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How did our Sages come up with the halacha (or rather idea) that using scissors (or appliances that do not cut the root like most electric shavers) does not constitute 'destroying the corner of the beard'?

Leviticus 19:27 states, "You shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard."

I agree with many things in the Oral Torah and with ideas conceived by Chazal but certainly with not all of them. That one idea seems perplexing to me. Maybe some things were simply lost in the English translation of the original Biblical Hebrew which makes it somewhat questionable how one could come up with the idea that getting a close to hairless jaw (safe some stubbles that can't be removed with scissors effectively) is not 'destroying' the beard.

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    As RSRH explained, the written Torah is the index card and the Oral Torah is the speech,the written Torah tells us the key components and the Oral Law tells us the details – sam Jul 8 at 22:46
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    Did you see Leviticus 21:5? "corners of the beard can't be shaven" why would you think scissors is included in "shaven"? – Double AA Jul 8 at 23:08
  • @Double AA: doesn't Vayikrah 21:5 specifically talk about étiquettes for the Kohen while 19:27 adresses the general Klal Yisrael? It is interesting to note that apparently both passages use different words. 21:5 uses 'shave', 19:27 uses 'destroy' – Ilja Jul 9 at 0:05
  • Also, as a personal suggestion: maybe it has mystical reasons. There might be a difference when the root is left intact as opposed to 'destroyed' but then again, isn't the root of the beard hair inside the epidermis and thus not really destroyed even if one uses a razor blade? And what about the second part of my question regarding the 'side-growth? :p – Ilja Jul 9 at 0:10
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You ascertained:
How did our Sages come up with the halacha (or rather idea) that using scissors (or appliances that do not cut the root like most electric shavers) does not constitute 'destroying the corner of the beard'?

And you said the source was:
Leviticus 19:27 states, "You shall not round off the side-growth on your head, or destroy the side-growth of your beard."

And that's the answer. Look carefully: the Torah uses different language for the sideburns than for the beard.

By analyzing the language difference carefully, the Sages of the Talmud figured out that razors and scissors are forbidden for the sideburns and only razors for the beard.

For the source see the Talmud in Makos 21.

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TL;DR: It would seem to depend on whether one is of the opinion that gilu’ach ("shaving") & hashchasah ("destroying the hair") are prohibited regardless of the device used (ie scissors would be forbidden)
OR whether one is of the opinion gilu’ach & hashchasah ONLY applies to a razor (ie scissors would be permitted).


There's a great OUKosher article titled "May electric shavers be used to shave one’s beard?" which addresses your question, by first understanding the nature of the prohibition:

a) Shavers/ scissors are PROHIBITED

There are many Gedolei HaPoskim, past and present, who have declared that shavers are prohibited in the same manner as razors [this article says the Chofetz Chaim was of this opinion]. The reason for this view is that the Torah does not prohibit a particular shaving device, but rather prohibits the act of shaving ("gilu’ach") and destroying the hair ("hashchasah").

b) Shavers/ scissors are ALLOWED

The other view amongst the Poskim maintains that only the gilu’ach and hashchasah of a razor is prohibited by the Torah. They understand that Chazal identified the razor as the only tool to which the prohibition applies. According to this view, there is a fundamental difference between a razor and scissors in the way the hair is cut. A razor cuts the hair directly, due to the sharpness of the blade. Scissors operate in an entirely different manner, squeezing the hair between two opposing blades. The hair is cut by virtue of the pressure applied to it, and not due to the sharpness of the blade. Consequently, the Poskim who allow the use of shavers maintain that scissors may be used, even if the resulting trim is exactly the same as that of a razor (misparayim k’ein ta’ar). Most (mechanical) shavers consist of a set of tiny opposing blades or surfaces that cut the hair in the manner of scissors. According to this second viewpoint, nearly all shavers are permissible under the rule of misparayim k’ein ta’ar.”

Practically speaking

The article concludes by noting that the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 181:10 rules like the second view (ie that that scissors are allowed) and also cites the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, who also differentiated between the cutting action of scissors and that of a razor, thus permitting the use of most electric shavers.

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