Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar | 5769
Ask the Rabbi: Shaving before Shacharit
As we would expect for a debate between learned rabbis, each side has significant basis. Our approach incorporates virtues of each side, hopefully in a balanced manner.
The classical sources on this topic discuss haircutting before davening, which, in many areas of halacha, is equivalent to cutting a beard. Haircutting is a serious issue, actually, especially before Mincha, because one who gets occupied in it may end up not davening (see Shabbat 9b). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 89:7) says that there was no formal prohibition on haircutting before Shacharit because it is an uncommon occurrence. However, the Eliyah Rabba (ad loc.:12) says that the Shulchan Aruch refers to the time before alot hashachar (some 72 minutes before sunrise). After that time, when davening is nominally viable, it is forbidden because all work is improper before davening. Only regarding the added stringency of not starting haircutting a half hour before the time of davening is Shacharit more lenient than Mincha, not regarding the regular regulations of activities before Shacharit. [See this week’s and last week’s Ein Ayah for Rav Kook’s view of the philosophical side of these halachot.] Although the Eliyah Rabba cites the Kolbo as saying that it is not the type of activity that is forbidden work, he and the Mishna Berura (89:36) accept the strict opinion. Thus, the first opinion you cited certainly has validity.
We must consider, though, that the classical sources dealt with a situation where religious Jewish men were, at least predominantly, bearded. For such people, shaving is a periodic activity, which is seen as a matter of choice at any given time. For many clean-shaven people, daily shaving is a matter of simple hygiene that cannot be pushed off for long. These differences find expression in several areas of halacha, including shaving on Chol Ham’oed, sefira, and the three weeks. Those who are lenient on Chol Hamo’ed, for example, to a great part, based on the halachic approach of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, OC I, 163), reason that shaving before Yom Tov does not suffice for an entire week as it once did. There are even (disputed or contrary) accounts that Rav Feinstein said that not only may the clean-shaven shave on Chol Hamo’ed but that it is preferable to do so in honor of the holiday.
Some apply the same logic to shaving in the morning. The halachic concept of hikon likrat Elokecha mandates preparing oneself with a clean body and appropriate clothes for davening (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 91-92). One posek who has written that shaving may be a fulfillment of hikon… is Rav Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 89:32), although he brings it as a legitimate but less preferable stance. Many oral accounts and the practice, especially in segments of society where “needing a shave” has a social stigma and is a physical nuisance, make shaving even a preference.
This being said, it is wrong to make a sweeping rule. Those with beards should normally not shave before Shacharit. Those with slow growing or light beards would do better to shave before going to sleep or after davening and if they need to do so in the morning, should do so after saying Shema and some berachot (see referenced article). Those who need a morning shave to make themselves presentable to daven should feel free to do so before davening. However, if they are running late, it’s hard to justify missing P’sukei D’zimra for it.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.