Shaving in Honor of Shabbat During the Omer
Summarized by Yair Yaniv
Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass
Our earliest sources make no mention of a ban on haircuts during Sefirat ha-Omer (the days between Pesach and Shavuot). The Ritz Giat, for example, refers only to marriage:
"All of Israel is accustomed to not marry between Pesach and Shavuot. This is because of mourning, not because of any prohibition...[The mourning is restricted to not] marrying ("nisuin"), for the main joy is at the bridal canopy ("chuppa") and the marriage itself, but there is no restriction on "erusin" and "kiddushin" (legal engagement)... So ruled the Geonim."
The custom to refrain from having a haircut ("tisporet") during the Omer appears in the Tur (OC 493); according to the Beit Yosef, its source is Rav Yehoshua ibn Shuib's "Derasha for the First Day of Pesach."
In order to deal with our question, whether one can shave before Shabbat during this period, we must relate to three different issues:
- Does "tisporet" including shaving, or just cutting the hair on one's head?
- Is this custom part of the existing laws of mourning, and, if so, which stage of mourning?
- Does the obligation of honoring Shabbat override the custom forbidding tisporet.
1. Defining “Tisporet”
We find (Ta'anit 15b) a prohibition against "tisporet" in the rules for the participants in the ma'amad (shifts of Israelites who made a pilgrimage to the Temple to represent the nation during the communal sacrifices). Though the parameters of the prohibition are not stated here, some of the sources regarding laws of mourning relate directly to this issue.
Masekhet Semachot (7:11) reads: "What is the rule of "tisporet?" Cutting all hair is forbidden - the head, the mustache, the beard and all other hair." In contrast, the gemara (Mo'ed Katan 24a) derives the prohibition from Vayikra 10:6: "You (Aharon and his remaining sons after the deaths of Nadav and Avihu) should not let your hair grow long [as normal mourners do]." Ostensibly this refers only to cutting the hair on the head.
The Rambam rules (Hilkhot Evel 5:2):
"How do we know that a mourner is prohibited from 'tisporet?' The sons of Aharon were commanded "Do not let your hair grow long" - implying that any other mourner is prohibited from cutting his hair and must let it grow wild. Just as the mourner is prohibited from cutting the hair of his head, so too is he prohibited from cutting the hair of his beard and all other hair."
The Rambam implies that the basic prohibition of hair-cutting only applies to the head, based on the verse, while shaving is merely an extension of that prohibition.
2. Mourning During the Omer
Aside from the semantic question of defining the specific parameters of tisporet, we must discuss the nature of the custom of refraining from haircuts during the Omer. It is most likely not an independent one, but is rather part and parcel of the laws of mourning which are appropriate to this time period.
There are different levels of mourning: the seven-day (shiva), thirty-day (sheloshim), and twelve-month periods. It seems obvious that the level of mourning in effect during the Omer is parallel to that of the twelve-month period, for all the prohibitions included in the custom - festive gatherings, marriage, and hair cutting - are those that extend beyond the thirty day period. On the other hand, none of the prohibitions that last only thirty days are included in the custom.
During the twelve-month period, both getting a haircut and shaving are prohibited, but only "until one's friends scold him [to tell him that his hair is too long]" ("ad she-yig'aru bo chaveirav": Moed Katan 22b; Rambam Hilkhot Evel 6:3).
Someone who goes a day or two without shaving would certainly deserve a reminder from his friends to shave. However, the Acharonim argue about whether one can cut his hair only when his friends ACTUALLY scold him, or when the TIME for scolding arrives, regardless of whether anyone did so. If we accepted the second opinion, there would be room to permit one who reached that stage - usually within a very few days, definitely after a week - to shave.
The Ramban, in his extensive discussion in Torat Ha-adam about whether the laws of mourning are biblical or rabbinic in origin, proposes a distinction between different types of prohibitions. Those that bar the mourner from indulging in luxuries are Torah laws, while those that thrust upon him distinctly uncomfortable, substandard conditions are rabbinically mandated. So, for example, washing in hot water is considered a luxury and is biblically prohibited, but not washing at all causes discomfort and is rabbinically prohibited.
It is possible, at least according to one opinion in the Rishonim, to infer that the same is true for "tisporet." The Rishonim debate whether a mourner can trim his mustache if it interferes with eating: The Ramban permits it even during the first seven days of mourning, whereas the Ra'avad prohibits it all thirty days. The Ritz Giat (who is followed by the Shulchan Arukh YD 390:1) takes a middle approach; during the first seven days it is prohibited, but afterwards it is permitted.
The Ramban and the Ra'avad are clear: they disagree whether the need for eating is a legitimate cause for permitting trimming one's mustache during mourning. The Ritz Giat's hybrid opinion, distinguishing between the seven-day and the thirty-day periods, needs explanation. He might, like the Ramban in Torat Ha-adam, distinguish between shiva, when discomfort is mandated, and sheloshim when only luxuries are prohibited. During the first seven days he must let his mustache grow even if it interferes with eating; afterwards only hair-cutting in general is prohibited, but not that which causes actual discomfort.
