Monthly Archives: March 2009

Lubavitch bochurim meeting R’Moshe Feinstein

See here for more photos

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein


(Source: the Michtavim Blog )

Is Long Hair a Problem for Tefillin?

This was a question that I sent through to Kollel Eretz Chemda . Below is the response they sent me. It can also be found posted on their website . In short (the way I understand it), no afros but anything less than that is probably ok.

Question: I have heard that there is an issue with long hair being a chatzitza (problematic separation) with regard to tefillin shel rosh. What is the halachic cut off point?

Answer: Some poskim say that long hair is a chatzitza for tefillin. However, regarding most cases of long hair, these opinions are difficult, and the length is not the main issue, as we will see.

One puts the tefillin shel rosh where the hair grows (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 27:9). As one is not required to shave his head frequently, hair could not possibly be a chatzitza regarding tefillin. Why not? The gemara (Zevachim 19a) discusses whether hair from the head that hangs down between the kohen’s clothes and his body is a chatzitza and does not resolve the question. On this backdrop, the Machatzit Hashekel (27:4, cited by the Mishna Berura 27:15) says that a blorit (probably, a clump of hair in the front of the head) is a chatzitza for tefillin. He says that, for a blorit, one cannot apply the rule that anything that exists normally (r’vitayhu) is not a chatzitza because it is “abnormally big.” Presumably, if the hair whose roots are in the tefillin’s location are combed down neatly to one’s waist, it would not be a problem because the part of the hair that the tefillin is on is the same as it would be if he cut the long part. The problem would be only if at the point where the tefillin sit there was noticeably more hair than expected. If one wanted to be strict, a relatively conservative side part could be more of a problem than long hair with a middle part (see the Aruch Hashulchan, OC 27:14). We have not heard people being careful about the former.

Igrot Moshe (OC IV, 40.18) goes further, saying that transplanted hair is not a chatzitza, since it cannot be removed from the head without cutting (unlike a toupee) and the person wants it to be there. Rav O. Yosef (Yechave Da’at II, 2) points out that mourners have to grow their hair at least for thirty days and some do so for twelve months, yet the poskim do not warn about tefillin. He also points out that there is a double doubt pointing that hair is not a problem of chatzitza, as the Rashba (Shut III, 282) also suggests that chatzitza is a problem for tefillin shel yad but not shel rosh.

There are two areas in which some poskim’s concerns raise serious questions of chatzitza specifically for people who, by our standards, have long hair. One is that on the sides of the head where the straps of the shel rosh hold down the tefillin, there could be several layers of hair, much of which would not be there at all if his hair was of normal length. Be aware that, on one hand, the Rama (OC 27:4) says that chatzitza applies only to the boxes of the tefillin, not the straps. On the other hand, the Mishna Berura (27:16) says in the name of “the Acharonim” that one should not be lenient in regard to the part of the straps that are used to fasten the tefillin to the body. Another issue is raised by the Mishna Berura (27:15). He says that, in addition to problems of chatzitza, a lot of hair can prevent the tefillin from being secured in the right place. Apparently, he means that the tefillin are supposed to be on the head, which may be accomplished even if there is hair in between. It is not supposed to be sitting on a clump of hair, which happens to be supported by the head (see Shulchan Aruch ibid.:5 who distinguishes between a thick and a thin hat). Sometimes, especially regarding those with curly long hair, the tefillin don’t seem to be resting on the head to any significant degree.
In summary, in all but the most extreme cases presented above, there is ample reason to say that long hair does not prevent the fulfillment of the mitzva of tefillin. We would note that many of the poskim who raised the issue combat the phenomenon of long hair for males (primarily?) based on other halachic, social, and philosophical elements (see Bemareh Habazak V, 25).

For additional sources and reference material see the links on this site .

Removing the Beard, some further sources

This is continuation of the "Electric Shaver" series (see the archives under the "Halacha Posts" section on the right hand column). I came across some very interesting sources in the book Women and Mitzvot vol 2  by Rabbi Getsell Ellinson (Pg 234 – 235), the page available online here :

 Hiddushe Ha-Ritva, Makkot 21a:

The Rabbis taught, "When the Torah forbade shaving the beard… it meant with a razor." Legally, as long as scissors are used, even razor-like ones, it is permissible. Still, to refrain from doing so, and thereby to avoid arousign suspicions of wrongdoing, is a pious act, and such is the worthy course of action.

Responsa, Hattam Sofer, Orah Hayyim, 149

Regarding opposition to shaving, I do not understand what all the uproar is about. Let us consider for a moment. Shaving cannot be called a non-jewish practice… for this point appears neither in the Talmud or the Poskim. In fact, there is not historical evidence that in ancient times, Jew and non-Jew were distinguished by whether they shaved, for all the nations used to grow beards.

As for the Cabalists who said that one should not “lay a hand” on ones beard at all, I am no expert on Cabalistic literature, but they and their legions throughout Italy seem to have dispensed with this stricture entirely. All the Cabalists there are clean-shaven, and they rely for precedent upon the Great Tree, Father of the Cabalists, Rabbi Menachem Azariah, who was clean-shaven as well.

Our ancestors were compelled during the persecutions of 1096 to conduct themselves the same way. The rabbis allowed Jews taking long trips to alter their dress and to shave off their beards so that their enemies would not recognize them as Jewish. By then, non-Jews were already shaving off their beards, and these Jews would be greatly ridiculed when returning home. The custom therefore spread of not growing beards at all… While shaving originally violated the prohibition of non-Jewish practices [1], once it became customary among Jews, it no longer involved the least hint of wrongdoing. As for the user of razor-like scissors, that involves an unrealistic fear [2] One who follows the strict view is a saint.

[1]  From his precise wording he appears to hold they we many not taking into account Jewish customs with forbidden origins for the purpose of making permissible those acts forbidden as non-jewish practices. … It should be noted that in the transcription of his responsum in Darkei Teshuva 181:17, a significant error appear. Instead of Ilui (“While”), we find Ulai (“Perhaps”). This is enough of an error to make Hattam Sofers point unclear. Generally one should not rely upon abridged quotations, but should examine the original.

[2]  That one of the blades will press against the skin by itself, making it like a razor. Some, however to regard very sharp scissors with suspicion. See Responsa Terumat ha-desheh 295; Darkei Moshe, Yoreh Deah 181:5 Rema ad loc 181:10

My Commentary:

The above response of the Chatam Sofer is very surprising to me. If there is anyone I would have imagined who would have been “pro-beard” it would have been the father of the mantra “Chadash osur min hatorah”.  Not quite sure what to make of it quite frankly.

Also interesting is his comment (perhaps) that even if something was originally a sin (ie the jews first removing their beards, violating chukkas-hagoyim) once enough people start doing it and it becomes a “minhag” so to speak, the next generation of people who follow it are not committing any sin at all.

Similiar to this point see this drasha by Rav Kook on Sukkot  “The Boethusians and the Willows”

This particular responsa of the Chatam Sofer was also subject to controversy over its claim that Rabbi Menachem Azariah was clean shaven. See the article "Jews. Beards and Portraits " on the Seforim blog for further insight into this issue.