The modern Oriental cultivates his Beard as the sign and ornament of manhood: he swears by his Beard, touching it. The sentiment seems to have been the same in Biblical times. According to the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments, all western Semites wore a full, round Beard, evidencing great care. Long beards, as found on later Babylonian and Assyrian sculptures, representing the highest aristocracy, do not, however, seem to have occurred among the Jews. [The elder ("zaḳēn"), probably received his name from his long Beard, as "bene barbatus."]
The frequent assertion that the upper lip was shaved is incorrect. According to II Sam. xix. 24 (Hebr. 25), the mustache ("safam"; A. V. "beard") received regular "trimming" (thus A. V., after the Vulgate; the Hebrew "doing" is as general as inEnglish). Anointing of the Beard seems to be referred to in Ps. cxxxiii. 2 (contrast the neglect of the Beard in I Sam. xxi. 14 as a sign of madness). In II Sam. xx. 9, taking a man by his Beard is, possibly, a sign of special friendship.
To mutilate the Beard of another by cutting or shaving is, consequently, considered a great disgrace, II Sam. x. 4 ("plucking out," Isa. l. 6). Mourners bring a sacrifice by disfiguring themselves in this way: see references to cutting off, in Isa. xv. 2; to clipping, in Jer. xlviii.37; and plucking off, in Ezra ix. 3 (contrast Jer. xli. 5, where shaving is found even in the presence of the Lord, with the prohibition, Lev. xix. 27, xxi. 5). The latter seems to mean specially the corners; i.e., sides, the clipping or shaving of which produces a pointed Beard. In distinction from the settled Semites, the nomadic tribes of the desert wore such a pointed Beard (compare Jer. ix. 25, xxv. 23, xlix. 32). On Egyptian representations, see W. M. Müller, "Asien und Europa," p. 140. The shaving prescribed for lepers seems intended to call public attention to this dreaded disease (Lev. xiv. 9).
The business of the barber (Ezek. v. 1) may, outside of ceremonial shaving, have consisted in trimming and polling.
In Gen. xli. 14, Joseph's shaving does not belong to the Palestinian, but to the Egyptian, custom. The Egyptians of the higher classes shaved the Beard carefully; fashion allowing only sometimes a small tuft under the chin. The long, pointed chin-tuft of the primitive Egyptians (preserved among their Hamitic relatives, the Libyans and the inhabitants of Punt) was kept as an artificial Beard, tied to the chin on state occasions and at religious ceremonies. Of the other nations coming in contact with Israel, the Hittites and the Elamitic nations shaved the Beard completely, as the earliest Babylonians had done (in part?).
- Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, p. 110;
- Nowack, Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie, p. 134;
- W. M. Müller, Asien und Europa, pp. 296 et seq.
That "the adornment of a man's face is his beard" (Shab. 152a) was a favorite saying among the Jews of Palestine in the second century of the common era; two centuries later, the expression "adornment of the face" was current among the Babylonian Jews as a designation for the Beard (B. M. 84a). Intercourse with Greeks and Romans during all this period had evidently not modified Semitic esteem for the Beard: indeed, it had rather the contrary effect; for it led to its consideration as something specifically Jewish (Baruch vi. 31). The Halakah, accordingly, occupied itself in early times with the subject, having reference to the precepts in Lev. xix. 27, xxi. 5. These passages were supposed to contain two prohibitions, the removal of the side-locks ("pe'ot") and the shaving of the Beard. As regards the former, some authorities prohibit not only the total removal of these locks, but even clipping them (see Pe'ot). Concerning the Beard, however, the Halakah only forbids its removal with a razor, and not even by this means except when the hair is removed smoothly and close to the roots (Misknah Mak iii. 5; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, vi.; ed. Weiss, 90c).
