Question: Lately I’ve seen some young men who, though they wear a yarmulke, have ponytails or long unruly hair. I’ve even seen some ear piercings. Somehow I find this behavior to be incongruous. My real problem is that my own nephew and a few of his friends wear their hair in this manner. Even though his parents look upon it as a passing fad, I am at a loss to understand such behavior. Luckily, whether right or wrong, I’ve held my tongue. I wonder what the proper positive action to take is in this matter.
No Name Please
Answer: I understand that you are a truly caring person and have held your tongue despite personal agitation. Hopefully as we delve into this matter we will come to a better understanding and help formulate a proper response.
Parshat Acharei Mot includes the verse (Leviticus 18:3), “Kma’aseh eretz mitzrayim…u’chema’aseh eretz cana’an…lo ta’asu u’bechukoteihem lo telechu – Like the practice of the land of Egypt…and of the land of Canaan…you shall not do, and in their ways you shall not walk [go].” Rashi (ad loc.) at first seems to limit the prohibition to practices found in these two most corrupt lands, but then adds that “in their ways” refers to going to theaters and stadiums, which would apply to all lands. Rashi refers to the Gemara (Shabbos 67a and Jerusalem Talmud Shabbos 6:9) where our sages mention various behaviors as being “darkei ha’amori – the ways of the Amorites,” one of the nations inhabiting the land of Canaan,” and thus forbidden. These behaviors – such as carrying a fox’s tooth or similar arbitrary amulet (either for idolatry or superstition) – were not exclusive to the Amorites and were practiced widely. Indeed, even some people today practice them.
Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim 11:1) explains based on the above biblical verse that we are not to appear like them in dress, hair and similar matters. He allows one who mingles with the secular authorities (11:3) to dress as necessary. The Mechaber (Yoreh Deah 179:1-2) rules accordingly. Rema (ad loc. 179:2) notes that the obligation not to copy idolators (which today essentially means gentile society) applies only when a practice is done for pritzut (licentiousness) or superstition; other practices (other than those forbidden elsewhere in the Torah) would be allowed. It seems we are not required to be different from society in general, rather we are to avoid pagan and heathen behavior whose roots may be in animist or idol worship.
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Now let us turn to the matter of hair and what might be considered darkei Amori. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 83a) cites a baraita about having one’s hair cut in a komi style. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “ha’mesaper komi,” “mi’darkei ha’amori”) offers two views as to what constitutes the forbidden style of komi. One view is that the hair is cut in front, leaving a beloriyoth – a specific pattern of hair growth (as we will explain further) behind it, or, according to Teshuvat Geonim, having it done in the style of the Romans, which is to shave the hair above the ears (leaving locks of hair around the head like a crown).
The Gemara there notes that Abtulmus b. Reuven was nevertheless permitted to go with his hair cut in this manner because of his need to mingle with those in authority. Since this prohibition to grow a beloriyoth is not explicitly stated in the Torah – rather the Sages sought to prohibit any practice that appears to mimic the ways of heathens – it is not in effect in cases where there is a communal need; thus someone who is advocating for the needs of the community may have a beloriyoth.