—Biblical Data:

The hair of the ancient Hebrews was generally black (comp. Cant. iv. 1, v. 11). In Eccl. xi. 10 black hair is designated as a sign of youth in contrast with the white hair of age. Josephus narrates ("Ant." xvi. 8, § 1) that Herod dyed his gray hair black in order to appear younger. Black hair was in any case considered beautiful, black being the general color, while light or blond hair was exceptional. David is designated as "admoni" = "ruddy" (I Sam. xvi. 12, xvii. 42), this expression being also applied to Esau's hair (Gen. xxv. 25). The Hebrews had thick hair (Ezek. viii. 3). Long, heavy hair was considered as a sign of vitality. In the case of Samson, traced back to religious reasons (he having been dedicated to God), the connection of long hair and bodily strength was based on the current views. Absalom's famous hair (II Sam. xiv. 25 et seq.) was considered not only as an ornament, but as a token of strength. A bald head, therefore, was an object of mockery (II Kings ii. 23; comp. Isa. iii. 17, 24).

Fashion Among Men.

From the Old Testament it may be gathered that it was customary for the men to have their hair cut from time to time. The Nazarites allowed theirs to grow uncut for religious reasons. Absalom, proud of his thick head of hair, had it cut once a year only. But generally the hair was cut oftener. It was never shaved save on special occasions; the high priests and the priests in general were expressly forbidden to have theirs shaved. They were neither to shave their hair according to heathen custom, nor to allow it to grow uncut like that of the Nazarites (comp. Ezek. xliv. 20). There is no other information in the Bible concerning the care of the hair.

As the ancient Egyptians had combs, and as the Assyrians, also, were very careful in dressing their hair, it may be due to mere chance that combs are not mentioned in the Old Testament. The Hebrews, however, did not follow the Egyptian custom of wearing wigs. The Assyrians wore their hair in several braids reaching down to the nape of theneck. Samson's seven braids ("maḥlefot"; Judges xvi. 13, 19) indicate that this fashion obtained, for a time at least, in Israel.

Fashions Among Women.

Among women long hair is extolled as a mark of beauty (Cant. iv. 1, vii. 6). A woman's hair was never cut except as a sign of deep mourning or of degradation (Jer. vii. 29; comp. Deut. xxi. 12). Women gave much thought to the care and decoration of their hair (II Kings ix. 30; Cant. iv. 1, vi. 4, vii. 5; Judith x. 3). The prophet Isaiah derides the many aids used by the women in curling and tending their hair (Isaiah iii.). Josephus mentions the custom—still obtaining in the East—of sprinkling gold-dust on the hair in order to produce a golden shimmer ("Ant." viii. 7, § 3).

Religious Customs.

As a sign of mourning, part of the head, especially in front, was shaved. Although this was forbidden by the Law as a heathen superstition (Deut. xiv. 1; Lev. xxi. 5), the words of the Prophets indicate that it was customary among the people (Isa. xii. 12; comp. ib. iii. 24; Jer. vii. 29, xvi. 6; Ezek. vii. 18; Amos viii. 10; Micah i. 16; compare also the same custom among Arab women). The practise can not be interpreted as indicating a renunciation of everything considered in ordinary life to be a mere ornament (comp. Jer. vii. 29).

The Law regards it in an entirely different light, as it forbids shaving of the head on the ground that Israel belongs to Yhwh only (Deut. xiv. 1). Originally, shaving in times of mourning indicated that the hair was sacrificed to the dead (comp. Lucian, "De Dea Syria," 60). The Law also regarded as a heathen custom the shaving of the head in a circle, so that only a strand remained in the center (comp. Jer. ix. 26, xxv. 23, xlix. 32), and forbade it as such to the Israelites (Lev. xix. 27). Herodotus (iii. 8) says expressly that the Arabs intended to imitate thereby the fashion of their god Orotal-Dionysus, and he correctly ascribes to the custom a religious reason. The ancient conception, mentioned above, that the continuously growing hair, like the blood, is a sign of vitality sufficiently explains the sacrifice of the hair.