This modification of the actual Biblical prohibition was probably due to Jewish intercourse with the Greeks, as the regulation is expressly made by the Rabbis that any one having constant intercourse with the officers of the government might adopt the heathen tonsure, while to others it remained strictly forbidden (B. Ḳ. 83a). Eliezer b. Hyrcanus, the representative of the old Halakah, opposed this innovation (ib.; the reading "Elazar" is unsupported; compare Rabbinowicz, "Diḳduḳe Soferim," on the passage), and forbade any removal of the Beard whatever, either with forceps or with a cutting instrument. Some of the ancients explain a passage in the Tosefta (Ber. i. 4) as if its removal were the custom of a heretical sect in the second century (Tos. of Judah Ḥasid and Solomon b. Adret, on Ber. 11a). Although this passage admits of another explanation, Epiphanius ("Adversus Hæreses," lxx. 7; ed. Migne, ii. 765) mentions that a certain heretical sect regarded a shaven face as a religious essential. The "Apostolic Constitutions," i. 3, lay insistence upon the Biblical prohibition against the removal of the Beard, as does Clement of Alexandria ("Pædagogus," chap. iii.; ed. Migne, i. 580-592; compare Jerome on Ezek. xliv. 20), and the Jewish sages agree in basing the objectionto such removal on the ground that God gave man a Beard to distinguish him from woman, and that it is therefore wrong to antagonize nature (among Jewish commentators compare Baḥya and Abravanel on Lev. xix. 27). In Palestine, where a large Hellenic population resided, the clipping of the Beard (except in periods of mourning) seems to have been prevalent as early as the third century in learned circles of Jews, who probably respected the above-mentioned tannaite Halakah, while the uninformed people scarcely regarded the distinction between clipping and shaving (Yer. R. H. i. 57b).
In medieval times, as in the Talmudical period, the custom of the country seems to have been followed in regard to the Beard. In the East, among Mohammedan nations, the Jews wore long beards; in Germany, France, and Italy, it was entirely removed with scissors (Levi, "Tisporet Lulyanit," pp. 70, 71; Ḳimḥi to II Sam. x. 5; Asheri, Makkot iii., beginning; marginal gloss on the Tos. to Shab. 2b, quoted by Isserlein," Terumat ha-Deshen," p. 295; authoritative thus for the period from the twelfth to the fifteenth century). Scrupulous German rabbis, however, sought, as early as the fifteenth century, to forbid the cutting of the Beard, doubtless because the majority paid little attention to the strict letter of the Halakah, and, instead of cutting with the scissors, shaved smooth with a razor (Isserlein, l.c. p. 9). But this rigor was too much even for Isserles (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 181, 9).
The Cabalists succeeded where the Talmudists failed; they declared even the shortening of the Beard with scissors to be a great sin, and they related of their master, Isaac Luria, that he kept his hands from his Beard lest the contact should cause any hairs to drop from it (Judah Ashkenazi, "Baër Heṭeb," on Yoreh De'ah, l.c.). With the spread of Luria's Cabala in Poland and the Slavonic lands, any trimming of the Beard with scissors was gradually prohibited. The Italians, even the Italian Cabalists, still shaved, according to the custom of the land, one of them even going so far as to demonstrate cabalistically that shaving off the Beard was interdicted only in the Holy Land, and that elsewhere the opposite practise was rather to be recommended (Shabbethai Beër, "Responsa Beër 'Esheḳ," 670).
In Eastern lands the Jews, like their Mohammedan neighbors, did not cut their beards; and in 1720 this led to a violent controversy between Italian Jews who had settled for business purposes in Salonica, Turkey, and the rabbinate there, the latter insisting that the newcomers must wear their beards. The Italian rabbis, called into the discussion by their countrymen, could not decide the matter; for the further question was involved as to the obligation of sojourners to govern themselves by the rules of their temporary abiding-place (Joseph Ergas, "Dibre Yosef," No. 36, decides against the Italians; in their favor were S. Morpurgo and Mordecai Ẓahalon, in the first responsa collection, "Shemesh Ẓedaḳah," No. 61). This "cult of the Beard" had also its opponents, and among them was especially noticeable Joseph Solomon del Medigo, from whom, or from whose pupil, Moses b. Meir (Metz?), the following epigram is extant:
"If men be judged wise by their beards and their girth, Then goats were the wisest of creatures on earth."
In the second half of the seventeenth century the practise arose among the Jews in Germany and Italy of removing the Beard by means of pumice-stone orchemical agents, which left the face smooth, as if shaven. This was strenuously, though no doubt vainly, opposed by two distinguished Talmudists of the time, the Polish rabbi Hillel b. Naphtali ("Bet Hillel," on Yoreh De'ah, 187) and the Italian Joseph b. Solomon Fiametta (quoted in his son-in-law's Responsa, "Shemesh Ẓedaḳah," No. 61, p. 102d). One of the questions constantly recurring in the responsa literature of the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries concerns the clipping of the Beard on the "middle days" of the festivals ("Ḥol ha-Mo'ed"), because Talmudical law forbids the cutting of the hair on these days (see the responsa of the Amsterdam and Venetian rabbis in Moses Ḥages, "Leḳeṭ ha-Ḳemaḥ," on Yoreh De'ah, 138).
Trivial as all this question appears, it was important in the history of the Jewish Reform movement in Italy. Isaac Samuel Reggio published (Vienna, 1839) a pamphlet entitled "Ma'amar ha-Tiglaḥat, "in which he attempted to prove casuistically that the regulations of the Talmud concerning the cutting of the Beard on the "middle days" no longer had application, on account of the changed circumstances." This called forth the replies, "Tiglaḥat ha-Ma'amar" (Leghorn, 1839) by Abraham Ḥay Reggio and "Tisporet Lulyanit," by Jacob Ezekiel Levi (Berlin, 1839). In Italy the influence of the non-Jewish population was so strong that even so zealous a representative of rabbinical Judaism as Samuel David Luzzatto remarked in a private letter that he no longer concerned himself with the prohibition of shaving, because he thought the Bible intended it to apply only to priests. In Poland and in the Slavonic countries, attempts were made, toward the end of the eighteenth century, to evade the Biblical prohibition of shaving, much to the vexation of the leading Talmudists (Ezekiel Landau, "Nodi' bi-Yehuda," ii.; Yoreh De'ah, 80). Ḥasidism, which just then sprang up in those countries, restored the Beard to its former dignity; so that today, in all eastern Europe, the complete removal of the Beard is considered an evidence of a formal break with rabbinical Judaism (compare Smolenski, "Simḥat Ḥanef," ed. 1890, p. 46, and the Yiddish satire "Die Bord" in Michael Gordon, "Yüdische Lieder," p. 15). Special stress is laid upon the propriety of the ḥazan's wearing a Beard (Joel Sirkes, "Bet Ḥadash," on Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 53; Shabbethai Beër, "Beër Sheba'," p. 107), with reference to an old Talmudical prescription dating from a period when the absence of a Beard was a sign of juvenility (Ḥul. 24b). The fourth council at Carthage (398) similarly decided "clericus nec comam nutriat, nec barbam radat" (the clergyman shall not let his hair grow, neither shall he remove his Beard); and even many centuries later, when the Church found it vain to oppose the removal of the Beard by the laity, it still insisted that the clerics should wear a Beard (Bingham, "Antiquities of the Christian Church," I. ii. 15, 16).
Popular imagination also has occupied itself with the Beard. The following saying, attributed to Ben Sirach, was current in Talmudical times: "A thinbearded man is cunning, a thick-bearded one is a fool; but nobody can do any harm to a man with a parted beard" (Sanh. 160b). The Talmud says of the Pharaoh of the Exodus, that his Beard was an ell in length (M. Ḳ. 18a).
An oath upon the Beard and pe'ot is customaryamong the Polish Jews to-day, although generally employed in an ironical sense (compare Bernstein, in "Ha-Shaḥar," vi. 405).