Question: Lately I have seen some young men who though they wear a yarmulke have ponytails or other 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 is the proper positive action in this matter.
No Name Please
Synopsis: Parashat Acharei Mot includes (Leviticus 18:3), “K’ma’aseh eretz mitzrayim… u’che’ma’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, applying to all lands. Rashi refers to the gemara (Shabbos 67a and Jerusalem Talmud Shabbos 6:9) where our sages explain “darkei ha’amori – the ways of the Amorites” including carrying a fox’s tooth or similar amulet [either as idolatry or superstition] as not exclusive to the Amorites. Rambam (Hilchot Avodat Kochavim Chap.11: 1) explains 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 the idolaters (today – the gentile society) applies when a practice is done for pritzut – licentiousness or superstition, and other practices (other than those forbidden elsewhere in the Torah) are allowed. We are not required to be different in general, rather we are to avoid pagan and heathen behavior.
One’s hairstyle may not be darkei Amori. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 83a) cites a baraita about having one’s hair cut in a komi style, which Rashi explains as leaving a beloriyoth – a specific pattern of hair growth which leaves hair either only in the back or on the crown of the head. This hairstyle is associated with idol worship (see the Mishna Avoda Zara 8a). Rambam’s opinion (Hilchos Avoda Zara 11:1) is debated: Some say he did not interpret growing bangs or forelocks as a transgression, while others (Bach Y.D. 178; Machatzis HaShekel, Orach Chayyim 27) maintain that he did.
Some people interpret Mishna Berura (Orach Chayyim 27: sk15) as disallowing forelocks, yet he only discusses hair as a potential chatzitza – an interposition between the tefillin shel rosh and the forehead. Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (Divrei Chamudot, found in Vilna Shas at the end of tractate Menachot) cites Rashba’s view that a head covering [and surely one’s own hair] is not necessarily a chatzitza under tefillin. Rashba also cites the Jerusalem Talmud saying that we see what the preponderance of people do (compare B.T. Berachot 45a). Today we do see that to have some hair in the front is common practice even under tefillin.
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Interestingly, we may violate the prohibition of darkei ha’amori – following in their ways – without realizing it. An interesting example is the use of birthday cakes with candles, as pointed out to me by my copy editor, Mrs. Bracha Holczer. According to sources that she found, this centerpiece of many birthday parties is grounded in ancient Roman and Greek culture.