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Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha| 5768

Ask the Rabbi

Question: It is now common for religious teenage boys to shave their heads with a shaver, leaving a shadow of hair 2-3 millimeters long. Does this violate lo takifu (removing peyot)?
Answer: The similar prohibitions, not to “round off” the sides of one’s head (i.e., not to remove peyot) and not to “destroy” the sides of one’s beard (i.e., not shaving a beard with a razor) are found in the same pasuk (Vayikra 19:27). The two are halachically compared, at least in regard to the fact that the prohibitions do not apply to women (Kiddushin 35b).
 The mishna (Makkot 20a), after mentioning both prohibitions, cites a machloket whether the prohibition(s) exists only with a razor or even when removing the hair with other instruments. The Rambam (Avoda Zara 12:6) says that one may cut off peyot with scissors, which is apparently based on the mishna’slenient opinion. In contrast, the Rosh (Makkot 3: 2, 3) says that only in regard to the beard may it make a difference how the hair is removed. Regarding peyot,if one gets similar results with scissors as one gets with a razor, he still violates the prohibition. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 181:3) brings both opinions and encourages following the stringent opinion.
 One can explain the machloket between the Rambam and Rosh by saying that the Rambam cares about the action the Torah calls destroying, whereas the Rosh says that hair removal is a problem. Regarding a likely test case, removing peyot with a chemical, there is a machloket between the Beit Hillel and the Noda B’Yehuda (see Kol Mevaser I, 19). We must point out that even the Rambam says that the results play a role regarding peyot (as opposed to the beard). He (ibid.) says that one needs to leave forty (according to one version, four) hairs on the peyot. Regarding the beard, it is irrelevant how many hairs remain, as any removal via a razor is a violation. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:9) says that one should avoid cutting [too close] anything in the area of the peyot. However, the Chatam Sofer demonstrates that one cannot hold two stringencies, and thus it is permitted to remove only some hair if this is done in a not razor-like manner.
 You, though, refer to a case where all of the hair of the peyot is removed and therefore the question is as follows: is the shaver (assuming it works based on a mechanism analogous to scissors) cut close enough to the results of a razor to be problematic according to the Shulchan Aruch? The Kol Mevaser (ibid.) identifies three opinions among the Rishonim as to how long hair has to be to not be considered razor-like. (Clearly, scissors cannot make the surface perfectly clean, so that one cannot say that even the slightest recognition of hair roots suffices.) The Rambam (albeit in the context of a nazir) says that if the hair is long enough to take the top and loop it over to the bottom it is not razor-like. Gilyon Tosafot says the cut-off point is whether one can grab the hair with tweezers. Rashi says it depends whether it is close to the skin.
 We have not found measurements for the opinions we have mentioned nor is there a consensus as to which opinion to accept (certainly the most stringent opinion is not met in the case you raise). The reason there is relatively little discussion of this matter is probably that religious Jews have not shaved their heads in the manner now popular among some of our youth. (Chasidim who shave their head, which, as kids, many of us thought was strange, of course left prominent peyot). While we would be hard-pressed to prove that this “new for religious Jews style” is definitely forbidden, it is hard to halachically approve of it. Parents and teachers of teenagers who will listen would do well to encourage them to find other ways to differ from what was once considered a normal haircut.
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