Ethics

For the week ending 1 March 2008 / 24 Adar I 5768

Biting Fingernails in Public

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll


Question: I have a friend who has a nervous habit of biting his fingernails and he often does it in front of me or others. It seems to be rather unaesthetic and I wonder if I should call it to his attention. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: First of all you must understand that biting fingernails is a fairly widespread form of releasing tension, eminently preferable to smoking cigarettes or imbibing liquor.

As regards aesthetics bear in mind what the Talmud (Mesechta Mo’ed Katan 18a) tells us about Rabbi Yochanan who bit his nails in the Beit Midrash during Chol Hamo’ed. One of the halachic conclusions reached by the gemara based on his action is that it is not considered unaesthetic to bite one's nails in public.

The only problem which nail-biters face is what to do with the nails. Since discarded nails are a threat to the health of a pregnant woman it is forbidden to cast them in a place where such a woman may pass. Rabbi Yochanan's action took place in a Beit Midrash that women never entered. Some nail-biters solve this problem by simply chewing and swallowing their nails while others restrict their nail-biting to areas such as the one mentioned in the Rabbi Yochanan precedent.

In conclusion there is no need for you to say anything to your friend and if his behavior offends your sensitivities, look the other way.

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