Torah, Beards, and Hair Length

In Leviticus 19:23, Yahweh says not to shave the sides of our heads, nor to disfigure the edges of our beards.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 19:23 (NKJV)
27 “You shall not shave around the sides of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges of your beard.”

Some believe this means we should never cut our hair or beards (but always to let them grow long). However, this interpretation is problematic because of two other commands. The first is Ezekiel 44:20, in which Yahweh says that in the millennial temple, the priests and Levites are to keep their hair well trimmed.

Yehezqel (Ezekiel) 44:20
20 “They shall neither shave their heads, nor let their hair grow long, but they shall keep their hair well trimmed.”

Logically, if Leviticus 19:23 means never to cut our hair, then Yahweh is contradicting Himself by commanding the priests to trim their hair in Ezekiel 44:20. Since we know Yahweh does not contradict Himself, we know that Leviticus 19:23 cannot mean Israelite males are never to cut their hair or beards.

A second witness is seen in the Nazirite vow of Numbers chapter 6, in which a Nazirite (separated one) can take an additional (voluntary) vow not to cut his hair.

Bemidbar (Numbers) 6:5
5 “All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to Yahweh, he shall be set-apart. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow.”

The issue is that if Israelite males are already told never to cut their hair in Leviticus 19:23, then it is redundant to tell the Nazirite not to cut his hair or beard as part of a voluntary vow (and Yahweh is not going to repeat Himself unnecessarily, or command redundant things). This gives us a second witness that Leviticus 19:23 does not mean the average Israelite male is not to cut his hair.

So what does Leviticus 19:23 mean? Let us look at it in context.

Vayiqra (Leviticus) 19:26-29
26 “You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor shall you practice divination or soothsaying.
27 You shall not shave around the sides (פְּאַ֖ת) of your head, nor shall you disfigure the edges (פְּאַ֥ת) of your beard.
28 You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am Yahweh.
29 ‘Do not prostitute your daughter, to cause her to be a harlot, lest the land fall into harlotry, and the land become full of wickedness.”

In Hebrew, the sides of the head and the edges of the beard are both called the pe’ot (פְּאַת). This word is plural for pe’ah (referring to the mouth).

OT:6285 pe’ah (pay-aw’); feminine of OT:6311; properly, mouth in a figurative sense, i.e. direction, region, extremity:
KJV – corner, end, quarter, side.

There are many different interpretations, but this is why some Orthodox Jews do not cut their side curls, while they keep the rest of their hair well trimmed (in keeping with Ezekiel 44:20).

Others believe what Yahweh wants is that we not shave the sides of our heads, or grow goatees. Both goatees and shaving the side of the head were common practice in ancient Egypt, and may also have been common in ancient Canaan. If so, then Yahweh’s meaning may be that we not look or behave anything like the pagans of ancient Egypt, or the ancient land of Canaan.

Ramses II Egypt picture

 

This post is also available in: Spanish Indonesian