Noon. Thursday. Jan. 31. 2008.
I’m at the Robertson branch of the Los Angeles Public Library leafing through the February issue of Commentary magazine.
It’s been a few days since I’ve shaved.
I stop at an article on the role of the beard in Judaism by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. I read it all the way through. I decide to not shave again.
The clean-shaven Rabbi Soloveichik says the beard plays an important role in Judaism. It’s been the way of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Growing a beard is a rejection of Egypt, where men would obsessively shave to look young. Judaism wants you to look your age. Judaism wants you to accept who you are. Judaism wants men to look like men and women to look like women. A beard distinguishes a man from a boy.
For the past 14 years, I’ve been using Grecian Formula to try to hide the growing amounts of grey in my hair. Now I decide to stop fighting my age and to embrace it.
I walk down Robertson Blvd to the Milk N’ Honey restaurant for lunch at 12:30 with conservative comic Evan Sayet.
We get into a conversation with a man (actor-singer Rick Moses) sitting next to us who sports a long white beard. I dig the beard. I want one like that for myself.
Two weeks later, I show up to LimmudLA and land on the cover of the Jewish Journal.
At LimmudLA, several people ask me if I’m planning to grow a beard. I say yes.
I like the idea of making a dramatic demarcation between the time I wrote regularly on the porn industry (1995-2007) and the new era, the era of redemption, where I mainly write about Judaism.
I figure a beard is a dramatic way to say I’ve changed. I’m more Torah observant.
That I am not more Torah observant does not bother me. Aside from no longer making it my profession to interview porn stars all day, my religious observance is about the same, even slipping somewhat because I no longer have the visceral need for religion that I felt while swimming in the cesspool. Also, I don’t have as much spare time as I once did. My Torah study is no longer subsidized by the lucrative business of writing about sluts.
As my beard grows, I notice traditional Orthodox Jews treating me with more respect while the clean-shaven Modern Orthodox tend to actively resent my beard. They feel that I am putting on airs. They feel compelled to tell me that the Torah does not mandate beards for men.
I know the Torah does not mandate beards for men but a beard is clearly the Torah’s preference for men. There are two laws against beard removal in the written Torah (Pentateuch). It’s clearly been the way of our people for thousands of years.
A few months into my beard, a friend tells me that the cleaning women at shul want to know why the rabbi — they think that’s me! — never goes up front to talk.
I notice homeless people calling me rabbi.
I like this.
I like dramatic statements. I’m an adrenalin junkie.
And I like to be noticed.
I like change. I like to say — I’m a new man!
Every girl who’s given me an opinion on the beard has said she doesn’t like it, but I had 42 years without a beard and they were not always awash in beautiful women, so, frankly, I’m not sure it hurts me that much (I’m as popular with the opposite sex today as I have ever been), and now that the beard is really long, I think it makes me more interesting. Also, it gives me more respect in the Orthodox world. It gives me street cred. Nobody questions my commitment to Judaism, to Torah, to observance, anymore. My beard intimidates people. It makes me seem fierce.
I dig that!
May 22, 2008:
Feb. 9, 2010:
From the summer of 1995, B-roll for my tentative documentary on what women want: