Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 18 May 2019 / 13 Iyyar 5779

Hair Ado

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From Bernardo

Dear Rabbi,

What is the significance of hair? Why does Judaism seem so concerned with it? Women cover their hair, men have peyot (sidelocks), and boys have their first haircut at age three...

Thank you!

Dear Bernardo,

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his commentary on the Torah discusses the subject of hair and reveals some very powerful and insightful concepts. Take your face for a moment. There are parts of your face which we would consider more physical and parts which represent the more intellectual. Your mouth and your eyes would be examples of the more physical parts. Your forehead would be the part which represents the intellectual. We know that both of these categories are important, but the physical requires special monitoring. If you allow yourself pursuit of the physical without some mechanism for control you could slide into a pattern of self destruction. Hence the hair. It is a marker that says: “Pay attention to this area! Monitor it so that it can be used for good. Don't allow it to run off unbridled!”

If you think about this for a while you will get a sense of why Judaism concerns itself with issues such as the covering of a woman's hair (sensuality), peyot for a man (dividing the part of the brain that controls the sensual from that which is involved in the intellectual); and even why we cut a young boy's hair for the first time at the age we begin his education (learning how to use his intellect to control his behavior).

In short, hair represents sensuality control.

  • Sources: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in his Commentary on the Torah, Leviticus 19:27 and 21:5

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