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I have asked this question to many people without every getting an answer. Perhaps someone on this forum has some information.

All of the achronim that I have found, who address the issue in writing, write that shaving with a machine is prohibited. (See Sefer Hadrat Panim Zakan for a compilation of many of them.) Nevertheless it is extremely common amongst Orthodox Jews to shave with an electric razor. When I have asked people what the heter is, they almost universally quote a Heter of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. I have challenged dozens of people over the years to produce this heter for me. Nobody has.

My question is, is there any written heter from Reb Moshe, and if there isn't how do so many Orthodox Jews justify going against the written psak of dozens of Achronim based solely on a "shmuah" that Reb Moshe gave a heter? Especially since this is a question of an issur deoraisa.

Any insight would be greatly appreciated.

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There are many Poskim that are Matir: including HaRav Ovadia Yosef Shelit"(not that simple but pretty much), HaRav Bension Musafi Shelit"a, and I got a Heter from HaRav Mansour Shelit"a. –  Hacham Gabriel Jul 5 '12 at 1:33
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are you a Karaite, that you don't believe in Oral tradition? ;) are you casting aspersions / doubting the veracity of the testimony? –  josh waxman Aug 14 '12 at 13:28
    
Are you asking specifically about a device which is mechanized or about a device which cuts like scissors but as close as a razor (מספרים כעין תער)? I can't fathom why being mechanized would be a problem by itself. As for the second issue see IM EH 2 12 –  Double AA Mar 20 at 21:09

3 Answers 3

See this page on KosherShaver.org for what looks like a pretty thorough background on all of the issues.

Rav Moshe Feinstein understood the aforementioned sugyah in accordance with this latter approach. According to this approach, when the Gemara rules that an item which both destroys and shaves is prohibited, and defined this item as being a razor, it did not merely mention a razor as an example of an item that achieves both of these requirements, but mentioned it in order to define which instrument is forbidden by the Torah to use. The Gemara explains that when the Torah forbade destroying and shaving one's beard, the Torah was referring to a razor which achieves both of these functions, and not to other instruments which are categorically permissible. It follows that even if one manipulates scissors to enable it to achieve השחתה, it is still permitted, since the Torah did not forbid the end result, but forbade the use of a specific instrument to achieve this result. What categorizes an item as scissors, which is permitted, or as a razor, which is forbidden, is the fact that a razor cuts using one blade, whereas scissors use two blades to cut.

Based on this thesis, Rav Moshe permitted the use of shavers since they function as scissors, utilizing two blades to cut. The inner blade does not cut by itself, and must be assisted by the outer screen of the shaver. The screen traps a hair within it, and as the inner blade approaches it, the hair rubs along the side of the screen and they both cut the hair simultaneously.28

Although this was Rav Moshe’s primary heter to permit the use of shavers, he had an additional approach that followed a similar line of reasoning. He maintained that the only type of instrument that is prohibited, is one that most people use when they wish to achieve a close shave; all other instruments are permitted. Since most non-Jews use razors when they desire a close shave, all other instruments are therefore permitted. However, if for arguments sake, the general custom would change and people would only use shavers even if they desired a very close cut, razors would be permitted and shavers would be forbidden.29

Footnote 28: Thus I heard in the form of "reliable testimony" (עדות נאמנה) from Rav Belsky, Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Reuven Feinstein

Footnote 29: Thus I head from Rav Reuven Feinstein

Later, with regard to lift-and-cut:

It is important to mention that Rav Moshe Feinstein was very skeptical about permitting the use of a lift and cut shaver when it was first shown to him in his later years. One should bear in mind that the widespread heter to use electric shavers is primarily because Rav Moshe, being the posek hador of the past generation, permitted their use. Most poskim in Eretz Yisroel on the other hand, forbade their use. Consequently, it is questionable how a person who relies on Rav Moshe’s shitah with regard to shaving, can go ahead and use a lift and cut shaver which Rav Moshe himself was skeptical about.31

Footnote 31: This is what I heard from Rav Belsky, Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Reuven Feinstein. See Halichot Shelomo page 11 who gives another rationale to permit shaving...

The site says that it is put out by Halacha Berurah and lists authors at the top of the page.

It would seem that there is no written heter in Igrot Moshe for shaving. However, despite this, Rav Moshe's (and Rav Heinkin's) position on this seems to be pretty well known (the author quotes two of his sons directly).

Also see this page under the heading UPDATE: FEBRUARY 2011 / ADAR I 5771 where the author provides what he claims to be up to date psakim by Rav Dovid Feinstein, Rav Belski and Rav Heineman.

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I have seen this website. To me it is the biggest proof that there is not written heter from any of the major Achronim because if there was, they would quote it. Isn't it strange that the majority of the Torah world performs an action daily which is an issur deoraisa according to dozens of major poskim and bases it on a heter that was given baal peh by Reb Moshe, against the written issur of so many Achronim and poskim? This is in stark contrast to so many other issues where the Haredi world will work very hard to fulfill a halacha according to every possible opinion even if it is derabanan. –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 12:28
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No, not super strange. A heter doesn't have to be written down in order to be valid. One can even say that even if there was a heter written, it doesn't mean that you can follow it, since you can say that any specific heter would only apply to the person/situation to whom it was given. Personally, if two of Rav Moshe's sons quote the halacha in his name in this way, then it is trustworthy. There is nothing inherently bad about a word of mouth psak (after all, isn't that a modern day form ofתורה שבעל פה?). –  Yaakov Ellis May 18 '11 at 12:34
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There is one factor missing here: The impetus for Rav Moshe (re)defining the gemara was the minhag in Europe of many b'nei Torah to use instruments that performed "shaving and destruction" of the hair (from a piece I possess written by a talmid of R' Dovid Feinstein and, according to the author, given a thumbs up by R' Dovid). –  YDK May 18 '11 at 14:39
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On a separate note, the Chofetz Chaim bachurim are clean shaven based on the practices in Slabodka and by encouragement of the founding Rosh haYeshiva, but they used a powder (now available in ready-to-use cream). The previous Rosh haYeshiva (hoRav H. Leibowitz) never supported shaving with an electric shaver of any kind, but never spoke against it either. –  YDK May 18 '11 at 14:41
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Aaron, the European bachurim were not using a taar, but a misparayim k'ein taar. I don't recall exactly what, but I will try to dig it up later. Klal Yisrael being the biggest posek of all, led Rav Moshe to pasken that the gemara was davka taar and not any instrument of giluach and hashchasa. The svara of why that was true was secondary. –  YDK May 18 '11 at 17:27

Going back to the KosherShavers page, footnote 23 ( http://www.koshershaver.org/why.htm#_ftn23) makes it clear that R. Henkin has a written tshuva on the matter: כתבי הגר"י הענקין ח"ב דף רמ"ד בענין גדילת הזקן

(And R. Henkin was the major posek in the US during his lifetime -- only after he passed away did R. Moshe take on that role. So that should satisfy any calligraphic fetish.)

It's also worth pointing out the recently published letter of R. Menachem Mendel Kasher (in Hakira, http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%2010%20Shapiro.pdf). His perspective on the appropriate hashkafic approach one should have when one sees behavior which he doesn't think accords with the halacha is, perhaps, quite relevant -- and the context is also shaving (albeit on chol hamoed)

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This sounds interesting. Does anyone know if this Teshuvah is available online? –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 15:54
    
The letter from Rav Kasher is fascinating. It is interesting to note that he makes it clear that whenever we speak of shaving the beard being permitted, it is referring to trimming with scissors and then using depilatory cream. Of course that was probably before the advent of the electric razor, but it gives an interesting perspective because today some read the word "giluach" in halachic literature with a shaving machine in mind. –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 15:59

Rabbi Herschel Welcher was quick to point out that some claim the Chofetz Chaim prohibited a "shaving machine." The Chafetz Chaim (about 100 years ago) had been discussing a German-made device that took a razor blade and rotated it at high speed. If you start with a razor-sharp blade, then it's prohibited.

The "shaving machines" that we talk about today aren't sharp enough at zero rpm to easily cut a hair; Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and others ruled that therefore they're not subject to the prohibition on "razors", nor on "razor-like scissors."

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You have made an interesting argument for why to permit shaving with a machine, but you have not addressed my question. You may want to read it again. –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 14:25
    
Aaron, first, make sure you're reading the Achronim carefully, to determine who is prohibiting exactly what. In addition, Rabbi Welcher observed that most Israeli poskim saw no need for shaving (it's a culture where beards are fine), so were disinclined towards allowing it; on the other hand, it can be hard to find a shabbos goy in Israel, so there's more consideration of grama light-switches there. American poskim, with a steady hand on the pulse of their community, are lenient on shavers but strict on grama switches. –  Shalom May 18 '11 at 14:49
    
Where is the written Teshuvah from said American Poskim? Shouldn't such an important issue be dealt with in the classic, systematic Halachic way which is for a Rav to write a Teshuvah that raises all of the issues and then argues why it is permitted, rather than just spread a heter by word of mouth? –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 15:32
    
Shalom, to the body of your argument, why then is it so common among Israeli haredim? Are they too relying on the verbal heter of American Poskim against the written psak of pretty much all of the Poskim in Israel and elswhere? What is their justification to do so? –  Aaron Shaffier May 18 '11 at 15:34

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