I have heard that the Shadal used a razor to remove his beard, justifying it for himself through the Ibn Ezra's interpretation of Vayikra 19:27 that the prohibition would only be for shaving the beard for the dead. Is this true, and if so, how would this be allowed if there are no authorities that permit this?

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    Is the Shadal not himself an authority capable of ruling?
    – DonielF
    Feb 21, 2020 at 3:42
  • @DonielF judaism.stackexchange.com/q/12646/759 I agree that the "how would this be allowed" part is an unproductive question. If he did it it's because he thought he could.
    – Double AA
    Feb 21, 2020 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


Shadal himself admits to this in a letter to Shlomo Yehuda Rapaport published in Igrot Shadal Volume II p.246:

ואני גם כי אינני מאוהביו כבר קיבלתי פירושו (נגד ההלכה) בפסוק לא תקיפו פאת ראשכם שאינו אלא על מת וקִבלתיו לעצמי למעשה אע"פ שאין אני מורה כן לאחרים כי אין לי עסק בהוראה

As for me, though I am not one of [Ibn Ezra's] friends, I have already accepted his explanation (against the halacha) in the verse [Leviticus 19:27] "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads", that it is only over the dead. And I have accepted it for myself in practice even though I do not rule as such for others since I have no business in ruling.

Here is an image of the relevant portion of the letter:

Image of page of book

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    I'm not familiar with this Ibn Ezra, but is his comment only on rounding the corners of the head or also on destroying the corners of the beard
    – robev
    Feb 21, 2020 at 16:15
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    Wow. +1 What does he mean 'against halacha'? Against accepted halacha, or against what he also believes is true halacha, but for whatever reasoning he feels he can utilize this Ibn Ezra?
    – user6591
    Feb 21, 2020 at 17:15
  • @user6591 see the other answer
    – Double AA
    Apr 21, 2020 at 13:12

In the course of my translating Shadal’s perush on Vayikra, I have given a good deal of thought to this difficult issue. Here are some of my conclusions:

Before criticizing Shadal, it is important to scrutinize the actual words of his letter to Rapoport. Nowhere does he say that he shaves with a razor; nowhere does he admit to violating the normative halakhah in any specific way at all; nowhere does he even claim that Ibn Ezra himself would have advocated shaving with a razor or otherwise violating the halakhah. What Shadal does say is merely that Ibn Ezra’s understanding of the peshat of Lev. 19:27—-that the prohibitions of that verse seem to be connected with mourning practices—-is at variance with the Rabbis’ authoritative interpretation, which does not limit these prohibitions to the mourning context. So far, so good; Ibn Ezra’s exegetical method was in fact to examine the theoretical peshat of the Torah’s legal texts while at the same time accepting the Rabbinic halakhah in practice. But then Shadal goes on to say that he does rely on Ibn Ezra’s understanding of the peshat to justify doing... something. The question is, what?

It is true that all depictions of Shadal show him as beardless (except for his nineteenth-century style sideburns). However, even before the invention of the electric shaver in the twentieth century, the traditional straight razor was not the only means of removing one’s beard. Alternative methods included depilatory creams or powders, which received halakhic approval from some authorities, but not from others. Many Italian Jews from the seventeenth century onward removed their beards by such means, and Shadal himself may well have been one of them. But it is possible that in light of the less than unanimous support for this practice among halakhic authorities, Shadal may have chosen to fall back on what he regarded as the peshat of Lev. 19:27 to justify his beardlessness, at least in his own mind—-after all, he was not removing his beard for mourning purposes. And so perhaps this was all that he meant to “confess” privately to his friend Rabbi Rapoport: not that he invoked the peshat to defend his shaving with a razor (an activity uniformly recognized as halakhically forbidden), but that he invoked the peshat merely to defend removing his beard by other means (an activity that was at least arguably permitted under normative halakhah). Under such a cautious reading of his words, Shadal’s only “sin” would have been to invoke the peshat to begin with, an approach that even he would not normally have followed in interpreting practical halakhah.

Such a reading, it might be argued, is not only cautious but far-fetched. However, the alternative is no less difficult—-to conclude that a traditionalist figure like Shadal rejected a clear rule of halakhah. Given the cryptic and ambiguous nature of Shadal’s statement, the record of his otherwise zealous advocacy of halakhic observance, and the fact that no one, to my knowledge, has ever yet unearthed evidence of any other such personal lapses on his part, it seems only fair to give him the benefit of the doubt (kaf zekhut) and read his statement so as to minimize any fault-finding or controversy.

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    You don't need Ibn Ezra's pshat to remove a beard with creams or scissors. That is allowed according to the gemara. He does write he was doing something against halacha, your interpretation of that is more than far fetched, it's beyond forced. At the end of the day, anyone can continue believing whatever they want to about Shadal. But certainly the most acceptable simplistic reading of his words are that he did use an actual razor. No criticisms or accusations involved. Simply reading his words without fantastical interpretation.
    – user6591
    Apr 21, 2020 at 13:53
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    @user6591 isn't the point of this answer that using powders and scissors is not as obviously permitted as you make it sound? Some people prohibited it apparently and the claim is Shadal used Ibn Ezra as a snif lehakel to rely on the permissive opinions
    – Double AA
    Apr 21, 2020 at 14:42
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    For an opinion disfavoring depilatory methods, see the view of R. Joseph Fiametta (d. 1721) recorded in a responsum of his son-in-law, R. Samson Morpurgo (1681-1740), in Shemesh Tsedakah, Yoreh De’ah 61. It should be noted that Rabbi Morpurgo himself was beardless.
    – Dan Klein
    Apr 21, 2020 at 14:50
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    I'm not alone in suggesting that Shadal's words need not be taken to mean that he used a razor. In a 2003 article in JSIJ, Shadal scholar Shmuel Vargon said, citing Prof. Moshe Ahrend, that it might be assumed, “on the basis of information about his life style and his battle against the Reformers, that he made himself clean-shaven [hitgale’aḥ] in a manner allowed by halakhah, and that he distinguished between hashḥatah and gilu’aḥ.” The problem is, the contrary view has been invoked to declare Shadal unacceptable to an Orthodox audience, rather than "take the good with the bad" as you do.
    – Dan Klein
    Apr 21, 2020 at 15:26
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