Latest update: May 19th, 2013
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.
The same baraita also notes that members of the house of Rabban Gamliel were permitted to sit with the authorities and discuss Greek philosophy. Thus cutting one’s hair in a heathen manner (possibly dressing like them too) and participating in philosophical discussions were allowed, not only to avoid censure, but also to promote the success of their endeavors. (It is also possibly allowed for personal endeavors such as attaining a parnassa since this personal endeavor is an indirect public good inasmuch as it relieves a burden from the communal chest.)
The exact definition of a beloriyoth depends on a dispute among halachic authorities in the explanation of the Mishnah in Avodah Zara 8a. The Mishnah states that the day a heathen cuts his beloriyoth was considered to be a festival for his idolatry. Rashi (s.v. “beloriyoth”) explains that the heathens would, on a regular basis, shave their hair in the front but leave hair in the back. However, once a year they would shave off the hair in the back as well and on that day they would hold a celebration to their gods. The hair in the back was called the beloriyoth. Rashi in Bava Kamma, as we noted above (83a s.v. “midarchei amori”) also mentions the opinion held by Teshuvat Geonim that heathens would shave the hair above their ears. Thus, according to Rashi, it would seem that this prohibition does not refer to growing long hair in the front of the head since this was clearly not the specified practice.
Rambam’s opinion (Hilchos Avodah Zara 11:1) remains a matter of dispute. Some authorities (Beth Yosef, ibid.) maintain that Rambam only forbids shaving the entire head except for the hair in the middle of the crown of the head, or shaving the hair in front and leaving hair in back. There is no prohibition, however, against allowing the hair in front to grow.
The Pri Chadash (Kuntres Mayim Chayyim on Rambam, Hilchos Avodah Zara 11) maintains that according to Rambam, heathens wore their hair long, loose on top and braided underneath, and wearing such a hairstyle would be considered following the ways of the Amorites, and is forbidden. Others (Bach Y.D. 178; Machatzis HaShekel, Orach Chayyim 27) maintain that according to Rambam, someone who grows long bangs or forelocks also transgresses this prohibition.
Some would wish to interpret from the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayyim 27:15) that he is of the same view. Yet, he mentions hair on the forehead only when discussing whether hair is considered a chatzitzah, an interposition between the tefillin shel rosh and the forehead in placement of the tefillin.
We find that the gaon Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (Divrei Chamudot to Rosh, Halachot Ketanot, Hilchot Tefillin, found in our Vilna Shas at the end of Menachot), in the course of his discussion of this matter cites a contrary view found in Teshuvot Rashba. Rashba states that there is a view that a hat or head covering (and surely one’s own hair) might not necessarily constitute a chatzitzah under the tefillin shel rosh. He also cites the Jerusalem Talmud saying that we should see what the preponderance of people do (compare B.T. Berachot 45a). Thus, according to this view, one’s own hair would not constitute a chatzitzah, seemingly causing no problems with growing the front of one’s hair. Today we do see that to have some hair in the front is common practice.
(To be continued)
About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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