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What is the reason for growing one's beard? Many rabbis have beards. Why?

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The Chafetz Chaim wrote a kuntres called Tiferes Adam which discusses the importance of the beard and peyos. –  sam Apr 15 '13 at 0:09
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It was historically hard to remove them in a halachikly permissible fashion. –  Double AA Apr 15 '13 at 0:09
    
@Dan the first line of that "My Jewish Learning" article says, "All agree that there is no ban on shaving with an electric razor." Where'd they come up with that"?? –  Seth J May 17 '13 at 13:25
    
maybe the author means "all [within the Masorti movement] agree" –  Danno May 17 '13 at 14:15
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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The debatable:

  • Kabbalistic sources about beards, or about spiritually-destructive forces involved in removing a beard. Much ink has been spilled over how much facial hair was worn by the kabbalist Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Fano.
  • Cutting your beard means you're trying to look like a non-Jew. Chasam Sofer vehemently opposes this argument, observing that in Biblical times, pagan men had beards too.
  • The Tzemach Tzedek (the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe) was of the opinion that you're trying to look feminine by removing your beard, which violates the prohibition on cross-dressing.

The practical:

  • Men are prohibited from shaving their jaw line ("five corners of the face", more or less) with a razor. So until a few decades ago, your only options were a scissors (which could trim your beard but not really eliminate it altogether) or depilatory powder (a strong base that would dissolve the hair). Today, most Americans follow the opinion of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (and others) that most electric shavers are considered "scissors", not razors as they can't cut at 0 rpm; but some (such as Chazon Ish) disagree.
  • There are various times in the year when shaving, haircuts, and other grooming are frowned-upon for men. (E.g. the three weeks commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.) Thus growing a beard all the time was just easier.
  • Why waste the time shaving?
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I don't understand the last point. Why waste time cutting your hair or trimming your toe-nails? –  Shimon bM Apr 15 '13 at 13:15
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+1. @ShimonbM, to not have a beard, most men need to shave daily or so. To not have unruly hair or toenails, most men need to cut them far less often. –  msh210 Apr 15 '13 at 16:09
    
I'm thinking "the Tzemach Tzedek ruled" might be a better phrasing. Right now it seems like a Rebbishe/Chassidishe "feeling" when it was instead a psak halacha (which is, as you noted, debated). (My two cents, thoughts?) –  HodofHod Apr 16 '13 at 4:38
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@HodofHod Wait, I thought the Tzemach Tzedek's issue was with scissors as a form of gilach, not that it was beged isha. The former could still apply today, but the latter is very hard to argue for in today's world. –  Double AA Apr 16 '13 at 6:43
    
@DoubleAA, Having never made it all the way through the TT's tshuva myself, I have only other people's words to go on: chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/494236/jewish/… Also, shaving was not that uncommon in his days either –  HodofHod Apr 16 '13 at 7:57
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R Shlomo Aviner, in Shut She'elat Shlomo, mentions 4 reasons, which are brought here in short:

  1. The gmara in Shabbat 152a, says that the splendor of man's face is the beard הדרת פנים זקן. That's the natural and whole looks of the Israeli man, as R Yehonatan Aibeshitz mentions in Ya'art Dvash, part A.
  2. The daily shaving is bothersome and causes bitul torah (not learning torah at that time).
  3. Whoever shaves daily, on Shabbat he cannot. So on Shabbat he's Menuval - not tidy. Same happens on holidays and Shabbats of Ben HaMetzarim and during Sfirat HaOmer.
  4. Even today, with the electric shavers, it isn't trivial that it's allowed to shave using them. Many Rabbis have ruled against it. Even those that approved it, stated that the machine oughtn't be pressed strongly to the skin and the skin oughtn't be stretched. New machines with new techniques for making the shave closer to the skin make their Halachich approval even harder.
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"Israeli"? Do you mean "Israelite"? –  msh210 Apr 25 '13 at 18:00
    
@msh210 If so it's called in English then be it. In Hebrew, OTOH, I humbly disagree with Wikipedia that translates Isralite as בן ישראל. It's explicit that an Israelite is also called ישראלי, as in בן האשה הישראלית. And there are well many examples in Orthodox Jewish literature for that, and it's also used in everyday Hebrew in Israel (I should know...). –  yair Apr 25 '13 at 21:02
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the Meam Loez on Bereishis says the lion was given a beard to give it a majestic appearance (since it is king of the animals).

Hence, a beard is supposed to give a majestic appearance. So too regarding man. Judaism views man as a the crowning glory and ultimate purpose of creation.

Perhaps not shaving the beard is to remind a person of his great importance and mission in this world.

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