E. G. H. I. Be.—In Rabbinical Literature:

The hair was regarded by the Rabbis as so powerful an augmentation of beauty that married women were recommended to hide it. In connection with this recommendation the Talmud relates the following: Ḳimḥit, the mother of seven sons who successively held the office of high priest, was once asked by what merit of hers she was so blessed in her sons. "Because," said she, "the beams of my house have never seen my hair" (Yoma 47a). In Talmudical times it was the custom for women to plait their hair. "Because she [the wife accused of adultery] plaited her hair to please him [her alleged paramour] the priest loosened her hair" (Num. R. ix.). A man who curled his hair was regarded as a vain person. At the age of seventeen Joseph was still termed "lad" ("na'ar"), because he was childish enough to curl his hair (Gen. R. xxxiv.). Elijah had naturally curly hair; his enemies, however, mocked him, declaring that he curled it (Pesiḳ. R. 26 [ed. Friedmann, p. 129a]). While Samson was filled by the Holy Spirit his hair made a noise like bells, and the sound was heard from Zorah to Eshtaol (Yer. Soṭah 17b). The Midrash finds in the name "Joel ben Petuel" an indication that the prophet who bore it curled his hair like a maiden (Midr. Teh. lxxx.). Absalom was very vain of his hair, and therefore he was hanged by his hair (Soṭah 9b). One who does not wash his hands after shaving his hair has spells of anxiety for three days (Pes. 112a). In enumerating the wonders of Creation, God pointed out to Job the wisdom shown even in the making of human hair. Each hair () has a separate follicle, for should two hairs derive their nourishment from one follicle, the human eye would be dimmed (B. B. 16a).

Because such was the custom of the heathen the Rabbis forbade the Jews to trim the hair over the forehead, but let it hang down over the temples in curls (Sifre, Aḥare Mot, xiii. 9). A certain Abṭalion ben Reuben, however, was allowed to wear his hair in that fashion () because he associated with the court (B. Ḳ. 83a). David had four hundred children who wore their front hair in that fashion, while their back hair was in long locks, as in a wig (; Ḳid. 76b). This way of wearing the back hair is disapproved by the Rabbis. "He who grows his back hair in the form of a wig [] does so for an idolatrous purpose" (Deut. R. ii.). The king had his hair cut every day; the high priest, every week; an ordinary priest, once a month. The high priest had his hair cut in the "Lulian" (= "Julian") style (), which consisted in having the top of one row of hairs touching the root of the other (Sanh. 22b; Ned. 51a). A penalty of one hundred "sela'im" is imposed by the Rabbis for pulling an antagonist's hair (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 420, 41). The washing of the dead () begins with the hair, because human hair is associated with the thoughts ("Sifte Renanot" to "Ma'abar Yabboḳ," ch. xi.). The number of the hairs of the human head is one billion and seven thousand; according to another statement the human head has a billion locks, each lock containing 410 hairs, equivalent to the numerical value of ("holy"); and each hair has 410 worlds (ib.).

S. S. I. Br.—Superstitions:

The hair of children is not cut till they are at least three years old. In Palestine this is done on the grave of some saint, as on the "Iṭilula" of Rabbi Simson ben Yoḥai (Reischer, "Sha'are Yerushalayim," p. 24). Among the Beni-Israel, if the child comes as the result of a vow, its hair is not cut till its sixth or seventh year. It is usual in all these cases to weigh the hair cut off against coins which are given by the parents to charitable purposes. If a person's body is very hairy, it is a sign that he will be very lucky. The hair cut from the head should be burned, or hidden in a crevice where it can be found; if thrown away it will cause a headache. Red-haired persons are supposed to be very passionate and traitorous; hence, perhaps, the red hair attributed to Judas in early Christian art. Albinos can never become great.

In Talmudic times, when a man was to be buried, his hair was cut (M. Ḳ. 8b). This custom seems to be no longer followed.


Among Jews the color of the hair has attracted special attention because, while the majority have dark hair, there is found a considerable proportion with blond and red hair, as shown by the appended table (No. 1):

Table No. 1: Color of Hair Among 145,380 Jewish School Children.

From these figures it is seen that the proportion of dark hair (black and brown) is quite high—66 per cent in Germany, and reaching 76.3 per cent in Hungary. The proportion of fair hair is lowest in Hungary (23.7 per cent) and highest in Germany (32 per cent). In a fair proportion of blond-haired children the hair becomes darker as age advances; it is therefore essential to take observations upon adults. In the appended table (No. 2) are given the results of investigations upon Jews of both sexes and in various parts of the world:

Table No. 2: Color of Hair Among 7,505 Jews.
Ashkenazim (Men).
Galicia94374.5421.104.36Majer and Kopernicki.
Ashkenazim (Women).
Galicia2576.020.0....Majer and Kopernicki.
Red Hair.

The figures in this table show again that dark hair predominates. The percentage of blond Jews varies only slightly, but is greatest in those countries in which the non-Jewish population is blond. Thus in northern Russia (the Baltic Provinces) Blechman found 32 per cent of blonds; in England, according to Jacobs, 25.5 per cent have blond hair.

On the other hand, in Caucasia, where the natives are dark, the Jews show 96 per cent of dark hair. The proportion of red hair is also quite high, reaching 4 per cent in some observations. This has been considered characteristic of the Jews by some anthropologists. It appears to be not of recent origin, and was not unknown among the ancient Hebrews (Esau was "red, all over like a hairy garment"; Gen. xxv. 25).

