Monday, August 22, 2011

Shaving, mirrors, world-views and contradictions

(Rav Moishe Feinstein and Rav Hutner)

I was reading a seifer by Rabbi Getsel Ellinson on hilchos of tznius yesterday and saw two strange teshuvos from Rav Moishe Feinstein. They were strange not individually, but in combination.

In the first teshuva (Igros Moishe, "Yorei Deiah", vol. II, 61), Rav Moishe says that even in the times of Tzemach Tzedek some poskim allowed trimming the beard with scissors (or applying depilatory cream) to achieve a clean-shaven look. And that the Tzemach Tzedek says that doing so is begged isha (wearing women's clothes or, by extension, beautifying oneself) seems strange to Rav Moishe because when Gemara talked about beautifying oneself, it meant specifically the way women do it, which means make-up and clothes, not making sure that one's face has no hair (even though a woman's face usually has no hair, it's not due to her efforts*). And anyway, a man's face, even when shaven, is not indistinguishable from a woman's face (one can see the roots of the hairs, etc.).

So, fine, fair enough. Rav Moishe disagrees with the Tzemach Tzedek, which he is entitled to do.

It's very possible that their "world-views" were different anyway. The author of the seifer quotes the Tzemach Tzedek earlier, but says in a footnote that it seems that the Tzemach Tzedek was "influenced by his world view, and by Chassidus and Cabbala [sic]", which is also true and fair enough. We do not deny that, and if anything, we are definitely happy about that. (Arizal mentions that when one learns nigleh and, especially, when paskens nigleh, one has to go back and make sure that his learning of nigleh, and especially the psak, are consistent with Kabbalah. And one of the Acharoinim says that this is what "veshinantem levanechoh" means — to make sure that the outer aspect of Torah corresponds with the inner aspect. And, actually, Vilna Gaon said the same. The chiddush for us, therefore, is not that the Tzemach Tzedek was influenced by Kabbalah and Chassidus, but that there were poskim who were not influenced by it.)

So, the fact that Rav Moishe disagrees with the Tzemach Tzedek is not surprising or especially interesting to me. What's interesting is his second teshuva: about using a mirror. Rav Moishe says (Igros Moishe, "Yorei Deiah"vol. II, 61) that it is ossur for a man to use a mirror to improve his looks (i.e., for medicinal purposes, such as to remove food from your teeth or remove a splinter from your nose, it's fine, but to brush your hair or mustache, for example, it is not; also, it's obviously permissible to use a mirror in the cases such as when driving a car). He explains that the fact that in the end of the day the man does not wear women's clothes or that he does not do in front of the mirror what women do (put on make-up, pluck eyebrows, etc.) does not matter. What matters is that by using the mirror, he shows that he cares about his appearance! And that constitutes begged isha.

So, I am confused. And the fact that a man shaves shows what? That his face is too hot in the summer? Clearly men shave to improve their appearance (in their eyes**). Whether it is for the purpose of satisfying their vanity or because they want to look presentable for their professional environment does not matter. Rav Moishe clearly indicates in the second teshuva that he does not care about the final purpose of "priming" oneself, or even the end result — he cares about the intention of standing in front of the mirror: to improve one's looks, which is ossur for a man.

It would seem to me, the same should apply to shaving.

If anyone has any input, I would be most interested to read it in the comments. (Later, I will quote Tzemach Tzedek's teshuva in a separate post, be"H.)

[By the way, although Rav Moishe permitted shaving, he himself did not, as you can see from the picture above. Nor did he drink "cholov stam" milk.]

On the topic, see also:
"Who or what is Tzemach Tzedek?"
"About shirayim"
"Frierdiker Rebbe on 'modern' Judaism"
"Beards are natural"
* It seems that one could say that even though it is true that most women's faces naturally have no visible hair, in the unfortunate cases when they do, women oftentimes will make an effort to remove that hair. Although one could say that they do so not through shaving, but through plucking or laser treatment, the end result and the purpose are the same as with men shaving.

** Some could say that if one had the sensitivity and cultural standards of the Jewish tradition, a male face without a beard would look as ugly to him, as, for instance, a face without eyebrows or without a nose, G-d forbid. In fact, there was one godol who said that whenever a Jew without a beard came to visit him, the godol would instinctively experience vomit reflex. Which doesn't teach us a proper way to treat a fellow Jew, but shows the way that someone steeped in the proper Jewish mesoira should instinctively feel. The same goes for the arguments that certain examples of ervah are no longer such, because we have grown used to them. Perhaps if one had the sensitivities of the traditional Jewish community, one would not be used to the sound of adult female voice, etc. I mean, the people living around us are desensitized not just to female voice or forearms... Therefore what?..