Letting One's Hair Grow Long

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

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Dedicated by the Wise and Etshalom families 
in memory of Rabbi Aaron M. Wise, 
whose yahrzeit is 21 Tamuz. Yehi zikhro barukh.

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Based on a shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein

Translated by Ramon Widmonte

            The subject of men letting their hair grow long stimulates halakhic discussion in three areas:

1) having a chatzitza (physical separation) between one's tefillin (phylacteries) and one's head;

2) the prohibition of "A man shall not wear the apparel of a woman" (Devarim 22:5);

3) the prohibition of "You shall not walk in their statutes" (Vayikra 18:3 - a prohibition against emulating a gentile way of life).

1) Chatzitza

            The gemara (Zevachim 19a) discusses the issue of tefillin creating a chatzitza between the bigdei kehuna (priestly garments) and the body of the kohen (priest):

"R. Zeira asks: Perhaps tefillin should constitute a chatzitza? ... It so happened that in the course of time the discussion reached R. Ami.  He [R. Ami] replied to him [R. Zeira]: It is an ordered teaching in our tradition that tefillin DO constitute a chatzitza."

The gemara later establishes that this ruling applies to both tefillin shel yad and shel rosh (phylacteries worn on the hand and on the head).

            A second gemara (Erkhin 3b) asserts that, while performing the priestly service in the Temple, kohanim are exempt from the commandment to wear tefillin shel yad because the tefillin are a chatzitza vis-a-vis the bigdei kehuna.  However, during their service, the kohanim are obligated to wear tefillin shel rosh since:

            a) it is possible to wear these tefillin in such a way as not to constitute a chatzitza;

            b) the ability to fulfill one's obligation to wear tefillin shel rosh is not dependent on wearing tefillin shel yad.

            In both instances, the gemara bases itself on the verse, " ... next to his body" (Vayikra 6:3), to establish that chatzitza constitutes a problem vis-a-vis the bigdei kehuna.

            The Rishonim utilized the discussions in these two gemarot to decide the question of whether the mitzva of tefillin is also invalidated by the existence of a chatzitza between the tefillin and one's body.

            The Rashba (Responsa, 1:827) claims that only with regard to bigdei kehuna does the Torah specifically say that a chatzitza invalidates the mitzva.  However, there is no source indicating that we are similarly stringent regarding the mitzva of tefillin.  Thus, it would seem that one may wear tefillin even if there is something separating them from direct contact with his body.

            The Rashba then raises the possibility of distinguishing between tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh.  Tefillin shel yad do not seem to require direct contact with the skin, as the verse requires them to be placed "al yadekha" - "on your hands" [a general, non-specific requirement].  However, when referring to tefillin shel rosh, the Torah may require the removal of any chatzitza, since it specifies their placement as "bein einekha" - "between your eyes" [an exact location].  This could be understood as a more stringent requirement - that the placement of the tefillin shel rosh be extremely accurate.  If so, a chatzitza could impinge on the fulfillment of this requirement.

However, it is clear that in the end the Rashba concludes that there is no problem of chatzitza even with regard to tefillin shel rosh.  Although the Rashba holds this opinion to be halakhically true, he does not wish to enforce it practically.  He says that since it is generally accepted to act stringently where a chatzitza in tefillin is involved - whether tefillin shel rosh or tefillin shel yad - one should not act more leniently in the face of this custom.  The Rashba concludes, however, that if a person is wearing a thin hat, he may wear his tefillin shel rosh over the hat.

The Rosh (Piskei Halakha, Tefillin, 18 [towards the end] and Responsa 3:4) disagrees with the Rashba and claims that there is indeed a problem of chatzitza in tefillin, even in tefillin shel yad.  The Rosh refers to the gemarot in Zevachim and Erkhin and claims that since the gemara's conclusion is that the kohanim are entirely exempt from the obligation of tefillin during their service, and are not even required to wear the tefillin on top of their clothes, this implies that the bigdei kehuna themselves would be a chatzitza between the tefillin and the body.  Since it is impossible to fulfill the requirements to have no chatzitza between the bigdei kehuna and the skin and simultaneously to have no chatitza between the tefillin and the skin, the kohanim are entirely exempt from tefillin during their service.

It is clear, however, that there is room to dispute the proofs of the Rosh by distinguishing between bigdei kehuna and other types of chatzitza.  Bigdei kehuna constitute a unique, important and independent framework of clothing with a defined function and goal.  Without bigdei kehuna, the kohen may not perform his duties.  It is possible that specifically because of their unique function, bigdei kehuna constitute a chatzitza vis-a-vis tefillin.  However, other possible chatzitzot which do not share these characteristics (and which can be viewed as mere adjuncts to the body) would probably not pose a problem.

