Tuesday, April 16, 2013

If you shave with scissors (or an electric shaver), cow-shaped demons will trample on the corners of your beard

The Levush writes about removing one's beard with scissors, even with misparayim ke'ein taar, that is permitted:

סעיף י

על השחתת פאת הזקן אינו חייב אלא כשמגלח בתער, שזהו נקרא "השחתה". אבל במספריים אפילו כעין תער – מותר.
ומיהו המדקדקים נזהרים כשמספרים במספריים, שאין עושין בזוג התחתון כלום אלא בעליון. כי חוששין שמא יעשה כל הגילוח בתחתון, דשמא פי הזוג בעליון לא יחתוך והוי כעין תער ממש. מיהו תחת הגרון אין לחוש לזה, שאין שם עיקר מקום הפאות.

So too Rav Yosef Karo in Shulchan Aruch, same seif. And see him in Beit Yosef, where he cites the Rambam, Tosafot and Rosh as saying the same, that the beard with misparayim ke'eyn taar, it is permitted even lechatchila.

That is halacha. Others interpret sources differently and thus might conclude otherwise, as a halachic matter. That is fine.

For kabbalistic reasons, people might also oppose shaving, even with scissors. Fine.

What I don't like is when those kabbalistic reasons become scare tactics to persuade even those who otherwise have what to rely upon, as pure halacha.

Here is the pasuk in Kedoshim, in Vayikra 19:27:
כז  לֹא תַקִּפוּ, פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם; וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית, אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ.27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.

I found the following in a sefer of collected writings of R' Eleazer miGermayza, the Rokeach (1178-1238), a student of R' Yehuda HaChassid:

'Neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard' -- even with scissors. Rav Zalman, the son of Rav Yehuda HaChassid za"l, wrote. [Meaning?,] When I learned in Speyer before the Rav, Rav Yedidya za"l, I found in his Beit Midrash a handwritten note of the Rav, Rav Zalman, and this is its language:

Abba Mari [My father and teacher], za"l [Rav Yehuda HaChassid] told me that in his days, there was a incident with a rich man in Speyer who would shave [or trim? מגלח] his beard with scissors, and Abba Mari came and protested, yet he did not listed to his words. He said that he was an istenis [overly sensitive] and could not bear the beard. Abba Mari told him, you should now know that your end will be bitter, for after your death, demons which are like cows will come and trample on the corners of your beard, for this is the punishment on those who mar the corners of their beards. And know that this is what is hinted at in the Torah in the pasuk, of לֹא תַקִּפוּ, פְּאַת רֹאשְׁכֶם וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ.

And when this rich man died, all the gedolim [perhaps important wealthy elite?] of Speyer were sitting by him, and Abba Mori was was there, and he wrote a certain [Divine] name and tossed it upon this deceased rich man. And immediately he [the deceased] stood up on his feet, and all those sitting there fled from before him because of the fear. And this rich man began to tear at his hear and pull out his hair.

Abba Mori said to him: How are you?

He [the deceased] said to him: Woe is me, that I did not listen to you.

Abba Mori said to him: Relate to me what is done to your soul.

He said to him: When my soul left, a demon came, similar to a large cow, and brought a vessel filled with tar, burning sulfur, and salt, and received my soul and placed it into it [the vessel] and I was unable to leave there. And an angel came from the Heavenly court and tool that vessel with my soul from the demon and brought it before the great court of the Fashioner of souls, and then, a bat kol came out  from before the court and asked me, did you read and learn? I said to it, I [can] read and learn. Immediately, he commanded to bring a chumash and said to me, "read in it." And immediately, when I opened the sefer, I found written וְלֹא תַשְׁחִית אֵת פְּאַת זְקָנֶךָ, and I did not know what to answer.

Immediately, I heard a voice announce: Give the soul of this one over to the lowest level of Gehinnom.

A bat kol went out and said: Wait on this one. Yehuda [HaChassid] my son needs to ask him a question.

And now he pleads for mercy on the soul that would speak to him [?], that he soul would not descend to Sheol.

End quote.

Come and see, my brother and friend, how great is the punishment is one who shaves his beard, even with scissors, and all the more so and kal vachomer with a razor, Hashem spare us from this punishment. End quote.

(In the sefer Yayin Hameshumar and in sefer HaGan Hameyuchas of Rabbenu Yehuda HaChassid.)"

Note that there may well be strong halachic basis for the position that shaving even with scissors is prohibited.

What I find interesting -- though I suppose it should be obvious -- is that just like the identical dispute today, this is not a dry halachic debate, in which each side reads its sources. Stories like the above read like propaganda or like emotional, psychological and theological warfare. And make the claim to know definitively what will happen in the next world to those who don't act in practice with what they claim is halacha. Not that the rich man in the (presumably fictional) story necessarily had a legitimate halachic defense in saying he was an istenis. (Maybe he did.) But my guess is that there were those who held like Tosafot et al and shaved with scissors, and so it was necessary to demonize them and the practice.


E-Man said...

Also, you could say that since Abba Mori was this rich man's posek then he was wrong and clearly sinned. His problem was that he should have had a different posek.

SPACE said...

That's interesting. But what does it means when says: " Ye shall not round the corners of your heads". Is it related to these strange elongated skulls found in Peru and in some Africa tribes. Scientists say, that ancient people did it to their child to resemble some gods. When young, child bones are not sturdy, they put 2 plates on sides of head, and head grows in this strange shape.

joshwaxman said...

it sounds more like he didn't accept R' Yehuda haChassid as his posek. i don't know.

doubtful. compare elsewhere in the parsha regarding the corners of the field, as well as the immediate context of marring the corners of the beard. the traditional explanation that it refers to hair seems quite correct.

within this traditional interpretation, though, the halachic position that it refers not to peyos but to the area by the temples, from the hairline to the top of the ear seems most like peshat.

SPACE said...

but why is used word 'head' instead of 'hair'.

joshwaxman said...

for the same reason 'field' is used instead of 'grain', for the פאה of the field.

E-Man said...

I agree, it SOUNDED like he didn't have him as his posek. However, one possible answer that is not totally unreasonable is that he was the posek. The lesson to be learned here is, if you choose a posek you can't go against his psak even if you think you can make your own decision based on halachic sources.

Now, that message might be a political message and a grab for power, or it might be what they thought was true. I don't know, either way I would never choose a posek like that.


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