Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Judaism at the Barber

On February 20, 1816, Rossini’s classic opera, The Barber of Seville, premiered at the Teatro Argentina in Rome. In tribute, Jewish Treats will address the Torah’s instructions for barbers.

The Torah (Leviticus 19:27) declares, “You shall not round the corners of your heads, nor shall you mar the corners of your beard.” In order to understand this Biblical verse, we must identify what are the “corners of your head,” what is considered “marring,” and upon whom is this proscription?

The rabbis (Makkot 20a), have declared that this prohibition, which only applies to men, refers to five parts of the face. There is some dispute as to where these five spots are, but many identify them as the two bones where the skull meets the cheek, the two bones on the bottom of the face near where glands would be checked, and the chin. Since there are multiple opinions, “shaving” is not recommended on any part of the face from the temples down to the cheeks on the front and sides of one’s face.

Shaving, however, is defined narrowly, as using a razor. Using scissors to cut the hairs, or depilatory creams or powder would be permitted. As such, a Jew using an electric shaver to shave his face must ascertain that the blades of the electric shaver function as scissors (i.e. two blades cutting the hair at a distance from the root) and not as a razor. There are opinions that Jewish men should refrain from shaving their face altogether, and allow side-curls to remain, as seen primarily among Chassidic men.

A male Jewish barber must not violate the Torah prohibition of shaving another Jewish man’s face. A Jew who is shaven with a straight-edge razor by a non-Jewish barber, violates the prohibition if he is an active participant. May a Jewish woman shave a Jewish man’s face with a razor? Maimonides rules that a Jewish woman who shaves a Jewish man’s face is exempt from the prohibition. However, the Code of Jewish Law, Shulchan Aruch, records that “some say” that a woman does violate the prohibition if she shaves another Jewish man’s face. Some argue that while a woman may technically be exempt from the prohibition of shaving, she may still be in violation of the dictum of “not placing a stumbling block in front of the blind” by allowing the Jewish man to have his face shaved.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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