In any case, the Shulchan Arukh (OC 27:4) rules like the Rosh, that chatzitza is a problem regarding both tefillin shel rosh and tefillin shel yad, and therefore there should not be any chatzitza between one's tefillin and one's body.  The Rema (ibid.) rules like the Rashba that one can distinguish between the batim (the square, box section of the phylacteries) and the retzu'ot (the straps).  He claims that there is no need for stringency as regards the retzu'ot, for there is no problem of chatzitza with them.

The Shulchan Arukh (OC 27:5), basing himself on the Rashba, says that if a person has a medical problem (some sort of fluid discharge) and thus cannot wear his tefillin shel rosh without a head covering, he can wear them above a thin hat.  However, in such a case he should cover his entire head so that nothing is visible externally.  The Rema (ibid.) asserts that in such a case a person should not say a berakha (blessing) on the tefillin shel rosh.

Another authority, the Machatzit Ha-Shekel (ibid.), says that similarly, long, thick hair on the forepart of the head would pose a problem of chatzitza for tefillin.  However, if the hair is short and thus creates only a thin layer, there is no problem.

The Peri Megadim (ibid.) rejects the distinction of the Machatzit Ha-Shekel.  He claims, though, that in all cases where there is long hair at the back of the head which does not grow there but has been brushed backwards from the front of the head, there will be a problem of chatzitza with the retzu'ot of the tefillin shel rosh.  In his opinion, hair which is not located in its place of growth but rather has been brushed across from another part of the head, constitutes a chatzitza in tefillin.

In truth, however, the opinion of the Machatzit Ha-Shekel is not entirely clear, whereas the Peri Megadim's opinion seems to be more reasonable.  Thus, there is definitely room to have reservations about letting one's hair grow long, due to the problem of there being a chatzitza, unless of course, one ensures scrupulously that the hair underneath the bayit is hair which grows at that point and that the knot at one's neck is also not placed over hair which does not grow at the neck.  (Rather, the knot should be placed underneath this hair.)  However, in the last case mentioned, one would have to consider whether or not there is a requirement only for the bayit on the head to be visible, or whether such a requirement also exists for the knot.

2) "Nor Shall a Man Wear a Woman's Clothing"

            In Devarim 25:5 we read:

"A woman must not put on a man's apparel, nor shall a man wear a woman's clothing, for whoever does these things is abhorrent (to'eiva) to the Lord your God."

            The Sifri (Ki Tetze, 226) comments:

"'A woman must not put on a man's apparel.'  What does the verse come to teach us?  That a woman should not wear white clothing and that a man should not wear colored clothing?!  Rather, the verse writes, 'abhorrent' - namely, a thing which will lead to an abhorrence.  This is the general rule - a woman should not wear that which a man wears and then go and walk among men, and a man should not adorn himself with women's jewelry and then go and walk among women.  R. Eliezer ben Yaakov says: Whence do we know that a woman should not wear weapons and go out to war?  As it is written, 'A man's apparel.'  [And whence do we know that] a man may not adorn himself with women's jewelry?  [The Gra's text and the Gemara, Nazir 59a, read: 'Whence do we know that a man should not arrange upon himself women's arrangements?']  As it is written, 'Nor shall a man wear a woman's clothing.'"

            This disagreement between the Tanna Kama (the first anonymous authority) and R. Eliezer bar Yaakov raises three fundamental questions :

a) Does the Tanna Kama believe that the very wearing of clothing belonging to the opposite gender is forbidden, or does he also require intermingling with the opposite gender (since the background for the prohibition is that it might lead to promiscuity)?

b) Does the Tanna Kama believe that there is a prohibition on wearing even a single article of clothing or does he require that the entire attire and the whole outward appearance be such that it could cause an outside observer to be mistaken concerning the wearer's gender?

c) What is the relationship between the opinion of R. Eliezer and that of the Tanna Kama?

Questions a) and b) would appear to be interdependent. It is reasonable to suggest that if the prohibition exists only when one goes and intermingles with the opposite gender, the prohibition would be in force only if one adopts the complete appearance of a member of the opposite gender; however, if the wearing the clothing is forbidden in itself without necessarily a promiscuous context, even a single article of clothing would be prohibited.

The Rambam (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 12:9) states that there is no scriptural prohibition for a man to remove the hair of the armpit or of the genitals; however, in a place where only women do these things, a man who performs these acts is punished on a rabbinical level with lashes, due to his disobedience of the Rabbis.  In the following paragraph, the Rambam states that it is forbidden on a scriptural level for a woman to wear a man's battle armor, to adorn herself with a man's jewel, or to shave her head like a man; and it is also forbidden for a man to wear a woman's jewel if only the women in that place have such a custom. The law is dependent on the local custom, and if someone transgresses these norms, he receives lashes [on a scriptural level].

Apparently, the Rambam's ruling (12:10) that the mere wearing of a woman's jewel is prohibited is based upon the opinion of R. Eliezer according to the alternative reading of the text.  If so, we must understand from his words in sec. 9 that he holds that R. Eliezer does not prohibit, on a scriptural level, a man from removing the hair on his armpit or genitals, since the Rambam states that the punishment for doing so is not a scriptural punishment (malkot) but a rabinically enacted one (makat mardut).  The Netziv, in his commentary to the Sifri (ibid.), argues that R. Eliezer holds that there are two forms of the prohibition. In addition to the prohibition to disguise oneself as a member of the opposite sex, there is also one which forbids the performance of an act specific to members of the other gender, and which characterizes their identity in a sharp and clear manner.   According to the Rambam, who rules in accordance with R. Eliezer, and according to the alternative reading quoted in the gemara which prohibits not only external jewelry but any general female 'arrangements,' it is possible to say that any act which would be characteristic of women would be prohibited on a scriptural level.

It would seem that the growing of long hair is characteristic of women and therefore, fundamentally, one might speak in terms of a rabbinic or scriptural prohibition involved.  It is clear, however, that we do see cases where males grow their hair long and therefore one has to give some thought as to what is the yardstick of the "minhag ha-makom" (custom of the place) on this issue.  It is not clear if one is to determine these standards based on the world-wide practice, upon the general reality in the country being discussed, or perhaps upon the common custom within the community of Torah-observant Jews only.  In any case, it is clear that one should distance himself from the prohibition and not grow long hair, because of the risk of transgressing the scriptural prohibition of "Nor shall a man wear ..."

3) "Nor Shall You Follow Their Laws"

            In Vayikra 18:3, the Torah states:

"You shall not imitate the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws."

            The Torat Kohanim (ibid.) comments:

"'Nor shall you follow their laws.'  What has Scripture omitted which has not already been said?  Has it not already been said (Devarim 18:11), 'Let no one be found among you who consigns his son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur ... one who casts spells ...' So what does 'Nor shall you follow their laws' come to teach us?  That you should not follow their customs in those things which are practiced by them.  For example, theaters, circuses and gladiatorial shows..."  (Torat Kohanim, Acharei Mot, chapter 9, s.v. Chapter 13:9)

The Rambam (Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 11:1) states:

"One may not follow the statutes of idol worshippers, and one may not resemble them, not in dress, not in hair and the like ... One may not wear clothing particular to them and one may not grow the fringes of their hair as they grow the fringes of his hair and one may not shave off the sides of the hair and leave the middle as they do, and this is called a fringe ... Anyone who does one of these things, or the like, receives lashes."

            The Maharik (Responsa, 88) relates to the scope of the prohibition of "Nor shall you follow their laws."  In his opinion, the prohibition applies to modes of behavior which the Gentiles follow not for any utilitarian purpose, but rather simply as a cultural characteristic.  Later on, he adds that even if there is a reason behind the action, but this reason is one of pride and arrogance, it is considered "the statutes of the Gentiles."  The Maharik does not refer to the scope of "following [their laws]," but it seems that he does not raise any distinctions and that any action would be forbidden if it could be considered a Gentile statute.

            The Gra (YD 178:7) disagrees with the Maharik conclusively and claims that it matters not what status the act has within Gentile circles - whether they view it as arbitrary or whether the action has some purpose.  The Gra believes that the prohibition depends solely upon the "following" from the point of view of the Jews; if the action entails following the Gentiles' culture, then it is forbidden.  However, if the act is performed for the sake of some utility or alternatively without any reason whatsoever, this does not fall within the scope of the prohibition.  Therefore, it seems that the Gra would consider a man who grows long hair as transgressing the prohibition of "Nor shall you follow their laws," since one does this simply in imitation of Gentile culture.

Thus, both the Maharik and the Gra would agree that growing long hair falls under the purview of this prohibition - the Maharik because this is an arbitrary custom of the Gentiles, and the Gra because it is performed in order to follow Gentile culture.  Obviously, everything we have said assumes that the phenomenon exists only among the Gentiles.  However, it is clear that the phenomenon has spread and there is a not insignificant number of Jews who grow long hair.  Therefore we arrive once again at the question of deciding the yardstick - what is the "custom of the place" according to which we will decide whether or not the scope of the prohibition extends this far?  Again, we are in doubt, just as we were as regards the prohibition of "Nor shall a man wear a woman's clothing."  Therefore, one should also be wary of growing long hair based on the risk of transgressing the prohibition of "Nor shall you follow their laws."

4) Conclusion

Everything which we said thus far relates to pure halakhic considerations.  It is clear that even if we were to reach the conclusion that there is no prohibition from any direction whatsoever, neither rabbinic nor scriptural, against growing long hair - nevertheless, on the educational and valuational level one should oppose the phenomenon. The source of the phenomenon of men growing long hair is a certain cultural stream which developed at the beginning of the 1960's in the Western world.  At that stage, growing long hair accompanied other cultural expressions which are flawed and unacceptable from both a halakhic and a moral standpoint.  This phenomenon itself carried a very clear cultural message - the shattering of societal norms, the removal of moral restraints, permissiveness, etc.  Therefore, even if the phenomenon has spread to Israel, and even to certain parts of the religious community, one should oppose the phenomenon due to the cultural message which it carries with it.  More generally, one should attempt to understand why a person would want to grow long hair.  Since this testifies to his absorption of cultural norms inimical to Torah values, in and of itself this "absorption" should cause concern.

One should note that even within Jewish sources we find that hair has always had a special significance.  Our Rabbis explain with relation to Yosef that when the Torah speaks of him as a "na'ar" (young lad - Bereishit 37:2), it means that he performed the act of a young lad and curled his hair.  Yosef was then a seventeen-year-old boy and this curling of hair expressed a cultivation of bodily beauty which characterizes youths at that age.  We learn in the gemara (Nedarim 9b):

"Shimon the Righteous [a kohen] said: In my entire life I have only eaten one sacrifice of an impure nazir.  (A nazir is a person who has taken upon himself to remain ritually pure and not to eat grape products or cut his hair.  When he becomes impure, he must bring a sacrifice and cut his hair.)  One time a man came, a nazir from the south, and I saw that he had beautiful eyes and was handsome and his curly hair was arranged in locks.  I said to him, 'My son, why did you choose to destroy such pleasant hair?'  He replied, 'I used to be a shepherd for my father in my town.  Once, I went to fill up water from the spring and I looked at my reflection and my inclination rose within me and desired to banish me from the world.  I said to him [the inclination], "Evil thing!  Why do you pride yourself on a world which is not yours, on a person who is destined to be a maggot and a worm?  I swear by the Temple service that I will shave you for the sake of Heaven!"'  Immediately, I stood and kissed him on his head.  I said to him, 'My son - may nezirim like you multiply in Israel.'"

We see that the cultivation and growing of the hair has long constituted a cultural phenomenon with less than holy motives.  And thus, to return to our subject, one should reject the phenomenon of men growing long hair, both halakhically and educationally, and one should be wary of this practice.

Sources:

a) Chatzitza in tefillin

            i)          Zevachim 19a, "Yatza se'aro ... meini'ach tefillin"

            ii)         Erkhin 3a, "Ha-kol chayavin ... meini'ach tefillin"

            iii)        Beit Yosef, OC 27 s.v. Ve-lo yehei

            iv)        Shulchan Arukh OC 27:4

            v)         Magen Avraham (ibid.) s.k. 4

            vi)        Machatzit Ha-Shekel (ibid.)

b) "Nor shall a man wear a woman's clothing"

i)          Nazir 58b, "Ha-ma'avir beit ha-shechi ... be-tikunei isha"

            ii)         Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 12:10-11

            iii)        Shulchan Arukh YD 182

            iv)        Gilyon Maharsha (ibid.) s.k. 6

c) "Nor shall you follow their laws"

            i)          Torat Kohanim, Acharei Mot, parsha 9, ot 8

            ii)         Rambam, Hilkhot Avodat Kokhavim 11:1-2

            iii)        Kesef Mishneh (ibid.)

            iv)        Maharik, Responsa, Shoresh 88

            v)         Shulchan Arukh YD 178

            vi)        Bi'ur Ha-Gra (ibid.) s.k. 7