Tuesday, December 8, 2015

About beards....

Reader question:

I was wondering if we still have to keep the Law in Leviticus about leaving a beard and to not round the corners of the beard. I believe God said this because he knew the pagans practiced these facial cuttings of their beard. God's people are NOT to do anything like the pagans do. Thank you and keep telling the Truth to all! God Bless you in Yeshua's Name. Also, a friend told me his wife hates full beards and was wondering if he could just cut his into a goatee.

Our Response....

Author and Aramaic scholar Andrew Gabriel Roth responds:

There are a few issues to look at here. First and foremost, we have the main argument that ALLOWS men to shave: Genesis 41:14 - Shows context: So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When HE had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Now, who is writing this narrative other than Moshe? Notice there is no rebuke for Joseph ("he") shaving.

There is no indication that he was forced to either. I have read some very shoddy scholarship that suggested the Egyptians did not allow beards, but this is totally WRONG from evidence in their writings and on their tomb walls. Joseph would not have been required to shave against his will to meet pharaoh! As for Vayikra, look at this: Leviticus 21: 5 "'Priests must not shave their heads or shave off the edges of their beards or cut their bodies. 6 They must be holy to their Elohim and must not profane the name of their Elohim. Because they present the offerings made to YHWH by fire, the food of their Elohim, they are to be holy. 7 "'They must not marry women defiled by prostitution or divorced from their husbands, because priests are holy to their Elohim 8 Regard them as holy, because they offer up the food of your Elohim.

This instruction applies to cohenim (priests); not all of Israel, and Joseph was not a cohen. There are many requirements in Torah that apply to small groups only - such as the Nazirite vow and not to the rest of the nation. Other shaving rules apply to matters of cleanliness, against skin disease, when ending a period of uncleanness, and so on. Here is the clarifying passage in Devarim:

Deuteronomy 14: 1 You are the children of YHWH your Elohim. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to YHWH your Elohim. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, YHWH has chosen you to be his treasured possession. See, this is NOT a prohibition against just shaving. This is a prohibition against shaving as part of a tatooing procedure for a pagan death ritual.

Now let's look at Leviticus 19:26-29:

26 "'Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it. "'Do not practice divination or sorcery. 27 "'Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. 28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am YHWH. 29 "'Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness. See, the way the Hebrew reads, the WAW conjunction ("and") means BOTH conditions must be true and there is a conjunction between 27 and 28. So the commandment really is don't cut your beard WHILE doing this for the dead. Let's see it again:

Deuteronomy 14: 1 You are the children of the Lord your God. Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead, 2 for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.

See, this is the clearer reading, and it actually also interprets the Leviticus one.

When you put this together with Devarim 14, it becomes clear that the shaving and the pagan ritual are a continual process together. The Hebrew reads to most scholars as linking the two, not separate and unrelated prohibitions. In fact, the Jewish Publication Society 1917 and 1955 readings of this verse affirm that understanding, talking about "do not shave....EVEN as you...WHILE you...". In any case, this is my understanding, that a NON LEVITE member of Israel can shave. There are also medical exemptions that require shaving as well. I would rather though stand on what I began with, that if Moshe had a problem with shaving he would have mentioned it in connection with Joseph.

It is clear that everyone who is a KOHENIM must have a beard. For other "leaders" it is kind of optional but there is a traditional trending to beards.

But for 99.9 percent of men, Torah is actually neutral on the matter. The two key parts to understanding this are that Moses himself says that Joseph shaved before Pharaoh and doesn't criticize it. Joseph, I must emphasize, was NOT forced to shave or pressure to shave. Egyptian culture had no problem with either slaves or nobility appearing before pharaohs with beards.

We have tomb walls that prove that much and pharaohs themselves both were clean shaven and had beards, fake beards, and wigs. So if Joseph had no pressure to shave, and Moses himself doesn't criticize Joseph for shaving (quite the opposite) it is only logical to conclude that non-kohenim could keep their facial hair any way they wanted to or want to. I myself am clean shaven.

On the other hand, the commandment to not mar the corners of the beard is grossly misinterpreted. This becomes a SYAG or "fence" that basically says to play it safe it is NEVER problematic to have a beard, UNLESS you are completing a Nazirite vow or in some cases of skin infection or even in the case of mourning.

But, if someone disagrees with me, and thinks there is a general prohibition against cutting the CORNERS of the beard, then by that definition, a man can NOT have a goatee....

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