Races are also differentiated, more or less, by straight, curly, or woolly hair. Among the Jews the distribution of these varieties of hair is shown in the following table (No. 3):

Table No. 3: Variety of Hair Among Jews.
Variety of Hair.Blechman.Weissenberg.Yakowenko.Elkind.Majer and Kopernicki.Fishberg.Glück.

The next table (No. 4) shows that the beard is usually darker than the hair:

Table No. 4: Color of the Beard.

By comparing these figures with those in No. 2 it is found that in the beard the proportion of light to dark is much higher. The number of red beards also increases perceptibly.

Hair of Jewesses.

The differences in the color of the hair between the sexes have also been investigated. Jacobs shows that the Jewesses in England have darker hair. Similar observations have been made by Weissenberg in South Russia, by Talko-Hryncewicz in Little Russia, by Yakowenko in Lithuania, and by Majer and Kopernicki in Galicia. On the other hand, Elkind in Poland and Fishberg in America have found conditions different: the males have darker hair than the females.

Cause of Blond Hair.

The true explanation of the existence of Jewish blonds has been the subject of lively discussions among anthropologists. Some believe that it is due to climate and environment (Pruner, Bey, Pritchard, Jacobs), while others attribute it to racial intermixture, particularly to the admission of Aryan blood into modern Jewry (Broca, Virchow, Schimmer, Ripley, and others). Elkind shows that the color of the hair is independent of the cranial index. Virchow's investigations show that in the eastern or darkest provinces of Germany the proportion of blond types among Jews does not decrease; whereas in the Prussian provinces, which are predominantly blond, the Jews show the highestproportion of brunettes, and in Silesia, where the non-Jewish population is of very dark complexion, the Jews have a high percentage of blonds. The same has been shown by Schimmer to be the case in Austria. Andree ("Zur Volkskunde der Juden," pp. 34-40) points out that the fact that red and blond Jews are found in North Africa, Syria, Arabia, Persia, etc., is proof that intermarriage has had little to do with the production of the blond type in eastern Europe. He is of the opinion that there were blonds among the ancient Hebrews, and that the modern red and blond Jews are their descendants. Luschan agrees in this view. Jacobs attributes the erythrism of the Jews to defective nutrition, and shows that it is present not only among the European Jews, but also among those in Algiers, Tunis, Bosnia, Constantinople, Smyrna, and Bokhara, where the presence of Aryan blood could not be admitted.

Grayness and Baldness.

The color of the hair undergoes changes with the advance of the age of the individual. Up to the age of thirty-five or forty the hair remains the same color in the majority of people. If grayness occurs earlier it is considered premature. It has been stated that premature grayness is very frequent among Jews (Weissenberg); but investigations by Fishberg and Yakowenko show that it appears rather later—at about the age of forty-five.

Baldness also is considered premature before the age of forty-five, at which age other signs of decay, such as loosening of the teeth and weakening of sight, begin to appear. It occurs most often among brain-workers and among those exposed to prolonged mental worry and anxiety. Weissenberg found that among Jews between the ages of twenty-one and fifty 16 per cent are more or less bald. Others point out that normal baldness (that is, baldness not due to favus) is not more frequent among Jews than among others. Yakowenko shows that it is found only as an exception among Jews before forty-five, and that when it occurs before this age it is usually due to favus. Fishberg reports only 83 individuals wholly or partially bald among 1,188 Jews over the age of twenty. Only 12 Jews among those less than forty were thus affected.

  • Jacobs, On the Racial Characteristics of Modern Jews, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, xv. 23-62;
  • idem, On the Comparative Anthropometry of English Jews, ib. xix. 76-88;
  • Virchow, Gesamtbericht . . . über die Farbe der Haut, der Haare und der Augen der Schulkinder in Deutschland, in Archiv für Anthropologie, xvi. 275-475;
  • Schimmer, Erhebungen über die Farbe der Augen, der Haare und der Haut bei den Schulkindern Oesterreichs, in Mittheilungen der Anthropologischen Gesellschaft, Vienna, Supplement i., 1884;
  • Fishberg, Physical Anthropology of the Jews, in American Anthropologist, Jan.-March, 1903;
  • Elkind. Evrei Trudi Antropologitshes-kavo Amdilla, xxi., Moscow, 1903;
  • Majer and Kopernicki, Chakterystyka Fizyezna Ludnosci Galicyjskiej, in Zbior Viadam do Antrop. Kraj, Cracow, i. and ix., 1877-85;
  • J. Beddoe, On the Physical Characters of the Jews, in Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, 1861, i. 222-237;
  • Pantukhof, Observations Anthropologiques au Caucase, Tiflis, 1893.
J. M. Fi.