Ever since I came across Unorthodox Podcast and their main sponsor, Harry’s shaving products, I have become unusually vain about and concerned with my facial hair.
Perhaps it was studying ergonomics that made me easy prey to the marketing call of “ergonomic handle and, precision blades”.
Having avoided shaving many times, it has now become a ritual of pleasure. But who knew that way before the mutton chops, chevron
or goatee beard, the Torah was concerned with male facial hair? Leviticus (19:27) says: “You shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard.”
One rationale for this is the separation of Israel from other peoples and particularly their idolatrous practices: The Hittites and Sumerians were thought to be clean-shaven, while Egyptians and Libyans had highly-stylised goatees.
Another is that such shaving used to be a mourning practice of others and a former Israelite practice.
The injunction may be linked to the verse prohibiting cutting oneself in mourning, and today many in mourning remain unshaven for 30 days.
Rabbinic Judaism followed through by Chasidic Jews led to the growth of sidelocks – payot. Their style is still today at the dictate of their rebbe.
From the Middle Ages on, the majority of Jewish men adopted popular local styles and today Halachic concerns are for the use of electric razors.
For anyone worried about aesthetics, their looks affect how they feel.
In an era of poor mental well-being, Liberal Judaism welcomes practices that compliment contentment. For men hirstutely challenged, this commandment may be unhelpful; for others part of their spiritual connection to God and community. We welcome all regardless of appearance. Meanwhile, this rabbi is staying smooth.
- Senior Rabbi Aaron Goldstein serves Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue