidic Men Shave Their Beards?

Why Don’t Chassidic Men Shave Their Beards?

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The Commandment

In two separate places, the Torah forbids a man to cut his facial hair:

“You shall not round off the corner of your head, and you shall not destroy the edge of your beard.”1 Then in the context of the laws of the priests, we read: “…nor shall they shave the edge of their beard…”2

Noting that the Torah uses the Hebrew words for “shaving” and “destruction,” the Talmud3 understands that the punishable offense in the Torah is shaving with a razor, in those days the only technique to fully destroy the hair.

How about trimming with a scissors, or otherwise cutting the beard but not achieving a clean shave? Many (starting with the Sefer Hachinuch) understand that Maimonides4 would consider such an act to be forbidden but not punishable.

There are halachic authorities (including the Tzemach Tzedek,5 third Chabad rebbe) who teach that, in addition to the issue of destroying the beard, cutting the facial hair of a man has the problem of cross-dressing, which is forbidden by the Torah.6

The Reason

Maimonides teaches that the reason the Torah forbade the destruction of the beard is because shaving was a practice of ancient idol-worshippers.7

In addition, Kabbalah attaches great importance to the beard, teaching that the “thirteen locks” of the beard are representative of G‑d’s thirteen supernal Attributes of Mercy. Growing a beard makes one a beneficiary of the bounty which originates from G‑d’s compassion.

The History

Traditionally, Jews throughout the ages wore beards in order to not even come close transgressing the Torah’s command. This was true in Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of Jews grew full beards until the mid-nineteenth century.

As the winds of “enlightenment” spread to Eastern Europe, many people felt that wearing a beard labeled them as backwards and old-fashioned. Many Torah leaders, including the Chafetz Chaim, protested this change. Chassidim were in general less swayed by the modernization taking place around them, as is evident in their dress. Therefore, they—for the most part—did not feel compelled to shave their beards. In addition, the Kabbalistic reason mentioned above made the practice of growing a beard much more precious to them.

Footnotes
3.
Makot 20a.
4.
Avodat Kochavim 12:7.
5.
Responsa, Yoreh Deah 93; Chidushim al HaShas, Makot 3 p 160a; Piskei Dinim, Yoreh Deah 181-2.
7.
Avodat Kochavim 12:1.
Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Anonymous Tacoma September 15, 2017

Some other things to consider. There are a few problems with the reasoning behind this argumentment. First, the Zohar does not say specifically trimming ones beard is forbidden, to destroy it would be shaving it. Also women only shave ir was to remove facial hair, they do not just trim it with scissors, so to say that is equal to cross dressing seems to be really reaching. It also implies that all the great rabbonim who do trim are cross dressing which is absurd! There are many things men and women do that are the similar. Another point that needs to be mentioned is why then are men told to not trim their beard during a time of mourning for a imediate family member? If they were forbidden by halacha to trim always this would not need to be stated. The fact is halacha permits one to trim using scissors if one so desires. It is only a minhag to not trim ever. Reply

Alexandra Smith Scotland July 22, 2017

While living in Babylon did men style their beards as the men there? What if a woman has a hairy face, inherited or because of ill health, are they also forbidden to remove it? Reply

Chris July 20, 2017

By intuition I understood the purpose wisdom humility and peace. Reply

Karen Silver Yonkers July 20, 2017

I had a picture on my wall of a bunch of old Hasidic men dancing together in full, luxuriant beards. The joy in their faces would sometimes lift me out of a bad mood. The students who teach us parsha here at our facility aren't fully bearded yet. Reply

Dr.Szymanov London July 20, 2017

Let it grow? The beard is the hair from the face.Technically I would think destruction would mean any act of reduction or removal,scissors,blade,or flame.
To follow this a man would never cut his beard as any even slight trimming IS surely destruction?So all men would walk around with 8 foot long beards,no doubt with various animal life nesting within.
A striking point is that there is not a more obvious statement ot striking clarity of being male over female.Males are effortlessly recognised and differentiated which may have had dramatic advantages in say,rapid protection of a village against attack??
I am concerned that this interpretation of 'destruction' surely counts as shortening one hair?? Reply

Ephraim Lehr Aventura, FL July 20, 2017

I much prefer the explanation I was given, that Torah-true Judaism is the G-dly design of the natural state for a Jew. By nature, a Jew is to marry and have a family, by nature he's to separate from his wife at certain natural times, by nature they are to be totally bound to each other as one, by nature they are supposed to be modest, by nature the man has a beard and the woman does not, by nature neither he nor her goes around touching people of the opposite sex, by nature he wears men's clothing and she does not. In all ways, the design is from The Creator, and we, The Jews, are a demo to the world on how how things are supposed to be. Any alteration of this "Sacred Design" is a statement of arrogance, the "I can improve on G-d" type arrogance. Total submission to G-d's design is called "acceptance of the yoke", and is a profound declaration that Torah Judaism is perfect. Reply

Anonymous Lakewood, NJ July 20, 2017

To be well-rounded, I would like to share the position of the leading non-Chasidic Rabbi of our times, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita, who wrote in his sefer Orchos Yosher (chapter 5):
"The Talmud (Shabbos 152a) states: “[The term] hadras ponim — the splendor of the countenance — refers to a beard.. Throughout our history, it was considered extremely disgraceful for anyone not to have a beard. It is only in recent generations that some have started to treat this [mitzvah] irreverently, having learned this from the non-Jews. Targum Yonoson states that one who commits this transgression violates the prohibition: 'A man shall not wear woman’s dress.' This applies even if he trims his beard using scissors. Sefer HaChinuch also follows this view and adds that one [who does so] also violates the prohibition: 'You shall not follow their statutes.' This is quoted by the Chofetz Chayim in his Sefer HaMitzvos HaKotzer (negative commandment 177)." Reply

Anonymous Boca Raton, Florida July 20, 2017

The assertion of this article that there are means of shaving which are halachically permitted seems to contradict the Rebbe Rashab of Chabad, who wrote in a public announcement to the Jewish people: "Since there are many who permit themselves to cut their beards with scissors, basing it on what is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch and declaring that they are acting thus in accordance with the Halacha as stated in Shulchan Aruch --
It is our obligation to announce publicly that they are in error, for this is absolutely prohibited (Isur Gomur) according to the Torah itself (Midorayso), as many of the earlier and later Torah giants (Rishonim and Achronim) have proven and clarified that those doing this transgress several Torah prohibitions (Kamo Lav’vin)." Reply

Aaron Denver July 19, 2017

Of Beards and Holding an Old Woman's Hand... I understand the issue of beards, though the 13 areas of a beard is a new one to me.

A question came to mind not long ago regarding why chassidic men will not take the hand offered to them by an elderly woman who is obviously long past her times of menstruation. Not long ago, I witnessed this with a woman who is almost 90 years old, very frail, and filled with love. A chassid she has known for a long time would not take her old and wrinkled hand, which she extended in love, friendship and admiration. That made no sense to me at all. And since this man is a rabbi, a caring moment of holding her hand would have meant the world to her. She has forgotten about it. I wish I could. Reply

Simcha Bart for Chabad.org September 9, 2017
in response to Aaron:

Judaism believes that respecting boundaries between men and women is vital for a healthy relationship between the genders.

Respect does not change with age or beauty.

Wouldn't it be worse if he was to take the hand of this elderly lady - but would refuse to shake the hand of her daughter?

Additionally, at what age would one make this distinction? How about if she looks much younger than her age?

It is important to study how this value contributes to a safe and healthy relationship between men and women. For more on this please see here and please see here about the woman who did not shake the President's hand.

Reply

Suzanne KATZ July 19, 2017

So why is the prohibition to remove facial hair--and other body hair for that matter--not on Jewish women, since idol worshipping women also plucked facial hair shaved their bodies to "beautify" themselves? Is it not because Jewish men prefer their wives not be hairy? Also didn't idol worshippers cut their head hair? Why don't Jewish men let theirs grow? It can't be bc they will be like women, when they are growing beards. No confusion Reply

Mark Manchester July 19, 2017

Great article ...... Now I understand more ....thanks Reply

Avalon July 16, 2017

Thank you Chabad for these explanations!
I read the basic things in the Torah but didn't know what Maimonides and the Kabbalah taught. Reply

Gabe Flushing March 8, 2016

This article has more information about the significance of the beard - "Like the Dew of Mount Hermon - The Holy Ari" Reply

Chaim Dallas, TX August 24, 2015

But why no shaving? I understand from this article why it's good to have a beard, but it still doesn't explain why Chabad doesn't shave at all. You can have a very nice beard while still trimming occasionally so that it looks nice without getting anywhere close to shaving. Reply

Anonymous Switzerland November 21, 2012

razor's edge But so does this mean that the blade should not have to come in direct contact with the skin? Reply

Dovid November 21, 2012

Mainstream Orthodox Tradition Generally, Jews had beards. The current trend of many even observant Jews not to, is due to emancipation and enlightenment and the desire of many in the new world to 'fit in.' it has been codified by many including Ashknazi leaders such as the Tzemech Tzedek, Mishneh Berurah and Chazon Ish and Sephardi leaders such as the Chida, Ben Ish Chai and Baba Sali. Reply

Stephen Ottawa, Ontario , Canada November 20, 2012

Beards - yeah or nay? I was very interested in the article regarding beards as I have had one since I was about 15 but do trim it every now and then. Where are the 13 points of the beard located and why do some very frum Rabbis shave from their ear lobes to the mustache line and leave the 'gotee'? Thanx for your info. Reply

Anonymous November 18, 2012

To Beard Worshipper Maimonides is assigning the practice a practical purpose. He's explaining that the practice of growing the beard started as a way of distinguishing ourselves from the non-Jewish idol worshipers. It is essentially a technique, like circumcision, or keeping the Israelites from mixing with other peoples and losing their identities. It's a subject that's hard to be blunt and concise about without sounding like an elitist. Reply

Anonymous July 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Being different doesn't sound elitist. Reply

Sean July 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Well that's all good but that doesn't separate us from Muslims - they are circumcised and the more devout wear beards. Reply

Hany Mtl, Ca December 13, 2011

Besides, there is Beauty There are some beautiful beards out there. I guess it depends with what eyes or Eye one perceives them. Reply

Sean DeGan marrietta , GA June 21, 2011

In response to beard worshippers. "Maimonides teaches that the reason the Torah forbade the destruction of the beard is because shaving was a practice of ancient idol worshippers."

Why do you find this unintelligent? As far as the term "cogent" is concerned, I cannot think of a more "cogent" explanation for the commandment outside of the axiom that G-d said not to do so. Logical positivism is dead.

That being the case. Not everything under the sun can be examined under scientific or rational means.

And to lead you down a path of reductio ad absurdum: intelligence can not be revealed by attacking an ancient tradition---and why can it not be revealed in a beard? Really, what argument do you have against it as being spiritual beneficial to the individual Jew, who finds--at the very least-- a connection to his ancestors and tradition, which are not material mental processes but a historical reaching into the past that is non-material, or, as you so deride, "spiritual."

Peace and blessings to you. Reply

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