Does A Jew Need To Earn His Beard?

I was taken aback a few years ago when I had a beard when an old woman told me I had to earn the right to have a beard and I clearly had not.

I thought it was clearly the Jewish ideal for a man to have a beard.

In his first lecture on the Steipler for Torah in Motion, professor Marc B. Shapiro says: “Novardok [yeshiva] students wore beards.”

“If you’ve seen pictures of the great yeshivas in Europe, none of them wore black and none of them had beards. The rosh yeshivas wore beards. The bocherim (students) were not supposed to wear beards. It was haughtiness. Who heard of a 20-year old who doesn’t know anything wearing a beard? Maybe when you know 25 masechtas and you’ve been in yeshiva for 20 years.”

“This has changed in America. I was in Lakewood in six years ago. A good three-quarters did not have beards. It is disputed, but Rav Ahron Kotler did not believe that you could use shavers.”

“Maybe some women did not want a guy with a beard?”

“If you wanted to grow a beard [in a yeshiva traditionally], you had to get permission from the rosh yeshiva to grow a beard.”

“Black [clothes] only becomes yeshivish in the 1970s as a result of Hasidic influence. Until then it was, who do you think you are to wear black? It became rabbinic garb to wear black, even in the religious Zionist world.”

“Black means modesty but you [traditionally] needed a reason to be modest [so ostentatiously]. The yeshiva world today does not wear black for modesty. They wear it because it is their uniform.”

“People complain that YU is so frum today because a lot of the guys wear the uniform. Penguins, they call it. Black and white with a hat. They just want that yeshivish mode. In Israel, they would never dress that way because black means haredi.”

“In Lithuania, they did not put their tzitzit out.”

“In the Sephardic world, of course you don’t wear the tzitzit out. The Ari ruled that you wear tzitzit in.”

“In Morocco, no one wore tzitzit out.”

“R. Ovadiah Yosef has a long responsa that you should keep it in.”

“No one has done a history, a sociology, of the American yeshivas the way I would do it. We have Samuel Heilman. William B. Helmreich. I’m not interested in the things they’re interested in.

“I’m interested in when did the black clothing coming in. When did they start wearing tzitzit out?”

The Steipler is the only gadol who was in a non-Jewish army.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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