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Is it proper for a man to dye his hair?


Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

The question is not limited to appropriateness but permissibility. There a swathe of halachic discussion on the matter ranging from a Biblical prohibition (thus extremely limited leeway) to a rabbinic prohibition (thus permitted in varying circumstances associated with kovod habriyos).

Generally, someone will change their hair color because they want to improve on their image, or more precisely, have difficulty accepting the aging process. (Interestingly, there’s less of a halachic issue dyeing from dark to white). While that might be more of a natural concern for women (hence makeup, etc.) it is less in keeping with the natural psyche of man and perhaps more related to ego.

When the mishna in Pirkei Avos lists the various milestones one reaches at different stages, what it’s teaching us is that aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.

Worry less about your hair color and embrace those opportunities.

– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet is a popular Lubavitch lecturer and rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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In order to answer this question, one must define the halachic parameters to either permit or forbid this practice.

It would seem that the halachic issue here is whether this practice falls into the realm of “Lo yilbash gever simlat isha,” that a man is forbidden to wear a garment uniquely made for women, which also includes anything which would tend to be something distinctly worn by woman, such as women’s jewelry or makeup or, as in our query, the dyeing of one’s hair.

Hence, if a certain practice has been adopted by both men and women, such as in our generation, ostensibly it should be permitted. As an example, pants are worn today by both men and women, and if not for the issue of tzniut, women should be able to wear pants as well.

Indeed, my barber in Yerushalayim, who cuts the hair of many chareidi people, has told me that he dyes the hair of many of these people, sometimes daily, for the appearance of youth in our times enhances their chances to be successful in business. This reasoning could also be applied to people in the entertainment business. Indeed, the Talmud sites a practice of some men who would dye their beards to look younger.

With that said, there are many Sages of our times who forbid this, citing the inappropriateness of this practice and the fact that it could still be included in the prohibition of wearing something that is uniquely identified as a practice of women.

It is not my intent in this forum to render a psak. I recommend each person who has this dilemma to secure a psak from their own rabbi.

– Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives in Efrat, Israel, and previously served as an elementary and high school principal in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was also the founder and rav of Young Israel of Margate, N.J. His email is [email protected].

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The Torah states that clothes which are clearly identified as men’s clothing should not be worn by a woman, and that it is likewise prohibited for a man to wear clothes that are clearly identified as women’s clothing; “cross-dressing” is thus expressly forbidden (Devarim 22:5). Although the Torah itself does not provide a reason for this prohibition, the commentaries, such as Rashi there, note that it is designed to minimize inappropriate mingling of the sexes and conduct which may promote promiscuity. According to the Gemara in Shabbos (94b) and elsewhere, the prohibition also includes engaging in other activities associated with the standard behavior of members of the opposite sex; a woman may therefore not do things usually done primarily by men, while men may not do things usually done primarily by women. Since women generally are the ones who dye their hair, it is thus expected that men will refrain from doing so.

Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim 12:10) maintains that a man who dyes his hair is committing a Biblical violation, as presented in the aforementioned verse, while others argue that the extension of the Torah’s proscription beyond the realm of clothing is rabbinic in nature. Either way, though, it is clearly considered improper for a man to dye his hair, as we today obviously observe all the rabbinic restrictions as well; the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 182:6) rules accordingly. Nonetheless, however, there is a practical difference between the above two positions as to the origin of this particular prohibition.

What if a man is deeply uncomfortable and distressed about his appearance due to the premature graying of his hair, for example, and is concerned that his condition may have a negative impact upon his ability to get a job or find a suitable spouse? May a man in this situation dye his hair? If we are dealing with something forbidden by the Torah, there is very little “wiggle room” to allow for any leniency. On the other hand, if the injunction is rabbinic in nature, the important concept of “kavod ha-beriyos” – mandating respect for a person’s dignity – comes into play, and the rabbinic restriction may thus be waived due to the extenuating circumstances of the individual’s personal sense of embarrassment (see, for example, R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson’s Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv 1:1:210).

Moreover, there are those who are lenient on other grounds. As pointed out above, the original prohibition in the Torah against donning clothes commonly identified as worn by members of the opposite sex is geared to discourage the improper co-mingling of the sexes; it stands to reason that the rabbinic expansion of the prohibition would be in effect specifically under similar conditions. In our case, however, it is clear that the man who wishes to dye his hair has no interest in imitating women or associating with them promiscuously; he is simply looking to alleviate some personal discomfort and shame.

As a general rule, then, it is not proper for a man to dye his hair, but under certain pressing circumstances, there is some room to be lenient and allow it on a case-by-case basis, as determined by a qualified rabbinic authority.

– Rabbi Michael Taubes has been involved in Jewish education, formal as well as informal, for over 40 years, serving both in the classroom and in various administrative posts. He is presently a Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS and Yeshiva University High School for Boys. In addition, he is the spiritual leader of Congregation Zichron Mordechai in Teaneck, N.J.

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The Rambam, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch all define a man dyeing his hair as a violation of the prohibition for a man to wear a woman’s clothing. This is derived from the Gemara (Makkos 20b, Shabbos 94b), which forbids a man to pull white hairs from his head on these same grounds. According to Rambam (Hilchos Avodah Zarah 12:10), a man who dyes his hair incurs the penalty of lashes, meaning, this is a Torah prohibition. Several leading recent poskim, including Maharsham, R. Moshe Feinstein, and R. Bezalel Stern, discuss whether the prohibition applies if, for example, a non-Jew applies the dye, or if one takes some sort of pill that restores hair color, and they conclude that it remains prohibited, even in cases where there are mitigating factors, like it would be better for business if he had dark hair. One commentator suggests that this prohibition is contingent upon the practice in the general culture, but Maharsham explicitly rejects this approach.

It is clear that the prohibition obtains only when one dyes his hair to achieve the same result as women who dye their hair. If a man wants to look older and to that end dyes his hair white, it is not a violation. Similarly, a man who dyes his hair an outrageous color for Purim or some other shtick would not be in violation of this prohibition, even if such behavior is not too advisable. In general, though, men dying their hair, even with a product called “Just for Men,” is improper. Nevertheless, if one faces extenuating circumstances, he should not hesitate to consult a competent halachic authority.

– Rabbi Elli Fischer is a translator, writer, and historian. He edits Rav Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halakha in English, cofounded HaMapah, a project to quantify and map rabbinic literature, and is a founding editor of Lehrhaus. Follow him @adderabbi on Twitter or listen to his podcast, “Down the Rabbi Hole.”

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