One might apply the Ritz Giat's distinction to our issue and permit shaving without resorting to the rule of "ge'ara" (scolding). One who shaves regularly does not view his shaving as a luxury, to look his best; he feels uncomfortable and unkempt if he does not shave for a few days. Therefore, there is no reason to distinguish between trimming a mustache, the case he spoke about, and shaving a beard. We may distinguish, though, based on the Rambam, between haircuts, which are the basic prohibition, and the others, which are extensions thereof. When the Rishonim spoke about "giluach," they had trimming a beard in mind. Trimming a beard is similar to a haircut; it is done to look good, not to avoid looking ugly or feeling uncomfortable. Based on the Ritz Giat, it would be permitted to shave once every several days, for the mourning of the Omer is certainly not on the level of the shiva.
If shaving, for a clean-shaven man, is analogous to trimming a mustache that gets in the way of eating, then even during "sheloshim" one could permit shaving every few days. This is certainly not the prevalent custom (although I know of a case where Ha-gaon Rav Moshe Soloveitchik z"tl ruled leniently - though I do not know what rationale he relied upon - that a lawyer could shave for his livelihood during sheloshim). With regards to the twelve-month period, though, which is less stringent, one could rely on this leniency.
3. Shaving Before Shabbat
The above two reasons,
a) having reached the situation where people would tell the mourner to cut his hair and
b) discomfort being a feature only of shiva and not of the periods which follow, permit shaving during the week, once every few days. Before Shabbat, though, there are additional reasons to be lenient, maybe even to REQUIRE shaving for one who is accustomed to shave daily.
Honoring ("kevod") Shabbat includes preparing oneself through washing and wearing clean clothing. Nowadays, for people who shave daily, shaving is a regular part of pre-Shabbat preparations. The gemara speaks of a case where a prohibition against shaving clashes with kevod Shabbat (Ta'anit 15b): "The men of the 'mishmar' (kohanim-priests on rotation for Temple service) and the men of the 'ma'amad' (as explained above) are forbidden to cut hair and to wash clothes, but on Thursday they are permitted because of kevod Shabbat."
One might reject this source as irrelevant to our discussion by pointing out that the prohibition of hair cutting for the men of the mishmar and the ma'amad is not connected to mourning, but was made in order to insure that they shave earlier, similar to the prohibition of shaving during chol ha-mo'ed (Ta'anit 17a).
The gemara on Ta'anit 26b, though, is certainly relevant:
"During the week on which Tisha Be-av falls, it is prohibited to cut hair and to wash clothes, but it permitted on Thursday for kevod Shabbat."
The commentary ascribed to Rashi comments that if Tisha Be-av falls out on Shabbat one can wash on Thursday. Here, breaking mourning is explicitly permitted because of kevod Shabbat.
Tosafot's position (Ta'anit 30a s.v. Ve-tarvayhu le-kula) is more extreme than Rashi's. They permit washing and cutting hair on Thursday even if Tisha Be-av comes out on Thursday - even though one could do all these preparations on erev Shabbat! Because of the "burden of Shabbat preparations one should not wait until erev Shabbat." Although the Beit Yosef was astounded by this radical opinion and therefore ascribed it to a mistaken student, the fact that the same comment appears in Tosafot Ha-rosh makes his doubts implausible. Even if one does not go as far as the Tosafot, permitting mourning prohibitions on Tisha Be-av itself because of kevod Shabbat, there is certainly firm basis to permit shaving during the Omer because of kevod Shabbat.
True, the Or Zarua writes that only washing clothes was permitted because of kevod Shabbat, but not cutting hair. However, the Magen Avraham explains that his reasoning is that one washes clothes every week but does not cut one's hair every week. If that is the case, then in a situation where one does shave every week, even the Or Zarua would permit shaving for kevod Shabbat.
The mourning customs of the Omer are much more lenient than those of the week of Tisha Be-av.
There are two reasons to permit those who shave daily to shave during the Omer on a normal weekday:
1. After several days one reaches the level of "ge'ara," where friends would scold him because he looks unpresentable (according to those who say that one does not have to actually be told by people).
2. The level of not shaving which causes discomfort and looks undignified is mandated only during shiva, but probably not during sheloshim and certainly not during the twelve-month period that the Omer parallels (Ritz Giat).
Hence, since kevod Shabbat takes precedence over mourning customs of the Omer (based on Ta'anit 26b), it is not only permissible, but obligatory to shave before Shabbat.
This article originally appeared in Daf Kesher #133, vol. 2, pp. 54-56, Yom Yerushalayim 5748. This article was not reviewed by Harav Lichtenstein.